The Pageant Masque of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall
Place: Grounds of Blickling Hall (Blickling) (Blickling, Norfolk, England)
Number of performances: 3
6–8 August 1925
[All three performances were held in the afternoon.]
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Monck, Nugent
- Organizer: Rev. W. Hildyard
- Music Director: Mr A. Guest Smith
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
Names of composers
Numbers of performers200
Object of any funds raised
In aid of the Aylsham Schools Repair Fund
- Grandstand: No
- Grandstand capacity: n/a
- Total audience: n/a
Seating for 600
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
Anne enters with retainer, maids and soldiers. She has returned from France and is greeted by retainers.
The figure of Indolence enters. She is a girl in dirty rags decorated by snail shells, followed by other sins; she encourages Anne to be indolent. Ambition (dressed as an Amazon) and Selfishness likewise encourage her to follow their particular vices. Fear and Convention try and restrain her hopes and warn her of the perils ahead. Pride and Covetousness likewise attempt to sway her, as do Envy, Gluttony, Folly, Wrath and so on. They dance off and Sir Harry Percy rides up preceded by Cupid. Percy woos her. Villagers enter dancing, followed by an old man who wishes her well. The villagers give her gifts of lavender, spices, ale, cheese, etc. Sir Thomas, Anne’s father, greets Percy as a future son-in-law, as well as the other guests. Anne greets her father.
Wolsey and Cromwell then arrive with a retinue of priests and soldiers, greeting Sir Thomas and Anne. Wolsey talks of the King’s unhappy marriage and suggests that the marriage between Percy and Anne will displease the King. He speaks of Henry’s desire for Anne, without ever having seen her (Wolsey claims the King has a magic mirror). Sir Thomas is sceptical and wishes he had heard of the King’s designs sooner. Sir Thomas is willing to break the match but Wolsey warns this will only drive the lovers together. Cromwell phlegmatically suggests not tampering with fate. Barlow, a wicked priest, suggests making Anne believe that Percy is being untrue. Wolsey likes Barlow’s plan, though Sir Thomas does not.
They are disrupted by the noise of a rabble rescuing a poacher from the huntsmen. The Poacher is brought to the house and defends himself due to his poverty. Wolsey accuses the man of being a Lollard and orders him to be hanged. The Poacher is bound and taken away, to be executed the following day. The Mummers Play of St George and the Dragon is performed for Wolsey by villagers.
After the play, Barlow, disguised as a witch, offers to tell Anne’s fortune. Barlow tells Anne that her lover is fickle. The guests go for dinner. Percy asks why Anne is distracted. She answers that ‘when the sun goes in the world / Is filled with shadows, and I fear my own.’ [The Pageant Masque of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall (Aylsham, 1925), 21.]
Lady Boleyn enters with Maids and Ladies. They discuss the strange voices of the previous night, heard during a sudden storm, as well as other signs of supernatural goings-on, strange dreams and so-forth. Wolsey, Percy, Sir Thomas and other gentlemen enter. Due to last night’s storm they cannot go hawking. Percy admits the storm filled him with dread. The Poacher’s young daughter appears complaining of poverty. Percy attempts to give her money and speaks with her when Anne arrives. The daughter begs for the Poacher’s life. Anne takes this the wrong way and approaches, believing the worst. Percy pleads his innocence whilst Anne is haughty and highly sceptical.
The Poacher is brought in. Percy pleads with Sir Thomas for the Poacher’s life, saying he was once a good soldier, fallen on hard times. Sir Thomas does not think so, but Barlow encourages clemency. Percy offers his finest hawk for the man’s life. Wolsey, who is currently indisposed, sends notice that he cares not if the man lives or dies. The Poacher is released and Barlow encourages the girl to show her gratitude. She is very unsure of this.
Wolsey enters and the children perform a dance. Barlow, again disguised as a witch, convinces Anne of Percy’s ill-intentions with the girl who is very vociferously thanking her. The Poacher, whom Anne questioned, is convinced that the girl traded something for her father’s liberty. Anne bemoans her fate. Sir Thomas asks her what’s wrong and the crowd claim they saw her with a witch, chasing Barlow. Sir Thomas’s men intervene to allow Barlow to escape and there is a fracas. Wolsey stops the crowd with various threats.
A herald arrives to announce the King’s arrival. Anne admits that this makes her blood run cold. The King’s party enters. Wolsey informs the King that their plan has worked perfectly and they make ribald comments about Anne. Anne is introduced to the king who praises her and dances a pavane.
Folly and all the other Vices enter and dance around. Folly is crowned King and they return into the house, shutting out Love who goes away crying.
