Ritual, Civic and Royal

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RITUAL, CIVIC AND ROYAL. The words "ritual" and "ceremony" are here used interchangeably because separating them would be anachronistic and would suggest distinctions that people did not make until near the end of the early modern period. By the nineteenth century, the words had come to denote the ostentation of power and superstitions and the exotica of non-Western or illiterate societies. The words first gained currency in the sixteenth century to disparage heretical religious and extravagant political practices. Before this time, rituals or ceremonials were not concepts as much as books of practices that gave some precision to the places, costuming, and gestures in processionals and assemblies, as seen in the late-fourteenth-century Roman clerici cerimoniarum or the Libro Ceremoniale (1475) of Florence. Despite sixteenth-century print culture's derogatory usage of the terms, cities and kingdoms staged lavish and magnificent processions and urban pageantryproductions in which hundreds and often thousands participated. These large-scale performances frequently placed religious, royal, and civic-legal rituals on the same plane.

With the growth of the state in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the most powerful element and participants were those intent on expanding their spheres of influence in the government. As arguments about national character and divisions of power continued, these interested parties invested in rituals to strengthenor on occasion to question or to redirectgovernmental authority and their status or rank within it. Courtiers, nobles, judges, wealthy townsmen, and others dependent on the resources and patronage of princes sought to define in their favor the overall meaning of ritual or ceremonial performances and to represent in them their personal or official status in the state. Thus, the terms "ritual" and "ceremony" came to describe the highest performances of princely and royal celebrations. By 1619, the French royal historiographer and parlementaire Théodore Godefroy entitled his collection of royal public performances Le cérémonial de France. In it, he published historical accounts of the ranking and actions of officials and courtiers in rituals-with-the-king, which he presented according to the prescriptions of an encompassing political theory of hierarchy and kingship. The collection also incorporated many elements of traditional legal protocols and religious acts. In 1649 Godefroy, with the aid of his son Denis, expanded the work into the two-volume Le cérémonial françois. In these collections, rituals and ceremonies supplied essential cultural components for the practice of what we call "politics" and what early modern people thought of as mysteries of governance.

Rituals and ceremonies bound together the societies of medieval and early modern Europe; they occurred any place where a group of people claimed a particular purpose, legitimacy, and identity. Townsmen, judges, English common lawyers, and princes self-consciously expanded the scale, rhetoric, and publicity of civic and royal events as rites of passage and of government, which served for the sanctification, legitimization, and continuity of communal and national authorities. According to their needs and the circumstances, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century governments appropriated ritual practices and ideas from religious, classical, feudal-military, and legal-constitutional traditions. Public participationeven in the roles of spectator or readerwas extended over time, space, and social groups through processional rankings, symbols, medallions, program books, special costumes, reenactments, and ritual theater. By 1600, and certainly under the influence of earlier Italian rulers (like the Sforza of Milan, the Medici of Florence, and the doges of the Venetian Republic), royal rituals in England, France, and Germany exalted the ruler from a symbol of state and society to its actual embodiment, and the ceremonies frequently equated these kings with pagan rulers or gods. In early-seventeenth-century Stuart England (16031649) and Louis XIV's France (16431715), rituals were staged as dramas of state. They encouraged obedience within the political hierarchy and obligated nobles, royal officials, and subjects to act out their parts in that order, and they centralized the king and his royal court as the source of privilege and honor. Similarly, in guild elections, funerals, or pageant-laden communal processions, western European cities staged rituals to reinforce sociopolitical hierarchies and to connect individuals to the larger community.


