Canadian Royal Heritage Trust

A National Educational Charity

Royal Pageantry

by Claudia Willetts

In Symbol and Privilege, Ilse Hayden suggests that pageantry and architecture are both media of expression in which society can make statements about itself, if not the way it is, then the way it wishes it were. Massive architecture and colourful spectacles are mythic creations that act as mnemonics of belief. Miss Hayden goes on to tell us that the 1911 investiture of the Prince of Wales held in Caernarvon Castle in Wales, contained elements borrowed for the first time from the medieval era rather than the classical one. Classical motifs modelled on the Roman Triumph had been the common language of court spectacle, but the new emphasis on the medieval, apparent in the 1911 Investiture, marked a shift to a more anglicised idiom. After World War I, new royal pageantry such as the revival of the custom of distribution of Maundy money, continued to rely on medieval British elements.

In Scotland, the power of royal pageantry was evident during the 1822 visit of King George IV. The King was the first of the House of Hanover to set foot on Scottish soil from where the preceding House of Stuart had emanated, since the ill-omened Duke of Cumberland. John Buchan tells us in Sir Walter Scott, that there was no popular sentiment for the reigning family north of the border, but if the old monarchical feeling of Scotland could be stirred, and her pride gratified by a sense of possession of her sovereign, Scott felt much might be done for the cause of Scottish nationalism. Scott was the only man competent to arrange a national pageant, and an abounding success it was. Indeed, Jean Goodman and Sir Iain Moncreiffe write in Debrett’s Royal Scotland, that the King told Scott with tears in his eyes, “Never King was better received by his people; never King felt it more.” One of the highlights was the procession from Holyrood House to Edinburgh Castle with the Honours (royal regalia) of Scotland carried before the King in full public view. There were soldiers in scarlet, sailors in navy, archers in Lincoln green, and three hundred tartan-clad clansmen. Later the King proposed a toast to “the Chieftains and Clans of Scotland”, to which Evan MacGregor gallantly replied “to the Chief of Chiefs – the King!”

Simon Welfare and Alastair Bruce in Days of Majesty, cite the 1911 Delhi Durbar as one of the most spectacular pageants of the twentieth century. Amid great splendour, incorporating traditions from East and West, the King-Emperor George V demonstrated his imperial power to the Indian people. The crown jeweller Garrard, was commissioned to produce a special crown, and Sir Edward Elgar composed music suitable to be played while the King and Queen stood under a magnificent canopy in their coronation robes to receive homage. As the London Times wrote: “The ceremony at its culminating point exactly typified the Oriental conception of the ultimate repositories of Imperial power. The Monarchs sat alone, remote but beneficent, raised far above the multitude [100,000 of their subjects], clad in rich vestments, flanked by radiant emblems of authority, guarded by a glittering array of troops, the cynosure of the proudest Princes of India.”

Also in Asia, T Fujitani writes in Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan, that pomp and pageantry were important to the perception of governance in Japan during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The new imperial pageants were performed at least as much for a global as for a domestic audience, at a time when state ceremonials in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, were becoming a genuine force in international politics. The Japanese seized upon the international visibility of their imperial ceremonies to demonstrate the regime’s modernity, its power, the loyalty of its people, and the depth and majesty of its “tradition” to the powers of the West.