For a typical example of the hard drinking which took place without a shadow of shame towards the end of the Middle Ages, the account of the Dane immortalised by Bobbie Burns in his ballad, "The Whistle, is hard to beat and throws a glaring light on the habits of people in high places of those days, when it was not considered a failing but a gift to take four or five times as much liquor as the next man.
The tale goes that when King James I (he was James VI of Scotland then), returned with his bride, Anne of Denmark, to Scotland, the latter brought in her train a Danish gentleman wth a by no means small reputation for excessive drinking. This Dane had a little ebony whistle which he carefully laid on the table beside his plate at meal times, at the same time promising it to the person who could blow it when everyone else was hors de combat, which feat was invariably accomplished by himself, until he met Sir Robert Lawrie, of Maxwelton, who, after three days' and nights' hard contest, left the Scandinavian under the table, and blew the whistle.
A most unique whistling cup of the late seventeenth century is exhibited in the Taunton Castle Museum. The total height being eight inches, the external diameter at the widest part is three inches and the internal two and a quarter inches. The interior tapers down the centre to a depth of five and a half inches and holds half a pint. It is made from walnut wood and the exterior is slightly convex with eight longitudinal flat faces upon which is cut, Take not from me all my store, Except you fill me with some more, For have to borrow and never pay, I call that foul play. At the smaller end is a whistle for the purpose of informing the landlord that the cup required replenishing. Hull Corporation have two very fine examples of silver so called whistling tankards, but these, like many others of the same name, merely have a small puncture in the handle, which has nothing to do with any whistling propensities with which the drinker may be afflicted. They were but the whim of a particular maker of tankards.
Reproduced from the book:
Drinking Vessels of Bygone Days
by G. J. MONSON-FITZJOHN, B.Sc.,F.R.Hist.S.
author of Quaint Signs of Olde Inns, etc.