Skip to main content Accessibility help

Article contents

Civic ceremony in early modern London

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.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


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.

2 Phythian-Adams, C., ‘Ceremony and the citizen: the communal year at Coventry, 1450–1550, in Clark, P. and Slack, P. (eds), Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500–1700 (1972), 86116.Google Scholar

3 James, Mervyn, ‘Ritual, drama and the social body in the late medieval English town’, Past and Present, LXXXVII, 98 (1983), 329CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Palliser, David, ‘Civic mentality and environment in Tudor York’, Northern History, XVIII (1982), 78115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Important studies of continental towns include Trexler, R., Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1980)Google Scholar; Muir, Edward, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (1981)Google Scholar; Jacquot, Jean, Les Fêtes de la Renaissance (Paris, 1956).Google Scholar

4 Foster, F. F., The Politics of Stability: a Portrait of the Rulers of Elizabethan London (1977)Google Scholar; Pearl, Valerie, ‘Change and stability in seventeenth century London’, London J., v (1979) 333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Special mention should be made of the comprehensive two-part study by Rappaport, Steve, ‘Social structure and social mobility in sixteenth century London’, London J., IX and X (1983, 1984).Google Scholar

5 Anglo, Sydney, Spectacle, Pageantry and Early Tudor Policy (1969)Google Scholar; Bergeron, D. M., English Civic Pageantry, 1558–1642 (1971)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Williams, Sheila V., ‘The lord mayors' shows in Tudor and Stuart times’, Guildhall Miscellany (19521959)Google Scholar; Parry, Graham, The Golden Age Restored: the Culture of the Stuart Court (1981)Google Scholar; Strong, Roy, Splendour at Court: Renaissance Spectacle and Illusion, (1973)Google Scholar; Jones-Davies, M. T., ‘La glorification de Londres, ou les Triomphes de Troia-Nova; in Les Cités au Temps de la Renaissance (Centre Recherches sur la Renaissance Sorbonne, 1977).Google Scholar

6 Phythian-Adams, C., ‘Urban decline in late medieval England’, in Abrams, Phillip and Wrigley, E. A. (eds), Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology (1978), 170–83).Google Scholar

7 Ibid., 177; cf. Lipson, E., The Economic History of England (1949), vol. I, 412–13.Google Scholar

8 Phythian-Adams, ‘Urban decline’, passim; Phythian-Adams, , Desolation of a City: Coventry and the Urban Crisis of the later Middle Ages (1979).Google Scholar

9 Valerie Pearl, ‘Change and stability’, passim; S. Rappaport, ‘Social structure and social mobility’, passim.

10 Stow, John, A Survey of London (ed. Kingsford, , 1908), ii, 203.Google Scholar

11 Calendar of Letter Books, I, ed. Sharpe, R. R. (1910), fo. lix (33)Google Scholar; Liber Albus, ed. Riley, H. T. (1861), 17Google Scholar; Riley, H. T., Memorials of London Life in the Fifteenth Century (1868), 565–6Google Scholar; Beavan, A. B., The Aldermen of the City of London (1898), vol. I, xxiv ff.Google Scholar

12 James, M., ‘Ritual drama’, 13Google Scholar; Beavan, op. cit., vol. II, xxiv; Barron, C., The Medieval Guildhall of London (1974)Google Scholar; Brewer, Thomas, Memoir of the Life and Times of John Carpenter (1856), 26.Google Scholar

13 Calendar of Letter Books, I (ed. Sharpe, ), xxixGoogle Scholar; Unwin, George, The Guilds and Companies of London (1911), 227, 228.Google Scholar

14 Stow, , Survey of London, i, 271–4Google Scholar; Barron, op. cit, 119.

15 Masters, B. R., ‘The lord mayor's household before 1600’, in Hollaender, A. E. J. and Kellaway, W., Studies of London History Presented to Phillip E. Jones (1970), 97–8.Google Scholar

16 Ibid., 111–12.

17 Beavan, op. cit., vol. II, xxix–xxxi. Cf. Munday, Anthony, A Briefe Discouse on the Successe of Times (1611), 573.Google Scholar

18 Beavan, op. cit., vol. II, xxxii.

19 Nicols, John Gough, ‘On the amity formed between the Companies of Fishmongers and Goldsmiths’, Archaeologia, xxx (1859), 301Google Scholar, in Guildhall Library, FO Pam 959 (reprint).

