The Butleigh Revel
Place: Butleigh Court (Butleigh) (Butleigh, Somerset, England)
Number of performances: 3
19–21 June 1906 at 2.30pm
An extra performance on the 21 June was put on due to popular demand.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Director [Pageant Master]: Mildred, Daniel
- Producer and Writer: Mary Albinia Berkeley
- Organisers: Mr and Mrs Neville-Grenville, Rev. G.W. Berkeley and Mr J. Bradden
- Mistress of Robes: Miss Kate Carpenter
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Berkeley, Mary Albinia
Names of composers
- Handel, George Frideric
- Cherubini, Luigi
- Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
- Costa, Michael
- Elgar, Edward
Numbers of performers300
- Revenue: £759
- Profit: £146 10s 2d.1
Object of any funds raised
Although raising money was not the primary objective, the pageant raised funds to recast the church bell, £20 for the local hospital, as well as sundry local causes
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 1000
- Total audience: 4800
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
- Chairs 10s 6d
- Grand Stand 5s
- Side Seats 3s 6d
- Benches 2s
There was a celebratory ball after the final performance.
Announced by the Spirit of Avalon
Tableau. The Phoenician Traders
After Lord Leighton’s painting in the Royal Exchange.2
Act I – A.D. 63. The Coming of Joseph
Joseph and his brethren enter, having sailed through a storm to a new land of Britain. Joseph makes a sign by striking his staff into the earth which becomes a thorn tree which flourishes every Christmas. David, his companion, falls at his feet.
King Arviragus and six chieftains enter, having seen the arrival of the party. Arviragus greets Joseph and hears the gospel. He grants Joseph a portion of land to build a church, the first in Britain.
Act II – AD 542. The Passing of Arthur
St Benginus and monks enter with Queen Morgan and other queens bearing Arthur’s coffin. They talk of the great warrior from the Cornish Land who fell at the battle at Camlen, fighting against his nephew Mordred. They lament his passing as do the people. Queen of North Gallis predicts Arthur’s return at Britain’s darkest hour. The procession moves away towards the burial place.
Scene I – AD 878. King Alfred
Denulf and Gundred, a husband and wife, are arguing with one another. Denulf has lost the pigs but has brought a guest, a poor soldier of the King who was wandering in the marshes. The guest is welcomed before Gundred returns to the forest looking for the pigs. Gundred asks the man to look over the cakes and is instructed not to let them burn. King Alfred (disguised as the soldier) instead goes to mend his arrows and muses on his plight and that of his Kingdom. The Gundred returns asking after the cakes which Alfred has forgotten and allowed to burn. Gundred chides him for this, accusing him of being scatter-brained and hits him. A horn sounds, signalling the arrival of Alfred’s party. The warrior Beowulf and others arrive to greet Alfred. Gundred is surprised to hear him called King and apologises profusely. He welcomes them before departing with his warriors.
Scene II. The Peace of Wedmore
King Alfred and his court enters and caps are thrown in the air amidst much cheering. Alfred and Ethelfleda greet the people, having defeated the Dane and forced their King Gurthrum to convert. Alfred’s sons wish they had killed him and driven the Danes back in the sea but Alfred pleads mercy as a Christian duty. Guthrum is brought in and Alfred greets him as an equal. A monk reads out a parchment, dividing England between the Saxons and the Danes, setting out territories. Alfred asks Guthrum to sign, though he cannot write. Instead he makes a mark of the cross. They are led off to the banquet, but not before Alfred meets Denulf, making him a Thane, a scribe, a scholar and a statesman.
Act IV – A.D. 940. St Dunstan and King Edmund Magnificent
The King enters attended by Cedric and two nobles. He greets St Dunstan who asks to rebuild the Abbey church at Glastonbury, pillaged by the Danes. He shows the King his plans for the reconstruction. Dunstan announces that these came to him in a vision and Edmund gives his assent.
Tableau. Tribute of Wolvers’ Skins at Edgarley
Act V. A.D. 1127. King Henry I Granting the Charter for the Fair
A crowd discusses the King’s arrival at Glastonbury and his visit to the shrine. The King’s retinue enters and the King and Queen are acclaimed by the crowd and a herald. Dancers enter and a fair begins.
Act VI. A.D. 1539. Dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey
Scene I. The Arrest of Abbot Whyting
The Abbot, Prior and sub-prior enter with a heavy book. The Abbot sits at a table and begins writing. Whyting laments the sorry state of England and acknowledges that he is prepared to die before allowing the King’s divorce. The Priors agree to die with him. Brother Stephen warns of the arrival of the commissioners and advises flight. He refuses and the King’s commissioners enter. They proceed to interrogate the Archbishop. Though Whyting has taken the oath of supremacy, he repents of it and criticizes the King’s divorce. He refuses to give away the names of anyone who gave money to the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Scene II. The Trial of Abbot Whyting
Gentlemen enter and announce that the Abbot and his monks will hang for their crimes. Lord Russell enters. The clerk reads the charges against Whyting who refuses to plead guilty. Russell says that the Abbot is ordered by an act of Parliament to give up his treasures, but the Abbot replies that the tradition of Parliament from the Witana-Germot downwards, granting the monks the land, are in their favour. The Commissioners reveal his treasonous words and the seditious literature found in his house. The Jury reluctantly declare Whyting guilty and he is sentenced to death by Lord Russell.
