For the 1937 Pageant see: Chester Pageant 1937.
The Edwardian period (1901-10) is sometimes portrayed as a romantic golden age of long summer afternoons and garden parties, basking in a sun that never sets on the British Empire. Certainly, the era stands out as a time of peace and prosperity on the eve of the carnage of WW1 and the economic downturn which followed. There were no severe depressions, and prosperity was widespread although the city retained many of the slum coursts of Victorian Chester. Britain's growth rate, manufacturing output and GDP (but not GDP per capita) fell behind its rivals, the United States and Germany, but the nation still led the world in trade, finance and shipping, and had strong bases in manufacturing and mining. This view seems to be maintained in much popular fiction which portrays Edwardian characters in an age of post-Victorian innocence and liberation then dooms them to either drowning on the Titanic or death in the trenches.
In 1910 entertainment for the masses was quite different to that of modern times. The radio broadcasting of music and talk intended to reach a dispersed audience started experimentally around 1905–1906, but commercially only around 1920 to 1923. In England, the first experimental music broadcasts, from Marconi's factory in Chelmsford, began in 1920. Shortly before, there had been commercial broadcasts in Europe from Germany, where it was still an offence to recieve them under the Treaty of Versailles. The first permanent cinema in Chester, with 400 seats, had opened in 1909 (initially the "Corn Exchange Cinema", then the "Picturedrome") in Eastgate Street. The Royal Agricultural Show had been held in Hoole, from 17 – 23 June 1893 (and would return to Chester in 1925). Entertainment for the masses meant large numbers of people gathering together, such as at the races, and this introduced many elements surrounding the presence and appearance of certain members of society.
The late Victorian and Edwardian times saw great change, with new technology, vast new imperial territories, the percieved "democratisation" of the political system and a further dominance of the urban culture over the rural. At the fin de siecle, and later, a vision of a pre-industrial "Merrie England" flourished, finding one expression in Chester in the Vernacular Revival "Black and White" architecture. In Edwardian times, pageants became an important aspect of popular engagement with the past, and often focused heavily on the "medieval" period (although that ended with the arrival of the Tudors). Pageants became so commonplace as to give rise to the phrase "pageant fever" and the term "pageantitis".
The pageants featured different episodes and characters both historical and legendary, including King Arthur, Alfred the Great, Robin Hood and Elizabeth I, who featured at different times and in different ways during the twentieth century. There were also frequently appearances by Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans and characters from various civil wars. Some modern historians have raged against the innaccuracy of some of the pageant portrayals, but on the other hand perhaps a distorted view of history is better than none.
The Edwardian pageant movement is usually dated to 1905, when the playwright and theatrical impresario Louis Napoleon Parker organised and produced a community celebration in Sherborne, Dorset, to celebrate the 1,200th anniversary of the foundation of the town, which was until then largely by-passed by tourists. Twelve months later most of Britain knew the name of Sherborne, and many towns and cities were scrambling to stage their own historical play as "pageant fever" swept the land. As noted in: "History taught in the pageant way"
- "Insofar as one can describe a typical English pageant from this time, it began with an episode depicting Roman times or the early medieval period, contained plenty of medieval scenes and concluded with something set in the age of the Tudors or Stuarts. Elizabeth I, the most widespread single character in historical pageants, often closed the performance: according to many pageant narratives, it was during her reign that the modern English nation had come into being. Thus many pageants culminated in scenes of Elizabethan merry-making, featuring maypoles and morris dancing."
Parker was very specific about what the pageant was intended to do and how it should be staged. The modern pageant differed from earlier English pageants in that folk-plays were given to bring back past glories and to instruct modern spectators in the history of a specific locale; the site of the pageant was staged at or near the center of historical interest in the town. Mr. Parker insisted that all his pageants be done by voluntary labor: the “episodes” were written by local dramatists and poets whenever possible, the music was composed by local musicians, and the parts were acted by local inhabitants of all social classes. All the costumes and properties were produced voluntarily by the inhabitants, without exception – Parker even demanded that each player furnish his or her own costume, as far as possible.
Throughout the twentieth century, aspects of "civic medievalism" were an important feature in pageants. Many communities saw their origins as being "medieval", and almost all found important stories to tell from this period. However, the emphasis shifted over time, with the lessons of the "constitutional Middle Ages" featuring prominently in Edwardian pageants, whereas by the 1950s elements of the romantic and grotesque were increasingly prominent. The nearest thing that Chester now has to a pageant is the Midsummer Watch Parade which might have an appearance by Charles I but other than that contains little direct reference to medieval Chester between the death of Harold at Hastings and Richard III at Bosworth.
This article looks at the Chester Pageant of 1910 which has a content that straddles the boundary of fact and fiction and provides an example of how history was understood and myths are created and propagated.
Described by The Times as "one of the most spirited that pageantry has produced", the Chester Historical Pageant of 1910 took place in Eaton Park, the estate of the Grosvenors, between 18 and 24 July, 1910. A reported 3,000 performers were involved, although some estimates put the number at 3,500, and over 70,000 spectators attended - a considerable achievement for a city of then only 50,000. The choice of year was interesting, because 300 years earlier, in 1610, Chester had seen the performance of "Chester's Triumph in honour of her Prince" as recorded in Chamber's Book of days - a familiar book in Edwardian times. The pageants seem to have been an Edwardian innovation, some 40 major pageants took place in the years 1900-10. In three cases: Cheltenham (1908), Cardiff (1909) and Chester the "Master of the Pageant" was George Hawtrey, indicating the degree of infrastructure which had already evolved for the organisation of pageants.
There was a clear commercial aspect to these pageants. Chester Archives hold a copy of the contract drawn up between the Pageant and Edward Baring, which appointed Baring as 'Director of the Pageant and Business Manager'. Baring was paid:
- "ten per cent of the gross receipts (other than from subscriptions and guarantees)... from all sources whether from the production of the said Pageant and from any Entertainments and other Functions held in connection therewith... also from the sale of effects after the Pageant when those sales have been made through the agency of the said Edward Baring".
In addition he received 'out-of-pocket expenses' and his staff were housed for all 'office-work' at 'Pageant-House' in the city. Baring had become involved with pageants in Cheltenham where he suggested a children's pageant which grew into the Gloucestershire Historical Pageant performed ten times to large audiences in July 1908. Over 2500 local amateur performers took part. It was, in all ways, a classic Edwardian pageant, drawing on the style and content of the original pageant-master, Louis Napoleon Parker. Baring went on to be an important producer of pageants in his own right in the inter-war period. Louis Napoleon Parker, in his 1928 autobiography, complained that a whole host of unworthy imitators had sprung up and commercialised his invention. The Pageant Committee also hired the Master of Properties, Master of Music and the Pageant Master. The Master of Properties was paid £50 in three instalments. Dr Bridge who was in charge of the music received £100 in two instalments plus out-of-pocket expenses and "five per cent on the first thousand pounds net profits... if such profit shall not exceed the sum of one thousand pounds".
Many of the commonplace historical tropes, such Alfred burning cakes, knights in armour, Cavaliers in large hats and boots, and miserable Puritans, were probably propagated by the semi-theatrical entertainment which the pageants contained. Many of these tropes and stereotypes found their way into early cinema.
Public Performance at Chester
The study of public performance contributes to many areas of Historiography. The best known "public theatre" at Chester is the Chester Mystery Plays, which are covered elsewhere on this site and have a vast literature associated with them. Once it was considered that the medieval mystery plays were "the popish progeny of ancient heathen theatre and full of ungodly errors and superstition" - "a Bastard of Babylon" - buffoonery far inferior to the Elizabethan theatre of Shakespeare. Later it was realised that pre-Reformation early English theatre needed to be re-interpreted as sometimes self-disparaging art which sought to disguise itself for the sake of its own preservation and that there was not a major gulf between the Medieval and the Renaisance.
With renewed interest in the plays in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, and especially performance of the plays themselves, scholarship in the area blossomed. The Mystery Plays were effectively banned in 1575, but revived in the 20th Century. A new interest in the performance of medieval plays was stimulated by William Poel's production of Everyman at the Charterhouse in London in 1901; it was paired with a production of Chester's Sacrifice of Isaac, the first performance of a Chester play in modern times. One of Poel's company, Walter Nugent Monck, formed his own company and staged versions of Chester's Nativity, Shepherds, and Magi plays in Bloomsbury Hall, London, in 1906. Monck wrote to the Chester Archaeological Society offering to produce the whole cycle in the traditional manner over three days at Whitsun 1907. The proposal, which must be seen against the background of Chester's music festivals and the city's growing concern with its past, would have resulted in the first complete revival of any English play-cycle. The Society organized a public meeting chaired by the bishop to discuss it. Although the dean of Chester opposed the production, the cathedral organist, Joseph Cox Bridge, supported it, and a number of Cestrians who had seen Everyman in London or on tour reported favourably on the production. Following the meeting, the three 'Nativity' plays were performed at the Chester Music Hall on 29th November 1906 to test local reactions. An edition of the performance-text by Bridge was published to accompany the production. The production was enthusiastically received by most (as reported in the The Chester Courant and Advertiser for North Wales), although there were some objections - notably by the Dean John Lionel Darby. But the society then decided that the cost of staging the full cycle was too high and the scheme fell-though. Interestingly, Monck would be the Pageant Master in charge of the Chester Pageant 1937.
Chambers' coverage of public theatre at Chester in his "Book of Days" is quite interesting, if not always accurate. He touches briefly on the well-known Chester Mystery Plays but then turns to discuss in detail the much lesser known "Chester's Triumph in Honour of her Prince". This is possibly best described as a "unique work", beginning with an actor climbing the spire of St Peter and doing a handstand at the summit. It was played once only in 1610, in honour of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales who was the eldest son of James VI and I, King of England and Scotland, and his wife Anne of Denmark. Henry was not present for the performance - he was at his residence at Richmond on St Georges Day (23rd April) 1610 when the triumph was performed. On the 4th June 1610 Henry took part in a lavish ceremony in London which celebrated his coming of age and creation as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.
Another noted "pageant" at Chester was the 1536 "Triumph" of "Queen Dido" as performed in the mayorality of Sir Lawrence Smith. It is one of several public performances noted by Hemingway:
- "There were besides these scripture dramas, others of a profane character which were acted occasionally on special occasions. The Shepherd's Play was acted in St John's church yard in 1515; in 1529 the play of Robert Cicell was performed at the High Cross; on the Sunday after Midsummer day 1563, the "History of Eneas and queen Dido" was played on the Rood eye, set out by one William Crofton, gentleman, and one Mr Mann, Master of Arts. In l577, the "Shepherd's Play" was performed before the Earl of Derby at the High cross, and other triumphs on the Rood eye. And in 1589, a play was performed at the High cross, called the story of "Kinge Ebranke with all his sonnes."