20 Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, passim.

21 Society, Malone, Collections, III, XXVGoogle Scholar; SirWatney, John, Some Account of the Hospital of Saint Thomas Acon (1906), 104–6.Google Scholar

22 Society, Malone, Collections, III, xxiiiGoogle Scholar; Johnson, A. H., The History of the Worshipful Company of Drapers of London (1912), vol. II, 69Google Scholar; Drapers' Company, Repertory 7, 600–1.

23 Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, vol. VIII, 78 (1535)Google Scholar; Stow, , Survey of London, i. 103–4;Google Scholar Wriothesley's Chronicle, I, 96Google Scholar; Archaelogia, XXXII, 30–7Google Scholar; Nichols, Richard, London's Artillery (1616).Google Scholar

24 For revivals of the watch in 1564, 1565–6 and 1569 see Stow, 's Annales, ed. Howe, , (1633), 657, 659 and 661.Google Scholar The final attempt at revival came in 1585 with the presentation of a special book on the organization of the watch by John Mountgomery and dedicated to the Lord Mayor Sir Thomas Pullision; CLRO shelf 36C, ‘A Book Containing the Manner and Order of a watch to be used in the City of London’; cf. BM Harl, MS. 3741.

25 Stow, , Survey of London, i, 103–4.Google Scholar

26 Bergeron, English Civic Pageantry, passim; cf. Wickham, Glynne, Early English Stages, vol 1Google Scholar; M. C. Bradbrook, ‘The politics of pageantry; social implications in Jacobean London’. pamphlet in CLRO.

27 BM Lansdowne MS. 11/21 (June 1569).

28 Stow, , Annales, 657Google Scholar; cf. Archaelogia, XXXII, 30–7.Google Scholar

29 CLRO Journals 20, fos. 136, 207, 222, 289, 348, 349, 372.

30 Stow, , Survey of London, i, 98, 144.Google Scholar

31 Cardwell, Edward, Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England (1844), vol. I, 345.Google Scholar

32 The Diary of Henry Machyn, Camden Society, XIII, 201.Google Scholar

33 Ibid., 273.

34 Chambers, E. K., The Elizabethan Stage (1923), vol. IGoogle Scholar, passim.

35 Phythian-Adams, , ‘Ceremony and the citizen’, 79Google Scholar; see also idem, Desolation of a City; cf. Gardiner, H. C., Mystery's End: An Investigation of the Last Days of the Medieval Stage (1946).Google Scholar

36 James, op. cit., Ritual drama, 23–4.

37 Ibid., 25; Thrupp, S., The Merchant Class of Medieval London (Michigan, 1948), 81Google Scholar; Foster, op. cit., 4.

38 Wood, William, ‘A Remembraunce of the Worthy Show and Shooting of the Duke of Shoreditch’ in his The Bowman's Glory (1691)Google Scholar reprinted in Robert, 's English Bowman (1801)Google Scholar; cf. Pinks, William J., The History of Clerkenwell (1881), 607–8.Google Scholar

39 Phythian-Adams, , ‘Ceremony and the citizen’, 76–8.Google Scholar

40 For annual visits to the conduit heads during the 1580s see London Record Society, Chamber Accounts, 316, 321Google Scholar; see also Jones, P. E., ‘The estates of the Corporation of London as a source of historical, topographical and economic research’, Guildhall Miscellany, I, 7 (08 1956), 1014.Google Scholar For the annual Swan Upping see Crawford, A., A History of the Vintners Company (1971).Google Scholar

41 Stow, , Survey of London, i, 101–4.Google Scholar

42 Victoria County History, London, 222 ff; Liber Albus (ed. Riley, ), book I, ch. VIII, 24–5Google Scholar; Watney, op. cit., 18–19.

