May Queen

May Queen

The May Queen or Queen of May is a term which has two distinct but related meanings, as a mythical figure and as a holiday personification.

May Altar in Ireland, - Religious imagery of Mary as Queen of May, work of artist Clare O Hagan
A May Queen of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada circa 1877.



The May Queen is a girl (usually a teenage girl from a specific school year) who is selected to ride or walk at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. She wears a white gown to symbolise purity and usually a tiara or crown. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins. Certain age groups dance round a Maypole celebrating youth and the spring time.

According to popular British folklore, the tradition once had a sinister twist, in that the May Queen was put to death once the festivities were over. The veracity of this belief is difficult to establish, but while in truth it might just be an example of anti-pagan propaganda, frequent associations between May Day rituals, the occult and human sacrifice are still to be found in popular culture today. The Wicker Man, a cult horror film starring Christopher Lee, is a prominent example of these associations.

An Elizabethan account

In 1557, a diarist called Henry Machyn wrote:

"The xxx day of May was a goly May-gam in Fanch-chyrchestrett with drumes and gunes and pykes, and ix wordes dyd ryd; and thay had speches evere man, and the morris dansse and the sauden, and an elevant with the castyll, and the sauden and yonge morens with targattes and darttes, and the lord and the lade of the Maye".

Translation: On the 30th May was a jolly May-game in Fenchurch Street (London) with drums and guns and pikes, The Nine Worthies did ride; and they all had speeches, and the morris dance and sultan and an elephant with a castle (saddle in the shape of a castle) and the sultan and young moors with shields and arrows, and the lord and lady of the May".[1]

Maintaining the tradition

A recent May Queen of Brentham, England, Eleanor Teasdale, on her throne.

Many areas keep this tradition alive today. The oldest unbroken tradition is found in Hayfield, Derbyshire[2] based on a much older May Fair. Another notable event includes the one in the Brentham Garden Suburb, England which hosts it annually. It has the second oldest unbroken tradition although the May Queen of All London Festival at Hayes Common in Bromley is a close contender. A May Day festival is held on the village green at Aldborough, North Yorkshire on a site that dates back to Roman times and the settlement of Isurium Brigantum. A May queen is selected from a group of 13 upward girls by the young dancers. She returns the next year to crown the new May Queen and stays in the procession.

A May Day celebration held annually in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada has the distinction of being the longest running May Day celebration of its kind in the British Commonwealth.[citation needed] This May Day celebration began in 1870 and is one hundred and forty years of age. Archival film footage of New Westminster's May Day celebrations from 1932-1962 can be seen online at Quest for the Queens.

Cultural references to the May Queen

  • "The May Queen" is an early poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (It is quoted in a scene in the 1938 movie The Dawn Patrol.)
  • "May Queen" is the name of a poem by occultist Aleister Crowley.
  • A May Queen is mentioned in the Led Zeppelin song "Stairway to Heaven". Anti-rock music Baptist preacher Michael Mills believes it is a reference to Crowley's poem, and he also believes it is in the middle of a Satanic backwards section.
  • May Queen is the name of a ketch-rigged trading vessel built in 1867 at Franklin, Tasmania. She had a 106-year working life and is the oldest boat of her type afloat in the world. She is on the International Register of Significant Ships.
  • "May Queen" is the title of a song on singer-songwriter Liz Phair's second album Whip-Smart.
  • "May Queen" is the title of a song by Inkubus Sukkubus.
  • "May Queen" is the title of a song by Black Box Recorder on their 2000 album The Facts of Life
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "Out of Mind, Out of Sight", Cordelia Chase becomes May Queen.
  • A May Queen is mentioned in the Decemberists song "Angel, Won't You Call Me?"
  • Benjamin Britten's chamber opera Albert Herring concerns the unsuccessful search for a suitable May Queen, culminating in the selection of a May King instead.
  • The Queen of the May is featured as a sacrificial offering in the book Cowboys for Christ.
  • For the May Queen is the title of a novel by Kate Evans.[3]
  • The May Queen is the subject of Edward German's opera Merrie England.
  • The May Queen is the title of an anthology of women's writings about being in their thirties edited by Andrea N. Richesin.[4]
  • The May Queen is the title of a gesso panel designed by Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh for the Scottish Section at the Vienna Secession Exhibition 1900. It was exhibited in the room designed by the architect (and her husband) Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
  • In the 1984 Doctor Who serial The Awakening, the Fifth Doctor's companion Tegan Jovanka becomes 'The Queen of the May' during a war game gone awry.

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • May queen — May May, n. [F. Mai, L. Maius; so named in honor of the goddess Maia (Gr. Mai^a), daughter of Atlas and mother of Mercury by Jupiter.] 1. The fifth month of the year, containing thirty one days. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] 2. The early part or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • May Queen — n a young woman chosen as ↑queen as part of the ↑May Day celebrations. She wears a ↑crown of flowers on her head, and she is also called Queen of the May …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • May queen — n. a girl chosen to be queen of the merrymakers on May Day and crowned with flowers …   English World dictionary

  • May queen — noun the girl chosen queen of a May Day festival • Syn: ↑queen of the May • Hypernyms: ↑girl, ↑miss, ↑missy, ↑young lady, ↑young woman, ↑fille * * * noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • May queen — /ˈmeɪ kwin/ (say may kween) noun a girl or young woman crowned with flowers and honoured as queen in the celebrations of May Day …   Australian English dictionary

  • May queen — a girl or young woman crowned with flowers and honored as queen in the festivities of May Day. * * * …   Universalium

  • May Queen — noun A girl chosen to walk at the front of the May Day procession …   Wiktionary

  • May queen — noun a pretty girl chosen and crowned in traditional celebrations of May Day …   English new terms dictionary

  • Chicago May, Queen of the Blackmailers — is an historical biography of May Duigan, written by Frank Columb. May Duignan, a native of Co. Longford, Ireland, dabbled in not only prostitution and blackmailing, her two mainstays, but also in swindling, betrayal, conspiracy, revenge, assault …   Wikipedia

  • Brian May (Queen) — Este artículo se refiere al guitarrista de Queen. Para ver el artículo sobre el compositor australiano de música de cine ir a Brian May (compositor). Brian Harold May nació el 19 de julio de 1947 en Hampton, Middlesex, una pequeña ciudad al sur… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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