Chester Pageant 1937
The first Chester Pageant (1910) was almost cancelled because of the dearh of Edward VII. In 1936 a constitutional crisis in the British Empire arose when King-Emperor Edward VIII proposed to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite who was divorced from her first husband and was pursuing the divorce of her second. This led to his abdication and replacement by George VI and so the second Chester Pageant (1937) also welcomed in a new king. Both came on the eve of war and both depict similar events from the history of Chester. Other depictions of the history of Chester are known from the mural carvings at the Town Hall. The events depicted in all of these include the obvious characters associated with Chester: Romans, Norman Earls, Edward I invading Wales and Charles I. This article looks mainly at the 1937 pageant and how these and other characters were potrayed.
1910: The previous pageant
The Chester Pageant of 1910 had been one of the great pageants held during the Edwardian era and the world had changed significantly in the intervening generation. In July 1914 war broke out in Europe between the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and the Russian Empire) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and, later that year, the Ottoman Empire). The First World War and the influenza Pandemic which followed brought about significant changes. Elsewhere there were also significant events. Commencing in 1917 with the fall of the House of Romanov and concluding in 1923 with the Bolshevik establishment of the Soviet Union, the Russian Revolution was a series of two revolutions: the first of which overthrew the imperial government and the second placed the Bolsheviks in power. Fascism, a movement which grew out of post-war angst and which accelerated during the Great Depression of the 1930s, gained momentum in Italy, Germany, and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in World War II, sparked by Nazi Germany's aggressive expansion at the expense of its neighbors. Meanwhile, Japan had rapidly transformed itself into a technologically advanced industrial power and, along with Germany and Italy, formed the Axis powers. Japan's military expansionism in East Asia and the Pacific Ocean would eventually bring it into conflict with the United States.
In 1937 it was clear to many that a further European War was possible if not even inevitable. Hitler defied the Versailles and Locarno treaties by Remilitarization of the Rhineland from March 1936, encountering little opposition due to the policy of appeasement and an unwillingness to risk war. In October 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Rome–Berlin Axis. A month later, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy joined the following year. When civil war broke out in Spain (1936), Hitler and Mussolini lent military support to the Nationalist rebels, led by General Francisco Franco. The Soviet Union supported the existing government of the Spanish Republic. Both Germany and the Soviet Union used this proxy war as an opportunity to test in combat their most advanced weapons and tactics.
For those living in the Basque town of Guernica WW2 began on 26 April 1937, when Nazi Germany bombed the town on behalf of Franco and the Nationalist Government during the Spanish Civil War. The raid, led by the Nazi Luftwaffe, targeted civilians and killed many. The estimated figures are disputed, but it’s believed that between 200 and 250 people were killed and many hundreds wounded. In Britain The coronation of King George VI took place on 12 May, after he had ascended to the throne at the end of the previous year. In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Peking after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which culminated in the Japanese campaign to invade all of China.
Some have claimed that the Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese war should be included in the Second World War, giving it a start date of 1936/7, rather than 1939. Under those conditions the second Chester Pageant took place during the war, but even if that is discounted it was probably obvious to many that war was only a matter of time. However, some historians have argued that appeasement was strongly supported by the British upper class, including royalty, big business (based in the City of London), the House of Lords, and media such as the BBC and The Times.
1937 in Chester:
"New Gate" is an arch bridge carrying the walkway of the city walls over Pepper Street. The bridge was built in 1938 to relieve traffic congestion in the city, especially at Chester Cross and is constructed in red sandstone. It was designed by Sir Walter Tapper (who died before it was completed) and his son, Michael. On each side of the bridge is a tower containing mock loops (unglazed slit windows) and surmounted by hipped roofs. Flights of steps on each side lead up to the towers and to the walkway across the top of the bridge. The structure is decorated with carved shields and Tudor roses. The circumstances of its creation and early photographs show that by 1937 traffic had become a major problem in Chester, so much so that cutting new holes in the walls was an acceptable solution. The shortage of money suffered by the Corporation in the early part of the 20th century led to the loss of some historic buildings along the rows, especially when combined with uncertainty over the construction and route of the Inner Ring Road. Architectural drawings made at the time show proposals for a "Civic Center" development of council offices and other "Civic" buildings in a highly regimented and uniform Neo-Georgian style (as well as demonstrating a lack of perspective on the likely traffic loading on Central Chester). Fortunately, that redevelopment did not happen.
By 1937, Chester's architecture had lost its obsession with black and white, with one of the final buildings (other than pubs) being the 1921 bank built on the corner of Foregate Street and Frodsham Street. The ABC REGAL opened in 1937, an example of the "Streamline Moderne" variant of "Art Deco". Other buildings sprang up in a neo-Georgian style including the Marks and Spencers building in Foregate Street, which might be sen as a classic example of "department store Georgian". The latter building was designed in 1932 by Norman Jones and Leonard Rigby two Manchester based architects. The decorative features included the use of fasces and blazing torches which fell out of fashion in the late 1930's, and the balcony of the building uses a motif which is unfortunately similar to the Japanese flag.
The large Neo-Georgian County Hall, used to house the offices of Cheshire County Council, was built between 1938 and 1957, (work was delayed by WW2). The building was designed by the county architect, E. Mainwaring Parkes, and involved the demolition of the gaol and houses in Skinner's Lane. County Hall started a criticism of local government building programs in Chester which continues to the present day. Architectural historian and critic Nikolas Pevsner commented of County Hall that it was: "not an ornament to the riverside view". It has been described elsewhere as "a meagre affair unworthy of its historic site and riverside setting" (Boughton, Picturesque Chester, no. 118).
The Duke of Westminster at the time of both the first and second pageants was Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke. In 1925, he was introduced to Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel after a party in Monte Carlo and pursued her. The introduction was made by Vera Bate Lombardi (born Vera Arkwight) - who was possibly Coco's supplier of cocaine. A part of his motivation was his desire for a surviving male heir, following the death of his only son in 1909. They enjoyed a relationship between 1923 and 1929, during which time she was frequently in Chester. In the run-up to the Second World War, he supported various right-wing and anti-Semitic causes, including the Right Club, which sought to avoid war with Germany. Whether he had any direct or indirect influence on the content of the 1937 pageant is unknown.
The Edwardian "pageant fever" went into remission with the start of WW1, but broke out again soon after peace returned. Groups such as the Boy Scounts and the Girl Guides became involved. The Pageant of Empire staged at Wembley in 1924 had a cast of 15,000 people, 300 horses, 500 donkeys, 730 camels, 72 monkeys, 1000 doves, seven elephants, three bears and one macaw. It took three days to see the whole performance. Pageants now sometimes included more recent history and often, especially for the larger cities, depicted municipal events and local industries. The Southampton silver jubilee pageant of 1935, for example, celebrated the civic history of the town as well as royal visits, bringing the action down to the nineteenth century and Queen Victoria (though the theatrical censors would not permit her to be depicted directly) - she would however make an appearance at Chester in 1937.
Some historians have suggested that pageants played a part in maintaining traditional hegemonic power structures, with leading citizens taking leading roles. They were also used by the church as a demonstration of its authority. In the 1937 pageant at Chester the involvement of religious figutes appears in many scenes even where there is little or no historic basis. The pageant often gives important roles to these religious figures, or changes the role which they did have.