43 Victoria County History, 222.

44 Watney, op. cit.

45 Barnes, T. G., ‘The prerogative court and environmental control of London building in the early seventeenth century’, California Law Rev., LVIII, 60 (1970)Google Scholar; Reddaway, T. F., ‘Elizabethan London: Goldsmiths' Row in Cheapside’, Guildhall Miscellany, II (10 1963), 181206.Google Scholar

46 Stow, , Survey of London, i, 266–7.Google Scholar

47 Analytical Index to the Rememberancia, ed. Overall, W. N. (1889), vol. I, 322–9.Google Scholar

48 Burgon, J. W., The Life of Sir Thomas Gresham (1839), II, 350–1Google Scholar; Stow, , Survey of London, i, 195.Google Scholar

49 Heinemen, Margot, Puritanism and Theatre: Thomas Middleton and Opposition Drama under the Early Stuarts (1980), 124.Google Scholar

50 Fisher, F. J., ‘London as a centre of conspicuous consumption in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, Trans. Royal Historical Soc. (1948).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

51 CLRO, Journals of the Common Council, 20, fo. 65 (1572–1533).Google Scholar

52 Wadmore, J. F., Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Skinners of London (1902), 305.Google Scholar

53 Gluckman, Max, Essays in the Ritual of Social Relations (1962)Google Scholar, see especially introduction, ‘les rites du passage’, 1–52.

54 Baldwin, F. E., Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England (1926)Google Scholar; Hooper, Wilfred, ‘Tudor sumptuary laws’, English Historical Rev., XXX (1915), 433–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Harte, N. B., ‘State control of dress and social change in pre-industrial England’, in Trade, Government and Economy in Pre-Industrial England. Essays in Honour of F. J. Fisher (1976), 132165.Google Scholar

55 Baldwin, op. cit., 231; Hooper, op. cit., 443.

56 Stow, , Survey of London, ii, 194–5Google Scholar; Bolton, Edmund, The Cities Advocate, somewhat on this question of honor and arms; whether apprenticeship extinguisheth gentry? (1629).Google Scholar

57 Cf. similar statement in Walter, J. and Wrightson, K., ‘Dearth and the social order in early modern England’, Past and Present, LXXI (1976). 33.Google Scholar For the enforcement of Lent see Jones, P. E., The Butchers of London (1976), 123–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

58 Smith, S. R., ‘The London apprentices as seventeenth-century adolescents’, Past and Present, LXI (1973).Google Scholar

59 Foster, op. cit.; Pearl, ‘Change and stability’; Rappaport, ‘Social structure and social mobility’.

60 Stow, , Survey of London, ii, 206.Google Scholar

61 Beaven, , Aldermen of the City of London, vol. II, xxxixxl.Google Scholar

62 Consitt, F., The London Weavers Company (1935), 123Google Scholar; Lambert, J. J., Extracts from the Records of the Skinners' Company of London (1916), 244, 248.Google Scholar

63 Beaven, op. cit., vol. II, xxiv.

64 Quoted in Clark, and Slack, , Crisis and Order, 32.Google Scholar

65 Manning, B. R., The English People and the English Revolution (1980) 166–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar, also Londons Liberties in Chains (1650), Rota publication.

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 221 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th January 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Hostname: page-component-898fc554b-z76t5 Total loading time: 0.536 Render date: 2021-01-26T10:19:30.127Z Query parameters: { "hasAccess": "0", "openAccess": "0", "isLogged": "0", "lang": "en" } Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false }

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Civic ceremony in early modern London
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Civic ceremony in early modern London
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Civic ceremony in early modern London
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *