The Pageant of Centuries

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Buckden Towers (Buckden) (Buckden, Huntingdonshire, England)

Year: 1932

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 7


26 July–1 August 1932, daily at 8.30pm. There was also a well-attended dress rehearsal.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Written, Produced, Organised and Directed by [Pageant Master]: Capel, Arthur Harold
  • Musical Operator: Mr Notton
  • Musical Manager: Mr C. Howard
  • Stage Manager: Mr T.R.M. Dale
  • Assistant Stage Manager: A.J. Luff
  • Wigs and Makeup: J.H. Spaans
  • Curtains and Properties: T.R.M. Dale

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Hon. President: G.C.W. Fitzwilliam
  • Hon. Director: Arthur Harold Capel
  • Hon. Treasurer: Charles E. Hicks

Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Capel, Arthur Harold

Names of composers

  • Sibelius, Jean
  • Brahms, Johannes
  • Gounod, Charles
  • Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich
  • Chopin, Frédéric
  • Verdi, Giuseppe
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van
  • Mendelssohn, Felix
  • Liszt, Franz

Numbers of performers


Financial information

The pageant made a profit of £105.1

Object of any funds raised

Proceeds given to the Huntingdon County Hospital.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: 6500


The figure of 6500 is based on newspaper reports. The dress rehearsal was attended by 400–500 people.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline


Scene I. The Survey for the Domesday Book, 1086

The scene shows the manner in which the Palace of Buchedone was entered in the Domesday Book in the year 1086.

Scene II. Richard of the Lion Heart and St Hugh de Avalon and the Pardoning of Robin Hood, 1199

Scene III. Simon de Montfort Demanding the First Parliament from Henry III, 1248

Scene IV. The Refusal of Bishop Grossete to give the Canonry of Lincoln to a Foreigner, 1253

Scene V. Edward I Received Margaret of France and John Balliol, 1294

The scenes shows the meeting of Edward I and Margaret of France, who later married (in 1299). Balliol is shown here swearing fealty; Jousting seems also to have featured in this episode.

Scene VI. The Defence of Bishop John Gymwell When Attacked by Three Knights, 1358

Knights were charged to extract money from the bishop for wars in France. The bishop being forthcoming, they nearly murdered him but were defied and left.

Scene VII. The Journey of Cardinal Wolsey to York After his Disgrace, 1530

Here we see him, in the rush of fear and broken down in health, flying to York, to save himself from the vengeance of Henry VIII.

Scene VIII. The Refusal of Catherine of Aragon to Acknowledge the King’s Commissioners When Sent by Henry VIII to Order Her Removal, 1533

Scene IX. Henry VIII, Visiting the Palace with Katherine Howard

He retires on business to the tower, accompanied by the bishop. He returns to find Katherine with a courtier, whose arrest and hers he orders.

Scene X. The Brandons at Buckden

The boys, Charles and Henry Brandon, at the order of their mother, the Duchess of Suffolk, were brought from Cambridge to avoid illness but died within forty-eight hours of their arrival.

Scene XI. Showing the Burning of a Harmless Old Woman on the Charge of Witchcraft, 1592

Scene XII. Showing James and His Favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, Visiting Bishop Mountaigne at His Palace

Scene XIII. Bishop John Williams Was Fined for Producing a Play in the Palace on a Saturday Night Running into Sunday

Scene XIV. Showing the Solicitor Drinking, Selling Pictures Worth £400 for £4, and Dissipating the Wealth of the Palace, 1635

Scene XV. George IV Visiting Bishop and Lady Tomlin at This Palace and Calling in the French Prisoners

They were four officers who were being escorted to Norman Cross Prisoners’ Camp. One of the officers describes the retreat from Moscow.

