Lady Godiva Procession and Pageant
- Coventry Hospital Pageant
Place: Coventry City Centre and War Memorial Park (Coventry) (Coventry, Warwickshire, England)
Number of performances: 1
29 June 1929, 3pm
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Seeley, Alfred
- Joint Pageant Master: Turner, Leonard
- Joint Pageant Master: Ritchie, A.C.R.
- Master of the Horse: John Morton
President: The Mayor, Alderman Alfred J. Makepeace
Vice-Presidents: Deputy Mayor, Alderman Fred Lee; Alderman W.H. Grant; Alderman Frank Snape; Councillor W. Ivens; Councillor C.D. Siddeley; Councillor Henry Johnson
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Chairman: Councillor A.R. Grindlay (Black and White)
- Vice-Chairman: Mr. E.C.B. Batey (Green and White)
- Treasurers: Messrs R.L. Meats and A. Powell Tuck (Dark Blue and Red)
- Hon. General and Financial Secretary: Mr. H. Keith Moulton (White)
- Assistant General Secretaries: Miss M. Bytheway and Miss C.M. Humphreys (White)
- Assistant Financial Secretary: Mrs. P. Allen (White)
- Hon. Surveyor: Mr. G.A. Steane (Green and Black)
- Hon. Solicitor: Mr. S.F. Snape
Special Appeals Committee:
- Chairman: Col. J.A. Cole
- Chairman: Mr T. Williams (Heliotrope and Black)
- Chairman: Mr J. Perkins (Red and White)
- Chairman: Mr C.A. Anelay (Light Blue and Black)
- Chairman: Mr. E.C.B. Batey (Green and White)
- Chairman: Mr. J.H. Beesley (Yellow and Black)
- Chairman: Mr. W.M. Maddocks (Pink and Black)
Colours denote the rosettes worn in the procession.
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Shakespeare, William
Scenes from Henry IV, Part I, Henry V, and Richard II.
Names of composers
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
Local hospital charities
- Grandstand: Not Known
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Up to 300000 lined the streets of Coventry to witness the procession, and 150000 were in Memorial Park.1
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Associated eventsThe carnival in Memorial Park included 17 bands, fancy dress, trade exhibits, decorated vehicles, old time cyclists and motorists riding vehicles made in the early days of Coventry’s main industry, plus a rodeo, dancing and balloon race. In the evening there was a firework display including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Field of the Cloth of Gold and a ‘Fire Portrait of HM the King’.
Episode I. The Stage Coach
Famous figures including George IV, the Marquis of Hertford, the Earl of Craven, Admiral Lord Nelson, Lady Hamilton, Sir Thomas Skears (Mayor of Coventry), William III, James Duke of Monmouth, James II, Charles II, and the Earl of Northampton ride past.
Episode II. ‘Our Founders and Benefactors’
Founders and benefactors of the King Henry VIII School (founded 1545), Bablake School (1561), ‘Black Gift’ School (1690) and Blue Coat Girls’ School (1714) ride past in a decorated lorry.
Episode III. The Civil War, the Puritan Women, Model of the New Gate, and the Cavaliers
Coventry was the first town to resist King Charles in person. After the people maintained they would resist, there was a parley. The King maintained that if strangers left the town and the inhabitants laid down their arms, the latter would be pardoned. This offer being refused, the King used his artillery against the city. As the King’s cavalry attempted to attack, they were resisted by musketeers and Puritan women ‘who plied the cavaliers with shot and stones. The King withdrew to Nottingham.
Episode IV. Coventry and the Gunpowder Plot, 5 November 1605
With the Princess Elizabeth Stuart.
Episode V. Mary Queen of Scots a Prisoner at the ‘Bull Inn’, Smithford Street, and In Caesar’s Tower, St. Mary’s Hall
The tableau attempts to represent the Mayor, accompanied by his officers, communicating the contents of Elizabeth’s letter about Mary’s continuing custody to Mary, her ladies and her guardians, Lords Shrewsbury and Huntingdon.
Episode VI. Queen Elizabeth at the Whitefriars, 1565
The procession also includes Mary I, Sir Thomas White, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Arthur Prince of Wales, John Bird, John Vesey, Richard III, Edward V Duke of York and the Princes in the Tower.
Episode VII. Margaret of Anjou and the Mystery Plays
The episode replays a visit from 1456 of Margaret of Anjou to Coventry where she saw six pageant plays represented.
Episode VIII. A Mystery Play ‘The Nativity’
Episode IX. The Wars of the Roses ‘The Shutting of the Gate’
The episode represents Edward IV’s attack on Coventry in 1451. Edward demanded admission to the city but was refused, and the gates were closed against him. In 1471 Edward again appeared before the gates and was refused entry by Neville, Earl of Warwick. Shortly after, Neville with 20 horsemen and 20 archers left for the Battle of Barnet where he was slain.