Hemmingway's seemingly amusing reference to Robert Cecil (involved in the Gunpowder Plot) is actually probably intended to refer to "Robert of Sicily". Ormerod contains essentially the same information, which he lifts directly from Magna Brittanica by Daniel and Samuel Lysons.
"Triumphs", such as the "History of Eneas and queen Dido" were large, spectacular events in which the visual impact was more important than the text. Triumphs on the Roodee were among the entertainments seen by Henry Stanley, earl of Derby, in 1577. There is little surviving information on the 1563 Triumph, but it appears to have been as spectacular as would be expected. As, with one exception, no payments for it are recorded in the Chester corporation or guild records, mayor's book, etc. it may be assumed that it was privately funded. The exception is in the City Treasurers accounts for 1563/4 (ZTAR 1/11) where there is an "item paid master mayre at midsomer for the trivmthe: 26s and 8p". There is an associated note of 14s being spent on gunpowder.
In Medieval and Tudor times, Chester’s magnificent Midsummer Watch Parade was renowned throughout the country. First held during the mayoralty of Richard Goodman in 1498, it was organised by the City Guilds and took place in the years when the famous Chester Mystery Plays were not performed. The outstanding features of the show were the Giants – enormous structures made of buckram and pasteboard and carried by two or more men. Giants were a common feature of Tudor pageantry in England and Europe, but Chester was unique in that the city paraded a whole family of Giants – the Father, the Mother and two Daughters. There were also fantastic giant Beasts including the Unicorn, the Elephant, the Camel and the Dragon. Originally the Dragon was beaten by six naked boys, but this practice was banned in the late 16th century. The Midsummer show seems to have originated 1498-9 when Chester was visited by Prince Arthur visited the city with his page Thomas Cowper, although the visit was apparently from August 1498 until September of the same year. Thomas Cowper was Page of Honour to Prince Arthur (19/20 September 1486 – 2 April 1502), Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall. As the eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VII of England, Arthur was viewed by contemporaries as the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor. His mother, Elizabeth of York, was the daughter of Edward IV, and his birth cemented the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York. The Midsummer Watch Parade survived much longer than the now world-famous Mystery Plays, which were banned in 1575 and not revived until recent times. In 1599, Mayor Henry Hardware prohibited the Parade and ordered the Giants to be broken up. However, so popular was the show that it was revived the next year and continued until the 1670s. The Midsummer Watch Parade was revived in the 1990's, with the first new giant was taken for a walk through the streets of Chester at midsummer 1989. A second giant was made at Lache Junior School, a unicorn at Lache Adventure Playground and a Dragon at NACRO New Careers Training in 1990. The parade at midsummer that year was the first for over 300 years. The Winter Watch Parade was re-created by the Council in the 1990’s.
The "Book of Music" from the Pageant features the Chester Waits with recorders on its cover. Town waits or city waits were in former times in England and Scotland the watchmen who patrolled during the night, using a musical instrument to show they were on duty and to mark the hours. The instrument also probably ensured that anyone they might come across would not be surprised and assault them. This simple task later developed as the waits added more instruments and became more proficient at playing them. The usual instrument of the waits was the shawm; its loud and piercing sound suiting it to outdoor playing. They also in some cases played string instruments, and were also sometimes noted for their singing, as at Norwich. The "Book of Music" shows recorders which are very similar to those in the Grosvenor Museum. These were made by the French recorder maker Peter Bressan (c. 1650-1731), who moved to London at the end of the 17th century and probably made these recorders not long after. Their importance lies in their fine workmanship and the fact that four of the six comprise a complete set. The set belonged to the Cholmondeley family of Cheshire and was found in an attic around 1845. It was given to the Chester and North Wales Archaeological Society whose collections later passed into the ownership of the Grosvenor Museum.
Back in 1910 the city had resisted holding a pageant for several years. In 1907, Chester’s Mayor had declared that he thought "pageants were overdone at the present time". Yet, only two years later, the Council changed its mind. In part this may have been due to the efforts of Osborne Aldis, a local resident who had also been involved in the restoration of Plegmund's Well. Aldis wrote to (among others) industrialist Alfred Mond, later 1st Baron Melchett, and Liberal Member of Parliament for Chester from 1906 to 1910.
Chester in 1910
By 1910 Chester had seen a good deal of conversion of its architecture to the "Black and White" of the Vernacular revival. Of the architects who pioneered this change, Lockwood was ten years dead, Hodkinson had just died and Douglas was approaching the end of life, as he died in May 1911. A new generation were taking over.
In 1910, the younger Lockwoods (William and Philip) had started work on St Michael's Row in Bridge Street. This was a large Vernacular Revival steel framed building of 1909-11 with a half-timbered facade designed by W. T. Lockwood, for the second Duke of Westminster. It replaces a similar scaled (but four bay) building of 1863 by Edward Hodkinson, and incorporates the row level entrance to St Michael's Arcade. originally intended that this large and ambitious project should be wholly faced in white and gold Doulton faience tiles. Plans for the redevelopment came before the Improvement Committee in June 1909. The scheme was approved, but noting that the front was of faience tiles the Improvement Committee instructed the Town Clerk to write to the Duke and suggest that it might be changed to half-timbering "in harmony with the characteristic architecture of the city". Other petitions to the Duke came from the Bishop of Chester and the Archaeological Society. Initially the Duke took no notice other than to explain that the half-timbered front would need repainting every three years at some expense (£150 in 1909 money).
The "White City" as it was known locally had barely reached its full height in September 1910 when a debate erupted in the "letters" pages of the local newspaper (the Chester Chronicle). Only James Williams, a member of the Archaeological Society appeared unopposed to it. Williams wrote:
- "..when we see the truly cosmopolitan styles of architecture now so general, we may congratulate ourselves upon the varied styles used in the buildings in Chester. What sort of a place would it look like if only one style or architecture was adopted? We should be appalled with the sameness. In our antiquarian researches let us not ourselves become antiquated. Whilst preserving the ancient - the old features - let us use the new styles also, and prosperity will bless us".
The majority remained opposed to this deviation from the "Chester Look" and the 2nd duke of Westminster was sensitive to the criticism and decided, at his own expense, to have the tiles removed and replaced by the timber frontage seen today, which the Duke paid (£4000) to have erected. The alterations were greeted enthusiastically by the Improvement Committee and the Chronicle. In addition to removing the tiles, an extra bay was added to each side and the building was made taller (involving the demolition of two further properties). Work on the changes started towards the end of March 1911 and was completed in August. The tiles were advertised for sale in the Chronicle, but it is not known what their eventual fate was. It is entirely possible that the furore over St Michael's Row was in part due to the recent pageant.
The 1910 pageant illustrated the history of Chester with a series of eight historical "re-enactments" of events concerning the city. Interestingly, some of the principal characters might not be particularly well-known outside of Cheshire. Thus, the episodes have a particular local character and are not just "stock medieval" roles being reprised.
All of these have a "processional character" with the performers making an dramatic entrance. In some cases this required a little re-writing of history to provide elements of theatre. Pageants were usually one-off events: they may have been staged (as at Chester) several times over the course of their run, but it was rare for them to become annual, or even regular, events. However, their legacies were significant, both for communities and individuals. As in other cases the Chester Pageant brought the community together behind performed fabrications of the local past and its folk traditions, linked to wider national narratives. The choice of which elements of history are selected for portrayal, as in the case of the sculptures at the Town Hall in Chester, says much about how a community perceives itself and its past. The perception of "Whig History" at the time presented history as a journey from a dark and terrible past to a "glorious present" with modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. Thus the depictions play-up some elements (including some fictions) and downplay others.
The analysis below contrasts the actual history with that presented in the pageant and refers to some, but not all, of the differences and similarities. An attempt is made to look at the societal events which may have influenced some of choices made in portrayals. As for differences between what is portrayed and the actual historic events it should not be assumed that these are down to "ignorance" - there are practical theatrical reasons why the temporal spacing and even the order of events might be changed for dramatic effect, or, for example, why a character might appear as an adult when in reality they were only a child at the time.
The pageant opened with the entrance of "Chester", in an allegorical sense. The character was played by Cecil T. Parker, the Duke of Westminster's agent (and his nephew). Parker had a prominent role in the Agricultural Show held at Chester and history provides a mixed picture of him. He seems a tireless worker, but managed to get on the wrong side of John Douglas with whom he disagreed over the construction of "Parker's Buildings" on Foregate Street. Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster supported the pageant, although it was not a happy time for him: his only son, Edward, died aged 4 in 1909. There was another notable death just before the pageant - that of king Edward VII on the 6th May 1910. As Barbara Tuchman noted of King Edward in "The Guns of August", his funeral, held on 20 May 1910, marked "the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last." Given the death of the king there were suggestions that the pageant should be cancelled but it went ahead, even with the apparent support of the new monarch, George V.
The pageant begins with the entrance of the Band, followed by the Chorus: all take their places on the 'Stand'. The National Anthem is then played at the conclusion of which "Chester", followed by "his party", ride in from "the further end of the ground". Telephones were used to communicate instructions to performers and synchronise events. Behind him "in three rows" come the Gates, the Walls, and the Pinnacles, then all of the attendants. The Gates included the Hon. Sir Savage Lloyd Mostyn and three others, The Walls were 4 men, The Pinnacles played by 10 women and the Attendants of Chester included 6 men and 7 women. The character of Chester introduces the pageant in spoken verse with the Gates, Pinnacles and Walls acting as a rhetorical chorus. They then notice the absence of the River Dee and disperse across the ground to look for her while the choir sings. The Dee is important for a forthcoming scene with king Edgar and as the performance does not take part on the banks of the river this needs to be dealt with in a clever way. Added to this is the semi-comic "where is she" hunt which helps bring down the barriers between the audience and the action.
Deva - the personification of the River Dee, would have been familiar to the audience. In the 16th Century Willam Camden wrote:
- The river Dee, called in Latin Dava , in British Dyfyr-dwy , that is, the water of Dwy , breeding very great plenty of Salmons, ariseth out of two fountaines in Wales, and thereof men thinke it tooke the name. For dwy in their tongue signifieth two. Yet others, observing also the signification of the word, interpret it Blac-water , others againe Gods water or divine water. But although Ausonius noteth that a Spring hallowed to the Gods was named Diuvona in the ancient Gaules tongue (which was all one with the British), and in old time all rivers were reputed Διοπετεῖς, that is, Descended from Heaven , yea and our Britans yeelded divine honour unto rivers, as Gildas writeth, yet I see not why they should attribute Divinitie to this river Dwy above all others.
