Exeter Fete and the Pageant of ‘A Pitiful Queene’

Other names

  • An Episode in the Civil War, June 30th, 1644

Pageant type

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Place: Palace Grounds (Exeter) (Exeter, Devon, England)

Year: 1932

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


17–18 June 1932, at 2.45pm and 7.30pm

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Author and Producer [Pageant Master]: Kelly, Mary
  • Stage-Manager: Mr V. Arnold Riley
  • Mistress of the Robes: Miss C. Radford
  • Mistress of the Music: Miss K. Martin
  • Seller: Mrs Percival Jackson
  • Uniforms: Chas. Fox, Ltd.
  • Wigs: “Bert”
  • Costumes: from the British Drama League


Mrs Percival Jackson was "Seller of the Pageant"; presumably she was responsible for the sale of tickets.

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Executive Committee

  • Chairman: The Lady Florence Cecil
  • Hon. Secretary: Mrs Worthington
  • Dame Georgiana Buller
  • Miss Buckingham
  • Mrs Samuelsom
  • Mrs Edwards
  • Miss Edwards
  • Miss Vyvyan
  • Mrs Saumarez
  • Mrs Brian Miller
  • Miss Chichester
  • Mrs Rackwood Cocks
  • Miss Cecily Radford
  • Mrs Kingsford
  • Miss Boles
  • Mrs H. Rowe
  • Mrs Donald Wilson
  • Mrs A.C. Thomas
  • Miss R. Harding
  • Mrs Kenneth Gatey
  • Mrs Arthur Brock
  • Mrs Delpratt Harris
  • Mrs A.H. Thompson
  • Mrs Botwood
  • Mrs Gamble
  • The Hon. Mrs J. Trefusis
  • Mrs J. Howard Wippell
  • Rev. Arthur Johnston
  • Mr C.A.T. Fursdon
  • Mr C.H. Stokes
  • Mr Feathersone
  • Mr Hopping
  • Mr H. Rice
  • Rev. J.A. Goundry
  • Mr J.H. Wippell

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

Kelly, Mary

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


Financial information

The Pageant and Fete made a profit of £430, with expenses at around £140.1

Object of any funds raised

In aid of St. Loye’s Heavitree Building Fund

Linked occasion


Audience information

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

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

Associated events

  • A fete with various seventeenth-century themed stalls. 
  • An exhibition of the cathedral treasures. 
  • A production of A. A. Milne’s play, The Man in the Bowler Hat.

Pageant outline

'A Pitiful Queene'; An Episode in the Civil War, June 30th, 1644

This pageant seems to have had one substantive episode.

As described in the pageant programme, 

This play shows a brief incident in the Civil Wars. The Queen, Henrietta Maria of France, had fled to Exeter from Oxford before the birth of a child, because she feared that the Parliamentary army were about to besiege the latter city. She arrived seriously ill, and on June 16th 1644, the baby was born, who afterwards became Henrietta Anne, Duchess of Orleans. 

The King’s Physician Sir Theodore Mayerne joined her there. The Earl of Essex, determined to take the Queen prisoner, attacked the city. The Queen begged Essex to allow her to go to Bath for her health but he refused, offering her safe conduct to London instead. The Queen escaped to Cornwall, staying in Pendennis Castle before leaving for France.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
  • Mayerne, Sir Theodore Turquet de (1573–1655) physician
  • Berkeley, John, first Baron Berkeley of Stratton (bap. 1607, d. 1678) royalist army officer and courtier [also known as Berkley, John]

Musical production

Music performed by a ladies’ chamber orchestra

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Western Morning News and Daily Gazette
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Book of words


None available, though the programme suggests one was printed.

Other primary published materials


Exeter Fete and the Pageant of 'A Pitiful Queene'; An Episode in the Civil War, June 30th, 1644 [Programme]. Exeter, 1932.

References in secondary literature

  • Kosugi, Sei. ‘Representing Nation and Nature: Woolf, Kelly, White’. In Locating Woolf: The Politics of Space and Place, edited by A. Snaith and M. Whitworth, 81–98. Basingstoke, 2007. At 89
  • Wallis, Mick. ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre’, New Theatre Quarterly, 16 (2000), 347–58.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter. Copy of programme and a newspaper cutting, reference 3052Z/18-19

Sources used in preparation of pageant



‘A Pitiful Queene’ was probably Mary Kelly’s largest pageant, and certainly her only one held in a city or a large town. Mary Kelly (1888–1951) founded the Village Dramatic Society in 1919 in her native Devon, though in its early years the society performed mostly religious plays often in local dialect and preserving folk traditions. Kelly’s first pageant was at Selborne (1926), followed by Rillington (1927), Bradstone (1929), Launceston (1931) and Bude (1932). Exeter was one of her last major pageants.3 She also wrote the book How To Make a Pageant (1936), drawing on her own experiences, which presented the pageant as a disappearing tradition thanks to the lure of modern commercial mass entertainment.