For women, the interwar years have often been seen as a period of conservative reaction. Women who had gone out to work during the war largely returned to the home: doing men’s jobs was now widely seen as selfish, not patriotic. New civic organisations such as the Women’s Institute (WI) upheld traditional gender roles and lauded responsibility, in contrast to the law-breaking militancy of the pre-war fight for the vote. The political dominance of the Conservative Party was partly due to its success in appealing to the newly enfranchised women, not least by means of innovative propaganda specifically addressing these voters. Women were to play an increasingly larger role in pageants, partly due to the stablishment of the WI and the Townswomen’s Guilds who had access to vast resources, at least in terms of costume-making and catering. In the case of the Chester 1937 pageant women were heavily involved in the staging of the pageant with many of the committees formed for the various episodes having a very large proportion of women.
The overall script editor appears to have been W. T. Mcintire a writer and historian who had worked on the Carlisle Pageant of 1928. In that earlier pageant the translation of a saint was introduced (Cuthbert) as the remains were saved from the Danes: something which would also appear in the Chester Pageant. Mcintire is not a particularly noteworthy historian, but had papers published in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society. He should have been aware when a pageant was departing from accepted historical facts.
The 1937 pageant followed a similar episodic format to that of 1910, and indeed used some of the same characters, but in altered scenes. While the starting point for the script must therfore have been the 1910 version this is nowhere acknowledged in the materials published in 1937. The Barings were again employed to oversee the performance, with the theatre director Nugent Monck as "Pageant Master". The same Duke of Westminster was among the pastrons. Instead of land on the Eaton estate, the pageant was performed at Chester College which was apparently thought more convenient for travel to and from Chester.
One notable difference between the 1910 pageant and the 1937 patent is that a little more historical input occurs in the latter, especially in the form of named characters who have something to do with the event in question. Often these are used out of their true historical context. Descriptions of the scenes as performed are given below and are adapted from the excellent ""The Redress of the Past" website.
As with the Chester Pageant of 1910, the personification of the River Dee appears in the opening again with her nymphs and nerieds and various other "spirits". Instead of interacting with a personification of Chester she interacts with the muse Clio, and Leon Gawer "the fabled founder of Chester", an entirely mythical figure but one frequently referred to in early histories of Chester. The Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden (a monk at the Abbey in Chester) was completed prior to 1363 and refers to the legend. Henry Bradshaw, another monk at the Abbey writes (before 1513):
- "The founder of this city, as saith the Polychronicon, was Leon-Gawer, a mighty strong gyant, a man beyond the moon and called by Marius the vanquisher of the Picts, who builded caves and dungeons many a one; no goodly building, ne proper, ne pleasant. But King Leir - a Briton fine and valiant, was founder of Chester by pleasant building, which was named Guer Leir by the King"
So Bradshaw has Shakespeare's later "King Lear" as the founder of Chester. Bradshaw, who is not always accurate, may be confusing himself having read Geoffrey of Monmouth (another innacurate writer) who identified Leir as the eponymous founder of the city of Leicester following Nennius a Welsh monk of the 9th century, who was writing for political reasons. This myth cycle developed a peculiar offshoot in Britain where it was believed that Britain had been settled by Brutus of Troy, a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas. To a large part some of Nennius' supposed writings may have been produced to give a royal ancestry to Rhodri "the Great" (c 820-878).
Episode 1: Scene Outside the Roman Amphitheatre at Deva, AD 109
- The scene is set outside the Roman amphitheatre in Chester (Deva) where the Roman Governor, Titus Pomponius Mammilianus, has organised games to entertain the local public. A centurion called Aufidius Lentulus appears, leading some British captives including a young chieftain named Galgacus. Mammilianus offers to spare him ('for noble thou art') if he will return to the side of the Romans, against whom his tribe has rebelled, but the chieftain refuses. Reluctantly, the governor orders that Galgacus die at the hands of the gladiators; on hearing this order, the daughter of the governor, Cornelia, declares her love for the chieftain and begs that he is spared. Valeria, the Governor's wife is outraged by this declaration and openly calls for the death of Galgacus. A wounded messenger comes on the scene. The messenger delivers the news that the ninth legion "has been slain to a man in wild Caledonia" and that the "Brigantes of the north" have joined the victors and all are making their way south. General panic results which Mammilianus calms, after which he rallies the troops and pleads with Galgacus to return to the Roman side and help defend all of them from a common foe. Galgacus agrees as the troops march off and all exit the arena.
Chester's Amphitheatre was only discovered in 1929, and so could not appear in the 1910 production's depiction of Roman Chester. It is odd that the games are intended to entertain the local public as in AD 109 the audience might well have been restricted to the military. The first amphitheatre was built in the 70s (or possibly as late as 86). It had a stone outer wall with external stairs and timber framed seating. This was the amphitheatre in use at the time of the supposed T. (or P.) Pomponius Mammilianus. However, his name only appears in older lists of governors and nowadays the name of the one between Lucius Neratius Marcellus and Marcus Appius Bradua is unknown. Aufidius, in this version, is not the criminal as he was in the 1910 pageant. As the events are set after Legio XX came to Chester, he would be a centurion of that legion, which appears to have moved to Chester around AD 90. The time around AD 109 was a period when the under-garrisoned province was under pressure from restless tribes. Marcellus supervised a stabilization of the situation which included a withdrawal from Newstead (Trimontium) to what was later to become the line of Hadrian's Wall.
In the previous pageant of 1910 the Briton protagonist was Carantus, now changed to Galacus. According to Tacitus, Calgacus (sometimes Calgacos or Galgacus) was a chieftain of the Caledonian Confederacy who fought against the Roman army of Gnaeus Julius Agricola at the Battle of Mons Graupius in northern Scotland in AD 83 or 84. His name can be interpreted as Celtic *calg-ac-os, "possessing a blade". He is the one to whom Tacitus gives gives an erudite speech which ends with the well-known and often-quoted phrase "..these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace". So the play transposes him through a generation and changes his role completely. However the reference would be obvious to anyone with a classical education. A rising of the Brigantes has often been posited as the explanation for the disappearance of the Ninth Legion, stationed at York, in about 120. It is possible that one of the purposes of Hadrian's Wall (begun in 122) was to keep the Brigantes from making discourse with the tribes in what is now the lowlands of Scotland on the other side. The mixiing of elements from different periods of history is perhaps a refection of the semi-theatrical nature of pageants.
The episode is a pastiche of several events between AD 83 and AD 120 with some fictional elements thrown in. The vague theme is the union of the Britons and the Romans against a "foreign" invader, whether it was influeneced by other current events is uncertain. The pageant was written in the time of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-37) with Mussolini treating it like a re-creation of the Roman Empire. At the time, there were some who considered the Fascists should be friends in the face of the percieved threat from Communists. Public opinion in Britain was very much against the Hoare–Laval Pact which attempted to find a political solution. Fear of the consquences of war in Europe was further increased when the Italians used poison gas. A Soviet estimate states that 15,000 of the 50,000 Ethiopian casualties in the war were caused by chemical weapons. The use of such weapons was much publicised by Haile Selassie who had been forced into Exile in 1936, and gave a noted speech at the League of Nations in May of that year. Selassie has a connection with Chester in that his daughter at one time lived in Upton and there are persistent rumours that he may have visited the City at least once.