For royal ceremonies, the European monarchies, particularly those of France and England, perpetuated in a new key the medieval ritual expressions of Christian sanctity, while Renaissance Italy added strikingly new artistic and theatrical effects and iconologies. Many early modern Europeans held the medieval belief of the "king's two bodies," that is, kingship was represented in a unique royal person who possessed both a natural, mortal body and a mystical, immortal, political one. According to this belief, the king, in ritual, became the intermediary who joined God's working in the world and his justice with the preservation of a people as a unique body politic. In studying the belief in French and English kings' ability to heal scrofula by touching people with the disease, Marc Bloch's groundbreaking study The Royal Touch traced how "rather vague ideas" based on a general belief in the supernatural character of royalty "crystallize in the eleventh and twelfth centuries into a precise and stable institution" that lasted for seven centuries. The ritual of the royal touch developed into frequent public demonstrations of the miraculous results of coronation rites, in which kings were both anointed with holy oil and crowned. Bloch traced the vicissitudes of the ritual among the divergent explanations of eight centuries of writers. By 1500, the coronation mattered less than the evidence of the king's unique nature as a royal person. French kings performed the ritual until the Revolution; the practice ended in England with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

The belief in the power of the royal touch emphasizes the notion that the king was a "mixed person"part sacred and part layperson. Although the essentially religious attributes of this notion are related to the concept of the "king's two bodies," they should not be confused with it. The latter concept has a larger scope than the particular ambience and rites around the king's person and finds its fullest development in juridical thought and ceremonies that emphasized the king as image or embodiment of justice: justice being, after truth (religion in medieval Christian thought), a permanent part of God's creation. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, lawyers, officials, and corporate bodies claimed rights in this divine creation according to the notion of legal fictions: that is, that towns or institutions have rights in law as do persons. Ceremonies with kings and princes articulated these rights and mirrored right order in secular titles, offices, and institutions. Among the people participating in political life, rituals complemented and represented constitutional developments over which the seventeenth-century French were best positioned to assert hegemony as model builders. Other national histories took different turns: in Spain the isolationist policies of the monarchy starting with Philip II (ruled 15541598) prevented foreign ideas and innovations in state rituals; in Germany independent imperial principalities limited the spread of royal ceremonies; in England royal ceremonies took shape bounded by the weakness of the monarchy and growth of parliamentary power; in Italy the Habsburgs, papacy, and princely dynasties favored the new inventions of political spectacles over rituals that contained residues of civic traditions; and throughout Europe Reformation and Counter-Reformation churches were attentive to maintain the purity of religious ceremonies from secular pollution. Through symbolic forms and performances, early modern rituals placed one's sense of status and civic consciousness within a framework of loyalty to national monarchy or state identities.


Ralph E. Giesey has argued that the ever-changing "event-filled [European] history" requires a constitutional explanation of rituals in contrast with the "affective comprehension of kingship that anthropologists apply so well when studying societies that have no thick transcription of their 'constitution."' Rituals are historical sources for a society's temper, presenting comparative indices for understanding continuity and changes in the ways that societies constitute themselves around the central agent of legitimate power, the king. Four major French state ceremonies represent the models of European rulership. "Sacral kingship" associated with coronations was joined by the new form of "juristic kingship" as dramatized in royal funeral ceremonies. Royal entries advanced a civic and secular model of "humanistic kingship." The lit de justice ceremony with the king in solemn assembly with the Parlement of Paris portrayed "constitutional kingship." By 1700, the court-centered "rites of personality" exemplified by Louis XIV (16381715) had depreciated these traditional ritual models for enacting kingship.

Each ceremonial model of rulership had its own forms and venue. The coronation took place in great churches where the clergy and magnates of the kingdom had major roles in the ritual drama, which was replete with royal paraphernalia including the crown, holy oil, scepter and sword of state, gloves, slippers, and robes. The ritual entailed an undressing, anointing, redressing, and crowning of the king. The English Queens Mary (ruled 15531558), Elizabeth (ruled 15581603), Mary (ruled 16891694), and Anne (ruled 17021714) had coronations like kings, but issues of Protestantism and revolutionmore than sexgave occasion to changes in the liturgy, language, and scenic effects of the English ceremony. The Spanish did not have a coronation ceremony, since their king ruled over an Iberian monarchy with regional inaugural rites, of which the most noted in the early modern period was the Oath of Aragón. While Holy Roman emperors had elaborate coronations, imperial elections demystified the rituals and placed attention on politics of the empire. Through a combination of rituals, legends, and myths, the French king's coronation came to be seen as sacred in character, ancient in the continuity of its liturgy, and most prestigious in its divinely chosen dynasty.

