Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 February 2009
The ceremonial life of the early modern town has emerged as an important area of study for urban historians. Ever since the publication of Charles Phythian-Adams' innovative study, attention has focused on the elaborate series of processions, pageants and rites of passage which were a constant feature of the yearly cycle of town life. In the wake of his work other studies of the ceremonial life of late medieval and early modern towns have added to the urban historian's awareness of the importance of ritualized forms of behaviour as a symbolic thread which helped bind together the social fabric of the townscape. The research done thus far forms one of those areas of scholarship in which the cross-fertilization of the interdisciplinary approach, so beloved of the ‘new’ urban history, has proved particularly fruitful. It might be surprising then that London, the largest of English towns, has yet to receive similar treatment. There have been, of course, several important studies of the capital in the early modern period, and they have something to say about the ceremonial life of the city. These have largely concentrated on topics such as the structure of government, the nature of London's ruling elite, and social mobility within the city's craft organizations. While providing important sidelights on ceremony, these treatments have tended to place ceremonial events in the background, as the ‘icing on the cake’. At the same time there have been many important studies by art and literary historians of ceremonial occasions such as coronations, royal entries or the Lord Mayors' Shows, but these have tended to concentrate on ceremony as an expression of dynastic propaganda or as a development in dramatic form rather than as part of the social history of the city. The object of this article will be to attempt to rectify this gap in our knowledge by applying some of the framework bequeathed by Phythian-Adams, and so try to assess the relevence of his conclusions about urban society in this period to the particular case of London.
1 This article is based on a paper delivered at a conference held in Dec. 1984 at the Institute of Historical Research on the history of the early modern town. Acknowledgment and thanks to all those who took part. Special thanks for advice and criticism go to Dr Caroline Barron, Peter Clark and Paul Slack.
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