Academic journal article Early Theatre

'This Citie of Insufficience': Heraldic Text and the Representation of Authority in York's 1486 Entertainment for Henry VII

Academic journal article Early Theatre

'This Citie of Insufficience': Heraldic Text and the Representation of Authority in York's 1486 Entertainment for Henry VII

Article excerpt

After the battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485, Henry entered London in triumph. He ordered events deliberately in his coming to power, beginning with his coronation on 30 October, independent of parliament and his queen. In November, parliament sanctioned the succession. He married Elizabeth of York in January 1486, but it was not until the following November that the queen was finally crowned. As Francis Bacon would write over a century later, Henry 'resolved to rest upon the title of Lancaster as the main, and to use the other two, that of marriage, and that of battle, but as supporters, the one to appease secret discontents, and the other to beat down open murmur and dispute'. (1) Shortly following the marriage, in March 1486, the progress set off to the north, 'especially the countie of Yorke', where the king 'might wede, extirpate and purdge the myndes of men spotted & contaminate with the contagious smoke of dissencion'. (2) The welcome that would greet Henry on his arrival in the north was vitally important. York had done little to ingratiate itself with the new monarch in the preceding months, for the town council had twice refused Henry's choices for town recorder and openly expressed sorrow at the death of Richard III, who 'more loued, more estemed & regarded the northern men then any subiectes within his whole realme'. (3) York was, as the first pageant of the welcome admitted to Henry, a 'citie of insufficience', and they hoped that the king would put more weight on their new-found 'pure affeccion' than their late mistakes. (4) York needed something special to pledge allegiance convincingly to the new king, and the care taken with every aspect of the reception and entertainment suggests that the council (and by extension the king) believed such ceremony to be a vital tool for political influence and stability.

The York House Books record a pre-production text of the entertainment as planned by the city fathers. (5) The town clerk wrote down in significant detail the manner of meeting the king at Tadcaster, near York, the order for playing pageants in various locations about the town, the texts for speeches, the effects and shows for display en route, and some notes on the meaning of the work. This text alone provides a substantial account of the production. We have a second document, however, which records the event after the fact: an eyewitness account from a herald in the king's entourage. Scholars have taken this latter document as either the 'less reliable' or the 'more accurate' version, depending on what they were looking for. (6) Until recently, published studies of pageants and progresses in general--and the York welcome in particular--have spent little time interpreting the spoken texts in favour of seeing the spectacle. Sydney Anglo discusses the pageants at York in some depth, but he does little textual analysis; Clifford Davidson goes so far as to assert that a formalistic '"literary" reading violates the meaning of the dramatic text' in medieval civic drama; and Carolyn Wightman writes that speech is 'an important but limited adjunct of pageantry'. While C. Edward McGee concurs with the normative opinion, he hits on a vital point in a footnote: 'If one formed an opinion on the basis of the herald's account alone, it would appear that speeches were the very heart of pageantry'. (7) The herald's lack of concern with York's performance details produces this effect; he edits down inter-pageant business or descriptions of pageants' visual detail but reproduces the speeches. It also seems clear, however, that the poetry was copied so fully into the York House Books because it was on that foundation that the production of the show was built; it was copied (and edited) at such length in the herald's record because a 'correct' record of the text maintains a 'memory' specifically of Henry's success within a history of monarchic rule and within a narrative chronicle of a stable realm. …

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