The Penzance Guise Guilds

The Guise Guilds are groups based on the traditional “guise” parties that used to tour the towns of villages of Cornwall. These groups are called guilds to reflect the tradition of misrule that often mocked the established order of society, taking on “Mock” offices of state or mock civic office.

The Corn-Market Revellers or more properly the “Ancient Company of the Corn-Market, is a tradition revived in 2013 based on a famous group of Christmas Guisers that existed in Penzance in the 19th Century.  At 8pm on the 21st of December (the same evening as Montol in the town).  The revellers meet at the door of the Market House to select a “Master of the Corn-Market” who must be an “experienced reveller”.This master then leads the revellers (including musicians and dancers) to a number of pubs in the town to “test the ale”.The Master is surrounded by Mock officers of state (like many other traditions of this kind) including Spy-The-Market (Head entertainer) The Chancellor of the Cabbage, The Hector (a Mock Bishop), The Sgt at Sprout, and the Mahogony Man.  These officers ensure that the spirit of the revels is kept up.

In the 19th Century this group was the most famous of the Cornish Guise traditions and as such the modern revellers consider themselves “The Most Notorious of Cornish Guisers.”

This passage from William Sandys (Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern; Including the Most Popular in the West of England, and the Airs which They are Sung. Also Specimens of French Provincial Carols. – London, Beckley 1833) details the Corn Market revels in the early 19th Century:

Another amusement is called The Corn Market where also there is a master who has an assistant called Spy the Market. Another essential character is old Penglaze who has a blackened face and a staff in his hand and a person is girded round with a horse’s hide, or what is supposed to be, such to serve as his horse. They are placed towards the back of the market. The other players have each some even price appropriated to them for names as Twopence Sixpence Twelvepence &c. The master then calls “Spy the Market” to which the man replies “Spy the Market”. The master again calls “Spy the Market” who replies “Ay sirrah”. The master then asks the price of corn, the man names some price that is borne by one of the players, as for instance Twopence. The master then holds the same conversation with Twopence as he had with his man and so on till some mistake is made by any of the party not answering to his name when the unlucky offender is to be sealed which constitutes the principal amusement of the game.

The master goes up to the delinquent and taking up his foot says “Here is my seal, where is old Penglaze’s seal?” and gives him a blow on the foot. Old Penglaze then comes in on his horse which winces and capers about grotesquely. He is then told that a fine colt wants shoeing for which he says his reward is a full gallon of moonlight besides all other customs for shoeing in that market. The shoe of the colt is taken off and Penglaze gives him one or two hard blows on the sole of the foot after which he rides off again, his horse capering more than before and sometimes throwing the old gentleman off.


The Glorious Company of the Egyptian House are based on another Penzance Group called the “Tinkerlers Shop” who similarly toured the towns pubs and entertained the public including a parlour game likewise named the tinkerlers shop. The modern Egyptians also reflect a tradition of dressing in Mock National dress (with a guise theme) as part of the celebration of guise dancing. They also have a number of peculiarly named officers including “Old Vulcan” the organiser of the guild.

The Splendid League of Physicians are based on the “Quack Doctors” seen in mummers plays and the look of Venetian plague doctors. On the night of Montol they hand out “cures” to members of the public satirising ancient medical treatments. They are also of the “drama” Guise Dance play tradition having a large element of dramatic performance.

The Melodious Company of Peccadilloes are a group based on the Wassailing traditions of Cornwall. As a symbol of their membership they all were neck ruffs. As a singing group they sing a version of the song “West Cornwall Wassail” and 5 other carols from Cornish Tradition.

The Noble Company of the Turks Head are like the Egyptians based on the “Mock National Costume” groups found in Guise Dancing. They have a large collection of games and props that are used to entertain including the “box of twickery”.

Each year a champion Guild is chosen, 2014 was awarded to the Turks, while the champions in 2015 were the Egyptians.

All of the Guise Guilds are part of the set up of the Cornish Culture Association.