Episode X. The Great Fair. Amusements in Medieval Times
A depiction of the annual fair from around 1444. The episode features a troupe of Morris dancers, hobby horse and jester, and fiddlers
Episode XI. ‘Falstaff and His Ragged Regiment’
An episode where Prince Hal was arrested at the Priory by the Mayor of Coventry. Much of this scene is apparently taken from Henry IV, Part I and features many of Shakespeare’s characters.
Episode XII. The Plucking of the Forget-Me-Nots
The meeting of Richard II’s court near Coventry in 1397 to witness the trial by combat of Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. The trial was frustrated by the fickleness of the King, and the combatants were sent into exile. (This episode seems to have drawn on Shakespeare’s Richard II.)
Episode XIII. The Botoners and St. Michael’s Church (Coventry Cathedral)
The tableau attempts to portray the spirit of the service at the church, with prominent townspeople offering wealth to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.
Episode XIV. The City Coat of Arms
A live elephant with a golden castle upon its back. The city motto ‘Camera Principis’ forms the border of the elephant cloth.
Episode XV. Edward III and the Charter of Incorporation, 1345
Procession including Guy of Warwick, Henry II and King Stephen on horseback.
Episode XVI. Coventry’s First Charter under Ranulf Blondville—Earl of Chester
Coventry’s first Charter, confirmed and extended by the King.
Episode XVII. The Countess Godiva, Personated by Miss Muriel Mellerup
The episode also includes a procession of Hereward the Wake and Saxon Women with Danish Prisoners.
Key historical figures mentioned
- George IV (1762–1830) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
- Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) naval officer
- Hamilton [née Lyon], Emma, Lady Hamilton (bap. 1765, d. 1815) social celebrity and artist's model
- William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
- Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685) politician
- James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Leigh, Thomas, first Baron Leigh (1594/5–1672) landowner and local politician
- Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
- Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
- Dugdale, Sir William (1605–1686) antiquary and herald
- James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
- Henry Frederick, prince of Wales (1594–1612)
- Catesby, Robert (b. in or after 1572, d. 1605) conspirator
- Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662) queen of Bohemia and electress palatine, consort of Frederick V
- Mary [Mary Stewart] (1542–1587) queen of Scots
- Talbot, Gilbert, seventh earl of Shrewsbury (1552–1616) landowner
- Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
- Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate
- Howard, Thomas, first earl of Suffolk (1561–1626) naval officer and administrator
- Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author
- Margaret [Margaret of Anjou] (1430–1482) queen of England, consort of Henry VI
- Stafford, Henry, second duke of Buckingham (1455–1483) magnate and rebel
- Talbot, John, second earl of Shrewsbury and second earl of Waterford (c.1413–1460) magnate
- Neville, Richard, sixteenth earl of Warwick and sixth earl of Salisbury [called the Kingmaker] (1428–1471) magnate
- George, duke of Clarence (1449–1478) prince
- Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
- John [John of Gaunt], duke of Aquitaine and duke of Lancaster, styled king of Castile and León (1340–1399) prince and steward of England
- Henry V (1386–1422) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Mowbray, Thomas (II), second earl of Nottingham (1385–1405) magnate and rebel
- Henry IV [known as Henry Bolingbroke] (1367–1413) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Percy, Sir Henry [called Henry Hotspur] (1364–1403) soldier
- Bagot, Sir William (d. 1407) administrator
- Edward III (1312–1377) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Philippa [Philippa of Hainault] (1310x15?–1369) queen of England, consort of Edward III
- Isabella [Isabella of France] (1295–1358) queen of England, consort of Edward II
- Edward [Edward of Woodstock; known as the Black Prince], prince of Wales and of Aquitaine (1330–1376) heir to the English throne and military commander
- Guy of Warwick (supp. fl. c.930) legendary hero
- Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
- Stephen (c.1092–1154) king of England
- Marmion, Robert (d. 1144) baron and soldier
- Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman
- Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057) magnate
- Hereward [called Hereward the Wake] (fl. 1070–1071) rebel
Musical productionThe Following March Bands took part:
- Seventh Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Coventry Silver Band
- Fleckney Silver Prize Band
- Standon Hill Prize Band
- Church Lads Brigade Band
- The Ragged School Boys Brigade Band
- Nuneaton Boro’ Silver Band
- Northampton Railwayman’s Silver Prize Band
- Coventry Excelsior Brass Band
- Hugglescote and Ellistown Silver Band
- Friends Institute ABC Band
- The Ibstock United Band
- Coventry Vauxhall WMC Silver Band
- The Whetstone Prize Band
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Yorkshire Evening News
Illustrated London News
Midlands Daily News
Western Morning News
Book of words
- The Official Programme of the Lady Godiva Procession and Pageant. Coventry, 1929.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Clarke, Ronald Aquilla and Patrick A.E. Day. Lady Godiva: Images of a Legend in Art & Society. Coventry, 1982.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Press Cuttings and Photographs. PA2457/1–12.
