Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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Triumphal Entries and Festivals in Early Modern Scotland

Reviewed by Michael Bath

Giovanna Guidicini, Triumphal Entries and Festivals in Early Modern Scotland: Performing Spaces (Turnhout: Brepols, 2020), ISBN: 9782503585413, 349 pp. EUR 90.00.

[1] This account of more than a dozen royal entries into Edinburgh that are recorded in historical documents identifies eight successive ‘performative spaces’ – specific sites within the city where particular types of dramatic performance, artistic display, and ceremonial activity structured each entry. Because these locations repeatedly became the pausing points for particular ceremonies or static displays, they become keys to the wider political, social and commercial relationships between court and city – or between the monarch and his or her subjects – at this period. They also illustrate the wider relationship between politics and the creative and performance arts, and their historical interest thus extends much further than their ephemeral nature might tempt us to assume. For this reason, Dr. Guidicini’s book deserves to be brought to the attention of a wider readership than the scholarly circle of specialists in royal entries in particular, or European festival studies more generally, that have been pursued in recent years.

[2] Guidicini identifies eight locations in the city that structured the progress of such entries: they are successively the West Port, Overbow, Butter Tron, Tolbooth, St Giles Kirk and Market Cross, Salt Tron, and Netherbow – these became the focal points in successive entries, and the way each site functioned on these occasions is studied in successive chapters of the book. That sequence structures its argument, which thus becomes primarily geographical rather than historical. Deploying nevertheless a remarkable body of historical and documentary evidence, much of it fugitive, Dr Guidicini accompanies her readers on a scholarly reconstruction of those ancient royal progresses and their ‘imaginary’ spaces whose civic functions and symbolism become ceremonially revealed or displayed. The eleven entries in the period between 1503 and 1633 included successive monarchs: Margaret Tudor (wife of James IV), Madeleine of Valois and Mary of Guise (James V), Mary Queen of Scots, James VI, Anna of Denmark and Charles I. Those held later for George IV in 1822 and for Victoria and Albert in 1842 were, of course, historical revivals.

[3] These successive focal points begin at the West Port which, as a reinforced gateway, symbolised the opening of the city to its ruler, requiring the reassurance of trust and friendship between city and court which was signalled by an exchange of gifts and the delivery of keys. ‘Performing this ceremony at the city gate’ writes Dr Guidicini, ‘made skilful use of spatial significance to remind the royal guest that the welcome was freely given to a legitimate, well-disposed, and religiously compliant ruler’ (p.92). The fact that in Edinburgh the royal court was located outside the walls – either in the castle on its hill to the west or later at Holyrood to the east – meant that the royal party had to take a roundabout route before beginning its processional entry; from that point onwards, however, the theatrical, historical and ‘imaginary’ representation of civic spaces begins, with tapestries depicting legendary, traditional or classical scenes that transform the streets into symbolically suggestive settings. The rich textiles often used for hangings were matched by the splendid canopies and costumed bearers that accompanied the royal person: in 1590, for instance, Queen Anna’s entry was attended by ‘picturesquely attired moors’ (p.95) – a type of exotic orientalised performers that have been noted as playing a significant role more widely elsewhere in theatrical entertainments of this period. The fact that the next focal point, the Overbow, had formerly also been a gateway, although in an earlier and narrower boundary of the city, gave it a similar significance to the West Port, which its function as commercial tollgate confirmed. Its structure (Scots ‘bow’ means an arched gateway) clearly also established its potential to imitate those antique triumphal arches that became such a characteristic feature of ceremonial entries both here and elsewhere. That classicising impulse is shown to have been influenced by the antiquarian and historicising writings of such authors as Hector Boece, Gavin Douglas, David Lindsay and George Buchanan, in which the nation’s identity was becoming defined. The place of the monarchy in that history was signalled by the inclusion in entries on several occasions of family trees illustrating the monarch’s ancestry.