The name of the river was recorded in the 13th century (in mainstream Middle English orthography, lacking the letters v and w) as flumen Dubr Duiu; many sources state that the name appears to derive from the Brythonic dēvā: "River of the Goddess" or "Holy River". The river is personified as the war and fate goddess Aerfen. It is generally accepted that the river name inspired the name of fortress at Roman Chester - Deva Victrix. The word Diva entered the English language in the late 19th century. It is derived from the Italian noun diva, a female deity and can also refer to a celebrated female singer; a woman of outstanding talent in the world of opera, and now, by extension, in theatre, cinema and popular music.
Pageant Master Hawtrey admits to having used the works of John Milton in the prologue. he can only be refferring to Milton's 1638 poem "Lycidas", which first appeared in a 1638 collection of elegies, "Justa Edouardo King Naufrago", dedicated to the memory of Edward King, a contemporary of Milton at Cambridge. King drowned when his ship, travelling from Chester, sank in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales in August 1637. Historians have debated whether Milton and King were close friends or Milton was simply commissioned to write the elegy. There has also been a good deal of debate as to Milton's actual "message" in the poem, but none of this finds its way into the prologue. The poem does however ask the question "Where were ye, Nymphs" in relation to the death of Lycidas (the implication being that they did not prevent it) and therefore contains a hint as to another interpretation of the hunt for Deva, with possible references through Edward King to the late King Edward. However, it is perhaps questionable to read too much into some of the allusions that can apparently be seen.
Hawtrey was hired to "write, plan and design the dialogues, scenes and tableaux" and his contract specifically required that he must include:
- "..as much as possible and practicable of the work of the amateur authors whom the Committee have invited to wtite Episodes and give them credit by mentioning their names"
It appears that Hawtrey himself wrote the Prologue and that there were some disputes over his editing of some of the other Episodes. "Lycidas", which is probably derived from the Greek word for "wolf" is perhaps an unfortunate starting point, given that the Duke's only son had just died and the only son of the Duke's supposed ancestor "Hugh the Wolf" (Hugh of Avranches) also perished in a shipwreck, like Lycidas and the unfortunate Edward King. Hawtrey himself would be dead within a few weeks, having been exhausted by the pageant he died of heart failure on 17 August 1910. All the "hidden" references may of course be co-incidence.
The music played during this scene includes the "Invocation of Sabrina" (Henry Lawes) written for the staging of John Milton's Masque, now called Comus. Few would recognise the connection with water-sprites (Sabrina is the River Severn's equivalent of Deva) and just hear the "Elizabethan" tune, although the Rhyl Journal does appear to have spotted the connection. Lawes was elder brother of fellow composer William Lawes who was "casually shot" by a Parliamentarian in the rout of the Royalists at Rowton Heath, near Chester, on 24 September 1645. The root of the idea to incorporate elements of "Comus" appears to have originated in very early correspondence on the staging of the Pageant, when Osborne Aldis (see: Plegmund) was in discussion with Edward Compton. It is noteworthy perhaps that Aldis once owned an early copy pf the works of Milton and this might lead to the speculation that Aldis may have had some input into the script. Aldis' copy of Milton's works is now in the Varshavsky Collection
Nymphs, followed by the goddess Dee finally arrive and, at the end of this procession, the Tritons, all then enter followed by the fairies from different points of the arena. At the conclusion of the choir's song, Dee addresses Chester saying "...Chester dear, at thy request I am here". A dialogue in verse then ensues between Chester and the Dee; this ends with Chester as expositor, announcing the first episode, and all dispersing from the ground.
Episode 1: Agricola Returns to Deva After Defeating the Ordovices, AD 78
Arriving in midsummer of 77, Gnaeus Julius Agricola discovered that the Ordovices of north Wales had virtually destroyed the Roman cavalry stationed in their territory. He immediately moved against them and defeated them. His campaign then moved onto Anglesey where he subjugated the entire island, presumably with considerable violence. Almost two decades earlier, Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus had attempted the same but Roman forces had to withdraw in 60CE because of the outbreak of the rebellion of Boudica. All this is historically accurate. No detailed photographs have yet been identified of the set which was used for the the episodes, but from a few images and some other documents it appears to have been a market square with a cross and a set of stocks, both of which would have been anachronistic in Roman times. The High Cross in Chester had of course been thrown down during the Civil War and would not be repaired and re-errected until years after the pageant, so the cross used in the re-enactments is, at least according to one illustration, of the classic "celtic" type.
In the scene portrayed in the pageant Agricola is engaged in business with his officers in Roman Chester. A "Briton" (Carantus - which is actually a Roman name) steals up behind him, and Agricola turns only just in time to save himself from assassination. The native is seized by the angry soldiers, and we gather (ignoring the fact that they are unlikely to speak the same language) that the motive of the man’s action is to avenge the theft of his cattle and an assault on his bride, who had been "flagrantly insulted" by a centurion (Aufidus - who has the same name as a character from Coriolanus). The centurion is under arrest, but the Briton mistrusts the honesty of imperial justice, where the life of so important an officer is at stake and only a native woman has been, presumably, raped. Agricola has the clemency to forgive the assault upon himself and "vindicates the honour of his race" by having the centurion brought to immediate trial and sending him to his death within the hour. Despite protests by some of his officers Agricola declares
- "'Rome is conqueror, but no tyrant. The goods of men, the virtue of women, shall be sacred to her soldiers."
Before departing he address Carantus saying:
- "Thou art a lad of mettle, and such are the men I like".
There is no historical evidence that the incident portrayed took place, and the only "hooks" into known history are the presence of Agricola and the fact that he has just returned fron Wales. Ayako Yoshino, a modern wtiter on pageants, has remarked that the treatment of the Romans and their relationship with the native Britons in the pageant was intended to underline the inherent nobility of the British, foreshadow Britain's later greatness, and demonstrate the assimilation of classical virtues within the indigenous culture. In other words: to demonstrate the justice of the British Empire. It is also worth noting that from November 1905 to March 1906, the future George V, who became king just before the pageant took place, had toured British India, where he was disgusted by racial discrimination and campaigned for greater involvement of Indians in the government of the country. His opinions were publicised and would have been known to the scriptwriters. Such incorporation of "topical themes" is a well-known literary device.
Episode 2: King Eadgar on his Imperial Progress With Queen Aelfthryth Receives the Homage of Tributary Princes, AD 973
The depiction of history now jumps forward almost a thousand years, skipping over a host of characters who might have been the subject of pageants elsewhere, and indeed some who had roles in the history of Chester. There is no mention Ecgbert, of Alfred the Great, his daughter Æthelflæd or his archbishop Plegmund. The long dynastic struggle between Mercia and Wessex is left out, as is any mention of Anglo-Saxon or Viking "invaders", with the impression being given that the "English" are the same people represented by the "Briton" in the previous scene, rather than migrants/invaders who arrived after the Romans departed.
"Eadgar", better known as "Edgar the Pacific" is probably better-known in Chester than in many other parts of the country brcause of his famous boat trip on the River Dee, when, according to tradition, he was apparently rowed upstream by other rulers from "Edgar's Field" to St Johns. As described by the paper read before the Historical Society (see link below) the pageant depicts how:
- "Two years before the close of his peaceful reign, he had a splendid coronation at Bath at the hands of the masterful Dunstan, who, in those days, was “the power behind the throne.” Then, as King of the English and over-lord of many princes, Edgar came to Chester by sea, to receive the homage of those who held their titles under him. The ceremony in this City must have rivalled in brilliance and impressiveness even the crowning at Bath, by which it had been preceded. All the princes of the Isle of Albion came to render their homage and take their oaths of allegiance, and they themselves rowed Edgar in the Royal barge up the Dee to the Collegiate Church of St. John, where was witnessed a scene of splendour such as never had been known in these realms."
The storyline of this episode elaborated on the ascendancy of the Anglo-Saxon monarch as overlord of the British Isles. The concomitant notion that the English nation with its ancient pedigree was the cornerstone of modern British identity would not have been lost on the audience. There was also a topical aspect, as the recent death of the king meant that another coronation was soon to happen.
On the pageant field, stagecraft was required to represent the drama, with elves and fairies symbolizing the banks of the Dee and the monarchs seeming to row a barge that was actually on wheels and mechanically driven. The huge barge had a dragon's head at the prow, a wyvern's tail at the stern and can be seen in the background on some photographs. On Wednesday evening of pageant week Chester Council decided to put on a more lifelike dramatisation by illuminating the river Dee itself. This caused a bit of a row over cost as neither the council nor the pageant were willing to pay for the illuminations, but in the end they went ahead, financed by a special 'Mayor's Fund', which gathered donations. During this display, the banks of the Dee were illuminated with thousands of coloured electric lights covering bridges and bankside buildings for a two-mile stretch, during which the episode's performers re-enacted the arrival of Edgar. The reason the illuminations went ahead may have been that so many people had travelled to Chester to see the pageant that some were actually being turned-away at the gates. Plans for the river display were however well in hand in the weeks before and it was not a last-minute rush. The boats used had been brought to Chester having been used in the Oxford Pageant of 1907 and afterwards at Cheltenham.
In reality Edgar did have his boat trip on the Dee. He probably arrived at St Johns but some historians have suggested he came downstream from Farndon. The coronation ceremony was designed by Dunstan and is largely unchanged today. In 1910 it would have been a clear reference to the forthcoming coronation of George V. Some Victorian historians saw the impressing of the sub-kings as oarsmen as an act of ritual humiliation, "Picturesque England" has this different slant on the story, commenting that:
- "He ascended a large vessel, with his nobles and officers, and stationed himself at the helm, while the eight kings who had come to pay him homage were compelled to take the seats of the watermen, and to row him down the Dee - a most arrogant insult on the feelings of others whose titular dignity was equal to his own. Edgar crowned the scene, and consummated his disgrace, by declaring to his courtiers that his successors might call themselves kings of England when they could compel as many kings to give them such honour."
The page on Edgar's Field gives a tentative identification of the sub-kings and their subsequent history.
