Chapbooks were small booklets that were sold by travelling peddlers or “chapmen” from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were usually printed on a single sheet folded into small books of 8, 12, 16 or 24 pages and often illustrated with crude woodcuts.
The paper quality was rather bad, the type was often broken and it was no exception when the illustrations had no relation to the text. Therefore, the chapbooks were very cheap (costing one penny or less). Since printing matter was expensive in the 17th - 19th centuries, the target group of chapbooks, the working class people, usually didn’t care much for the poor quality – they were happy enough to be able to buy any amusement they could get their hands on.
The chapbooks covered a broad range of subjects – from manuals to romances, from crime stories to poems and from nursery rhymes to biographies of famous people. Few publishers created books especially for children.
The popularity of the folded books declined from the 1860s onwards. In that time, the offer of affordable printed material had expanded extremely. The chapbooks were not the sole option anymore and lost their popularity.
If you have to be moralistic and are stringed by rules and regulations the whole year, it's only fair to be able let the beast out on one single day a year. At least that's how the clergy reasoned in the late Middle Ages. The day they picked for their debaucheries was New Year's Day, and they called it the Feast of Fools.
The Feast of Fools had its origins in Northern France and was not very widespread. It was a known festival in Britain and England, and was also celebrated in Germany in some cities at the Rhine. The festivities took place on or about January 1st; when a new year was about to begin. The new year was full of questions and uncertainties: will the soil be as fertile as needed, will the harvest be good, will we not lose our sons in battle? The religious festivities of Christmas, a period of fasting and stringent rituals, were just over, and people, not in the least the churchmen, were more than longing to let the beast out.
The nature of the feast was most probably a Christian adaption of the pagan Saturnalia; festivities in honor of the Roman God Saturn, during which social roles were reversed - masters turned to slaves and vice versa. The same inversion of social status was seen in the New Year's festivities of the Middle Ages. A boy from the lower-ranking clergy was elected to be bishop for a day. This Boy Bishop went by several names like "Abbot of Unreason" in France, "Lord of Misrule" in Britain, or "King of the Bean" in England. The latter name derives from the English tradition that the boy who would find the bean that had been hidden in a piece of cake, was to be the King during the festival.