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King James's Civic Pageant and Parliamentary Speech in March 1604

  • David M. Bergeron


Near the end of a speech to his first Parliament (19 March 1604), James makes a rhetorical move, disingenuous and shrewd. He offers an excuse “in case you have not found such Eloquence in my Speech, as peradventure you might have looked for at my hands. I might, if I list, alledge the great weight of my Affaires and my continuall businesse and distraction, that I could never have leasure to thinke upon what I was to speake, before I came to the place where I was to speak.” Because James has had almost a year since being named King of England to contemplate his maiden speech to Parliament, we may take his “excuse” as special pleading. Clearly his strategy nicely reinforces the obvious eloquence of the speech; indeed, hearers may marvel all the more at the quality of the speech, given James's apparent lack of leisure to prepare it. James cannot, however, offer a compelling case for lack of time to write this important, initial speech to Parliament; in fact, his own care as a writer argues against this. But if, for the sake of argument, we take him seriously, where might James easily and readily have gotten the major ideas and themes of the speech (beyond his own obvious writings)? I answer that he could have found them in the magnificent royal entry pageant in his honor that occurred only four days (15 March) before the speech to Parliament. Most of the ideas that inform James's speech find some kind of dramatic representation in the pageant. Indeed, I will argue that the pageant and Parliament speech form a continuous event, designed to honor, instruct, and celebrate the king. These two events constitute the most important public events of James's early English reign and therefore make an exceptional claim for historical significance. In order to reach Westminster and Parliament, James must first figuratively and literally pass through London's civic pageant.



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1 The Political Works of King James, ed. McIlwain, Charles Howard (Cambridge, 1918), p. 280. All quotations, slightly modernized, will come from this edition of the speech, and will be cited by page number in the text. For studies of James's first Parliament, see Notestein, Wallace, The House of Commons 1604–1610 (New Haven, 1971), pp. 55140; Kevin Sharpe, “Introduction: Parliamentary History 1603–1629: In or Out of Perspective?” in Faction and Parliament: Essays on Early Stuart History, ed. idem (Oxford, 1978), pp. 1–42; and R. C. Munden, “James I and ‘the Growth of Mutual Distrust’: King, Commons, and Reform, 1603–1604,” in ibid., pp. 43–72.

2 Geertz, Clifford, “Centers, Kings, and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power,” in his Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York, 1983), p. 125.

3 Falco, Raphael, Charismatic Authority in Early Modern English Tragedy (Baltimore, 2000), p. 3.

4 Ben Jonson, ed. Ian Donaldson (Oxford, 1985), p. 506. Quotations from the poem come from this edition and will be cited by page number in the text.

5 See my Gilbert Dugdale and the Royal Entry of James I (1604),” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 13 (1983): 111–25.

6 Dugdale, Gilbert, The Time Triumphant (London, 1604), sig. B1v. All quotations from primary texts will be slightly modernized.

7 Bergeron, David M., English Civic Pageantry 1558–1642 (London; Columbia, SC, 1971), p. 73.

8 See ibid., pp. 71–89. Also see my Representation in Renaissance English Civic Pageants,” Theatre Journal 40 (1988): 319–31.

9 For a discussion of Harrison's contribution, see my Pageants, Masques, and Scholarly Ideology,” in my Practicing Renaissance Scholarship: Plays and Pageants, Patrons and Politics (Pittsburgh, 2000), pp. 164–92.

10 Harrison, Stephen, “Lectori Candido,” The Arches of Triumph (London, 1604), sig. K1.

11 Hoy, Cyrus, Introduction, Notes, and Commentaries to Texts in “The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker”, 4 vols. (Cambridge, 1980), 2:142.

12 Dekker, Thomas, The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Bowers, Fredson (Cambridge, 1955), 2: 265. All quotations from Dekker will be from this edition, and will be cited by page number in the text.

13 For an analysis of James's poem Phoenix, see chapter 2 of my, King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire (Iowa City, 1999).

14 Ben Jonson, ed. Herford, C. H. and Simpson, Percy and Simpson, Evelyn (Oxford, 1941), 7:90. All quotations from Jonson will come from this edition, and will be cited by page number in the text.

15 See, for example, the opening chapter of Raphael Falco's Charismatic Authority.

16 Goldberg, Jonathan, James I and the Politics of Literature (Baltimore, 1983), p. 33. See his discussion of the pageant, pp. 50–54.

17 The standard work on the subject of the importance of the king's body is Kantorowicz, Ernest H., The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton, 1957). For a critique of Kantorowicz, see Norbrook's, DavidThe Emperor's New Body? Richard II, Ernst Kantorowicz, and the Politics of Shakespeare Criticism,” Textual Practice 10 (1996): 329–57. For further discussion of the body see also Falco's Charismatic Authority, “Body Natural, Body Politic, and Corporate Ambiguity,” and “Person and Office,” pp. 77–92; and Barkan, Leonard, Nature's Work of Art: The Human Body as Image of the World (New Haven, 1975), especially “The Human Body and the Commonwealth,” pp. 61–115. For a contemporary discussion of the body and the commonwealth, see Forset, Edward, Comparative Discourse of the Bodies Naturall and Politique (London, 1606).

18 This preoccupation with the king's body and its relationship to the king's subjects may recall Shakespeare's treatment in Richard II where the king becomes increasingly concerned with his body. In the deposition scene in Act IV Richard “undoes” himself in part by the rhetorical formula: “With mine own tears, hands, tongue, breath” (ll. 207–10). He concludes: “For I have given here my soul's consent / To undeck the pompous [i.e., stately] body of a king” (IV.i.249–50).

19 I quote from the text of Counterblaste as found in James's The Workes of the Most High and Mighty Prince, James (London, 1616), p. 212. For an illuminating discussion of medical understanding and practices, see Harris, Jonathan Gil, Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic: Discourses of Social Pathology in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1998).

20 For discussion of the artistry and politics of this arch, see Hood, Gervase, “A Netherlandic Triumphal Arch for James I,” in Across the Narrow Seas: Studies in the History and Bibliography of Britain and the Low Countries, ed. Roach, Susan (London, 1991), pp. 6782.

21 Johann P. Sommerville, “Introduction,” in King James VI and I Political Writings, ed. idem (Cambridge, 1994), p. xix.

22 See the discussion by Wormald, Jenny, “Basilikon Doron and The Trew Law of Free Monarchies” in The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, ed. Peck, Linda Levy (Cambridge, 1991), p. 51. This important essay covers pp. 36–54. In this same volume see the essays by Sommerville, Johann P., “James I and the Divine Right of Kings,” pp. 5570, and Christianson, Paul, “Royal and Parliamentary Voices on the Ancient Constitution, c. 1604–1621,” pp. 7195. For an additional source, see Goodare, Julian, State and Society in Early Modern Scotland (Oxford, 1999), “The Absolutist State,” pp. 66101.

23 The Workes of King James (London, 1616), sig. d1v. The Bishop offers an extensive, and, of course, favorable analysis of James's writings. One can observe that the title page for this 1616 edition looks like a triumphal arch; and it contains the allegorical figures of Religion on the left and Peace on the right—both key ideas in the pageant and parliament speech.

24 For a discussion of the importance of the concept of the royal family see my Royal Family, Royal Lovers: King James of England and Scotland (Columbia, MO, 1991).

25 King James, The Workes of King James, sig. a3v, in the Bishop's dedication of the text to Prince Charles.

King James's Civic Pageant and Parliamentary Speech in March 1604

  • David M. Bergeron


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