Scene III. The Procession to Tor Hill.
The people of Glastonbury gather to watch as Whyting and the two priors are taken up the hill where they are to be hung, drawn and quartered. The women bless them as martyrs though others scoff. Whyting says goodbye to some of his monks in the crowd. The Monks acknowledge that the Abbey is now dissolved and that they must wander the roads.
Act VII. A.D. 1685. “King Monmouth”
Scene I. The Seven Men of Butleigh
Monmouth and soldiers enter and are acclaimed by the crowd as the ‘Protestant Duke’ and ‘King Monmouth’, acclaiming the Protestant succession. The Duke talks with local men, hearing that most of the men in Butleigh are for King James. However, seven men agree to support the Duke and the seven are acclaimed and go off with the soldiers to fight.
Monmouth meets the maids of Taunton. The schoolmistress presents him with a Bible. The Protestant succession is again hailed. Monmouth is again acclaimed and all exit in a procession.
Act VIII. The Change of Style in 1752 at Glastonbury
Master Richards, caretaker of the Abbey Ruins enters with the townsfolk. They talk in rustic style about changes in the village and the new monarchy.
Epilogue, Grand Procession and God Save the King
Key historical figures mentioned
- Arthur (supp. fl. in or before 6th cent.) legendary warrior and supposed king of Britain [also known as Artorius ?, King]
- Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons
- Æthelflæd [Ethelfleda] (d. 918) ruler of the Mercians
- Asser (d. 909) bishop of Sherborne
- Edgar [called Edgar Pacificus] (943/4–975) king of England
- Edmund I (920/21–946) king of England
- Dunstan [St Dunstan] (d. 988) archbishop of Canterbury
- Henry I (1068/9–1135) king of England and lord of Normandy
- Adeliza [Adeliza of Louvain] (c.1103–1151) queen of England, second consort of Henry I
- Russell, John, first earl of Bedford (c.1485–1555) courtier and magnate
- Whiting, Richard (d. 1539) abbot of Glastonbury [also known as Whyting, Richard]
- Layton, Richard (c.1498–1544) dean of York and agent in the suppression of the monasteries
- Pollard, Sir John (b. before 1508, d. 1557) judge and speaker of the House of Commons
- Scott [formerly Crofts], James, duke of Monmouth and first duke of Buccleuch (1649–1685) politician
Musical productionThe Street Brass and Reed Band of 30 performers conducted by F.E. Huish performed the following pieces:
- March. Occasional Overture. Handel
- Requiem Sempiternam. Cherubini
- March 'Zauberflote'. Mozart
- March. 'Eli'. Costa
- Largo in G. Handel.
- Pomp and Circumstance. Elgar.
Newspaper coverage of pageantBath Herald
Western Daily Press
London Daily News
Shepton Mallet Journal
Warminster & Westbury journal, and Wilts County Advertiser
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Book of words
- The Butleigh Revel. [Glastonbury?], 1906.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
- Senior, R.C. The Butleigh Revel 1906. Butleigh, 2011.