The Pageant was held to raise funds for the church of St. Loye’s in Exeter. As the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette explained:

Churchpeople in all parts of Devon have lent support to the fete and pageant being held in the beautiful grounds of the Bishop’s Palace at Exeter in an endeavour to clear off the debt on the temporary church of St. Loye’s, in the Burnt House-lane district. The erection of the church was necessary to minister to the spiritual needs of the largely increased population in the expanding parish of Heavitree.4

Like many interwar pageants, the pageant focused on the need to build churches. Opening the ceremony, Lord Mamhead declared that

The history of England might be read in the churches which had been built all through the ages and which were scattered over the whole country. Generation after generation had done their share in providing these memories of their lifetime here, and evidences of their hopes of the life to come. It was the duty of them all as populations increased and needs became greater to see that the people of to-day also had these shrines where blessing and beauty and inspiration could be taught.5

The pageant, uncharacteristic for only featuring one scene, represented a growing willingness to portray the upheavals of the Civil War, and to portray them in a highly partisan manner. In fact, Louis Napoleon Parker omitted Civil War scenes from his pageants for fear of sparking lingering local resentments.6 Across the West Country, which had seen heavy fighting, the Civil War was a prominent factor in many pageants, told from strikingly different perspectives. The Bath Pageant (1909) had depicted the battle of Lansdown and the slaughter of Royalists from a sympathetic perspective. By contrast, Bristol in its 1914 and 1924 pageants told the story of the city’s resistance to Prince Rupert and Royalist forces, aided by the refusal of Puritan women to heed the garrison’s decision to surrender.

Whilst Exeter’s Civil War sympathies were mixed, given the number of Puritans who had lived in the town, and the subsequent numbers of nonconformists (who, even in the twentieth century, tended to see Cromwell and the Roundheads as illustrious forebears), the overwhelmingly Anglican setting of the Pageant, in the grounds of the cathedral palace, and its strong links to the cathedral—the chairman Lady Cecil was wife of the Bishop of Exeter—meant that the Pageant could tell an entirely partisan story.7 The narrative focused on the story of the pregnant Catholic Queen of England, Henrietta Maria, fleeing from Oxford to Exeter only to come under threat from forces led by the Earl of Essex who besieged the town hoping to capture the queen and infant as a bargaining tool to end hostilities. Having given birth to a baby girl, and entrusted it to Anne Villiers, the Queen then fled into Cornwall before sailing for France where she would stay for the next fifteen years—never, as the pageant makes clear, seeing her husband again.8

‘Glorious weather favoured the opening ceremony’, although Miss Irene Vanburgh, the famous actress, had to pull out of playing the part of Henrietta Maria at the last moment.9 The Bishop of Exeter, William Cecil declared that:

he wished every child, before beginning to read history, could see well-organised and carefully-produced pageants, so that they could approach the subject with the figures in their minds of the people they read about. He had noticed in his youth, and it was the same with children of the present day, that young people never had in their mental eye any of the characters of which they read. That was sometimes the fault of the books, sometimes of the teachers, but very often the fault of the system. There was not clearly enough attention paid to teaching by the eye. In the child visual imagination was far greater developed than the oral imagination. They rarely forgot something they had seen. It could be truthfully said that pageants like that were the very best and highest form of education.10

Whether or not Cecil wanted to imprint a particular view of the past, focusing on Queens as heroines and Parliament as tyrannous is unclear. Nonetheless, Cecil’s calls for a new type of schooling resonated with a new generation of schoolteachers and historians such as Rhoda Power or Peter and Marjorie Quennell, who looked for new ways of teaching history which was more immediate and familiar to children, where people’s everyday lives replaced the abstract remembering of dates and names.11 Clearly, the pageant, which turned the Civil War into a particularly human story of a pregnant woman fleeing persecution, would have been particularly strong.

The Pageant was a great success, making £430 in profit, with expenses of around a third of that figure, a financial outcome which the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette declared to be ‘a tribute to the businesslike manner in which the event was organised.’12 Mary Kelly continued to work in Devon and the West Country, in 1939 joining the University College of the South West rural extension scheme, and gaining a post as Director of Drama for the Devon County Committee for Music and Drama the following year.13


  1. ^ Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 8 July 1932, 11.
  2. ^ Exeter Fete and the Pageant of “A Pitiful Queene”; An Episode in the Civil War, June 30th, 1644 (Exeter, 1932), 19.
  3. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Kelly, Mary Elfreda (1888–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 January 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/69833?docPos=1; Mick Wallis, ‘Drama in the Villages: Three Pioneers’, in The English Countryside Between the Wars: Regeneration Or Decline? ed. Paul Brassley, Jeremy Burchardt and Lynne Thompson (Woodbridge, 2007), 102–15. See also the interesting blogpost by Julie Sampson, accessed 7 January 2016, http://scrapblogfromthesouth-west.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/mary-kelly-devons-c1920-village.html.
  4. ^ Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 18 June 1932, 7.
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ Ayako Yoshino, Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England (Tokyo, 2011), 165-8.
  7. ^ Ibid.
  8. ^ Caroline M. Hibbard, ‘Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Entry, accessed 13 July 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12947?docPos=1
  9. ^ Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 18 June 1932, 7.
  10. ^ Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 June 1932, 7.
  11. ^ David Cannadine, Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon, The Right Kind of History: Teaching the Past in Twentieth-Century England (Basingstoke, 2011); Laura Carter, 'The Quennells and the ‘History of Everyday Life’ in England, c. 1918–69', History Workshop Journal, 81 (2016), 106-34.
  12. ^ Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 8 July 1932, 11.
  13. ^ Mick Wallis, ‘Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre’, New Theatre Quarterly, 16 (2000), 357.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Exeter Fete and the Pageant of ‘A Pitiful Queene’’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1278/