Scene XVI. The Ceremony of the Keys and Final Ensemble of All the Characters in the Pageant

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
  • Montfort, Simon de, eighth earl of Leicester (c.1208–1265) magnate and political reformer
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Henry III (1207–1272) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Grosseteste, Robert (c.1170–1253) scientist, theologian, and bishop of Lincoln
  • John [John de Balliol] (c.1248x50–1314), king of Scots
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Katherine [Catherine; née Katherine Howard] (1518x24–1542) queen of England and Ireland, fifth consort of Henry VIII
  • Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Margaret de Neville (d. 1319)
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Villiers, George, first duke of Buckingham (1592–1628) royal favourite
  • George IV (1762–1830) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Fitzherbert [née Smythe; other married name Weld], Maria Anne (1756–1837) unlawful wife of George IV

Musical production

Amplified gramophone recordings of the following were played:

  • Sibelius. ‘Finlandia’.
  • Brahms. ‘Traumerei’.
  • Mendelssohn. ‘Ruy Blas’.
  • Gounod. ‘Faust’.
  • Verdi. ‘Rigoletto’.
  • Tchaikovsky. ‘Eugen Onegin’.
  • Chopin. ‘Prelude’, C Sharp Minor.
  • Beethoven. ‘Coriolan’.
  • Chopin. ‘Polonaise’, 2.
  • Anon. ‘Lilliburlero’.
  • Mendelsohn. ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
  • Liszt. ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’, 2.
  • Tchaikovsky. ‘1812 Overture’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Bedford Times and Independent
Northampton Mercury
Manchester Guardian
Peterborough Advertiser
Hunts Post

Book of words


Other primary published materials

  • The Pageant of Centuries: Official Programme. London, 1932.

References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Copy of the Programme, available at Friends of Buckden Towers, accessed 15 June 2016,
  • Huntingdon Library: Press Cuttings. c76PAM.
  • Huntingdon Archives: Copy of Programme. KSR/20/6/1.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



Buckden Palace was formerly the seat of the Bishops of Lincoln, first constructed sometime in the twelfth century and continually extended, rebuilt and repaired (due to recurring fires) over the centuries. The palace was host to numerous kings who enjoyed hunting in the surrounding countryside and found the palace to be a useful place for keeping hostages. Most famously, Katherine of Aragon died there in 1536.2 As the Manchester Guardian noted, this was ‘the first pageant Huntingdonshire has seen since before the war’.3 The previous pageant was the large-scale pageant held at Hinchingbrooke (1912). The newspaper went on to note:

What makes this pageant of more than ordinary interest—in this season when pageants have suddenly revived all over the country—is its setting among the half-restored ruins and rubble of the palace of Buckden, which for the past ten years Dr R.H. Edlestone, the wealthy Cambridge antiquary, has been piecing together and rebuilding into an almost perfect semblance of what, from Domesday Book days till a century ago, was the residence of the Bishops of Lincoln.4

The reference to ‘an almost perfect semblance’ was perhaps something of an over-exaggeration. While Buckden Towers today retains certain medieval elements, including the fine gatehouse and keep, many parts of it were rebuilt less with a concern for historical accuracy than a desire to give an overall impression of gothic splendour. The Towers today are home to the Claret Centre, a Catholic community and retreat.5

The pageant showed a number of departures. It was done in mime, with a soundtrack of nineteenth century romantic music provided by a gramophone player. Also, due to its late start each night, the pageant was illuminated by lighting effects. These were praised by the Peterborough Advertiser: ‘The wealth of detail, the elaborate and beautiful lighting effects, the gorgeous costumes, and the reality of the acting, presented a panoramic picture that will live long in one’s memory’; it noted further that ‘the success of the production rested mainly on the lighting effects’.6

The dress rehearsal was attended by 400–500 people and there were large crowds at the Première, opened by the Earl of Sandwich. According to the Bedford Times, ‘[t]his magnificent spectacle suffered much from the weather during the earlier performances, but on the last four evenings there were large audiences’.7 The pageant was evidently a modest success, with Arthur Capel, the pageant master, sending the Huntingdon County Hospital a cheque for 100 guineas from the profits. Capel was engaged on the strength of Buckden to write further pageants for Papworth and Peterborough.8 A further pageant (or rather pageant-style entertainment) was held at Buckden Towers in 1995.


  1. ^ Bedford Times and Independent, 2 September 1932, 4.
  2. ^ 'Parishes: Buckden', in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 2, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and S. Inskip Ladds (London, 1932), 260–269, accessed 15 June 2016, British History Online,
  3. ^ Manchester Guardian, 23 July 1932, 10.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ The Claret Centre, accessed 15 June 2016,
  6. ^ Peterborough Advertiser, 29 July 1932.
  7. ^ Bedford Times and Independent, 12 August 1932, 4.
  8. ^ Bedford Times and Independent, 2 September 1932, 4.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Centuries’, The Redress of the Past,