Episode 2: Translation of the Relics of St Werburgh, AD 875
- In this episode, townspeople, including many "cripples and other sick folk", rally to witness the arrival of the saint's body, which "the inhabitants of Hanbury, alarmed by the successes of the Danish army", have decided to bring to relative safety in "Legancaster" (Chester). The Bishop of Mercia arrives in a procession to welcome the relics, and with him is Ceolwulf, a thane placed in charge of Chester following the flight of King Buhred as Danes descended on Mercia. As the bishop and Ceolwulf converse (the bishop reassuring Ceolwulf that the saint will protect him), singing is heard and a great procession headed by the Abbess of Hanbury arrives bringing the relics. As the singing ends, the procession reaches the centre of the arena, and all those waiting kneel down. The bishop greets the abbess, and as they prepare to move within the walls of the city, a cry goes out from two of the assembled sick who declare themselves healed.
This scene replaces the river trip of Edgar, possibly because of the expense of building the "boat" prop. Werburgh appears once again only as relics and the date of her translation from Hanbury is accurate. The shrine of St Werburgh remained at Hanbury until the threat from Danish Viking raids in the late 9th century prompted their relocation to within the walled city of Chester. Ranulf Higden, who entered the Abbey of St. Werburgh in 1299, tells us that St Werburgh's remains were translated to Chester in 875. As also recorded in the Annales Cestriensis under that year:
- In the same year, when the Danes made their winter quarters at Repton after the flight of Burgred, king of the Mercians, the men of Hanbury, fearing for themselves, fled to Chester as to a place which was very safe from the butchery of the barbarians, taking with them in a litter the body of S Werburgh, which then for the first time was resolved into dust.
The men of Hanbury may not only have feared the violence of the Vikings at Repton but may also have been concerned about the fact that the Vikings were dropping like flies from what may well have been a plague in their winter quarters at Repton. Coelwulf II was the last king of Mercia, and succeeded Burgred of Mercia who was deposed by the Vikings in 874. His reign is generally dated 874 to 879 based on a Mercian regnal list which gives him a reign of five years. However, he possibly reigned into the early 880s. By 883, he had been replaced by Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, who became ruler of Mercia with the support of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex. Up until 2015 historians generally believed the Wessex chronicler version that Coelwulf II was "an unwise king's thane" who was appointed as king of Mercia as the puppet of the Vikings. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle writes of Ceolwulf:
- "...He swore them oaths and gave hostages, so that it would be ready for them on whatever day they would have it, and he himself ready, and all those who would follow him at the force's need."
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is however, known to be biased in favour of Wessex. It is considered to be politically motivated, written with a view of strengthening the claims of Alfred and his son Edward the Elder to the overlordship of Mercia, and playing down any contribution by the Mercians. That Coelwulf was rather more than a "foolish thane" is evidenced by a 2015 find of Anglo-Saxon "Imperial" coins dated to around 879 CE, known as the Watlington Hoard presumed to have been buried by retreating Vikings. Most of the coins show an emperor’s head on one side and two royal figures seated side by side on the other. The coins are believed to depict both Ceolwulf as a king as well as Alfred on the same coins, leading some experts to conclude that the two were being portrayed as equals. Ceolwulf II is almost completely written out of history by the West-Saxon authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in what few traces remain of him he is portrayed as almost a traitor to his own people who was appointed by the Vikings. There is no more information about Ceolwulf II in the historical record after 879 A.D. and certainly by 883 he was no longer in power. His successor was Æthelred, no longer a king but a lord ruling Mercia as a vassal of King Alfred (and married to his daughter). Nothing is recorded of the circumstances of Ceolwulf's death or other fate.
The miracle of curing the sick associated with Werburgh's arrival at Chester appears entirely fictitious, as would appear to have been the involvement of the "Bishop of Mercia" (who could at the time have been the Bishop of Lichfield, possibly a recently installed Wulfred). In fact, although a diocese of Mercia was established in 656 by Diuma with its see at Repton, when Chad was made Bishop in 669, he moved his seat to Lichfield, thus the diocese was named after that city. In 691 the area over which the bishop held authority was divided to form the smaller dioceses of Lichfield, Leicester, Lindsey, Worcester and Hereford. Thus, there was no "Bishop of Mercia" at the time.
It has been argued that the introduction of Werbergh (rather than Edgar) shows that the writers of the 1937 pageant were more informed about local myth and history, but this can equally well be explained by avoiding the need for a boat. Notably, the script-writer McIntire had used the same device for a similar scene in Carlisle's pageant in 1928, when St Cuthbert's purported remains were trundled on to the arena during a flight from the Norse hordes. In both pageants, this narrative served to underline the historical importance of these cities as ecclesiastical centres.
Episode 3: The Fortifying of Chester by Ethelfleda, AD 907
- This episode is set outside the walls of the city during a period when it was controlled by the Danes. A crowd of homeless peasants mill around and lament 'the tyranny of their Danish masters'. Thorkil, the Danish overlord, appears on the scene accompanied by his wife, Indeg, and their entourage. Indeg warns her husband about the threat from Ethelfleda, but he pours scorn on the notion that a woman might be a foe he should fear. This peaceful scene is disturbed by the announcement that Ethelfleda and Ethelred are on their way 'to wrest the city from the Danes'. The Saxons suddenly descend and arrest the Danes. Ethelfleda takes control and orders the rebuilding of Chester and its walls. Her sister, Aethelgifu, is with the party and pleads for the rebuilding of the ancient Roman church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul where Werburgh's relics are buried. Ethelfleda assents to this request. The scene ends with her sparing the Danish captors and entering the city victorious. In her entourage are many Mercians who will repopulate the decimated city.
This is a new scene which did not appear in the 1910 version. In reality, the status of Chester in 900 and in years around that date is unclear. It is known that the Vikings were there in 894, but they may only have occupied the Amphitheatre where they were possibly besieged by the Mercians. The Viking force which attacked Chester was commanded by "Hastein" a notable Viking chieftain of the late 9th century who made several raiding voyages. It is possible that the Mercian force directed against them at Chester was commanded by Æthelred. An alliance between Wessex and Mercia was sealed by Æthelflæd's marriage to Æthelred, sometime between 885 and 887. Æthelred's descent is unknown. Somewhere early in the 10th century, maybe as early as 902, Æthelred fell very ill and was for much of the time unable to perform an active role in either war or government. He died in 911.
Thorkil seems to be an entirely made up character, except for his name. Chester never appears to have had immediate Danish overlords and its relation with the Vikings is far more complex than displayed in the pageant. The historic Thorkell notably partook in a campaign that saw him lead a great Viking army to Kent in 1009, where they proceeded to overrun most of Southern England. After Cnut successfully invaded England he was made Jarl of East Anglia and later sub-ruler of Denmark.
Æthelflæd, who was the daughter of Alfred the Great, played a key role in the establishment of a burh at Chester, strengthening the church organisation with her promotion of the cults of Oswald and Werburgh and extending the City Walls to their present size. She was a formidable military leader and did much to help her brother Edward recover the Danelaw from Danish rule. With her control of Chester, the rest of Mercia and the submission to her of Welsh kings and potentially the Vikings of York, she was the efffective ruler of a large part of Britain. Æthelflæd is almost ignored in the standard West Saxon version of the Chronicle, in what one historian (Frederick Threlfall Wainwright) described as a "conspiracy of silence". Brief details of her actions were preserved in a pro-Mercian version of the Chronicle known as the "Mercian Register" or the "Annals of Æthelflæd" which covers the years 902-924; although the original text of that work is now lost, and all that remains are elements which were incorporated into several surviving versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle derived later. Æthelflæd's important role had been recognised by 1937, although she is hardly commemorated in Chester today. However, she was not unknown in 1910, having appeared in the Warwick Pageant of 1906. In Episode three of that pageant, she is shown sparing the lives of Danish prisoners in favour of their conversion to Christianity.