- Copy of Programme. 2005/40/1.
- Coventry History Centre, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum:
Sources used in preparation of pageant
- Shakespeare, William. Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V.
Pageantry was an ancient tradition in Coventry, dating back to medieval times. The comparatively recent Godiva Procession, to commemorate Lady Godiva’s famous ride through the town during the eleventh century, has been held every few years, with some significant gaps since the 1680s.2 However, the tradition of a young girl riding naked through the town (in fact, wearing a flesh-coloured dress and a long wig to preserve modesty) was a nineteenth-century invention, which predictably raised the pulses of the townspeople. Writing to the London Daily News, which it was hoped would act as an organ of censure against the local corporation, ‘One of the Disgusted’ protested that: ‘I hold no extreme views in regard to public exhibitions, but simply, as the head of a family, I would uphold… common modesty … surely, whatever the promoters of the Godiva show may say, we are not to be told in the middle of the nineteenth century that the spectacle of a female on horseback, half intoxicated and nearly naked, and thus triumphantly paraded in open day through the main thoroughfares of an English city, is offensive neither to decency nor public morality.’3 Although these protests were repeated each time the procession was staged, they had little effect on the overall enthusiasm of the town to provide a link with its esteemed past.
With the advent of modern historical pageantry in the early twentieth century, the procession altered to incorporate scenes from the town’s history. Though not a true historical pageant in the manner defined by Louis Napoleon Parker or other pageant masters, the Coventry Pageants, held in 1907, 1911 and 1919, were great events which drew spectators from considerable distances.4 Coventry was one of the most prosperous and fast-expanding towns in the country, with a population of 167083 in 1931, compared to 69978 in 1901.5 As a place which had largely missed out on the industrial expansion of the early nineteenth century, Coventry had become a major manufacturer of bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles and machine parts.6 The 1929 event sought to revive the pageant tradition after 10 years, combining it with the annual carnival in aid of the town hospital. Local industries were eager to contribute to this largely invented tradition, with the foreword of the programme reading: ‘Our expenses are heavy, but our programme has been made possible by the splendid support given by the Mayor and Corporation, and the public spirit of many of our large manufacturers and other bodies who at their own expense are generously staging the main episodes in our procession.’7 The Coventry Herald commented that the annual carnival had raised some £26361 since its inauguration in 1923 and hoped that the pageant would dramatically raise this figure, noting: ‘The city took the event right into its corporate heart; its leaders, its industrialists, its merchants and its artisans had found a common platform upon which all could be united in effort.’8 The carnival was held in the Memorial Park, opened in 1921 as a tribute to the 2587 Coventrians who had died in the First World War.9
The pageant procession itself, which interestingly moved backwards chronologically, displayed Coventry’s long and distinguished history, whilst proudly noting its long and distinguished connections with the British monarchy, often resisting it (as during the Civil War and in the town’s opposition to Edward IV at the time of the Wars of the Roses), conspiring against it (during the Gunpowder Plot); or imprisoning it (Mary Queen of Scots). In all of this, Coventry was portrayed as possessing a deeply independent spirit. The City was itself represented by a living depiction of its coat of arms: a small elephant with a golden castle on its back.10 The elephant had evidently had a trying time getting through the traffic on the back of a lorry.11
These scenes appeared to be little more than a warm-up for the main event: the procession of Lady Godiva, ‘the star turn’ of the pageant, which almost entirely eclipsed the other episodes in the newspaper coverage.12 As one newspaper succinctly put it, alongside several pages of photographs of Miss Muriel Mellerup, whose honour it was to play the local patroness, Coventry was full of ‘300000 Peeping Toms … Just because one pretty girl decided to impersonate Lady Godiva for half an hour or so to-day … Only one furtive and unfortunate spectator saw the original Lady Godiva, but this time there were something like 300000 Peeping Toms to wave their hats and handkerchiefs, and cheer her along the narrow, hilly, cobbled streets.’13 This figure seems hard to believe, being almost twice the city’s population, but it is an estimate quoted by a number of papers, which remarked that huge numbers of ‘trains, charabancs, motor-cars and cycles brought huge crowds from an early hour’.14 In fact, 80 special trains and 400 extra buses brought spectators from around the country, as well as a number of Americans.15 The local paper speculated that the pageant, ‘the greatest which Coventry has ever produced’, was a unique draw and that ‘Coventry is written on the hearts of many of our American cousins, and many will read their books over time and again and re-live the day when they saw Coventry in carnival mood—the day on which they saw its ancient story represented by a pageant which will long linger in their memory.’16 The paper did its best to acknowledge the efforts of the hundreds of other performers, stressing the incongruity of the medieval scene in a twentieth-century context (though this was before the dramatic post-war redesign of Coventry’s city centre after 1945):