As for Edgar's wife, she is not normally mentioned in accounts of the Dee boat trip, but does appear in the re-enactment. Edgar's family life was complicated, and possibly reveals a different side of his character. Edgar is believed to have married first Æthelflæd the White, daughter of Ordmaer, Ealdorman of the East Anglians, at some time between 957 and 959. After Æthelflæd's death about 962, the traditional story is that Edgar abducted and married Wulfthryth of Wilton. He carried her off from the nunnery at Wilton Abbey. They lived as husband and wife at his residence in Kemsing for 2 years. It is unclear if they actually married or not, or if she had in fact been a nun. After the birth of one daughter, Wulfthryth was returned to Wilton Abbey, along with their child, and definitely now became a nun, eventually Abbess. About 964/965 Edgar was married, possibly for a third time, to Ælfthryth, widow of Æthelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia, Edgar's adopted brother. Ælfthryth was the daughter of Ealdorman Ordgar and his wife, a member of the royal family of Wessex. Legend has it that Edgar heard of Ælfthryth's great beauty and sent Æthelwald to arrange marriage for him (Edgar) but Æthelwald instead married her himself. In retaliation Æthelwald was killed "in a hunting accident" (at the site of "Dead Man's Plack") and Edgar married her as he had wanted. It is not known if this is true or simply romantic fiction.
Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He was 33 years old and the cause of his death is not known. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful but was not his father's acknowledged heir. On Edgar's death, the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward's claim to be king and others supporting his younger half-brother Æthelred, recognised as a legitimate son of Edgar and Ælfthryth. The 12 year old Edward was chosen as king and was crowned by his main clerical supporters, the archbishops Dunstan of Canterbury and Oswald of York. In the brief reign of Edward the Martyr (c. 962 – 18 March 978), his support for Dunstan's Benedictine reform movement provoked the anger and envy of those who had seen the Church as a way to gain wealth and prestige. The ascetic life and the importance of monasticism promoted by Dunstan and his colleagues were not to their liking, and so they looked for – and found – other friends in high places. Ælfhere was a leader of the anti-monastic reaction and a close ally of Edward's stepmother Queen Dowager Ælfthryth. Civil war almost broke out over the disputed succession and in the anti-monastic reaction the nobles took advantage of Edward's weakness to dispossess the Benedictine reformed monasteries of lands and other properties that previous King Edgar had granted to them. Eventually, it appears that Ælfthryth had her step-son murdered, although that may have been made-up by later writers. The earliest chronicle texts only state that Edward was killed, by the time of later chronicles it was claimed that Ælfthryth plotted the murder and eventually that she did the deed herself. Her own son then took his place, becoming eventually known as Æthelred the Unready.
None of this dynastic plotting and murder is mentioned in the pageant, which simply takes Edgar as "the first king of all England" and does not concern itself with the fact that the same title might be argued to apply to others who lived earlier. For more on Edgar and his times see: Ælfgar.
Episode 3: Hugh Lupus, with St Anselm, Founds the Abbey of St Werburgh, AD 1093
The action now skips forwards again - avoiding the conquest of England by Cnut and his Vikings and the events around the battle of Hastings and another conquest. The eye of history settles next on a period when the Normans are in control.
Hugh of Avranches was given a Palatine county with the power to make and break any law save treason in return for bankrolling Duke William's Invasion in 1066, Hugh built castles in England and made a poor job of invading Wales. He managed to arrange the marriage of his son into the monarchs family, but this was to end in tragedy. The Grosvenors claimed to be descended from him. There are several versions of this story. The one the Grosvenors themselves first put forward (in 1389) is that their ancestor was Gilbert (Gros) Venour, who they claimed was a cousin of Hugh. There is very little evidence that Gilbert actually existed. There is also some evidence that Hugh was not the first Earl of Chester, with his brief predecessor being Gherbod the Fleming.
The Welsh called him Hugh Flaidd (Hugh the Wolf or Hugh Lupus) and a wolf's head appears on his arms. In an 1086 engraving of the coat of arms the artist has gave the head of the wolf a wide grin, which might be mistaken for that of a cat - this has been suggested as the origin of the Cheshire Cat. As regards Hugh, Hemingway quotes the following:
- He was, "saith Ordericus, not only liberal, but profuse; he did not carry a family with him, but an army. He kept no account of receipts or disbursements. He was perpetually wasting his estates; and was much fonder of falconers and huntsmen, than of cultivators of land, and holy men , and by his gluttony he grew so excessively fat, that he could hardly crawl about.
As described by "historical pagents" (see links below):
- "The episode begins with the entry of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester (played by Mr A. H. Fyffe). He appears feeble and is using a walking stick as well as leaning on the arm of Robert Fitzhugh of Malpas (Mr E.R. Reynolds). His wife Ermentrude (Lady Arthur Grosvenor) and her ladies accompany them. In the train that follows are a group of nobles and the 'Chief Falconer' who have alongside them 'huntsmen, boys with hounds, servants, men at arms'. Also included in the procession are the clergy of St John's. At the centre of the arena, Hugh Lupus sits on a chair and proceeds to bemoan the continued absence of Anselm who is in Normandy, though he has 'sent for him three times'. Ermentrude tries to calm him. The arrival of Anselm (the Rev. W. Trott) is announced. Lupus asks him why he has taken so long in coming, stating, 'I grow old, Anselm, and near my term: and, alas, I have led but an ill life'."
The pageant portrayed how the Earl plans to make amends for his dissolute life by enabling Chester to become an important ecclesiastical centre, and effectively recites the folk-tale that Hugh recovered from an illness following the intervention of Anselm. Hugh did found (or re-found) the Abbey which later became the Cathedral with the somewhat reluctant help of Anselm. The Chester Annales record the foundation thus:
- In hoc anno venit dompnus Anselmus abbas Ecclesiæ Beccensis Angliam qui sepius ante venerat in Angliam, veniens itaque tunc Angliam Anselmus a multis acclamatus archiepiscopus, quitanti honoris onus humiliter fugiens, rogatu nobilis principis, comitis Hugonis Cestriam venit, ibique abbatiam in honorem Sanctæ Werburgæ fundavit, et monachis ibidem congregatis Ricardum monachum Beccensem primum abbatem instituit. Quo facto, in eodem anno in reditu suo a Cestria, archiepiscopus Cantuariensis factus est. (1093: In this year the lord Anselm, abbot of the church of Bec, came to England, who before this had frequently been in England. On his coming to England this last time, Anselm was acclaimed by many as archbishop, but, humbly desiring to escape the burden of so great an honour, on the invitation of the noble prince, earl Hugh, he came to Chester, and there founded the abbey in honour of S. Werburg, and, having assembled the monks together, he appointed Richard, a monk of Bec, the first abbot. Having done this, in the same year, upon his return from Chester, he was made archbishop of Canterbury.)
In reality the situation was rather more complex. A direct consequence of the Norman invasion of 1066 was the near total elimination of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, and the loss of English control over the institutions of state such as the Church. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), only two English landowners of any note had survived. By 1096 no church See or Bishopric was held by any native Englishman - all were held by Normans. When about to return to Bec, Anselm was refused permission by the then king (William Rufus) but the following year, when the king fell ill (and believed himself dying) Anselm was nominated to the then vacant see of Canterbury. Thus, the same story of illness has been attached to both William Rufus and Earl Hugh. Whether both illnesses occurred can only be speculated upon. The reluctant Anselm was finally consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093: this was a disaster for William as the two did not get on and started a long controversey about whether the pope ot the king could appoint archbishops. Even after William's death monks would continue to try and destroy his reputation, accusing him of being homosexual and noting that he was "hated by almost all his people." As the episode is set in 1093, Hugh is still eight years from the end of his life and in 1093 would have been aged about 52, whereas the pageant appears too place him much closer to death. In fact Hugh will engage in further warfare in Wales in the following years.
Also, Chester was already an important ecclesiastical center long before Hugh's foundation of the Abbey, having been the resting place of the remains of Werburgh since 875. In 1092 Hugh simply turfed out the previous occupants of what became the Abbey and later the Cathedral, replacing them with monks. Furthermore, already in 1075, Peter de Leia, bishop of Lichfield (consecrated in 1067) had removed his episcopal see to St Johns Church at Chester and planned the rebuilding of the ancient St Johns into a huge new cathedral church suitable for the seat of a bishop. The scale of the plans for St Johns can still be imagined today by examining the partly Norman interior and the Ruins at each end of the later shortened church.
Chester may have been a "center of learning" since the days of Plegmund, if not earlier when it may have been the location of an important synod sometime around the year 600. Indeed, in the earlier scene with Edgar the Pacific, there is reference to both a bishop of Chester and the relics of Werburgh.
Although it has been suggested that Hugh became a monk at St Werburg in Chester, four days before he died (1101), the Chester Annales simply records his death:
- Defuncto Hugone comite cestrensi principe nobili. Ricardus puer vij annorum comitatum suscepit (1101 The noble prince Hugh, earl of Chester, being dead, Richard, a boy of seven years of age, inherited the earldom.)
There is a discrepancy as regards reports of whether the pageant depicts Hugh becoming a monk or not. In the final version as performed Hugh says "ere long" he will make amends as a monk "at St Werbugh's Abbey". In the rehearsal seen by the Llandudno Advertiser and List of Visitors (which did actually publiish lists of people visiting Llandudno) we read "Hugh himself is asked to enter the religious life, but declines, promising, however, that if he did it would be in St. Werburgh's Abbey.". It may be that the script was changed at the last moment as the folk-tale that Hugh entered the Abbey had become to be seen as without foundation. A part of the "evidence" that Hugh became a monk is his supposed burial in the Cathedral with his rediscovery in 1724, wrapped in gilded leather, and deposited in a stone coffin marked with a "wolf's head", having a cross on the breast. Hemingway puts the discovery down to a "Mr Henchman, a school master". Others have argued that this was the body of abbot Simon Ripley. The "Black Dog" was the emblem of Simon Ripley, abbot of St Werbugh (now Chester Cathedral) from 1485 until 1493. By 1910 the folk-tale was still common but the "Ripley" explanation was generally accepted. It seems that between rehersal and performance a compromise was reached. The fact that the part of Hugh Lupus was originally to have been played by Lord Arthur Grosvenor (who claimed to be a descendant) may be relevant.
Robert Fitzhugh of Malpas is an attested historical character and a military companion of Earl Hugh. His parents are unknown and the name-element Fitz suggests he was ilegititate, although he is unlikely to have been the son of Hugh Lupus as was supposed by Ormerod. In the 1086 Domesday Survey, Robert, son of Hugh, is credited with 16 manors as lord, including Malpas, and 30, including some of the same manors, as tenant in chief. All of these were in Cheshire, and included a castle at Malpas, some remains of which still exist.
Thus, one point of this re-enactment seems to be to portray the supposed ancestor of the present Duke in a good light. There is also an explanation of the history of the Cathedral which has some visible Norman remains (the ones at St Johns are better). For the gentry of Cheshire, linking ancestors to the Norman conquest was at times something of an obsession. Ormerod's noted history of Cheshire is largely concerned with chasing these connections and much of the funeral heraldry of Randle Holme displays the same interest in the past.
