Hunting of the Earl of Rone, England

Hunting for the Earl of Rone, England ©

Take an unfortunate volunteer. Dress him head-to-toe in sackcloth and hide his face behind a heavy wooden mask.

Seat him ‘backsy fore’ on a donkey and then have several hundred villagers dressed as Grenadiers chase him, shoot at him, humiliate him, knock him from his mount, and eventually throw him into the sea.

This is what happens during the Hunting of the Earl of Rone, a grisly tradition that dates back centuries, although it was banned from 1837 to 1974 for licentiousness and drunken goings on.

The festival re-enacts the story of the Earl of Tyrone, who fled Ireland in 1607 to be shipwrecked off Combe Martin, North Devon.

He hid in the local woods but was eventually flushed out by the Grenadiers.

The event takes place on Spring Bank Holiday weekend.

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One person is discussing this place!

  • Alice W says:

    I have been a member of the Earl of Rone Party (the people who have take part in the festival) since I was born. The story of the Earl and how he was ship wrecked on the North Devon Coast has since been disproven, with evidence having now been found that he lived to a ripe old age in Portugal. However, the festivities still take place years after year (much to my pleasure – my life would be a lot emptier without the Earl in my life!).

    So why do we still do it? Well, a lot of it is possibly due to the old fertility rituals which still take place in the West Country throughout May. Although the Earl becomes the main character of the final day and gives his name to the festival, the real star of the show is the Hobby Horse (or Hoss as he’s known locally). Standing over six foot high and measuring six feet across the Hoss is a dancing beast, decorated in ribbons and spots, who dances to the beat of the drum all over the weekend in order to welcome in the summer. He is thought to help bring fertility to the village and surrounding area, to give luck to the up-and-coming harvest, and to bestow good fertility upon the local maidens.

    Our Hoss is not the only one in the region. On May 1st – also known as May Day or Beltane in the pagan calendar – two other, similar Hobby Horses can be seen dancing in Minehead in Somerset, and Padstow in Cornwall. Both of these ceremonies have lineages dating back hundreds of years without a break, and no one knows their true origins. Both the Minehead ‘Horse’ and the Padstow ‘Oss’ can be seen dancing from dawn on May Day morning and are truly a sight to behold.

    Whilst bizarre these are true English customs. Eccentric, slightly crazy, but invaluable to the villages and communities which support them. In our modern world they bring people together and create family-like bonds which last a life time. All my life I have made the three hundred mile pilgrimage from my home in South Essex, across the country to Combe Martin in order to spend a weekend with some wonderful people that I love very much. And I have it any other way! :o )

    For further information about these customs, please see the following websites:

    The Hunting of the Earl of Rone:
    The Sailor’s Horse, Minehead:
    The Padstow Obby Oss:

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