Along streets already bearing a crowded appearance the thousands of gaily-garbed participants in pageant and carnival made their way to the Park. The scene was one almost unreal. What was St. Mary’s Hall doing here among all this greensward and shaded leafiness? Why this Pageant Court and all these knights in armour, ladies of the harem, Saxon notables, harlequins, clowns and cavaliers, in the midst of loud-speakers, microphones, and motor cars?17
The appearance of Lady Godiva, the Yorkshire Evening News reassured its readers, had obtained official sanction, despite a few voices of protest: ‘There are some people in the city, it is whispered, who have disapproved of Lady Godiva’s “costume” of flesh-coloured tights and who wanted more draperies. Even the picture on the official programme was criticised, but there were plenty of clergymen, councillors, aldermen and other civic dignitaries present to quell the voice of censure.’18 The Western Morning News went further than that, actually finding a clergyman who told the newspaper that ‘her appearance was the soul of modesty and decorum … There was nothing to which any healthy-minded person could take exception. It was a most ennobling spectacle.’19 Miss Mellerup was reported as ‘breathless and flushed, but still smiling’, remarking that ‘hardly once did she raise her eyes to look at the crowds which waved hats and handkerchiefs. Asked if she felt shy, Lady Godiva said: “No, I was not really nervous. As a matter of fact, I have been looking forward to it for a long time, and it was not any worse than I thought it would be. I should be delighted to do it all again”’. 20 Miss Mellerup, ‘amply covered by her flowing hair, “fleshings” so faithfully tinted as to be almost indistinguishable’, the Coventry Herald reassured its readership, ‘had not been cold, and she had been deeply impressed by the general enthusiasm of the people. Along the rout of the procession many nice compliments had been paid her—in Smithford Street a bunch of white roses was thrown before her charger—and she had been greatly touched.’21
Aside from the fact that newspapers have, historically, given extensive coverage to naked women—on horseback or otherwise—the Pageant was an interesting spectacle which almost entirely overwhelmed the historical elements of the pageant. Coventry’s tradition of pageantry was, if nothing else, fiercely original, and this has subsequently continued. Muriel Mellerup continued to be fondly remembered. Her marriage in 1934 was covered by the Midlands Daily News, which wrote that ‘Miss Mellerup was described as the most perfect Lady Godiva who has ever impersonated the historical character in the long history of Coventry’s Godiva processions. An expert horsewoman, she rode her white steed with perfect poise … She played her part with a modesty and quiet dignity that delighted her thousands of admirers.’22
- Observer, 30 June 1929, 19.
- Ronald Aquilla Clarke and Patrick A.E. Day, Lady Godiva: Images of a Legend in Art & Society (Coventry, 1982). 'The City of Coventry: Social History to 1700', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick, ed. W.B. Stephens (London, 1969), 208–221, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol8/pp208-221.
- London Daily News, 11 May 1854, 3.
- On the 1919 Coventry Peace Pageant, see Brad Beaven, ‘Challenges to Civic Governance in Post-War England: The Peace Day Disturbances of 1919’, Urban History, 33 (2006): 369–392.
- A Vision of Britain Through Time, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/unit/10054552/cube/TOT_POP.
- Peter Scott, Triumph of the South: A Regional Economic History of Early Twentieth Century Britain (Aldershot, 2007), 161–164.
- A.R. Grindlay, The Official Programme of the Lady Godiva Procession and Pageant (Coventry, 1929), 1.
- Coventry Herald, 5 and 6 July 1929, 1.
- Douglas Alton, Coventry: A Century of News (Coventry, 1991), 33.
- Observer, 30 June 1929, 19.
- Coventry Herald, 5 and 6 July 1929, 1.
- Yorkshire Evening News, 30 June 1929, np, in Coventry History Centre. PA2457/1–12.
- Observer, 30 June 1929, 19.
- Coventry Herald, 5 and 6 July 1929, 1.
- Yorkshire Evening News, 30 June 1929.
- Western Morning News, 1 July 1929, 8.
- Coventry Herald, 5 and 6 July 1929, 1. There is newsreel footage of the pageant, accessed 23 February 2016, http://www.britishpathe.com/video/lady-godiva-in-coventry-festival.
- Midlands Daily News, 19 September 1934, np, cutting in Coventry History Centre. PA2457/1–12.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Lady Godiva Procession and Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1042/