Women and City Pageants in Late Medieval England

Nicola Coldstream, Independent Scholar, London, nicola.coldstream@btopenworld.com

Although Tudor pageants have been examined in detail, art historians have neglected those of the medieval period; but there is useful evidence for city pageants in England from the late thirteenth century onwards. This chapter will examine city pageants in London and the English provinces from c. 1300 to the late fifteenth century, with reference to pageants in Paris and Flanders over the same period.
Unlike cycles of mystery plays, pageants had fixed stations and a theme unique to the event. They were staged for triumphal entries, by men – usually livery companies or craft guilds – but women were involved in them as honorands, actors, and makers. Pageants were staged in honour of a queen’s marriage, coronation, or city overlordship; and for entries in which a woman accompanied a husband who was himself being honoured. Honorands were always of royal blood or connection: this chapter will include the entries of queens but also such aristocrats as Anne, Duchess of Bedford. Lesser women and girls acted in pageants as angels, virgins, and allegorical figures. Craftswomen supplied materials and costumes.
Women were active participants, since as honorands they provided justification for the event. Although pageant themes sought to control and define women’s roles, women could exercise moral leverage through identification with the Virgin Mary and female saints personified on the staging. Pageants reflected the desired checks and balances within society as a whole.