Æthelflæd did have a sister, Æthelgifu, Abbess of Shaftesbury. Alfred founded Shaftesbury Abbey ca. 890 and placed Æthelgifu as its first abbess. Very little is known about Æthelgifu's time as abbess. In Alfred's will (he died in 899), there is mention of two estates left "to his middle daughter Æthelgifu" at Kingsclere and at Candover in Hampshire, and the will itself makes no mention of her role as abbess. There is no historical evidence that she was involved in events at Chester.
Episode 4:. Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, Founds the Abbey of St Werburgh, AD 1093
- Foreign masons are engaged in the construction of the abbey. A crowd of Chester residents watch them, and a quarrel breaks out between the Normans and the English as to whether Hugh is a worthy lord. The Normans take the side of Hugh against the Saxon English who have no love for the earl. The town constable arrests the agitators just as Hugh of Avranches, Earl of Chester, arrives on the scene. He is lately returned from a campaign against the Welsh and brings with him many prisoners, including the Welsh chieftain Caradoc. Hugh's wife, Lady Ermentrude, and his son, Richard, come to meet him, but he is in a quarrelsome mood and appears unwell. In this frame of mind, he condemns the captured Welsh to be put to death. The chaplain Gerold intervenes, and Hugh reluctantly agrees to spare their lives on payment of 'a fat ransom from their relatives'. Anselm, Abbot of Bec, then arrives, having been invited to Chester by Hugh to discuss the new abbey. Anselm scolds Hugh for his many misdeeds and advises him to atone for these by becoming a monk. Hugh declines but states that his endowment of the abbey will be his legacy. Ermentrude and several lords offer gifts to the abbey, and Hugh gives permission to the canons of the "College of St Werburgh" to retain their prebends for life.
This scene is based on an episode in the 1910 pageant but the details are changed significantly. The historic Caradog ap Meirion (died c. 798) was an 8th-century king of Gwynedd in northwest Wales. The name also turns up in myth. Hugh of Avranches did have some misadventures in Wales with Gruffydd ap Cynan - who, despite having been imprisoned for some years at Chester Castle - outlived Hugh (who died in 1101) and lasted until 1137. Gruffydd was captured in 1081 when he was enticed to a meeting with Hugh and the Earl of Shrewsbury (probably Roger) at Rug, near Corwen. According to his biographer this was by the treachery of one of his own men, Meirion Goch. Gruffydd was imprisoned at Chester Castle for many years (some say ten, others 12, others 16). In his effort to consolidate control over Gwynedd, Earl Hugh of Chester forced the election of Hervé the Breton upon the Bangor diocese in 1092, with Hervé's consecration as Bishop of Bangor performed by Thomas of Bayeux, then Archbishop of York. Hugh lost Anglesey and much of the rest of Gwynedd in the Welsh revolt of 1094, led by Gruffydd ap Cynan, who had escaped from captivity at Chester. By late 1095 the uprising had spread to many parts of Wales. This induced the then king William II of England (William Rufus) to intervene, invading northern Wales in 1095. However his army was unable to bring the Welsh to battle and returned to Chester without having achieved very much. In 1098, the next Norman attempt to conquer north Wales suffered a severe setback. Florence of Worcester records that, in 1098, Hugh of Chester and Hugh de Montgommery Earl of Shrewsbury led troops into Anglesey and their furious 'victory celebrations' which followed were exceptionally violent, with rape and carnage committed by the Norman army left unchecked. The earl of Shrewsbury had an elderly priest mutilated, and "made the church of Llandyfrydog a kennel for his dogs". Gruffydd ap Cynan had retreated to Anglesey, but then was forced to flee to Ireland when a fleet he had hired from the Danish settlement in Ireland changed sides. Then, a Norwegian fleet under the command of King Magnus III of Norway, also known as "Magnus Barefoot", attacked the Norman forces near the eastern end of the Menai Straits. Hugh of Shrewsbury was killed by an arrow. The Normans were thus obliged to evacuate Anglesey, and the following year (1099) Gruffydd ap Cynan returned from Ireland to take possession again. Hugh apparently made an agreement with Gruffydd and did not again try to recover these lands.
Only a brief mention is made of the supposed illness of Hugh portrayed in the previous pageant and there does not appear to be a miracle cure by Anselm. Hugh had married Ermentrude of Claremont, by whom he had one son, Richard of Avranches, who succeeded him. But Richard was only born around 1194. Despite this, the 1093 Charter of the Abbey is apparently signed by Richard - it is either a later confirmation or more likely a forgery. The chaplain Gerold appears to be based of Gerald of Wales who travelled with the Bishop Baldwin who appears in the previous pageant but not this one. In this pageant Hugh refuses to become a monk, indicating that by 1937 that legend was believed untrue. This updated version recognises that the Abbey was a refoundation of the "College of St Werburgh", but here the previous occupants are not simply thrown out on the streets.
Episode 5: Edward I Sets Out From Chester to Wales, AD 1282
- The scene is set on 16 June 1282 (the day before the king's 43rd birthday) within the city of Chester where a crowd is assembled to witness the departure of Edward I on a campaign against the Welsh. A castle gardener and the farmer of the Mills of Dee greet each other. The farmer sings a cheerful song telling of his happiness and good fortune in the prosperous settlement of Chester. Accompanied by Queen Eleanor, the royal princesses (Joanna and Eleanor), and a huge train of courtiers and soldiers, Edward arrives and is met by the Bishop of Lichfield, who curses the Welsh with bell, book and candle. The Welsh among the crowd break into song, and one of their number curses Edward, calling him "the devil's whelp". The king says farewell to his family, treating his wife with great affection. The king and his army leave with great fanfare and the crowd departs.
This scene is based on an episode in the 1910 pageant but the details are changed significantly. Instead of being a prince, Edward is now a king. In reality, the war in 1282 started with a rebellion by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, who was discontented with the reward he had received from Edward in 1277. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and other Welsh chieftains soon joined in, and initially the Welsh experienced military success. On 17th June, Gloucester was defeated at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr. The battle was a great victory for the Welsh. English expansion into south Wales was halted for a few weeks and Edward's plans of an attack on multiple fronts were somewhat spoiled.
The phrase "bell, book, and candle" refers to a Latin Christian method of excommunication by anathema, imposed on a person who had committed an exceptionally grievous sin. Evidently introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century, the rite was once used by the Roman Catholic Church. The then bishop of Lichfield, Roger de Meyland probably took no such part. The actual involvement of the church was somewhat different. On 6 November, while John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, was conducting peace negotiations (hamopered by the fact that rhe king would not budge), Edward's commander of Anglesey, Luke de Tany, decided to carry out a surprise attack. A pontoon bridge had been built to the mainland, but shortly after Tany and his men crossed over, they were ambushed by the Welsh and suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Moel-y-don. It was Peckham who excommunicated some of the Welsh. The Welsh advances ended on 11 December, however, when Llywelyn was lured into a trap and killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge. None of these subsequent events are mentioned in the pageant which ends with Edward riding away to what seems assured victory.
