King James's Civic Pageant and Parliamentary Speech in March 1604

By Bergeron, David M. | Albion, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

King James's Civic Pageant and Parliamentary Speech in March 1604


Bergeron, David M., Albion


Near the end of a speech to his first Parliament (19 March 1604), James makes a rhetorical move, disingenuous and shrewd. He offers an excuse "in case you have not found such Eloquence in my Speech, as peradventure you might have looked for at my hands. I might, if I list, alledge the great weight of my Affaires and my continuall businesse and distraction, that I could never have leasure to thinke upon what I was to speake, before I came to the place where I was to speak." (1) Because James has had almost a year since being named King of England to contemplate his maiden speech to Parliament, we may take his "excuse" as special pleading. Clearly his strategy nicely reinforces the obvious eloquence of the speech; indeed, hearers may marvel all the more at the quality of the speech, given James's apparent lack of leisure to prepare it. James cannot, however, offer a compelling case for lack of time to write this important, initial speech to Parliament; in fact, his own care as a writer argues against this. But if, for the sake of argument, we take him seriously, where might James easily and readily have gotten the major ideas and themes of the speech (beyond his own obvious writings)? I answer that he could have found them in the magnificent royal entry pageant in his honor that occurred only four days (15 March) before the speech to Parliament. Most of the ideas that inform James's speech find some kind of dramatic representation in the pageant. Indeed, I will argue that the pageant and Parliament speech form a continuous event, designed to honor, instruct, and celebrate the king. These two events constitute the most important public events of James's early English reign and therefore make an exceptional claim for historical significance. In order to reach Westminster and Parliament, James must first figuratively and literally pass through London's civic pageant.

London's streets on 15 March offer a representative public; and Parliament offers the public's representatives, both events providing different voices that nevertheless seek to define the king's position, politically and spiritually. The City speaks to the king in multiple voices through dramatic action, symbols, costumes, music, and speeches. The king responds four days later in his single voice that strives to gather up the whole country into his vision, one that shares much with the pageant. Both occasions, I contend, attempt to define the king's charisma, his relationship with the group. The king cannot have charisma without the group's empowering support and definition. As Clifford Geertz wrote several decades ago about the earlier coronation pageant for Queen Elizabeth: such a pageant locates society's "center and affirm[s] its connection with transcendent things by stamping a territory with ritual signs of dominance." (2) More recently, Raphael Falco has observed that charisma underscores the "dynamic of interdependence." (3) Such charisma unites the physical body, spiritual body, and political authority--hence, the emphasis on James's physical presence and body in both pageant and Parliament speech. Falco notes: "A balance, or a dialectic, develops between that leader's body as flesh and the leader's body as a symbol of charismatic unity" (p. 9). Paradoxically, the more that people see the king's body in controlled and symbolic circumstances (such as the pageant and Parliament), the more mystified it becomes. As Geertz shrewdly observes: "A world wholly demystified is a world wholly depoliticized" (p. 143). The authors and performers of the pageant and the king speaking in Parliament clearly understand this idea. James exhibits, to use Falco's terms, lineage charisma (dynastic) and office charisma (institutional). He may at moments in his Parliament appearance also display personal, magnetic charisma. Therefore, I suggest that the Parliament speech complements and completes the pageant of four days earlie r; the pageant may at moments even have inspired the king to think in certain terms, as he recalls and responds to it. …

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