A digital copy of this is available at http://www.butleigh.org/butleighrevel/butleighrevel.html, Accessed 29 September 2016.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Book of Words, photographs of actors with autographs, script of the pageants, financial statement of account; photographs of the church, plate, tenor bell and Butleigh Court, reports of the events, Reference, D\P\but1/23/4
Somerset Heritage Centre (South West Heritage Trust)
- Privately printed volume published 2011, Reference A\DIP/1/1
Somerset Heritage Centre (South West Heritage Trust)
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Sherborne Pageant held in Dorset in 1905 was the birth of modern pageantry, from which a number of different strands originated. For Louis Napoleon Parker, the Pageant Master at Sherborne, and many of his contemporaries such as F.E. Benson and Frank Lascelles, the pageant form was a blend of amateur actors and professional or semi-professional staff, often with a background in Shakespearian theatre. However, whilst Sherborne was a small village and a number of other pageants were held in similarly small places (the Romsey Abbey Pageant included around a third of its population as performers),3 the ideal place to hold a pageant was in a small or medium sized town, with good connections to nearby railways. Sherborne, for instance, was located on the West of England Main Line. Thus, whilst the Butleigh Revel was the third modern pageant, coming shortly after the Warwick Pageant, it represented a tradition of small village pageantry which would not be revived until the inter-war period when Pageant Masters such as Mary Kelly saw the potential of holding pageants in tiny and remote villages.4
The Butleigh Revel came directly from a visit of a number of villagers to the Sherborne pageant the previous year. As the Central Somerset Gazette reported in a souvenir gazette for the pageant:
It is said that the idea first originated in a brief conversation which took place in Butleigh Schoolroom between two or three residents… once started, it was not allowed to die out, and subsequently, at a public meeting, when suggestion was put to the parishioners, it was met with a very hearty reception; and from that time steady but sure progress was made towards the great consummation.5
R.C. Senior reports that the word ‘Revel’ was chosen because its ‘oldest meaning is ‘a form of innocent out-outdoor amusement’ and in this case it was chosen not only because it was less grand than ‘Pageant’ but because ‘“Butleigh Revel” was the name of an annual fair formerly held on the village green, long since abolished. No other subsequent pageant adopted this unique title.’6 Compared to practically every other pageant, the number of organising staff was incredibly small, and drew primarily on family ties. Mr Neville-Grenville offered the use of the grounds of Butleigh Court and the niece of the Reverend G.W. Berkeley, Mary Albinia Berkeley, wrote the episodes over the winter. Neville-Grenville’s nephew, Daniel Mildred, was employed as the director.
Despite heavy rain during the dress rehearsals, the last of which was witnessed by several thousand schoolchildren from Glastonbury,7 the pageant opened to glorious weather. There had been great interest in the local and even national press, with a number of advertisements for train services to Glastonbury. Tickets sold rapidly and the pageant was almost guaranteed to be a success even before opening.8 The Western Daily Press painted an image of the sleepy village forgotten by time, stressing the contrast with the liveliness and upheaval of the first day of the performance: ‘But yesterday, as with the wave of a magician’s wand, all was altered, and Butleigh roused from its sleepy contentment. The village awoke to find itself invaded by an army of visitors. Strange people filled its usually quiet streets, while streams of motors and every other sort of vehicle converged on the village from every direction.’9 Many other newspapers focused on the bucolic nature of Butleigh as its great attraction Indeed, the venue was almost as important as the performance for some reporters:
Nature herself offers a splendid day-long pageant… and it was a happy thought to revise one of her most beautiful stages a pageant of old and worthy memories and byegone splendour… Deep meadowed, happy, faire, with orchard lawns and bowery hollows, crowned with summer sun, a land as rich in story as in loveliness, the home of hoary legend and inspiring traditions, where every grey stone tells of some stirring deeds and the very air is redolent of romance.10
Many newspapers described the pageant as if history were indeed coming alive. The Daily Chronicle noted that ‘When the players wandered from behind the undergrowth into view it was as though we had been transported backward for a thousand years and had found ourselves in the forest confronting the Britons of another age’, and stressing that despite the modern dress in the stands, from spectators ‘representative and fashionable gathering from all parts of the country’11, ‘it was easy to forget this twentieth century and to go back again to the sixth with these magicians to guide us’.12 Given the fame of nearby Glastonbury’s supposed magical connections, this figure of speech was all the more pertinent.
The story which the pageant told is significant and highly original, described by the Daily News as a depiction ‘through many centuries the part that Glastonbury has played in the rise of England was clearly set forth in a way that the dullest pupil of history could grasp and appreciate.’13 The Pageant was at pains to claim the importance of Glastonbury and the region (Butleigh having little well-known history of its own to speak of) in British history. The pageant explicitly claimed for the area the first coming of Christianity, through the legendary coming of Joseph or Arimathea (the man who donated his tomb to bury Jesus, played by the Vicar) five centuries before Augustine’s arrival in Kent. This is followed by the equally legendary burial of King Arthur at Avalon, believed to be near Glastonbury Abbey and the prediction that he will return. The pageant continues by presenting Alfred’s equally legendary burning of the cakes. Alfred is visited in the scene by the first hero of English literature, Beowulf, before forgiving and welcoming the defeated Viking Guthrum as a Christian ruler over the East of England.
Strikingly, the Pageant is adamant in its rejection of a monarchy going back to the Norman Conquest, and is deeply sceptical of the power of a reigning sovereign to command unlimited authority. Abbot Whyting, who is martyred by Henry VIII, appeals in his trial to the Anglo-Saxon Witana-Germot, claiming the right to the Abbey at Glastonbury predated the Norman Kings and thus is not within Henry’s power to rescind. This line of argumentation was common among many Anglican historians of the Victorian era such as E.A. Freeman, J.R. Green and Bishop Stubbs, who saw the reformation as a dispossession of church lands by a monarch willing to break an inheritance predating the conquest.14 Although Act VI is ostensibly Catholic in its outlook, rejecting the reformation and Protestantism outright, the following Act—‘King Monmouth’—performs the exact opposite. The Duke of Monmouth, who led an unsuccessful rebellion against James II in 1685, is acclaimed as a Protestant hero against a Catholic tyrant. The two scenes are given additional pathos as, despite the pageant’s silence on the matter, it would be well-known in the audience that the Duke’s army was soundly defeated, and many of his men killed or subsequently hanged, at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685. The memories of the brutal repression in the West Country after the crushing of the rebellion retained significant power in popular local memory. Overall, the Pageant stressed that the monarchy’s right to govern was contingent on passing good laws which upheld religious freedoms, a common nonconformist sentiment at the time.
