Early London Pageantry and Theater History Firsts

Article excerpt

IN 1392, IN A RECONCILIATION with the City of London after a quarrel involving money, Richard II and his queen Anne of Bohemia made a triumphal formal entry into the city. For the entry the London authorities provided not only formal ceremonies, music, and gifts but also elaborate street pageantry involving maidens scattering gold coins, like leaves or flowers, from the top of Cheapside's Great Conduit onto the royal and civic procession as it passed, and a constructed castle or tower, further along Cheapside at the Standard, suspended on cords and from which an angel and a maiden descended through the air in clouds to the king and queen, offering them crowns and a cup of wine, and then reascending. Another elaborate device, of God and angels, was located at the western end of Cheapside near St. Paul's cathedral, and yet another, a wilderness with beasts, St. John Baptist, and another descending angel, was positioned at Temple Bar. (1) We know a great deal about the pageants (constructed theatrical displays) because of a contemporary descriptive poem on the entry by Richard Maidstone (or Maydiston), providing more detail than is given in the chronicle-history accounts of the occasion. (2) The entry has been much discussed and analyzed as the first truly elaborate London royal entry; and it has been seen as developing from two earlier, seemingly simpler London entries: the coronation entry of Richard II in 1377 and the coronation entry of his queen, Anne of Bohemia, in 1382. (3) The 1377 entry is normally thought of as the first English civic entry to have included a constructed street pageant, and also performers. (4)

In 1377 Richard II was formally received through London as part of the ceremonial leading up to his coronation at Westminster; and in the chronicles, as is well known, we do find descriptions of what appears to be a simpler version (though perhaps only in quantity--of pageants, gifts, and the like) of his 1392 entry. (Holinshed, however, in describing only one elaborate 1377 entry pageant, also refers to other pageants and shows not described, and so it is possible that our kinds of information differ, for the 1392 and 1377 entries, more than did the actual entries themselves. (5) We have no surviving descriptive poem, for example, on the 1377 entry; and the chroniclers Holinshed, Grafton, and Fabyan all deal with only one pageant in 1392's entry, while Maidstone's poem deals with four.) In 1377, the chronicles tell us, Richard encountered, as his procession passed through Cheapside, a castle with four towers, from each of which a maiden dressed in white blew leaves of gold and scattered imitation gold coins down upon the king and his train, and from a higher tower in the center a golden angel leaned down to the king with a crown. Wine ran from two of the castle's sides; and the maidens must also have descended from their towers in some way, spectacularly or otherwise, since they are said to have offered the king and his nobles wine from gold cups filled from the castle's spouts. (6) Five years later, for the entry of Anne of Bohemia through London for her coronation at Westminster, a Cheapside castle was also constructed: although we know about this not from the chronicles--which comment only briefly on Anne's entry--but instead from the early surviving accounts of the Goldsmiths' Company, a wealthy London craft guild also responsible for the castle in the 1377 entry, for which entry some costs have also survived in the company's accounts. The Goldsmiths' accounts provide little information about the 1377 pageant beyond that it was a constructed castle (the expenses for which included ropes), and that there were maidens; (7) without the chronicles we would not know about the four towers, gold leaves and coins, angel with a crown, and cups of wine. The company's accounts provide a bit more information about the 1382 pageant: but since the chronicles are silent about it, in the end we do not know as much about it as about 1377's. …


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