The crowning of the Lord of Misrule is a tradition extending back into ancient times, and was a feature of Roman Saturnalia. Records from as late as the 3rd century suggest that the merry reign of the king of the revels came to a rather unjolly end when the chosen one was unceremoniously sacrificed on the altar of Saturn. In the Middle Ages, the tradition was revived in a more moderate form, most sacrificial elements removed or replaced by the less barbarous practice of burning the god in effigy. A remnant of this ancient custom clings to the current practice of pulling Christmas crackers: after the muffled explosion of the cracker, the prizes are generally revealed to be a joke, a charm, and the paper crown of the Lord of Misrule.
The catholic church outlawed this tradition at the Council of Basel in 1431 saying,"This festival teaches even the little children, artless and simple, to be greedy, and accustoms them to go from house to house and to offer novel gifts, fruits covered with silver tinsel. For these they receive, in return, gifts double their value, and thus the tender minds of the young begin to be impressed with that which is commercial and sordid."
The Lord of Misrule continues to this day in the guise of Punch and Judy shows which can trace their roots to the 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte. The figure of Punch derives from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella, which was Anglicized to Punchinello.