In France, royal funeral ceremonies developed an influential style and unique interregnum practices, such as the display of a lifelike effigy along with the corpse in its coffin and the disappearance from public duties of the heir until after the funeral. This was done to call attention to the undying part of the king's two bodies as the source of justice. By the time of Philip II's 1598 funeral, the Spanish had fully accepted the notion of rey muerto, rey puesto, that is, after a king dies, another immediately replaces him. The funeral celebration focused on services before a magnificent catafalque with thousands of candles built within the church; the funeral served as an occasion for the court hierarchy to reassert itself in the form and order of its mourning. Other elite groups mourned in satellite celebrations before catafalques in churches throughout the king's domain.

From the fourteenth century, royal entry ceremonies into cities gave kings and subjects occasion to acknowledge the reciprocal obligations between them, particularly the king's charge to preserve justice and confirm corporate liberties and the people's duty to demonstrate obedience and devotion. By the fifteenth century, Italian city-states such as Florence and Venice had appropriated processions to celebrate local saints into rituals that became "the principal mechanism for representing governmental authority," as Edward Muir writes. In London and Paris, royal entries were distinctly political by 1500. Their rites aimed to balance the tensions inherent between the dual desire to preserve local liberties and to give unconditioned loyalty to the sovereign. In London, guilds lined the streets in their livery as the new ruler and his entourage viewed street plays while en route to the coronation at Westminster. In Paris, the king returning from his coronation appeared on horseback under a canopy carried by guild members. He processed with his royal robe, hat, helmet, gauntlets, and sword displayed before him. From 1484, the royal seal and the chancellor of France preceded the king to accentuate the legal nature of the ceremony. Likewise, the Parlement of Paris in robes of office closed the ranks of several thousand liveried urban groups. Thousands of splendidly costumed lords and nobles followed the Parisians as part of the royal procession. The Parisians had exited from the city to submit to the king and to lead the march into the city, where the king slowly made his way among tableaux vivants and street plays to a banquet at the Palais de Justice, residence of the Parlement of Paris.

Other towns staged entries and progresses, but metropolitan and royal ceremonies tended to establish the norm in terms of rank and privilege within kingdoms. In Italian cities, despots and princes transformed the style and ultimately the meaning of entry pageantry from reciprocal ceremonies between rulers and cities to celebrations of power. By the 1600s, northern cities appropriated Italian monumental architecture, classical symbolism, and awesome images of the Roman triumph to their royal entries. In the process, they replaced the ceremonial image of the ruler as judge and arbitrator of a unified body politic with that of sovereign and absolute ruler. In the fifteenth century, French kings replaced royal robes of office with armor of parade. By 1660, Louis XIV began his Parisian entry seated on an especially built royal throne to receive the kneeling representatives of all major Parisian institutions, including the Parlement of Paris. Like the submission of the Parlement of Paris in the entry, the lit de justice ritual came to dramatize the king's absolute power and not the court's pretensions of partnership in governing.


Public political ceremonies declined after about 1650. In England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent advancement of parliamentary power, royal ceremonies became shadows of their earlier magnificence and suggested constitutional restraints. The Spanish Habsburg Monarchy since Philip II had eschewed public state ceremonies, and royal rituals were performances of conduct and protocol within the relative privacy of the Spanish royal court. By the eighteenth century, most European rulers followed France's example of emphasizing "rites of personality" and frequent ceremonies around the king's body to punctuate every royal accomplishment, such as awakening (lever), dining (diner), retiring (coucher), and other events in the life of the prince. If the ruler were sacred in one place, like the coronation, he was now seen as sacred in all places and at all times. Thus, with the centering of princely activities in their courts, particularly Versailles, the minutiae of daily rituals inundated and depreciated traditional one-time or occasional state ceremonies. Seventeenth-century ceremonial researchers culled the rules governing the ranks, protocol, and conduct of subjects and those in royal service from the historical records of monarchical ceremonies. In many cases these were precarious, occasional, and random examples of behavior or acts that promoters of monarchical absolutism succeeded in ossifying into rules of deportment in a society based on ranks, orders, and honors. Rituals performed very occasionally in past centuries supplied the foundations for a perpetual etiquette at the royal court.