Key historical figures mentioned
- Boleyn, Thomas, earl of Wiltshire and
earl of Ormond (1476/7–1539) courtier and nobleman
- Percy, Henry Algernon, sixth earl of
Northumberland (c.1502–1537) magnate
- Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen
of England, second consort of Henry VIII
- Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in
or before 1485, d. 1540) royal minister
Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- The Pageant Masque of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall. Aylsham, 1925.
Other primary published materials
References in secondary literature
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Copy of Programme in Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norwich Millennium Library, Reference BLI 791.62
- Other material relating to the Pageant is available in the Aylsham Town Archives.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Pageant Masque of Anne Boleyn was first staged at Blickling Hall in 1909, shortly after Nugent Monck’s first pageant in Norfolk, which saw his longstanding engagement with the dramatic life of the county, producing Pageants in Norwich in 1912 and 1926.1 Monck formed the Guild of Norwich Players in late 1910 for ‘the presentation of Mysteries, Moralities and Plays of Merit’, which was later housed in a disused Roman Catholic Chapel, converted into a replica Elizabethan stage, called the Maddermarket which was opened in 1921.2 This company was responsible for restaging the Pageant Masque of Blickling Hall in 1925, at the behest of the Rev. W. Hildyard with the aim of raising money to repair local schools.3
The Pageant was held at the probable birthplace of Anne Boleyn, where the scene or those similar may, or may not, have taken place.4 Whilst it is true that Anne was briefly associated with Henry Percy, Sixth Earl of Northumberland, who had caused her to break a prior engagement, her father and Wolsey succeeded in breaking the match due to dynastic reasons; other suitors included the poet Thomas Wyatt. The scene represented is thus a truncation of the events which happened between her return from France around 1521 and her appearance at court in 1522, though her biographer E.W. Ives has suggested that Henry paid no attention to her until around 1526. More problematic was the fact that Percy was engaged in an affair with Anne’s sister, Mary. The material for the masque draws most heavily on George Cavendish’s biography of Thomas Wolsey (first published 1641 but written in 1554–58), and depicts the two innocent lovers corrupted by the machinations of the fates (personified as various vices and virtues), as well as by the court intrigue of Wolsey and Anne’s father. Anne was, in the words of the Times, which covered the Pageant in detail, ‘a victim of Ambition and Destiny.’5
The entire neighbourhood, ‘stirred from its unwonted quietude, is talking of the pageant, and those who were not there yesterday are intending to go to-day or to-morrow’, the Times reported.6 It went on to praise the wide cast, which naturally included members of the Boleyn family, noting that ‘Among the actors also, are local clergymen, political candidates, soldiers of distinction, and humbler local people with long local pedigrees’.7 Monck himself played a small part. Particular compliments were offered to Mrs Geoffrey Holmes, who took the role of Anne Boleyn: ‘Without seeming to force any tone or gesture she gives full expressiveness to all and does not so much play the part as live in it.’8 The Stage agreed with this sentiment, stating that Holmes, ‘a popular member of the Norwich Players, was successfully cast for the role of Anne Boleyn. She acted with considerable charm and understanding, and she spoke her lines with commendable clearness.’9 The first performance was ‘a conspicuous success, despite a sharp storm that interrupted the proceedings.’10 This was not lost on the Diss Express, who saw the weather serendipitously echoing the pageant itself:
a sudden thunderstorm darkened the ancient trees beneath which the players of to-day were portraying the happenings of four hundred years ago. Critical observers were not slow to draw a parallel between the thunderstorm and that which it is stated occurred when Henry VIII was listening for the signal guns that would announce the execution of his Queen. The Players gave a splendid historical representation of their parts. The production was magnificently dressed.11
The Pageant was an evident success, and was again revived in 1938. In 2009, an exhibition was held at Blickling Hall celebrating the centenary of the first Pageant, and featuring material from all three performances.12
Eric Salmon, ‘Monck, (Walter) Nugent Bligh (1878–1958)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 24 October 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/57168
The Times, 7 August 1925, 10.
E.W. Ives, ‘Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 25 October 2016, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/557?docPos=1
The Times, 7 August 1925, 10.
The Stage, 13 August 1925, 21.
Diss Express, 7 August 1925, 5.
Ben Miller, ‘Masque of Anne Boleyn returns to Blickling Hall in centenary exhibition’, 9 March 2009, Culture 24, accessed 25 October 2016, http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/art66617; ‘Blickling Marks its Anne Boleyn Links’, North Norfolk News, 11 March 2009, accessed 25 October 2016, http://www.northnorfolknews.co.uk/news/blickling_marks_its_anne_boleyn_links_1_533648
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant Masque of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1405/