Episode 4: Archbishop Baldwin Preaches the Crusade at Chester AD 1189
The abbreviated history portrayed in the 1910 pageant skips forward again from the Normans to the Crusades. The crusades perhaps provide an excuse for all the armour and weaponry on show with the violence being conveniently directed at the moslems. There is also a topical aspect, as at the time of the performance the Ottoman empire was falling apart. In addition, for years heading up to WW1 a number of writers and statesmen had been predicting war and there were a number of "invasion scares". Partly as a result of these, the Territorial Force was created in 1908 as a part-time volunteer component of the British Army. It was created to augment British land forces without resorting to conscription. The new organisation consolidated the 19th-century Volunteer Force and yeomanry into a unified auxiliary. Chester had a long-standing yeomanry (see: Militia). The crusade episode could be seen as a reference to this voluntary military service as the territorial recruitment reached a peak of 268,000 men in 1909 when invasion scares prompted a surge in recruitment. The 1909 scares involved German naval shipbuilding and even a possible invasion by "mystery airships". In 1910, still before WW1, "signing-up" was already a topical subject.
Bishop Baldwin is known to us from the work of Gerald of Wales. The pageant has him "preaching the crusade" at the "High Cross" in Chester - or rather at an imaginative reconstruction of it. In reality he was returning through Chester after preaching the crusade in Wales - then a largely independent state. Whether he could actually call for a crusade in Chester is an interesting point, as discussed below. Other elements of the plot of this episode make use of the "stocks" prop. An entirely fictional "Brereton" is introduced although his name is taken from a man who would play a large part in Chester's later history.
In 1188 King Henry II of England called for a tax to support the Third Crusade, following the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187. It was collected at the rate of a tenth of all the property and income of any person not vowing to go on crusade. It was popularly known as the "Saladin tithe" and was the most extensive tax ever collected in England up to that point. Being a tithe and not a secular tax, it was collected by dioceses rather than by shires. Baldwin of Forde, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was especially blamed for its harshness.
The tax/tithe could be avoided by "taking the cross", which meant pledging to go on crusade. As well as avoiding the tax, going on crusade was an opportunity for travel, wanton violence and plunder, remission for past sins that might otherwise might lead to damnation, and the gain of freedom for serfs. Not going on crusade could be viewed as cowardice as well as being expensive. Of course, pledging to go on crusade had its downside - time away from lands and family, uncertain sea-voyages and the possibility of disease and death before even arriving in the Middle East. Once a crusader arrived there were still many other options for an early death including dehydration and starvation or even the risk of falling to cannibals, as well as in warfare.
The chronicler Gerald of Wales was appointed to the entourage of Baldwin on a mission to travel through Wales in order to raise money and recruit troops for the Crusade. As noted above, significant parts of Wales were at the time independent from England. The pageant fails to mention any of this. Gerald praised Baldwin as "distinguished for his learning and religion", but also claimed that he was gloomy and nervous. Baldwin had a long-standing row with some of his clerics which caused the chronicler Gervase of Canterbury to characterise him as "a greater enemy to Christianity than Saladin". Though the Archbishop was to celebrate Mass in the four cathedrals in Wales, he was assisted by the worthy Gerald who could summon up a sermon with a fluency of speech in both Latin and French; though how much of these tongues was familiar to the local knights and common folk is not in evidence. The jester at the court of Rhys ap Gruffudd was of the opinion that if Gerald had preached in Welsh there would not have been a man left who would not have joined the cause. A number promised to go, but when the time came, almost all those who had agreed to join the crusade found some excuse not to go. No one made more fuss about this than Gerald.
Gerald recounts his six-week journey step-by-step in his delightful "Itinerarium Kambriae" (The Journey Through Wales). It is estimated that the journey would have covered over 760 miles. The text records the journey itself, but is primarily composed of historical, topographical, and anecdotal material relating to the areas through which the two men passed. The route tended to follow the coast and the Marcher borders with very little travel in the interior. This engagement on the ground in Wales also seems to have inspired his "Descriptio Kambriae" (The Description of Wales), a text valuable for being, among other things, one of the finest pieces of ethnography written in the Middle Ages. During his travels in Wales Gerald collected many strange tales of mysterious afflictions and miraculous cures, fortune-telling fish and weird hybrids. He believed, or at least recorded all of these tales.
Gerald was in Chester with Baldwin at Easter 1188. This was a complicated period in the history of the abbey and Balwin was involved in the various schemes and plots, which are discussed in more detail on the page relating to Lucian the Monk. Both Gerald and the pageant are silent on these matters in their description of the visit. The earl of Chester at the time was Ranulf de Blondeville who succeeded to the title of Vicomte d'Avranches (Normandy) and the earldom of Chester (like his father before him) as a minor, in 1181 (aged 9) and attained his majority (at 16) in 1187. Henry II never got his crusade, as he was in dispute with the French and died of a bleeding ulcer in 1889. A single reference (the Chronicle of Dieulacres) has Ranulf travelling with King Richard in Crusade in 1190, although the veracity of this is doubted, however Ranulf did go on crusade, but not until 1218. Bishop Baldwin also went on crusade, with King Richard in 1190. He led the English advance guard, still involved in factional disputes. Arriving in time to join yet more disputes which he tried to solve by mass excommunication he died near Acre on 19 November 1190. The Third Crusade was largely a failure for both sides:
The whole incident in this episode with "Brereton" is entirely made up, as is the appearance of the earl and his countess. The countess and her mother are in fact mentioned by Gerald, but identifying them is not without problems. Ranulf de Blondeville was born in 1172. He did not marry until January 1189, when a political marriage was arranged with Constance of Brittany, the widow of Henry II’s son Geoffrey, and the mother of Arthur of Brittany. The young Ranulf de Blondeville would most likely have not been present during the Bishop's brief visit as he spent most of his youth at court with an ailing Herry II.
The scene closes with a little girl making crosses and giving them to young boys with an implication that they should "sign-up" for the crusade. This may well have been intended as a message to the audience that joining the volunteer forces was a noble and patriotic thing to do and places another topical message in the pageant.
Episode 5: Prince Edward, First Royal Earl of Chester, and Princess Eleanor, Visit Chester, AD 1256
According to the 1910 pageant, Prince Edward — son of Henry III and first Earl of Chester — came to the city in order to accept the fealty of the Welsh Princes. In this particular retelling, as reported in the Rhyl Journal, loyalty was given with some reluctance on the part of the Welsh. This supposed visit underlined the historic associations of Cheshire with Wales and the fact that the Princedom of Wales had, since Edward's time, been coupled with the Chester Earldom. The episode's narrative anticipated the eventual quashing of the Welsh princedoms and, yet again, the dominance of England and its ruler. One topical aspect may be the involvement of Edward while still prince. At the time the script was being developed the prince was the future George V and he had much more involvement in politics than the soon to be dead king Edward VII had known as prince.
The portrayal of the Welsh in the pageant is that they are already preparing for a revolt and wish to conceal this from Edward (who was 17) and his father, Henry III. As with the Roman and Norman episodes the Welsh are simply portrayed as a somewhat reluctant part of an "English" empire.
In actual history, and following the action of the pageant, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, in November 1256, crossed the River Conwy with an army, accompanied by his brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd. By early December, Llywelyn controlled all of Gwynedd apart from a few castles. Edward had raised an English army led by Stephen Bauzan but was decisively defeated by Welsh forces at the Battle of Cadfan in June 1257. By early 1258, Llywelyn was using the title Prince of Wales, first used in an agreement between Llywelyn and his supporters and the Scottish nobility associated with the Comyn family. The English Crown refused to recognise this title.
Edward I (ruler from 1272 to 1307) is remembered as the conqueror of Wales and the "Hammer of the Scots" (accoring to legend he had this inscribed on his tombstone - "Edwardus Primus Scottorum Malleus hic est, 1308. Pactum Serva" - Here lies Edward 1st, hammer of the Scots. Keep the faith - although this appears to have been added later). He also introduced to England the repugnant practice of forcing Jews to wear yellow patches on their outer garments - before their expulsion in 1290 when he owed them money (the idea was later copied by the Nazis). When the newly crowned Edward called Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, then Prince of Wales, to Chester Castle in 1275 to pay homage, Llywelyn refused to attend ("fearing for his safety") and Edward had the excuse he needed for another Welsh war. The event is reported as follows in the "Chester Chronicle":
- "Edwardus Rex Anglie in generali parlemento suo post coronacionem suam fecit multa statuta, decimas regni obtinuit. Idem Rex apud Cestriam venit ut tractaret cum principe Wallie Lewelino et cito pro contemptu dicti principis recessit." - Edward, king of England, in his general parliament after his coronation, made many statutes and obtained [as a subsidy a grant of] a tenth [of the goods] of the kingdom. Also the king came to Chester, that he might treat with the prince of Wales, Llewelin, and soon returned on account of the contempt with which that prince [treated his invitation].
So in truth, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd never turned up to negotiate with Edward either in 1256 or 1276, although there may have been some contact in 1257 between Edward and envoys of the Welsh ruler. With the outbreak of Edward's Welsh war in 1277, Chester Castle was made one of the three military commands from which Llywelyn's principality was attacked. Royal forces operating from the city under the command of William de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, quickly brought northern Powys to submission. As in previous campaigns, workmen, soldiers, timber, ammunition, victuals and boats were assembled in the city. The royal wardrobe was also brought there in five carts. With the castle thus established as the chief base for operations in north-eastern Wales, Edward himself arrived July 1277 to lead a large force of infantry on the culminating campaign. He returned to the castle in September 1277 when it was clear that Llywelyn would be forced to surrender. As the Chronicle puts it:
- "Eadwardus Rex Anglie intravit Walliam cum comitibus et baronibus totius Anglie et obsedit eam undique tam per mare quam per terram unde capta fuit Angleseya tandem circa festum Sancti Martini in hieme Lewelinus princeps necessitate compulsus habito magnatorum consilio et beneficio absolutionis optento venit apud Rothelanum et ibi [se] subposuit omnino voluntati et misericordie domini regis." - Edward, king of England, entered Wales with the earls and barons of the whole of England, and besieged it on every side, as well by sea as by land, so that Anglesea was captured. At length about the feast of S. Martin [November 11] in winter, Llewelin, prince [of Wales], compelled by necessity, having taken counsel of the magnates and obtained the benefits of absolution, came to Rhuddlan, and there he submitted himself completely to the will and mercy of our lord the king.
After Llywelyn's defeat an unsteady compromise was reached, but strained relations did not last. After Llywelyn had been lured into a trap and put to death on 11 December 1282, his brother Dafydd became ruler of Wales.