Rituals that today appear to have been for minute distinctionssuch as a system of seating and standing based on rankwere fundamental to the thought and habits of court and political society. The king's power to rule was partly grounded in the belief that he had a sacred duty to preserve the rituals that symbolized the honor and hierarchy of his nobility. Royal ceremonies marked the degree of honor possessed by any individual and his or her family. They set standards of deference for a code of courtesy, which guided both noble and bourgeois into new forms of civility. Ritual was refashioned into conduct, forms of association, and practices of disassociation.

See also Absolutism ; Court and Courtiers ; Festivals ; Monarchy ; Ritual, Religious ; State and Bureaucracy .


Primary Sources

Godefroy, Théodore. Le cérémonial français. 2 vols. Paris, 1649. The collection that rationalized its taxonomy in terms of exalted royalty and unique national ceremonies.

Graham, Victor E., and W. McAllister Johnson, eds. The Royal Tour of France by Charles IX and Catherine de'Medici: Festivals and Entries, 156466. Toronto, 1979. One of several contemporary accounts of entries and ceremonies extensively annotated by Graham and Johnson. This one shows rituals of the monarchy in different regions of France.

Mösenedor, Karl. Zeremoniell und monumentale Poesis: Die "Entrée solenelle" Ludwig XIV, in Paris. Berlin, 1983. A facsimile of the program for Louis XIV's Parisian entry as well as a study of its place in the literary culture of the period.

Nichols, John. The progresses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth. Among which are interspersed other solemnities, expenditures, and remarkable events during the reign of that illustrious princess. Collected from original manuscripts, scarce pamphlets, corporation records, parochial registers. . . . 3 vols. London, 1823 [reprint]. The title gives an exact account of this useful antiquarian collection. Nichols's views are those of a distant age.

. The progresses, processions, and magnificent festivities of King James the First, his royal consort, family, and court; Collected from original manuscripts, scarce pamphlets, corporation records, parochial registers. . . . 4 vols. New York, 1968 [reprint of 1828 edition]. The title gives an exact account of this useful antiquarian collection. Nichols's views are those of a distant age.

Secondary Sources

Bak, János M., ed. Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchical Ritual. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford, 1990. Collection of recent scholarship on European royal rituals. Bak has a very useful introduction to approaches to coronation studies.

Bertelli, Sergio. The King's Body: Sacred Rituals of Power in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Translated by R. Burr Litchfield. University Park, Pa., 2001. A study in rich detail of the sacred rituals of power, greatly emphasizing the early modern religious nature of kingship at the expense of other important aspects of royalty. The work does not place itself in the historiography of royal imagery and ceremony, particularly the seminal study of Ernst Kantorowicz.

Bloch, Marc. The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France. Translated by J. E. Anderson. London, 1973. French publication of 1924 was the first to move from apologetics, polemics, or positivist interpretations of monarchical customs and ceremonies and apply the insights of ethnography and anthropology to interpreting historical sources. Essential for studying medieval and early modern ceremonies.

Bryant, Lawrence. The King and the City in the Parisian Royal Entry Ceremony: Politics, Ritual, and Art in the Renaissance. Geneva, 1986. Reaching beyond positivist history, this study aims to place the entry's development into a major royal ceremony within the changing political and cultural worlds that created it.

. "Making History: Ceremonial Texts, Royal Space, and Political Theory in the Sixteenth Century." In Changing Identities in Early Modern France, edited by Michael Wolfe, pp. 2646. Durham, N.C., and London, 1997. Considers the sixteenth-century rise of magnificent ceremonies in regard to humanist rhetoric, sixteenth-century historiography, royal ideology, and politics.

Burke, Peter. The Fabrication of Louis XIV. New Haven and London, 1992. An imaginative and highly informed study of the vast enterprise entailed in the making and promoting of Louis XIV's royal image from 1660 to 1715. Essential for understanding how royal power does not just happen but is fabricated.

. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione's Cortegiano. University Park, Penn., 1996. Studies the Cortegiano as the stimulus to a series of discourses that contributed to codifying the social imagery and ideals of life among the early modern European aristocracy.

Elias, Norbert. Court Society. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York, 1983. Highly influential, sociologically based study of the court of Versailles as a model of aristocratic behavior and shaper of modern codes of conduct.

