Royal River Pageant: Six Hundred Years of Royal Ceremony… And a Hijack?
|One of the many royal pageants at the Thames.|
In 1660, the monarchy was restored and Charles II was proclaimed as king. He married Catherine of Braganza, who arrived in the English shores with a substantial dowry--£333,000 in cash and the valuable foreign colonies of Tangiers and Bombay. However, Queen Catherine refused to convert to the Anglican faith, and so she could not be crowned. Instead, the king decided to hold a grandiose river pageant in August 1662 to give her a warm welcome, as well as inaugurate her as Queen of England.
Homage Fit for a Queen
The royal couple left Hampton Court early in the morning, riding a fleet of floating thrones.
Diarist John Evelyn wrote: “His Majesty and the Queen came in an antique-shaped open vessel, covered with a . . . canopy of cloth of gold, made in the form of a cupola, supported by high Corinthian pillars, wreathed with flowers, festoons and garlands.”
Trails of ostrich feathers appeared from the corners of the canopy, crowning the center, while heavy gold fringe gilded the edges.
The Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London welcomed the royal fleet with a barge larger and grander than the king’s own, followed by 12 barges representing the city’s 12 guilds, which were the actual power behind the government capital. Each barge held a dumb show, with actors and actresses impersonating saints, virtues, or mythological figures. As the royal flotilla rowed downstream, the floats were held in long line in the center of the river. Three other pageants were held during the intervals, featuring elaborate speeches delivered by allegorical figures: Isis (the principal tributary of the Thames) at Chelsea; Father Thames himself between Vauxhall and Lambeth, and Thetis or The Ocean at Whitehall.
|King Charles II|
To make the event not too pompous, two comic interludes were also staged to provide a touch of entertainment, featuring choruses from watermen and seamen who sang catchy songs in demotic accents; performed acrobatic turns and thee’d and thou’d the King to assure him of the loyalty of the common folk.
What supposed to be a celebration of the queen’s arrival was nearly ruined by the king’s mistress. Not to be outdone or sidestepped by a foreigner, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, mounted a pageant of her own. She appeared at Whitehall in fashionable déshabillée, bareheaded while her magnificent hair raised in the on-shore breeze. After catching everyone’s attention, she started her own performance that ran the gamut from power and maternal love to compassion and raw sexuality.
|Barbara Villers, Countess of Castlemaine, |
with her infant son with King Charles II
The river pageant was entitled Aqua Triumphalis (‘The Triumphal Waterway’). But it was Barbara who had triumphed, all because of her beauty, flair and supreme ability to make fools of men.