On 22 June 1283, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was captured. Dafydd, seriously wounded, was brought to Edward's camp at Rhuddlan and taken from there to Chester (presumably to the castle) and then on to Shrewsbury. On 30 September 1283, Dafydd was condemned to death, the first person known to have been tried and executed for what would be described as "high treason" against the king. The execution featured dragging through the streets, hanging, drawing and quartering, apparently at the express order and design of the vengeful Edward. Edward also ensured that the heirs of the Welsh princes would trouble him no more:
- "As the King wills that Owain son of Dafydd ap Gruffudd, who is in the Constable’s custody in the castle, should be kept more securely than he has been previously, he orders the Constable to cause a strong house within the castle to be repaired as soon as possible, and to make a wooden cage bound with iron in that house in which Owain might be enclosed at night" - (Order from King Edward I to the Constable of Bristol Castle).
There is considerable doubt that Edward was ever actually formally the "Earl of Chester", but was simply the "Lord of Chester". The pageant takes real historical figures but completely changes the events, seemingly to show the somewhat treacherous Edward I in a good light and as having the right to conquer an independent Wales. There are also topical aspects given that the then prince (the future George V) was also quite involved in political matters.
Episode 6: Richard II is Brought A Prisoner to Chester by Henry Bolingbroke, AD 1399
In this episode the last Plantagenet, Richard II, appeared as the prisoner of his Lancastrian successor, Henry IV. This scene seems to imply that loyalties were divided in Chester but that Henry won the day and the support of the majority in the city at the time.
Local legend holds that Richard II hid his extensive Royal Treasure at Beeston Castle before sailing to Ireland to quell an uprising in 1399. Richard never reclaimed his treasure as he was captured, upon his return, at Flint Castle by Henry Bollingbrooke (Duke of Lancaster, and later Henry IV) and imprisoned at Chester Castle for a while in 1399. In fact, his treasure was almost certainly at Holt castle.
This is a considerable distortion of the facts in the pageant. During Richard's first years as king, government was in the hands of a series of regency councils, influenced by Richard's uncles John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. England then faced various problems, most notably the Hundred Years' War (1337 to 1453). A major challenge of the reign was the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, and the 14 year old king played a central part in the "successful" suppression of this crisis. Less warlike than either his father or grandfather, he sought to bring an end to the "Hundred Years' War" with France. A firm believer in the royal prerogative, Richard restrained the power of the aristocracy and relied on a private retinue for military protection instead. In part this retinue was based around a political power base in Cheshire and parts of Wales.
The last two years of Richard's reign are traditionally described as a period of tyranny with the government levying forced loans, carrying out arbitrary arrests and murdering the king's rivals. Richard's regime went on the offensive exacting revenge for past humiliations and attempting to bring substance to the imagery now associated with the king's rule. The cause of Richard's actions has often been considered a result of the death of his first queen, who may have provided a restraining influence. But his tyranny reflected a reaction to a new environment: one of renewed fear. Always carrying resentment against his political adversaries, the Lords Appellant, the king now felt threatened again, and seized the initiative. Evidence of a plot against the king is unclear but he had every reason to suspect one. Sparked by a long-running dispute between the earl of Warwick and the now loyal Nottingham and the need to fund the French alliance, the king called a loyal parliament. He raised 2000 men in Cheshire, caught the Appellants off guard and tried them in parliament. In 1397 he attacked the Lords Appellant who had prevailed in 1388 and seized their lands and goods. His uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, was murdered and Richard, earl of Arundel, executed on Tower Hill. Thomas Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, were exiled. In the following year, as memorably dramatised by Shakespeare in his Richard II, the two remaining Appellants, who initially had been pardoned, Henry of Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford, the future Henry IV, and Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, accused each other of treason. Richard forbade the resulting duel and took the opportunity to exile both men.
In 1397, Richard II created the title "Prince of Cheshire", which he awarded to himself. On 13 July 1397, he ordered the sheriff of the county of Chester to collect 2,000 archers for royal service. These troops were used to overawe the parliament which met in September - sometimes known as the "Revenge Partiament". Most were then allowed to return home, but the king kept back others to form his personal bodyguard, receiving wages of 6d per day, which was the standard rate for archers in royal armies in the late fourteenth century. This wage was on a par with that of a skilled craftsman. This personal bodyguard was made up of Cheshire bowmen who were described as being intolerably arrogant, insolent ruffians who lived on far too intimate terms with king. John of Gaunt died on the 3rd February 1399. On 18th March Richard II cancelled the legal documents allowing the exiled Henry Bolingbroke to inherit his father's lands. In June 1399, Louis I, Duke of Orléans, gained control of the court of his brother the insane Charles VI ("the Mad") of France. A policy of rapprochement with the English crown did not suit Louis's political ambitions, and for this reason he found it opportune to allow Henry Bolingbroke, the exiled and now dispossessed Lord Appellant, to leave for England.
Richard attempted to return from Ireland. It seems entirely logical that his goal was to reach Cheshire, where he had two important links. Firstly, he had recruited his personal troops there and secondly a considerable part of his wealth was at his treasure house in Holt. Henry beat Richard to Chester. The Duke of Lancaster made his way to Chester by somewhat sporadic forced marches and took it without a fight on the 9th August. The Duke stayed at Chester Castle for 12 days, amusing himself by drinking the king's wine, wasting fields and pillaging houses. and presumably enjoying the use of Richard II's "Norwegian Wood" heated bathroom. While there ("this thief, this traitor, Bolingbroke, who all this while hath revell'd in the night"), he also found time to secure the arrest, incarceration in the Gowestower (outer gatehouse tower) and execution of Sir Peirs Legh of Lyme, one of Richard's leading retainers in Cheshire and the brother of the Sheriff - Legh's head was placed on the Eastgate. In the pageant version the Rhyl Journal notes that Legh was only executed after the arrival of Richard at Chester, whereas in fact he was executed some days before.
Richard arrived at Conwy to find himself hemmed in. Henry then marched against Richard at Fflint Castle to which Richard had been lured from the safety of Conwy Castle. Richard surrendered, but not (according to tradition) before trying to escape dressed as a monk. According to Stowe's Annals, following the capture of the King, Bollinbrooke:
- " with a high sharp voice, badde bring forth the king's horses; and then two little naggs, not worth forty francs, were brought forth."
The king was set on the one, and the earl of Salisbury on the other, and thus the duke brought the king from Flint to Chester, where he was delivered to the duke of Gloucester's son, who led him straight to the castle (still wearing the monk's habit in which he had attempted to escape) and "lodged" them in Chester Castle for a few days (possibly in a tower over the outer or inner gateway, possibly in the Agricola Tower). Though his Welsh supporters almost managed to resuce him on the way to London, Richard was forced to abdicate at Westminster. He probably died soon after possibly having been starved to death on Henry's orders, or possibly having starved himself. His body was put on display to prove that he was dead and had not died violently. Rumours of his still being alive persisted but never gained much credence.
Rebellions continued throughout the first ten years of Henry IV's reign, including the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400, and the rebellion of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. Early in 1400, there was a revolt in Cheshire, linked with the Epiphany Rising. Those involved included prominent members of Richard's Cheshire retinue and a large group of townsmen from Chester, 28 of whom, dressed in the "white hart" livery of the deposed monarch, marched to the Eastgate on January 10th 1400, removed Peir's Legh's head from the Eastgate, and unsuccessfully besieged the castle, then held by the Chamberlain of Chester, the Sheriff of Cheshire, and the Constable, William Venables of Kinderton. In 1403 Sir Henry Percy ('Hotspur'), lately justice of Chester, stayed in the city and raised the standard of revolt there before the Battle of Shrewsbury. The citizens were far less involved with the rebels than in 1400, and indeed the mayor and the constable of the castle were present at Shrewsbury in the king's retinue. In a closely fought encounter Hotspur was killed, apparently shot in the face when he opened his visor to get some air. With the loss of their leader, the battle came to abrupt end. One of the captains of the Cheshire Archers, Thomas Beeston, died at the battle fighting for Percy. Five of the other captains were excluded from the pardon which Henry IV extended to the men of the county of Chester on 27 September 1403 for the support which they had shown to Percy.
Richard II possibly deserved to be deposed, but the event kicked off not only the "Wars of the Roses" in the mid-to-late fifteenth century but also a renewed war with France. The two sides exhausted each other so completely that eventually only Richad III was left, and was then defeated by Henry Tudor, a Welshman. One point of interest about his particular subject-matter as well as other parts of the pageant is the treatment of "evil" characters from the distant past. In terms of a more modern analogy it is quite acceptable to put Napoleon in a pageant, but Adolf Hitler would be considered bad taste.
There is no clear topical message in this scene of the pageant, and like the earlier scenes there is no real exploration of what the fighting is about. Without any historical context it is difficult to see what the audience would have made of it. The version of Richard put forward in schoolbooks at the time largely concentrates on the "Peasant's Revolt" and his supposed introduction of the napkin and the fork as an iten of cuttlery.
Episode 7: (a) King James I visits Chester, AD 1617; (b) The Midsummer Revels (c. AD 1620)
The action now shifts from the Medieval to the Stuarts, again skipping over a considerable number of important historic events and a number of changes in the rulership of the country and governance of the church. For somewhere with so much "Mock Tudor" architecture it seems odd that Tudor Chester should be missed, but there were only a limited number of "slots" available for the Episodes. There were royal visits to Chester in the intervening years, most notably that of Prince Arthur Tudor in 1498 which co-incides with the start of the Midsummer Watch Parade but it appears that neither Henry VIII or Elizabeth I visited Chester.
The Chester Mystery Plays which played a large part in the social life of late medieval and Tudor Chester are hardly mentioned at all, although they will be referred to indirectly as the "Midsummer Revels". James I of England was also James Vi of Scotland and takes the slot which would have included Elizabeth I in other pageants of the time. The kingdoms of Scotland and England were individual sovereign states, with their own parliaments, judiciaries, and laws, though both were ruled by James in personal union. Despite this, the pageant uses James as a symbol of a United Kingdom, something which did not in fact come into existence until the Act of Union of 1707.
At the time of the accession of James I to the English throne (1603) Chester had other concerns: there was a plague running riot in the city. There was a plague in London at the same time with at least 30,000 dead in 1603. This was part of the second plague Pandemic, a major series of epidemics of plague that started with the Black Death, which reached Europe in 1348 and killed up to a half of the population of Eurasia in the next four years. Although the plague died out in most places, it became endemic and recurred regularly. A series of major epidemics occurred in the late 17th century, and the disease recurred in some places until the late 18th century or the early 19th century. The plague which heralded the accession of the Stuart rulers actually reached Chester in September, 1602, in a glover’s (or musician's) house in St John Street (then Lane), where seven died, and kept increasing until the weekly deaths reached sixty. This particular plague cycle may well have been associated with the movement of troops through Chester in support of the Irish wars and the famines of the past years. War, famine and pestilence being known as companions. This did not stop some ascribing the plague to the accession of king James, or associating it with Kepler's Supernova.