From the conquest of Gwynedd in 1282–83 until the passing of the Laws in Wales Acts, the administrative system of Wales had remained unchanged. By the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 the territory of the native Welsh rulers had been broken up into the five counties of Anglesey, Caernarfon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, and Merioneth. Even though the five counties were subject to English criminal law, the "Principality" was the king of England's own personal fief and Welsh law continued to be used for civil cases. The rest of Wales, except for the county of Flint, which was part of the Principality, and the Royal lordships of Glamorgan and Pembroke, was made up of numerous small lordships, each with its own courts, laws and other customs. The history of the counties of Wales is discussed further under "Grosvenor Club" which bears their arms on the frontage.
Episode 6: Richard II is Brought by Henry of Bolingbroke, a Prisoner to Chester, AD 1399
- Set in Chester in the area 'leading up to the castle', this episode opened with a crowd assembled to witness the arrival of the captured king. A song is sung by a soloist which describes Richard's capture and arrival in Chester. Some townspeople discuss the misdeeds of Richard, and a 'jongleur' loudly recites some verse that foretells the end of Richard's reign. A local follower of Richard voices his views and a brawl ensues; this is stopped by the intervention of the mayor. The mayor's wife urges clemency towards the supporter, but the mayor states that Richard's days are numbered and they must welcome Bolingbroke, who then appears in triumph within a 'brilliant cavalcade'. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the High Sheriff of Cheshire and other supporters accompany Bolingbroke. They bring Richard to them. The king is dressed in a friar's robe and riding a 'sorry nag'; he is escorted by the Earls of Northumberland and Salisbury and the Bishop of Carlisle. The king's loyal supporter, Jean Creton, who resents the insults hurled at his master, attends the king and tries to defend him. Richard pacifies Creton and urges him to join those who now support Bolingbroke. The Archbishop of Canterbury announces that he bears a papal bull granting remission of all sins to those who come over to Bolingbroke's side. The crowd cheers, and the Bishop of Carlisle angrily scolds them. Bolingbroke 'tries with smooth words to lull his captive's suspicions'; but Richard is not fooled and is resigned to his fate. Salisbury rushes to pledge his continued allegiance to Richard, but Bolingbroke warns him against this. The king is led away to captivity in the castle by the Earls of Gloucester and Arundel.
This scene is based on an episode in the 1910 pageant but some details are changed. Notably, there appears to be no execution of Piers Legh. As in the earlier pageant there is little ot no explanation as to why events are taking place iin Chester - the fact that Chester was an important royal power-base and that the Royal Treasure was nearby. However the "misdeeds" of Richard are mentioned. In the historic events Richard was captured near Abergele having been lured from Conwy to a supposed meeting with Bolingbroke (later Henry IV, he was escorted via Rhuddlan to Flint where he was handed-over to Bolingbroke and it was at Flint that he was placed into the custody of the son of the Duke of Gloucester and the son of the Earl of Arundel. The pageant appears to shift much of the story to Chester. The role of the Bishop of Carlisle is also changed. The bishop at the time was Thomas Merke. He served Richard II as ambassador to various German princes in 1397, was one of the commissioners who negotiated the dowry of Isabella of Valois in 1398, and accompanied the king to Ireland in 1399 he was with the king in North Wales when Richard was captured. The bishops harangue of the crowd appears to be based on Shakespeare where he supports the kings "divine right" as Richard is slipping slowly into madness. In early 1400, Merke played a part in the Epiphany Rising in which the goal was to murder the new King Henry IV and his sons and place Richard back on the throne. Because of this plot, Henry (most likely) did away with the former king. Merke was deprived of his bishopric, tried and sentenced to death but was ultimately pardoned and set free for some unknown reason.
Jean Creton (fl. 1386–1420) was a medieval French historian and poet who served as valet de chambre (or squire) to King Charles VI of France in the late fourteenth century. He is most notable, however, for his chronicle (written in verse) that he wrote of his travels to England in 1399, where he was an eyewitness to the deposition of the King, Richard II. Although he seems to have visited for the purposes of "amusement and to see the country," with a now unknown companion, he witnessed at first hand the events leading up to the deposition of King Richard II of England by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke. He was not a "loyal supporter" of Richard but a traveller who enjoyed remarkable access to both sides in the conflict and left a detailed description of the events.
The Archbishop of Canterbury who figures in the real historic event was actually an exile who was advising Bolingbroke, Thomas Arundel. He was the brother of Richard Fitzalan, 4th Earl of Arundel, who held Holt Castle until his downfall and execution by Richard II.
On 25 September 1396, Arundel was made Archbishop of Canterbury. The king's nomination seemed to wish him nothing but success. Yet, within a year, he was exiled by the king during Richard's fierce counter-attack against his enemies of ten years earlier, and was replaced by Roger Walden who lost this position when the new king Henry IV restored Arundel in 1399. Arundel spent his exile in Florence, where in 1398, at Richard II's request, the Roman Pope Boniface IX translated him to become Bishop of St. Andrews, a cruel, empty fate because Scotland during the Western Schism recognised the pope in Avignon, already had a bishop in place and would probably never have accepted him anyway, even in peaceful times. However, shortly afterwards, he joined up with his fellow exile Henry Bolingbroke. They invaded England together. Arundel played a prominent part in the usurpation and may have been the most hawkishly determined of all that the king should be removed entirely: whether he actually lied on oath to Richard II to lure him out of Conwy Castle prior to his capture at Flint remains altogether open to debate. There is nothing in the historic record to suggest the existence of the papal bull. In 2005/2006, BBC History Magazine chose Thomas Arundel as the 15th century's entry for their "Ten Worst Britons" poll. In "Who Killed Chaucer?" (2003) Terry Jones argued that Arundel was responsible for the death of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Episode 7: Elizabethan Revels, AD 1599
- The scene presents Chester at its famous midsummer fair on the Roodee. A pavanne is danced and dignitaries of the town's guilds enter. A Puritan protests loudly against the celebrations and people call for him to be taken to the stocks. The master of shoemakers presents the traditional 'six gleaves' to the mayor: these will be given to those 'who are fleetest of foot' in a race. Young men cheer and prepare to race. The master of saddlers then gives a silver bell to the company of drapers. The bell will be awarded to the owner of the fastest horse in a race. Morris dancing is ongoing. The silver gleaves are then awarded. Within this lively scene, a woman calls out that a thief has made off with her Cheshire cheese. Two constables seize the culprit and put him in the stocks next to the Puritan. A 'Country Lad' spots his sweetheart being escorted by a 'Chester apprentice'; he is annoyed by this and challenges the apprentice to fight. A fight with staffs ensues, while a sword dance is going on in the background. The performance of a play is then announced. A morality play then takes place on the subject of the seven deadly sins. Other characters include the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. The scene closes with the arrival of the Earl of Essex (Earl Marshal of England) on his way to Ireland to subdue the rebellion of Tyrone. A page gives the earl some wine and a beautiful girl ties a favour to his arm. The earl raises a toast to Queen Elizabeth and the crowd cheers as he rides off. All then dance out of the arena.