[4] As it moved down the Royal Mile to the Butter Tron, however, the procession reached a location in the city most appropriate for signalling the relations between monarchs and merchants, or possibly between the nobility and the bourgeoisie. Focus on those relations has suggestive parallels with other European cities, such as London, Paris, Lyon, Bruges, and Antwerp, with which Edinburgh shared trading relations – indeed foreign visitors, such as the Danish chronicler who described Queen Anna’s 1590 entry, make particular mention of the Butter Tron in their accounts, noting its commercial function as the site of the public weighbeam (tron being the Scots word for that civic amenity). Mercantile activities extended right down the High Street from this point to the Salt Tron at the entrance to Canongate, and during the welcome for Mary of Guise in 1538 particular traders were named as responsible for making each of the successive stations on this route ready for the procession, although unfortunately records of the particular activities or displays they put in place have not survived. The periodic rebuilding of facades to buildings down the High Street, however, with timber frontages, stone arcades and ashlar facades being added to domestic dwellings, is likely to have been motivated, at least to some extent, by their situation on the route of such royal processions. Records of preparations for several entries, such as Mary of Guise’s in 1538 or James’s in 1579, include documents which specify the dress codes, textiles and colours to be worn by different guild members on these occasions: they were evidently meant to be suitably attired whilst on parade, not as mere spectators but as participants in a civic performance. Comparisons with similar processions elsewhere in Europe are instructive at this point, and the banning of unwanted spectators, such as convicted criminals and beggars, ensured the presentation of Edinburgh ‘as an established and prosperous ideal mercantile burgh’ (p.172).

[5] In the following Chapter 6 we arrive at a site comprising three core buildings – the Tolbooth, St Giles’s Kirk and the Market Cross – that bring together the issues not only of relations between monarch and merchants but also the relationship of both of these to the wider question of religion. The fact that this has such a fundamental importance for Scottish history suggests why this chapter is in some ways the most interesting part of Dr. Guidicini’s book. As she says:

Urban geography became the battleground for confessional conflict, and the rules of social order and social experience had to be renegotiated. How religious changes would be addressed during triumphal entries through the different roles of sacred spaces is of particular interest in a Scottish context, given the overlaps between Catholic, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian beliefs at this period. In addition, rulers doubling up as heads of the Church of England had to find a new role for themselves in an emerging pan-British confederation. (pp.179-180)

The Tolbooth was home to the law courts, described in 1593 as ‘the supreme hous [sic.] of justice within this land’ and seat of the Convention of Royal Burghs, a forum protecting the interests and privileges of not only of Edinburgh but also of Aberdeen, Dundee and Perth, and with a similar role to English guildhalls, from which their Scottish identity was most notably distinguished architecturally ‘by the retention of forestairs’ (p.180). The positioning of St Giles kirk, adjoining the Tolbooth, suggests why this was the location where ceremonial entries reflected most clearly the contentious intertwining of religious and secular values within the city, and the particular tensions which the recurrent differences and disputes between monarch and citizens over doctrinal issues introduced into these festivities. The extensive alterations to which the church itself was subjected in order to accommodate not only the changing rituals and values of the Reformation but also the different requirements of successive Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian congregations, are shown to have influenced the staging of entries at this point. The Market Cross occupied a central position next to the Tolbooth, signalling the city’s right to hold a market and serving as the platform from which heralds read royal proclamations and acts of parliament. It was also the place in which sentences such as flogging, branding or shaming were publicly executed on criminals. This therefore was the place where royal entries often presented allegorical figures of the Virtues and/or Vices, identified by their traditional attributes. Sometimes they were associated with the figure of Justice, or in 1579 with ‘ane fair wirgin, callit Fortoune’, and this association of Justice and Fortune is shown to have some interesting parallels with the pairing of Virtus and Fortuna on the painted ceiling at Pinkie House on which I myself have written. For Anna’s entry in 1590 the five Virtues delivered their speeches directly to the Queen and again suggested their dependence on the wheel of fortune. These reminders seem most apposite to a Scottish context in which the succession of a female or of a comparatively young and inexperienced monarch was in question. The accession of monarchs who were not only female but also, after the Reformation, Roman Catholic raised further issues for the staging of royal entries which have often been noted by Scottish historians: in 1561 for instance it was at the Butter Tron that Mary was given a Scots translation of the bible and a book of Psalms which were ‘signified … to be emblems of her defending the Reformed Relligion’ as a contemporary historian describes them, and in the years immediately preceding or subsequent to the 1603 Union of the Crowns it was the monarch’s position as head of the Established episcopal Church of England that caused inevitable problems for the conduct of royal entries at this point in the progress. In 1633 Religion was shown, in William Drummond’s description of this Entertainment, as trampling on Superstition and celebrating the primitive independence of the Scottish Church from Rome and ‘its preference for simplicity over the Laudian-papistical, antiquated ceremonies which the King supported’ (p.204). Charles’s attempts to transfer the religious parts of his entry from St Giles to the refurbished royal chapel in Holyroodhouse met with strong resistance from the civic authorities.