James in the Pageant
In this comic scene of the pageant, James, who was given a pronounced Scottish accent, was shown as a pompous figure, believing himself wise and fond of flaunting his erudition but unable to impress Chester's Mayor who turned down the reward of a knighthood from the King. The scene ends with a Puritan (in the stocks) addressing the King at one point stating: "King James, cast from your court the painted Jezebels"; to which James replies: "haud your tongue, ye bletherin' deil". As the King moves off, a witch appears, and he is seen to turn his face away from 'the evil eye'; he shouts "Awa wi' ye" at a Scot who suddenly breaks through to deliver a petition. Two men then remark on James's merits as a King and whether he might be described as "a loving and learned King" or "the wisest fool in Christendom" (both historical references - the latter being attributed by some to Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648)), after which all exit the arena at different points.
It is true that James I visited Stuart Chester in August 1616. As the most senior alderman, William Aldersey presented the king with a gold "standing bowl" chock full of gold coins (100 Jacobins) on the city’s behalf. It is also true that Aldersey was offered a knighthood and refused it, but this may well have been because James would have wanted an additional payment for that. Aldersey records the event himself without mentioning the knighthood:
- "12 October 1616 - The Kinges maiesty Came the 23rd day of august to the Lea hall to Sir George Calueley and there had a banquet, and from thence the same day to the Citty of Chester, where he was banqueted in the pentice, and presented with a Cupp of gold by the Citty. and from thence went to Vale riall [word cancelled] the same night beinge Saturday where he rested till mondey, and then came to the nante wiche that night and so away." - ALDERSEY FAMILY COLLECTION CR 469.
The annalists of Vale Royal record the events as follows (one or other has the year wrong), but they do mention the last-minute offer of a knighthood:
- "1617 On the 23d of August our city was graced with the royal presence of our sovereign King James who being attended with many honourable earls reverend bishops and worthy knights and courtiers besides all the gentry of the shire rode in state through the city being met with the sheriffs peers and common council of the city every one with his foot cloth well mounted on horseback. All the train soldiers of the city standing in order without the Eastgate and every company with their ensigns in seemly sort did keep their several stations on both sides of the Eastgate street. The mayor and all the aldermen took their places on a scaffold railed and hung about with green and there in most grave and seemly manner they attended the coming of his Majesty. At which time after a learned speech delivered by the recorder the mayor presented to the king a fair standing cup with a cover double gilt and therein an hundred jacobins of gold and likewise the mayor delivered the city's sword to the king who gave it to the mayor again. And the same was borne before the king by the mayor being on horseback The sword of state was borne by the Right Hon William Earl of Derby chief chamberlain of the county palatine of Chester. The king rode first to the minster where he alighted from his horse and in the west aisle of the minster be heard an oration delivered in Latin by a scholar of the free school after the said oration he went into the choir. And there in a seat made for the king in the higher end of the choir he heard an anthem sung. After certain prayers the king went from thence to the Pentice where a sumptuous banquet was prepared at the city's cost which being ended the king departed to the Vale Royal. And at his departure the order of knighthood was offered to Mr Mayor but he refused the same." (as quoted in Hemingway)
James I held court at Vale Royal for three or four days (see: Leche House for more on this) and had only visited Chester for a few hours. The brevity of James's visit may have disappointed the citizenry of Chester, for the Corporation assembly book records that they had been prompted to tidy up the city:
- "the streetes to be cleansed, houses to be outwardly beautified if his Maiestie should happilie by his presence so honor this Citie"
James was probably far happier with the hunting and feasting at Vale Royal than what appears to have been rathet stuffy ceremonials at Chester. King James dubbed Mary Cholmondeley (resident at Vale Royal) the "bolde lady of Cheshire" because she rebuffed his offer to advance the political careers of her sons (for which the King probably wanted a significant financial contribution).
As regards the Puritan, this may be a reference to the much later William Prynne, whose story can be found on the page about John Bruen. As for the origins of the witch, while king of Scotland, James VI became utterly convinced about the reality of witchcraft and its great danger to him, leading to the North Berwick witch trials that began in 1590. James was convinced that a coven of powerful witches was conspiring to murder him through magic, and that they were in league with the Devil. In 1597, with the end of the trials, James published his study of witchcraft, "Daemonologie". Shortly after becoming king of England he passed his "Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft and dealing with evil and wicked spirits". The witch incident involving James in Chester is entirely fictitious, but a few supposed witches were burned to death in Chester at various times. A minor feature of the portrayal as reported in the Rhyl Journal was James' fear of "naked steel" when the orders the mayor's sword of office to be sheathed, however the same newspaper report also states that "Bonnie Prince Charlie" was present in 1617, and he would not be born until 1720. The pageant does feature a "baby son Charles" (who was born in 1600) and while Charles had some development problems he would not have been a baby in 1617.
Revels in the Pageant
The next part of this episode, for which the visit of the king appears as a pretext is a "big dance number" in the form of "Midsummer Revels". As described by one newspaper:
- "all the freaks of the revels were on display, including four marvellous giants in fearsome attire, a huge dragon vomiting fire, a ship merchant's mount, a camel, an elephant and castle, and numerous other strange devices, guarded by guild boys with banners"
These features are all taken from the former Chester Midsummer Show, with one important change that in the original the boys with banners were for some reason naked and employed to beat the Dragon. This section also has Maypole dancing, and another sortie by the fairies that had appeared in the introduction and Episode II. Extravagant dance displays were a particular feature of this pageant. As to the "revels" as they might have been in 1620, no specific description of them survives. We have a description of the festivities following the performance of "Chester's Triumph" in 1610 and an illustration of the city published in 1620 by Daniel Meisner. Also we know that the Puritans had become a significant party in Chester by 1620 and one of them, Hinde (the biographer of Bruen) writes:
- "Popery and Profanity, two sisters in Evil, had consented and conspired in this parish, as in many other places, together to advance their Idols against the Ark of God, and to celebrate their solemne feasts of their Popish Sainsts, as being the Dii Tutelares, the special Patrons and Protectors of their Church and Parish, by their WAKES and VIGILS, kept in commemoration and honour of them, in all RIOT and EXCESS of eating and drinking, dalliance and dancing, sporting and gaming, and other abominable impieties and idolatries."
Of course this is likely to be a somewhat biased description of the revels around 1620. The shift from Chester attracting visitors by the Chester Mystery Plays to by the Chester Races was not as simple as the plays being replaced by the races. Henry Gee was mayor of Chester from 1533-4 and 1539-40, during the reign of Henry VIII and is often credited as being a major influence on the development of racing in Chester. Gee (c1475-1545) had Puritan views over a generation before Christopher Goodman (1520–1603) who protested against the Chester Mystery Plays and a whole lifetime before the cross-smashing iconoclast Bruen (1560–1625). Racing and revels did not always occur at the same time. The races were held on Shrove Tuesday (typically in February about six weeks before Easter) until 1609 when they were moved to St Georges Day (April 23rd). The Mystery Plays were performed at Whitsuntide (seven weeks after Easter) and the Midsummer Watch Parade (as well as the Minstrel Court took place atound St John's Eve (24th June).
Episode 8: Siege of Chester. Visit of King Charles, AD 1645
As well as the Roman origins of Chester, most of the spectators would be aware that Chester was besieged during the Civil War, so the seige forms a suitable climax for the pageant and could not really be left out, despite being a Royalist defeat.
In the scene, a crowd, including townsfolk, is gathered looking in the direction of the Battle of Rowton Heath, some two miles away. At the front of the crowd Lord Byron, Alderman Cowper and Lord Gamul discuss good news from the battlefront. All are real historical figures. At this, Parliamentarian troops suddenly appear (making their way to the battle) causing alarm amongst the crowd. Shakerley returns from the fight and complains that cavalry reinforcements from the King’s army have not yet arrived. Charles and a party of ladies including Lady Gamul then enter, and the King at last grants reinforcements. Lady Gamul explains that the King has been watching the battle from the "Phoenix Tower". A wounded cavalier then appears stating that the battle is lost, the help coming too late; he then falls dead. Wounded men from the battle are seen. Charles tells Lord Byron that he is to hold out for eight days before surrendering Chester and then rides off. Byron asserts that Chester could withhold a longer siege.
To set the scene, in mid-1645 the Royalist troops had been badly mauled at the Battle of Naseby (14 June) and Langport (10 July). Charles maintained a stronghold in Wales and had retreated from most of England, but still hoped to link up with his allies in the north, bring in troops from Ireland and then perhaps drag victory from the jaws of defeat. Bristol had fallen (10 September) and so King Charles's only port was Chester, then besieged by Parliamentary forces after much fighting for strategic control of Cheshire. The Parliamentary commander was Brereton - the same name as mentioned in an earlier episode. As well as the broader context of a strategic port there were many local tensions involved in the Civil War in Cheshire. Brereton, MP for Cheshire had a long-standing feud with the Royalists of Chester and there were other issues between the county and the city. The war frequently divided Cheshire families between the two sides on both political and religious issues. Furthermore, one of the reasons why a faction in the city held out so strongly for the king was they benefited from commercial monopolies which they had purchased from him.
Charles gathered what men he could and marched north along the Welsh border in the hope of relieving Chester and consolidating his forces with those of his supporters in Scotland, particularly Montrose. His course northward was paralleled by parliamentary forces under Sydenham Poyntz who had been instructed to prevent Charles from breaking out into the Midlands. At Chirk Castle, Charles, learning that Boughton had been overrun and that Chester itself (whose walls had been breached by cannon) might soon fall, hastened northward to the beleaguered city, arriving on 23 September 1645. At dawn the next day the main Royalist force crossed Holt Bridge, and soon clashed with the Parliametary forces who had marched towards the city overnight.
