The earliest written references to ‘Morrys Dauncers’ occur in churchwardens’ accounts c1500, usually recording small payments for ribbons or a pair of shoes. Before the Reformation, the Morris dancers and their musicians took part in all of the church festivals that were linked to the agricultural year, which may indicate that the dances were originally connected with the fertility of the earth and the successful planting and growing of the crops. There are half a dozen different ‘styles’ or traditions of Morris dancing: Cotswold, Border, North West, Molly, Sword and Rapper, but within these headings the dances can vary widely; they are usually performed by sets of four, six or eight people.
Although, for a number of years in the mid-1900s, Morris dancing was the preserve of men, there is ample evidence that women, too, took part. William Kemp in 1599 danced from London to Norwich in nine days during which time he met women who danced the Morris as well as men; of one he said:
‘At Chelmsford, a mayde not passing foureteene years of age, dwelling with one Sudley, my kinde friend, made request to her master and dame, that she might daunce the Morrice with me in a great large room. They being intreated, I was soone wonne to fit her with bells; besides, she would have the olde fashion, with napking on her armes; and to our jumps we fell. A whole houre she held out; but then being ready to lye downe, I left her off; but this much in her praise, I would have challenged the strongest man in Chelmsford, and amongst many I thinke few would have done so much.’