[6] The proximity of Tolbooth and St Giles’ Church to the Market Cross introduces a less controversial and more festive note to the Entries at this point however, associated here as elsewhere across Europe with fountains of wine. The first of these to be recorded were in 1503 at a ‘new painted’ cross that was close to ‘a Fontyayne, castynge forth Wyn’, and in 1558 the burgh purchased wine in abundance to ‘run apon the Croce’, employing workmen to make pipes conveying the wine, presumably from its barrels, to the fountain. Dramatic performances in later entries featured the figure of Bacchus serving glasses of wine to the populace, accompanied in 1590 by an actress costumed as Ceres serving nuts, sugared sweets and bunches of grapes, all signifying the state of the city as a place of abundance. The same two classical deities greeted King Charles at the Cross in 1633.

[7] The succeeding Chapter 7 brings us to the Salt Tron, where we learn from William Drummond of Hawthornden’s Entertainment booklet, describing the highly classical ceremonies in 1633 for Charles I’s entry, that the scenography on that occasion displayed a model of Mount Parnassus with Apollo and the Muses. The strongly classical iconography of this particular entry provides the opportunity for Dr. Guidicini to offer a more extended exploration at this point not only of the wider use of classical mythography in these Scottish entries but also its parallels with other entries and courtly ceremonies at home and abroad: these are relevant to nearly all of the locations discussed in previous chapters, and this material lies the heart of the book. The international context is evident in the triumphal arches, whose elaborate decoration with mythography, emblems and mottoes is familiar enough from well-known studies of Dürer’s 1515 triumphal arch for Emperor Maximilian, or from the London entries which greeted Charles in 1604 after the Union of crowns, for which we have Stephen Harrison’s engravings and Ben Jonson’s well-known descriptions. Royal entries shared much of the same iconography with other courtly ceremonies, including tournaments and royal baptisms including, in Scotland, the 1694 baptism of Prince Henry, and this chapter includes a wide-ranging and well informed discussion of these, together with some fascinating discussion and illustrations of other Scottish artistic media that make use of the same classical, allegorical and emblematic iconography, including architectural carvings, painted ceilings, and memory theatres and music. As she says, ‘Considering Scottish triumphal entries in the context of both foreign ceremonies and courtly events can do justice to the complexity and level of refinement of Scottish celebratory culture.’ (p.248)

[8] On reaching their terminus at The Netherbow at the eastern end of the High Street royal entries passed through another arched gateway, demolished in 1764, that historically separated the city from the neighbouring borough of Canongate. As the terminal place for farewells and parting predictions the iconography here, as elsewhere in Europe, focussed on forecasting the ruler’s predestined achievements and capabilities for carrying them out. This predictive mood determined the use of celestial and astrological symbolism at this point, whether of classical tropes such as those associated with ideas of Augustan imperial triumph and renewal, or of biblical iconography based on Old Testament prophecy and the Book of Revelation. These served to confirm the anticipated outcome of the moral and political counselling that the preceding ceremonies had advocated, and the astrological content of several of the displays at this location shadowed the astronomical findings of Tycho Brahe or of Thomas Seget. The book ends with accounts of the few extramural occasions when either Leith in 1590 or Holyrood Palace, where the University (which was itself located on the South Bridge outside the accepted route for royal Entries), staged welcoming ceremonies for the monarch. Finally the later entries staged for George IV in 1822 and Queen Victoria in 1842 are shown to reflect both the many geographical and historical changes which had by then transformed both their settings and their focus, whatever antiquarian motives may have prompted such revivals.

[9] Involving all the arts – painting, tapestries, drama, poetry, tableaux vivants, emblematics, and music – this is a meticulously researched and copiously documented study which not only brings together and amplifies the preceding work in its field but places it in a context which clarifies its wider cultural significance in an essentially European context. Required reading for all future students of Renaissance festivals or the Scottish court in particular, its interest extends much more widely than the urban history of Edinburgh or the narrow confines of the processional route to which royal entries confined themselves within the city, to embrace significant areas of Scotland’s political, religious, musical, dramatic and artist history at this period in a fully European Renaissance context.

University of Strathclyde, Emeritus; University of Glasgow, January 2021

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