Elliott, J. H. "Philip IV of Spain: Prisoner of Ceremony." In The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage, and Royalty, edited by A. G. Dickens, pp. 169190. London, 1977. Basic source for the workings of Spanish royal ceremony. Dickens's edition has other useful studies of European courts as well.

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York, 1973. A work of extraordinary influence in the study of rituals that gives European history an anthropological frame for more contextualized studies.

Giesey, Ralph E. "Models of Rulership in French Royal Ceremonial." In Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual, and Politics since the Middle Ages, edited by Sean Wilentz, pp. 4164. Philadelphia, 1985. An overview of four major royal ceremonies that reveals accesswhich escapes positivist-minded historiansto institutions, events, and political history. The chronology of the rising and ebbing of a model offers a way to understand changes in the thought and practice of politics. The introduction and other essays in Wilentz's edition are also of interest to ritual studies.

. The Royal Funeral Ceremony in Renaissance France. Geneva, 1960. A foundational study of the culture and mentality that animated this royal ceremony and made its imagery expressions of royal political thought.

Hanley, Sarah. The Lit de Justice of the Kings of France: Constitutional Ideology in Legend, Ritual, and Discourse. Princeton, 1983. For histories of ceremonies and political thought, this extraordinarily original study places the rise of a new form of constitutional discourse in the mentality of Parisian parlementaires' ceremonial practices when they invented a tradition to strengthen their claims to co-guardianship of the crown against the innovations of the king.

Harding, Vanessa. The Dead and the Living in Paris and London, 15001670. Cambridge, U.K., 2002. A comparative study of funerary rituals that demonstrates their utility in preserving the civic hierarchy and reinforcing orderly behavior.

Jackson, Richard. Vive le Roi! A History of the French Coronation from Charles V to Charles X. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1984. Shows that ritual and interpretations of this central royal ceremony changes as the ideas and needs of the rulers change.

Kantorowicz, Ernst. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology. Princeton, 1957. From the medieval period through seventeenth century, a foundational study of royal and (due to the influence of Roman Law) civic political thought (or, as he calls it, political theology) as revealed in a synthesis of religious liturgies and processionals, canon and civil law, processions, iconography, and ceremonies. His paradigm of transitions from Christ-centered kingship to law-centered and man-centered rulership remains essential for any history of European monarchies and their ceremonies.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Saint-Simon, and the Court of Louis XIV. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago and London, 2001. A study of court and aristocratic society and mentalités that centers on careful analysis of ideological models detected in Saint-Simon's writing. An impressive and persuasive revealing of the mind of an age in which royal ceremonies were critical in sustaining the power of the state and defining status, honor, and worth. Calls for a different outlook on the cultural influence of court society from that of Norbert Elias.

Mitchell, Bonner. Italian Civic Pageantry in the High Renaissance: A Descriptive Bibliography for Triumphal Entries and Selected Other Festivals for State Occasions. Florence, 1979. The major source for grasping the scale and contents of Italian civic ceremonies.

Muir, Edward. Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, U.K., 1997. Impressive synthesis of the many studies and various types of rituals in early modern Europe and the beginning point for all new studies. Of particular importance for this article's topic are the chapter and bibliography on "Government as a ritual process" (pp. 229268).

Smuts, R. Malcolm. Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England. Philadelphia, 1987. Valuable both for understanding ceremonial politics of the period and for its bibliography.

. "Public Ceremony and Royal Charisma: The English Royal Entry in London, 14951642." In The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone, edited by David Cannadine and James M. Rosenheim, pp. 6594. Cambridge, U.K., 1989. Latest and insightful study of the London entries.

Strong, Roy. Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 14501650. Berkeley, 1984. Among the earliest of Strong's many studies into political festivals, art, and ceremony in the period.

Texler, Richard C. Public Life in Renaissance Florence. New York, 1980. A groundbreaking study on public rituals and conduct in public and political life.

Wortman, Richard S. Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy. Vol. 1. From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I. Princeton, 1995. Essential for understanding early modern Russian rituals and political symbolism.

Lawrence M. Bryant