This scene is based on an episode in the 1910 pageant but the details are changed significantly, with James I making no appearance and the action being shifted to Elizabethan times. The "stock Puritan" still appears. There is no witch. The choice of the date is interesting, for 1599 was not only the year when the historic Earl of Essex visited Chester, but also the year that Mayor Henry Hardware prohibited the Midsummer Watch Parade and:
- "caused the giants which used to go at midsummer to be broken. ... The dragon and naked boys he suffered not to go in midsummer show nor the devil for the Butchers, but a boy to ride as other Companyes"
Hardware’s reforms were unpopular and met with resistance, "he got great ill will among the commons", and suppressed elements such as the giants were permanently returned during the mayoralty of John Ratcliffe in 1601.
There is reference to horse racing, a foot race and various guilds being involved in the provision of prizes. These are based on historical events. Before 1533 a ball was provided (by the shoemakers) for a game of "mob football" of which various accounts survive (see: Chamber's Book of days). During the reign of Henry VIII the objects presented became six "gleaves" or silver darts which were awarded for a foot race. The first recorded horse race at the Roodee was held on 9 February 1539 (although other sources list this as 10 January 1511):
- "In the tyme of Henry Gee, Mayre of the King's citie of Chester, in the XXXI yere of King Henry Theght, a bell of sylver, to the value of IIIs IIIId, is ordayned to be the reward of that horse which shall runne before all others".
The bell was, according to Chambers, provided by the saddlers. Victors were later, in 1610 and afterwards, awarded the "Chester Bells", a set of decorative bells for their horse's bridle
The Chester Mystery Plays were last performed and effectively banned in 1575. The morality play is perhaps a slight nod to them, but bears no resemblance to any of the actual plays in the Mystery Cycle. The Seven Deadly Sins were a matter for the church rather than the sbject of the Mystery Plays. The list of the seven virtues (with corresponding sins) are commonly identified as chastity (lust), temperance (gluttony), charity (greed), diligence (sloth), patience (envy), kindness (wrath), and humility (pride). The subject of the morality play is therefore a bit of a mish-mash of theological positions.
As noted above the Earl of Essex was in Chester at the time. The "Nine Years' War" sometimes called Tyrone's Rebellion, took place in Ireland from 1593 to 1603. It was fought between an Irish alliance, led mainly by Hugh O'Neill of Tyrone and Hugh Roe O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, against English rule in Ireland. Chester was a major port for Ireland and many troops were shipped through it. The Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, arrived in Dublin at the head of over 16,000 troops, on the 23rd April 1599, so his appearance in the pageant is appropriate for the year, as it is known he passed through Chester. This was the largest army ever seen in Ireland, and one of the largest assembled in Tudor times.
However, Essex's greatest failure was as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Essex had declared to the Privy Council that he would confront the rebel O'Neill in Ulster. Instead, he led his army into southern Ireland, where he fought a series of inconclusive engagements, wasted his funds, and dispersed his army into garrisons, while the Irish won two important battles in other parts of the country. Rather than face O'Neill in battle, Essex entered a truce that some considered humiliating to the Crown and to the detriment of English authority. The Queen herself told Essex that if she had wished to abandon Ireland it would scarcely have been necessary to send him there. Relying on his general warrant to return to England, given under the great seal, Essex sailed from Ireland on 24 September 1599, and reached London four days later. The Queen had expressly forbidden his return and was surprised when he presented himself in her bedchamber one morning at Nonsuch Palace, before she was properly wigged or gowned. He was put on trial, deprived of public office and confined. Granted freedom, he staged an unsuccesful rebellion. On 25 February 1601, Essex was beheaded in the confines of the Tower of London. The day before the death of this unsuccessful usurper Elizabeth had the play Richard II performed for her own amusement. Whether the presence of Essex is a reference to the policy of appeasement in 1937 is not known. George Carew, the English Lord President of Munster, managed more or less to quash the rebellion in Munster by mid-1601, and by 1602 the revolt was effectively over. The leaders of the Irish rebellion received good terms from the new King of England, James I, in the hope of ensuring a final end of the draining war that had brought England close to bankruptcy and caused immense slaughter on both sides.
Episode 8: Charles I at Chester, AD 1642
- The episode is set in the centre of Chester a few years before it finds itself under siege. A large crowd awaits the arrival of the king from Shrewsbury. The choir sings 'The Siege of Chester'. Sir William Brereton attempts to proclaim the cause of the Parliamentarians but is prevented from doing so by the mayor, Thomas Cowper. The mayor goes off to welcome the king. Some ladies, including Lady Gamul, Lady Strange and the mayoress, converse; it is clear they are fearful for the safety of the city. The mayor returns with the king and his entourage; this includes his infant son, Charles. The mayor offers a formal welcome, and the monarch thanks the citizens of Chester for this and for the city's continued support. Some Parliamentarians, including Sir Richard Wilbraham, offer greetings to the king but are rebuffed. A messenger arrives with news that Prince Rupert has won a victory at Worcester. The king is delighted by this news and takes his leave, escorted by the mayor. The crowd all cheer.
This scene is based on the final scene in the 1910 pageant but the details are changed significantly. Instead of King Charles visit to Chester in September 1645, when he suffered a defeat, this version concerns his visit of 23-28 September 1642 only a month after the Civil War started.
The prevailing mood in Chester in summer 1642 was a wish for accommodation between Charles I and parliament, reflected in the city's neutralist petition in August and in its reaction to the parliamentary commission of lieutenancy and the royal commission of array. The Assembly stood fast against both an attempt by James Stanley, Lord Strange, to secure the county magazine in the castle for the royalists, and Alderman William Edwards's and Sir William Brereton's effort to take control of the city's trained bands for parliament. Nevertheless, Bishop of Chester John Bridgeman, his son Orlando Bridgeman (vice-chamberlain of Chester), other lawyers, and prominent figures were apparently trying to encourage royalist sympathies among leading citizens. Brereton tried to seize Chester for Parliament (8th August, 1642), but was driven out by the Royalist faction. According to Frank Simpson, mayor Cowper ordered the constables to arrest the leaders of this "treasonable" gathering, but they failed to do so. At this point Cowper stepped-in and seized one of the leaders by the collar, delivering him to the civil officers. He also wrested a broadsword from another of the party, which which he cut the drum to pieces.
On 6 September Mayor Thomas Cowper secured a majority vote in the Assembly for an immediate assessment of 100 marks to fortify the city. The decisive event, however, was the arrival of the king himself in Chester on 23 September. In an upsurge of loyalty he was greeted with popular enthusiasm, pageantry, bellringing, and a loyal address. The king's supporters seized their opportunity. The houses of known opponents, such as Brereton and Aldermen Edwards and Aldersey, were searched for arms; county gentlemen favourable to parliament were rounded up; and parliamentary supporters in the corporation left. When the king departed five days later, with a gift of money from the corporation, the parliamentarian presence in the city had all but gone, and the royalist hold on Chester had finally been consolidated.
However once the King left Chester there was still not much enthusiasm in Cheshire as a whole for fighting and something of a stalemate ensued. There were even meetings between member of the county elite at Tarporley and Bunbury with a view to signing a peace treaty. At these meetings the Royalists were represented by Lords Kilmorey and Cholmondeley and the Parliamentarians by Henry Mainwaring and William Marbury (with Orlando Bridgeman replacing the latter at Bunbury). The outbreak of the Civil War in August 1642 brought calamity and division to the Wilbraham family. Sir Richard’s son Thomas was appointed a commissioner of array for the king, responsible for mustering and arming the local militia, but the people of Nantwich initially refused to take sides, maintaining that neither king nor Parliament could survive without each other; Sir Richard Wilbraham was one of the signatories of a petition to this effect and unlikely to be greeting Charles in Chester. In fact, he was arrested taken before the king and imprisoned in September. He died in jail a year later, but remained a well-known character in Cheshire history.