Newspapers were particularly impressed with the calibre of the performances from locals, ‘most of them workers on farms and in a comparatively humble station. Little children and elderly men and women vied with each other for success, and everything was done locally, even to the making of the great array of costumes’,15 with the Times noting that ‘Practically all the villagers assisted in one way or another’ in what it described as ‘an unequivocal success’.16 The Western Chronicle declared, ‘Never was a village pageant more picturesque than the revel at Butleigh’ (though, in actual fact, Butleigh’s was probably the first such instance!)17 The Pageant was a financial success, raising £147 for the hospital and local charities as well as money to recast the church bell.18 The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette was ringing in its endorsement:
‘Well done, Butleigh!’ Must have been the encomium of all who witnessed the pageants at Butleigh Court last week… The Sherborne and Warwick spectacles, from the extensive resources at the command of the promoters, were, of course, more imposing; but, after all, greater credit is due to the Butleigh one, because the materials which made it a success were locally derived.19
Warming to its theme, the newspaper went on to claim that the performances did much to dispel the stereotype of Somerset locals as bucolic rustics:
It is to be hoped that the Butleighans, who have just covered themselves with glory by their masquerading talent, will not exhibit the weakness of considering themselves superior to the dwellers in the other parts of the country…The lesson they have been taught is this, that there is latent in the rural population an ability for taking part in dramatic representations which has not hitherto been suspected.20
Indeed, the Bath Herald was reportedly fuming that Butleigh ‘should have been allowed to take a “rise” out of Bath by carrying through the first pageant, on the Sherborne lines, in the county of Somerset. If Sherborne, Butleigh, and Warwick draw on their local history so effectively, how much more could Bath attract thousands with its historical facts and fancies!’21 The spectacular Bath Pageant of 1909, staged by Frank Lascelles on a far grander scale, can take as its inception the Butleigh Revel.
Although the major Edwardian Pageants were far grander performances with casts of many thousands, the Butleigh Revel demonstrated the willingness of amateurs in small villages across the country to take part in pageants. It also suggested that Louis Napoleon Parker, and his rapidly evolving set of prescriptions and proscriptions, did not offer the only blueprint for successful historical pageantry.
- Wells Journal, 1 November 1906, 5.
- Sir Frederic Leighton, Phoenicians Bartering with Ancient Britons (1895) – mural painting for the Royal Exchange Building, London. See https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/leightonarabhall/paintings/p21.html (accessed 7 October 2016).
- Paul Readman, ‘Commemorating the past in Edwardian Hampshire: King Alfred, Pageantry and Empire’, in Miles Taylor, ed. Southampton: Gateway to the Empire (London, 2007), 95-113.
- Mick Wallis, ‘Drama in the Villages: Three Pioneers’, in Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Lynne Thompson, eds., The English Countryside Between the Wars: Regeneration Or Decline? (Woodbridge, 2007), 102–115.
- ‘Souvenir Gazette’, in Central Somerset Gazette, 23 June 1906, cited in R.C. Senior, The Butleigh Revel 1906 (Butleigh, 2011), 200.
- Senior, Butleigh Revel, 3.
- Ibid., 196.
- ‘Souvenir Gazette’, in Central Somerset Gazette, 23 June 1906, cited in Senior, Butleigh Revel, 201; Wells Journal, 14 June 1906, 4.
- Western Daily Press, 20 June 1906, 8.
- Daily Chronicle, 19 June 1906, quoted in Senior, Butleigh Revel, 198.
- Western Daily Press, 21 June 1906, 10.
- Daily Chronicle, 19 June 1906, quoted in Senior, Butleigh Revel, 199.
- London Daily News, 20 June 1906, 9.
- James Kirby, Historians and the Church of England Religion and Historical Scholarship, 1870-1920 (Oxford, 2016).
- Daily Chronicle, 19 June 1906, quoted in Senior, Butleigh Revel, 200.
- The Times, 21 June 1906, 5.
- Western Chronicle, 22 June 1906, 5.
- Wells Journal, 30 May 1907, 8.
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 28 June 1906, 5.
- Bath Herald, nd., quoted in Senior, Butleigh Revel, 201.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Butleigh Revel’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1268/