Pageants, banquets, and fireworks: How to celebrate a coronation

An English coronation in the 16th and 17th centuries would include festivities that pointed to the grandeur and majesty of the monarchy, as we find depicted here in these books and documents from the Folger collection.

Elizabeth I: Pageants

Elizabeth I. Whereas you have in youre custodie and charge certen apparell as officer for our Maskes and Revelles… ([London], January 3, 1558/59). Folger MS L.b.33
Elizabeth I. Whereas you have in youre custodie and charge certen apparell as officer for our Maskes and Revelles… ([London], January 3, 1558/59). Folger MS L.b.33. (Click the image for a zoomable version.)
Note Elizabeth I’s signature and the broken seal on this warrant ordering Sir Thomas Cawarden, Master of the Revels, to lend costumes to the city of London for “Maskes and Revelles” celebrating her coronation. The city staged five pageants, enacted as Elizabeth progressed through the streets, that “emphasized Elizabeth’s legitimate claim to the throne, her own virtuousness, and her association with Protestantism,” as Georgianna Ziegler writes in the Elizabeth I: Then and Now exhibition catalog.

James II: Banqueting

Francis Sandford. The history of the coronation of the most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch, James II. 1687. S652
Francis Sandford. The history of the coronation of the most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch, James II. 1687. S652. (Click the image for a zoomable version.)

James II appointed a committee to establish a code of precedence for his coronation as well as subsequent ones. The Lancaster Herald of Arms, Francis Sanford, was then commissioned to give a full visual account of the carefully codified coronation ceremonies of April 23, 1685. Sanford records all of the preparations, regalia, participants, robing, procession, banquet, and fireworks of the coronation. At the banquet, as seen in the engraving, the King and Queen were served 145 dishes in the first course followed by 30 in the second. Peers and peeresses were served 639 dishes, while archbishops, bishops, barons, and judges were served 631. In total, 1,445 dishes were served at this banquet alone. (—from Feast of Feasts, a pop-up exhibition at the Folger curated by Abby Westover and Andrés Álvarez-Dávila)

William and Mary: Fireworks

Fireworks made in Amsterdam on the coronation day of William III and Mary II. 1689
Adriaan S hoonebeek. Shouw of bonfires and fireworcks made through the Englisch merchants in Amsterdam on the coronation day of William III and Mary II. 1689. ART 236- 026 (size XL). (Click the image for a zoomable version.)

The English merchants of Amsterdam organized and financed this celebration for the coronation of William and Mary of England. Until the end of the eighteenth century, fireworks were rare and mainly used to display the power and wealth of royalty. Printed depictions were just as important in communicating this political message. As the transience of fireworks makes them difficult to represent, artistic depictions varied, some resembling fountains of water, others raging fires and exploding stars. Schoonebeek has created a rendering full of the movement and unpredictability of pyrotechnics perhaps as impressive as the original show itself. (—from Feast of Feasts, a pop-up exhibition at the Folger curated by Abby Westover and Andrés Álvarez-Dávila)

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)