This lecture describes the origins and development of historical pageantry in Britain, emphasizing the grand scale and spread of these community dramas, and exploring their social and cultural significance. It also highlights the importance of the sense of local pride and identity that was presented in historical pageants and the success that they had in promoting local community consciousness and engagement with the past.
Early 20th century Britain succumbed to what people called “pageant fever.” Inspired by Louis Napoleon Parker’s influential pageant at Sherborne, Dorset, in 1905, communities throughout the country staged outdoor historical reenactments before audiences that could number in the thousands. Large casts performed chronological selections of scenes, real and mythical, authentic and fabricated, from the ancient, medieval and early modern past.
Paul Readman is a professor of modern British history and also the vice dean of research in the faculty of arts and humanities at King’s College London.