Rupert of the Rhine was recruiting at the time and with great effort he had put together a partially trained mounted force of 3,000 cavalry by the end of September. Rupert's reputation continued to rise and, leading a sudden, courageous charge, he routed a Parliamentarian force at Powick Bridge, the first military engagement of the war and indeed just south of Worcester. However the pageant changes the details. Sir John Byron was escorting a Royalist convoy of valuables from Oxford to King Charles's army in Shrewsbury and, worried about the proximity of the Parliamentarians, took refuge in Worcester on 16 September to await reinforcements. The Parliamentarians approached the city from the south on the afternoon of 23 September. Their route took them up narrow lanes and straight into Rupert's force, which was resting in a field. The noise of the approaching Parliamentarian cavalry alerted the Royalists, who quickly formed up. Rupert's cavalry then charged and broke most of the Parliamentarian cavalry. Although a small engagement, this had a propaganda value far exceeding the importance of the battle itself, and Rupert became an heroic figure for many young men in the Royalist camp. The Royalists then abandoned Worcester leaving safely with their valuable convoy. The Parliamentarian army arrived in the city the next day and remained for four weeks before shadowing the Royalist move towards London, which led to the Battle of Edgehill.
Late on 22 October, both armies unexpectedly found the enemy to be close by. The next day, the Royalist army descended from Edge Hill to force battle. After the Parliamentarian artillery opened a cannonade, the Royalists attacked. Both armies consisted mostly of inexperienced and sometimes ill-equipped troops. Many men from both sides fled or fell out to loot enemy baggage, and neither army was able to gain a decisive advantage. The inconclusive result of the Battle of Edgehill prevented either faction from gaining a quick victory in the war, which eventually lasted four years. A Bunbury treaty of sorts was actually signed on the 23rd December 1642 which envisaged a cessation of conflict, exchange of prisoners and destruction of the fortifications of Chester. Unfortunately there was too much local distrust for the treaty to last and it was entirely unsupported by either the King or Parliament.
Episode 9: Princess Victoria Visits Chester, AD 1832
- The drama takes place at the opening of the famous Grosvenor Bridge in Chester on 18 October 1932. A group of labourers are at work clearing up the roadway. Their foreman bemoans the fact that the bridge's architect, Thomas Harrison, has died before his work was completed and bids the men finish their work quickly in order to welcome the 'little princess'. A crowd assembles and a procession of city dignitaries, including the mayor, the local MP, the MP for Newark (W.E. Gladstone) and members of the clergy, arrive on the scene. A second procession follows from 'Eaton Hall' in which are several carriages carrying many representatives of the Grosvenor family. The Princess Victoria and her mother the Duchess of Kent come in one of the carriages. The Marquis of Westminster introduces the mayor to the princess. Thereafter, Victoria declares the bridge open. She then donates £25 to buy beef and beer for the prisoners in the jail at Chester Castle.
This is a new scene which did not form part of the 1910 pageant. The Grosvenor Bridge (architect Harrison had indeed died) was opened by Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld on 17 October 1832, although it did not open to traffic until November 1833 (after delay over payments to the contractor - who appears to have over-run on his estimates somewhat). It might seem that the king (William IV) should have opened so prestigous a bridge, but at the time of its opening there was an ongoing crisis over the Reform Act, which had just granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the "rotten boroughs": those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron - these included Chester, which was dominated by the Grosvenors and at the time were resorting to extensive bribery in local elections. This scandal of open corruption continued until the 1880's when the elections were so corrupt that the constituency was suspended after its M.P.s were unseated and the matter was referred to a Royal Commission (see: 1883 Reform Act). Lord Robert Grosvenor (the local MP) led the Royal procession on horseback, with the Princess and Duchess was the Marquis and Marchioness of Westminster. They were followed by carriages containing Mr George Wilbraham MP and Lady Anne Wilbraham, Lord Ragot and family, Sir Jobn Conroy, the Baroness Lehzen, Lady Catherine Jenkinison, the Earl and Countess Grosvenor and Countess Wilton. The Royal party was welcomed by the Mayor of Chester who called on the young Princess to formally name the bridge. In a firm voice Victoria said:
- "I seize the occasion of our being the first persons to pass over this magnificent bridge to lend myself to the feeling that prevails and to name it Grosvenor Bridge."
It is perhaps worth noting that Wilbraham and Grosvenor did not get on and the Grosvenors took every opportunity to upstage him at the opening ceremony. William Ewart Gladstone was elected Tory MP for Newark only in December 1832, at the age of 22, and so would not have been present as described in the pageant. He was probably included simply because he was a well-known figure and had a local connection. Hawarden Castle, near Chester, was Gladstone's estate, having previously belonged to the family of his wife, Catherine Glynne. At the time that he appears in the pageant he was an opponent of the immediate emancipation of slavery in the colonies, a view which changed in later life.
After the naming ceremony Princess Victoria visited the Shire Hall and County Gaol where she met the governor, Mr Dunstan. Victoria's donation to the prisoners in the gaol might seem entirely fictional, but apparently did take place. However it was the Duchess (another Victoria) who left £25 for the comfort and consolation of poor debtors. The Equerry who objects to payment in the pageant may be based on John Conroy who was present. Like much of the rest of the pageant there is a shadow behind this element of the episode. Conroy and the Dutchess of Kent designed the Kensington System, an elaborate and strict system of rules for the upbringing of young Victoria, designed to render her weak-willed and utterly dependent upon the pair in the hope of allowing them one day to wield power through her. They envigaged her succession would be at an early age thus needing a regency government, which, following the Regency Act 1830, would be headed by the princess's mother (who had already served in that capacity in Germany following the death of her first husband). As the personal secretary of the Duchess, Conroy would be the veritable "power behind the throne". He had not counted on William IV surviving long enough for Victoria to succeed to the throne as an adult. The Baroness Lehzen, who was also present at the bridge opening was strongly protective of Victoria, and encouraged the princess to be strong, informed, and independent from the Duchess and Conroy's influence.
In fact William appears to have been well aware of the plot and took the opportunity at what proved to be his final birthday banquet in August 1836 to settle the score. Speaking to those assembled at the banquet, who included the Duchess and Princess, William expressed his hope that he would survive until the Princess was 18 so that the Duchess would never be regent. He said:
- "I trust to God that my life may be spared for nine months longer ... I should then have the satisfaction of leaving the exercise of the Royal authority to the personal authority of that young lady, heiress presumptive to the Crown, and not in the hands of a person now near me, who is surrounded by evil advisers and is herself incompetent to act with propriety in the situation in which she would be placed."
Victoria turned 18 on 24 May 1837, and a regency was avoided. Less than a month later, on 20 June 1837, William IV died at the age of 71, and Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom.
Back in 1832, the Princess and Duchess had been touring Wales and were staying in Chester as guests of the Marquis of Westminster. In a family ceremony, the Princess stood as female sponsor at the christening of Lord and Lady Robert Grosvenor's infant daughter, named Victoria Charlotte (1832-1913). She may have been named after the future queen or her mother.
