The thought of Richard III’s re-interment ceremony got me thinking about the royal festivals of the early modern era, when every coronation, wedding, procession, visitation or funeral was projected to peers and the public via the new medium of print. The festival books that record (or make up) these events are great examples of “official history”, or propaganda. If it was logistically impossible for the “new” monarchs of the sixteenth and seventeenth century to project absolute authority, they could at least project magnificence, even, as in the case of Richard’s vanquisher, Henry VII, and his granddaughter Elizabeth I, in death.
February 7, 2013
Royal Entries (and Exits)
The Death of Henry VII in 1509 at Richmond Palace, British Library MS Additional 45131,f.54; Funeral procession of Elizabeth I, 1603, British Library MS. Add. 35 324, fol.37v.
But these solemn displays were nothing compared to the elaborate events that occurred on the Continent, which were recorded in both lavish manuscript books and well as more spare printed texts. The British Library has digitized much of its collection of festival books, and assembled a comprehensive site where you can access over 250 texts in addition to links to other collections and scholarly context and analysis. In these texts, you can read about, and see, all sorts of amazing events staged to mark the “joyful entries” of Renaissance monarchs: processions (with detailed lists of participants), tournaments, masques and other theatrical performances, ballets, water spectacles, fireworks, and all sorts of temporary architectural and/or mechanical constructions. The effort and expensive that went into these festivities is all the more impressive (and of course, seemingly wasteful) because the moments are so fleeting. A great example of flagrant-display-for-very-little-purpose was the meeting of Kings Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France near Calais in June of 1520, which became known as the Field of Cloth of Gold because of the profligate use of gold for the pavilion tents and presentation clothing of the participants. The two kings achieved very little (besides a wrestling match in which Francis bested Henry), but they put on a great show.
A printed account of the Field of Cloth of Gold, and two illustrations of the Pavilion tents, British Library MS Cotton Augustus III, folios 18-19; Punch caricaturist Richard Doyle’s cartoon of the wrestling match between Francis I and Henry VIII, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. For both aesthetic and pedagogical reasons (and because it provokes shock and awe among my students), my favorite festival book is a beautifully illustrated account of the promenade into Antwerp of François,the Duke of Alencon and Anjou, in 1582. This elaborately-staged “joyous entry” was in fact an attempted conquest by the heir to the French throne (and Elizabeth’s serious suitor) in disguise, and the Duke barely escaped with his life. But what does that matter? There was an elephant in the parade!
Title page and Scenes from La ioyeuse [et] magnifique entrée de monseigneur Francoys, fils de France, et frere unicque du roy, par la grace de dieu, duc de Brabant, d’Anjou, Alencon, Berri, [et]c. en sa tres-renomée ville d’Anvers (Antwerp, 1582), British Library.
This entry was posted on Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 9:55 am and tagged with Art, books, British Library, ephemera, print culture, Renaissance and posted in Culture, History. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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February 8th, 2013 at 6:18 pm
The RISD Museum, at least as of a few weeks ago, had a room full of these festival books on display.
February 9th, 2013 at 3:19 pm
Hello Matt! Missed that one–I’m going to look through the archives….
February 11th, 2013 at 11:01 am
I thought this was a nice and (ahem) economical obituary of Richard: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21571379-richard-plantagenet-englands-most-controversial-king-was-officially-rediscovered-february
February 11th, 2013 at 11:13 am
That is nice, Brad; thanks for the link. Much more thoughtful than all the truly bad jokes in circulation (which of course made me think of you).
December 21st, 2014 at 5:49 pm
Very shortly thnis site will be famous amid all blog people, due to it’s