By nightfall of that day, the Royalists were defeated in a series of running battles which included clashes at Golborne Brook, Rowton and Hoole before ending almost at the walls of Chester in what was to be one of the last battles of the first Civil War. Charles spent the night at Gamul House then left Chester in retreat to Denbigh, along an undefended road, accompanied by only 500 horse. Chester did hold out for longer than Charles expected, only in Januaty 1646 was an agreement for surrender of Chester reached. The sick and wounded were allowed to stay in the city until they recovered, and the able bodied could leave in safety. On the 3rd February Lord Byron at Chester finally surrendered. The Parliamentary leaders had promised to respect ancient buildings and Churches in Chester. But when their soldiers marched through the City Gates in triumph, they ran wild. During the Parliamentary occupation of Chester many Churches were damaged, and the High Cross where the historic Brereton had beaten the drum to recruit for Parliament and been arrested by then mayor Cowper was destroyed. Sir Francis Gamull, now the mayor, bargained with the Roundheads that the tombs of his family should not be harmed, and this explains the fact that the Gamull monuments in St Mary on the Hill are almost the only relics of the kind in Chester that escaped destruction.
This episode included a performer — Major Shakerley — playing his ancestor, the Royalist supporter Jeffrey Shakerley, and the battle takes place "off stage". Lt. Col. Jeffrey Shakerley of Warden's Regiment brought news of the original clash somewhat south of Rowton. A local man, knew the most direct route to the city which avoided the besieging forces. He crossed the River Dee in a wooden tub (a large vessel used for the slaughtering of swine), rowing his make-shift boat across the deep and wide waters of the Dee, along with a servant. His horse swam alongside the tub and he managed to carry the message within 15 minutes. The action featured other messengers arriving to deliver the bad news that Royalists were set to be defeated at nearby Rowton Heath whereas the fighting was actually much more spread out. Charles did watch a part of the fighting from the "Phoenix Tower" (also sometimes now called King Charles' Tower) which had been adorned with the phoenix when restored in 1613. He also watched a part of the fighting from the top of the Cathedral where he was almost shot - a sniper's bullet killing a man standing next to him. The actual details of the somewhat complex battle can be found on the page on the Civil War.
The pageant makes much of the stalwart defence of the city by the Royalists of Chester. The motivations of the Royalists and the forces of Parliament are not explored and, as reported in the Rhyl Journal the only upbeat thing about the ending is that Byron states that Chester can hold out longer than the king expects.
At the end of each of six days performance of all eight episodes the entire cast of well over 3000 reassembled in what must have been a spectacular display for a grand finale. The records give a breakdown of performers as 1303 men, 1144 women and 1093 children with a choir of 100 men and 150 women. 200 horses were used, many of which came from the Duke of Westminster's stables. Events held in connection with the pageant included a fancy-dress ball, various events in Grosvenor Park and a funfair featuring the roundabouts of Pat Collins a well-known showman who came from Chester.
Conclusions: History or Entertainment?
Historians still have divided opinions over pageants. Most consider them "harmless fun", while a small hard-core object to their sometimes less than accurate portrayal of "historical fact" (or current opinions of it). All of the events portrayed in the Chester pageant have some basis in reality and a link with Chester (some more than others) but all are mixed in with "made-up" detail. A common thread running through the series of episodes is the continuity of English rulership over Britain as one united kingdom and the good goverance of the church. Perhaps this was influenced by the Irish "Home Rule" question which had arisen after a constitutional crisis in 1909 led to a hung partiament with the Irish holding the balance of power, but more likely it is a reflection of the general assumption made at the time that the English were the natural rulers of all of Britain if not much of the world. In reality this is a poor relection of history as the inhabitants of "England" had been invaded and conquered many times, by the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes and Normans, and there had been many changes of rulership.
All the female roles are secondary, with no appearance by Elizabeth I, who was normally an important character in Pageants. In her stead James I appears, who is known to have visited Chester but is portrayed as a comedy Scotsman. Other missing characters include Werburgh (apart from a silent role as relics at Edgar's coronation) Æthelflæd and Plegmund. Local legend has a surviving King Harold living on at the Hermitage, but he has no role in the pageant.
The view of history portrayed in the pageant was quite evidently somewhat biased. Britain is implied to have inherited all the "good" qualities of the Romans (supposedly ensuring fair treatment and justice for all members of their empire); the Scots and the Welsh are shown as naturally subject to Edgar (and his probably murderous queen); the Duke of Westminster's position is established by his being a successor to the Norman Earl Hugh; Edward I (as prince) attempts diplomacy with the treacherous Welsh; Bishop Baldwin recruits volunteers for a just intervention in the Middle-East; Henry Bolinbroke's usurpation of Richard II is agreed by the people of Chester, and essentially the same people of Chester support the monarchy in the Civil War. However there is nothing essentially wrong in this: depiction of history in the light of the present day, including the idea that it represents some kind of inevitable progress is still commonplace.
Only some of the story in the Chester pageant is told through the words and actions of the "common man" but the small parts in history played by individuals, which requires a degree of historical reconstruction are not entirely absent. Sometimes these minor parts are used to facilitate exposition, but there appear to be fewer of them than in the later pageant of 1937.
Today pageants are certainly not forgotten, but they are rarely performed and do not attract the number of performers, organisers and spectators that they did in their heyday. They tend to be restricted to rare events such as the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, and are expensive to stage: the cost of the four hour London specatacle was £27 million. It is easy, therefore, to overlook their importance in communities across the country during the twentieth century. Pageants generated considerable comment in the press, both local and national, and featured frequently in novels and plays. Moreover, they spawned a substantial culture of printed ephemera and souvenirs, including programmes and "books of words", cutlery and crockery, commemorative medals and so on. The verb "to padge" or "to paj", meaning to participate in a pageant, was in popular usage during the first third of the twentieth century. They certainly made history more accessible than the rather boring way that it was probably taught in most schools at the time.
In appears that one change brought about by the pageant was the revival of the Chester Guilds. This was due to the efforts of Frank Simpson as reported in the Rhyl Journal. Evidently, active membership of the Guilds was effectively non-existent before the revival. Beginning in 1911 Simpson would publish several articles on the history of the Guilds.The guilds took some time to re-emerge and it was not until the late 1960's that the redundant church of Holy Trinity became the Guildhall, which remained in use as such until 2021.
There is an emerging academic literature on historical pageants. One of the most significant contributions to this is Ayako Yoshino’s 2011 study of the Edwardian period, "Pageant Fever", which focuses on the early pageant craze and the productions of the most important pageant-masters: Parker, Lascelles and Frank Benson. Yoshino considers the consumerist appeal of pageantry and its relationship with a growing domestic and international tourist industry: small towns sought to attract the increasing number of middle- and upper working-class holidaymakers and day-trippers, and Yoshino argues that Edwardian pageants were as much a form of spectacle that appealed to the growing ranks of consumer society as they were the solemn acts of historical representation that some purported to be. In Britain, there is "Redress of the past", a major Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project examining historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain.
One thing that is certain is that many of the participants in the 1910 pageant at Chester had a very good time. These participants included representatives of all social classes from the Duke and other members of his family down to the children of "commoners". Events connected with the pageant almost certainly brought about major changes in some people's lives. A small profit was made for charity and the only person who is known to have lost out is the tennant farmer whose land was used, and who recieved comparatively small compensation for his loss of use of the land and the inevitable damage. Perhaps some slighly biased views of history were supported, but on balance it appears that the pageant successfully showed that there was more to Chester's history than the Romans and the Civil War. A modern-day recreation of it would be a stunning thing, but is unlikely to happen. There was however a further pageant, see: Chester Pageant 1937 which is discussed in a separate article. Both pageants occurred on what was to prove to be the eve of a war and this may have contributed to their becoming somewhat overlooked elements of local history.
Sources and Links
Events in 1909-10
In 1906 H.G. Wells published "In the Days of the Comet", a utopian novel in which gasses from a comet cause a major transformation of society. Somewhat scandalously this included a change in public morals and the adoption of polyamorous relationships. There was outrage from the YMCA, Salvation Army and various anti-vice compaigners. Wells knew that Halley's comet would return in 1910 and was also aware that there were major societal changes already happening. Of course he did not know that its return would mark the death of Edward VII or that Earth would pass through its tail. There was also the Great Daylight Comet of 1910. When Halley's Comet returned again in 1986, many older people's accounts of having seen it in 1910 clearly referred to the Daylight Comet instead.
- Jan: Shackleton reaches his furthest south;
- Feb: Duke of Westminster's only son dies, aged 4;
- Mar: Contruction of Titanic begins;
- Apr: Peary reaches the north pole;
- May: The Daily Bioscope theatre opened, introducing the British public to newsreels;
- Jun: Outside of Parliament, hundreds of suffragettes confronted police officers and began smashing windows, 107 women and eight men were arrested;
- Jul: Louis Blériot is the first man to fly across the English Channel;
- Aug: Paul Ehrlich found the first successful treatment for syphilis, arsphenamine (Salvarsan);
- Sep: The first Boy Scout Rally was held, bringing 11,000 boys to Crystal Palace in London;
- Oct: Orville Wright became the first person to fly an airplane to an altitude of 1,000 feet
- Nov: The United Kingdom moved forward in the arms race as it began production of the first "super-dreadnought" battleships, as the keel was laid for HMS Orion;
- Dec: Great comet of 1910 passes the sun, but will not be noticed until January;
- Jan: first public radio broadcast;
- Feb: first Association football game at Manchester;
- Mar: first woman gets a flying licence, first horror film released;
- Apr: Halley's comet becomes visible;
- May: King Edward VII dies, Earth passes through the tail of Halley's comet;
- Jun: Amundsen and Scott set off for the south pole, first commercial airship flight;
- Jul: Chester Historical Pageant;
- Aug: George Hawtrey, Pageant Master at Chester, dies;
Performance Art in Chester
- Chester Mystery Plays;
- Queen Dido;
- Chamber's Book of days;
- Shakespeare and Chester;
- Midsummer Watch Parade;
- Minstrel Court;
- Chester Pageant 1937;
- Timeline for Chester;
- River Dee;
- Roman Chester;
- Edgar's Field;
- Hugh of Avranches and the Cathedral
- Gerald of Wales and Bishop Baldwin;
- Richard II and the story of his Royal Treasure;
- Leche House for the visit of James I
- Charles II and the Civil War;
- Chester Historical Pageant;
- Joe Smoe's excellent history;
- Chester Pageant 1910.: Journal of the Chester Archaeological Society 17. Vol 17, pp. 107-119
- Typical Newspaper Report: North Wales Weekly News 1st July 1910;
- The Music of the 1910 Chester Historical Pageant;
- "History taught in the pageant way": education and historical performance in twentieth-century Britain;
- Chester Waits
- Restaging The Past: a study of pageants;
- The 1937 Pageant;
- Historical Pageants and the Medieval Past in Twentieth-Century England: The English Historical Review, Volume 133, Issue 563, August 2018;
- The Place of the Past in English Culture c. 1890-1914: Past & Present, No. 186 (Feb., 2005),
- The Pageant of History: Staging the Local Past, 1905–39: from "Filming and Performing Renaissance History";