All the characters of the episodes group themselves in the arena. Characters who took place in the prologue then enter. Clio implores Deva to bring forth some of the "famous dead". Trumpets sound, and then various characters from Chester's past who did not feature in the episodes enter. A similar scene had formed parts of earlier pageants elsewhere with local notables who did not get a full episode having a "walk-on" in either the prologue or epilogue. Deva reads from a scroll and comments on their place in history as each comes onto the arena. These included Ranulf de Blondeville, Ranulph Higden of the Polychronicon, Henry Bradshaw who wrote a life of Werburgh, and Elizabeth Mottershead who was associated with the "Legend of the Blue Posts" in Bridge Street.
Characters famous for giving service to the Infirmary then enter, including Dr John Haygarth, Dr W.M. Thackery, the Misses Wilbraham, and Jane Bird. Haygarth was a noted physician who did important work on smallpox, and syphilis, at the Infirmary and exposed at least one "quack" cure demonstrating the "placebo effect" in the process. Thackery, who has a spectacular memorial at Overleigh Cemetery was another medic and uncle of the similarly named novelist (who spelled his name "Thackary") - he is actually buried in the Cathedral. The Misses Wilbraham included Francis, who had run a Cholera hospital in Grosvenor Park during an 1866 outbreak. Jane Bird was a nurse under Haygarth on his typhoid ward at the Infirmary, who caught the disease twice in four years and then resigned. Several of the other staff died of typhoid, but are not mentioned.
The Military Tattoo
This was performed by the Cheshire Regiment and the Shropshires. It contained some pageantry, including a staged fight between "David and Goliath" (the largest and smallest soldiers thery could find), a highway robbery (by the yeomanry) and various scenes from the history of the Cheshires. In addition to the tattoo there were motorcycle displays, gymnastic exhibitions, country dancing and community singing. The Tattoo is said to have included searchlights, something which was a major feature of Nazi rallies from 1934 to 1938 as a "Cathederal of Light". A similar effect was created for the closing ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin by Eberhard von der Trappen.
There were subtle differences between the 1910 and the 1937 pageants, but there are also some similarities. In the 1937 production, with the exception of the Victorian addition, all of the themes have a connection with war: the Romans face a threat from the north, Vikings threaten the Anglo-Saxons, Wales is invaded by Hugh and Edward and both Charles I and Richard II have a Civil War to contend with (which both will lose). Even the Elizabethan revels feature a mention of an eventually futile expedition to Ireland. In several cases the episode ends with the departure of a character who is about to suffer death or defeat (sometimes temporary): Calgacus presumably dies in battle; Hugh will lose much of his conquests in Wales; Edward will have a major setback against the Welsh the next day; Richard II will lose his kingdom and his life and Essex will eventually be executed in the midst of a runinous war with Ireland.
In the 1910 version there is slightly less mention of war although it is still a significant theme. This is, of course, understandable given the events which have shaped Chester's history, many of which were of a military nature. Both pageants misrepresent some of the historical facts, with the roles of some church characters significanly altered: Werburgh did not perform a miracle on arrival in Chester, the Abbess of Shaftesbury makes an unlikely contribution to the Cathedral and in this version Hugh of Avranches refuses Anselm's request that he become a monk. Bishop Baldwin described as "more damaging to christianity than Saladin" is omited entirely (the Third Crusade was largely a failure) and Gerald of Wales perhaps appears as a chaplain. The Archbishop of Lichfield apparently excommunicates the entire Welsh narion and an Archbishop of Canterbury (who wasn't at the time) flaunts a nonexistent papal bull as Richard II is in the process of being usurped. The church was quite closely involved with the production of the pageant and may have influenced some of the detail.
The treatment of the Civil War ia also changed from the earlier production. Instead of Charles facing a defeat at Chester he is advised of a victory. To do this the action is shifted to his first visit to the city and events of August-September 1642 are compressed together for theatrical effect. There is no mention of the attempts at Bunbury with the goal of avoiding war, perhaps because these were too close to appeasement. However, Prince Rupert's almost accidental victory only protected a convoy and Worcester was abandonned by the Royalists the next day.
Women also play a larger role in the second production, especially with the intoduction of Æthelflæd, whose influence on the history of the city was more significant perhaps than that of Werburgh, and, Queen Victoria makes an appearance (as a princess). Even these events have a darker side: Æthelflæd was almost wtitten out of history; Werburgh would eventually lose her church, first to the Norman Abbey and then to a Cathedral; and Victoria was the subject of an insidious plot to control her. Nowadays perhaps, those elements would be given more prominence.
The "out of context" characters may simply have been used as sources for names, although in one glaring case, Gladstone in the Victoria Episode, he was clearly added for theatrical effect and probably portrayed as much older than he was at the time. Other appearances wholly or partly out of context include: Galgacus, Ceolwulf, Richard of Avranches and Jean Creton, among several others.
All of the differences between the historical events and those depicted in the pageant would appear to have been obvious to anyone with a knowledge of the relevant historical period and therefore might be assumed to have been introduced for dramatic effect rather than out of misapprehension or ignorance. If the changes were made to portray noble victories some of them were poor choices in their details - many of the protagonists either lost and died or won only through the use of somewhat excessive violence (Edward I being the prime example). However, it needs to be remembered that pageants are typically not intended to be absolutely faithful and accurate respresentations of history. When king Arthur appears in a pageant he is often wearing armour from hundreds of years later than the time in which he is purported to exist. William Shakespeare also changes details of events in his history plays, and more modern film and television are notorious for blurring the lines between history and historical fiction.
Given the times and the prospect of being on the eve of yet another war, the 1937 pageant has quite some shadows of gloom in it, but these are well hidden and the prospect of furure war is not expressly portrayed. It is not clear whether this was a deliberate decision, with either influence being exerted to avoid the mention of relations with Germany or the producers wanting to concentrate on "happier times".
The Epilogue introduces a host of other characters from Chester history and in particular that of the Infirmary which was the principal target of the charity provided by the pageant. Overall, the pageant seems to have barely broken even, with a profit of a little over £500 on an expenditure of almost £7000. Extra donations and perhaps some creative accounting seem to have been needed, including an anonymous donor of £2260. The total aundience was less than 25 thousand, whereas that of the 1910 pageant had been about 80 thousand (including rehersals) with people in 1910 being turned away who had travelled to see it.
If the pageant were ever re-done it would make some sense to stick with the same general themes, as they provide plenty of opportunity to explore the "other sides" of each story as well as the circumstances in which the earlier two pageants were performed. Just how any future pageant might change the details would of course be a reflection of its own present as well as the past.
Sources and Links
Performance Art in Chester
- Queen Dido;
- Chamber's Book of days;
- Shakespeare and Chester;
- Midsummer Watch Parade;
- Chester Mystery Plays;
- Minstrel Court;
- Timeline for Chester;
- River Dee;
- Roman Chester and the Amphitheatre;
- Chester in 900, the Vikings and Æthelflæd
- Hugh of Avranches and the Cathedral
- Edward I and Chester Castle;
- Richard II and the story of his Royal Treasure;
- The Chester Mystery Plays;
- Charles II, Cowper, Brereton and the Civil War;
- The Grosvenor Bridge;
- Pandemic and Infirmary for medicine in Chester;