Oxford Historical Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Magdalen College School (Oxford) (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England)

Year: 1907

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 6


The specific location of the pageant was where the River Cherwell passed near the end of the Broad Walk.

27 June–3 July 1907

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Master of the Pageant [Pageant Master]: Lascelles, Frank
  • Stage Manager: John Douglass, Esq.
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Messrs A.E. Court; B. Barton; C. Vernon
  • Master of the Music: H.P. Allen, Esq., MA, DMus
  • Music Committee: J. Varley Roberts, Esq., DMus; A. Wiblin, Esq.; H.B. Wilsdon, Esq.
  • Master of the Robes: Dion Clayton Calthrop, Esq.
  • Artists: Messrs J. Byam Shaw, RI; C. Ricketts; J.R. Skelton; G.A. Pownall; Misses Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale; Margaret Fletcher; Evelyn Lomax
  • Special Advisers:
  • Dramatic: H. Beerbohm Tree, Esq.; Arthur Bourchier, Esq., MA; H.B. Irving, Esq., MA; W.J. Morris, Esq., MA
  • Musical: Sir Hubert Parry, Bar, MA, DMus, Hon DCL, CVO
  • Heraldry: Sir A.S. Scott-Gatty, FSA, CVO, Garter Principal at Arms
  • Armour: The Rt Hon Viscount Dillon, MA, FSA
  • Ecclesiastical Vestments: Rev F.E. Brightman, MA, Vice-President of Magdalen College
  • Academic and Civic Robes: F. Madan, Esq., MA, FSA; Joseph Wells, Esq., MA
  • Honorary Secretaries: Captain Coulson, JP; Councillor G. Claridge Druce, MA, Ex-Mayor of Oxford

Names of executive committee or equivalent

Finance Committee:

  • Chairman: The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Oxford (Councillor E.J. Brooks)
  • Treasurer: The Deputy-Mayor of Oxford (Councillor Francis Twining)
  • Vice-Chairman: The Sheriff of Oxford (Councillor S. Hutchins)

Masters of Ceremonies:

  • Chairman: W.F. Cooper, Esq.
  • Stephen M. Burrows, Esq., MA
  • Desmond Core, Esq.
  • H.E. Counsell, Esq., FRCS
  • Sir Roger Curtis
  • J.M. Eldridge, Esq.
  • W.P. Ellis, Esq.
  • H.G. Farmer, Esq.
  • Councillor W.E. Fayers
  • G. Gardiner, Esq.
  • A.D. Godley, Esq., MA
  • Rev J. Stuart Hay, BA
  • R. Hitchings, Esq.
  • H.P. Riley, Esq.
  • Captain R.S. Rowell
  • Rev E.F. Smith

Consultative Committee:

  • Chairman: C. Oman, Esq., MA, FSA, FBA, Chichele Professor of Modern History
  • Hon Sec: F. Madan, Esq., MA, FSA, Sub-Librarian of the Bodleian
  • The Rt Hon Viscount Dillon, MA, FSA, Curator of the Tower Armouries, Trustee of the British Museum, and of the National Portrait Gallery
  • Cyril Bailey, Esq., MA Fellow and Tutor of Balliol
  • C. Raymond Beazley, Esq., MA, FRGS, Sub-Warden of Merton
  • Rev F.E. Brightman, MA, Vice-President of Magdalen
  • Rev Andrew Clark, MA, LLD, Hon Fellow of Lincoln
  • Arthur J. Evans, Esq., MA, D Litt, LLD, FRS, FSA, FBA, Keeper of the Ashmolean
  • C.H. Firth, Esq., MA, LLD, FBA, Regius Professor of Modern History
  • A.D. Godley, Esq., MA, Fellow and Tutor of Magdalen
  • Rev W.H. Hutton, MA, BD, Fellow and Tutor of St John’s
  • J.A.R. Marriott, Esq., MA, FSA, Student and Tutor of Christ Church
  • R. Lane Poole, Esq., MA, FBA, Fellow of Magdalen
  • R.S. Rait, Esq., MA, Fellow of New College, Secretary of the Oxford Historical Society
  • W.A. Raleigh, Esq.., MA, DLitt, Professor of English Literature
  • Rev Hastings Rashdall, MA, DLitt, Fellow and Tutor of New College
  • C. Grant Robertson, Esq., MA, Fellow of All Souls
  • E. De Selincourt, Esq., MA, DLitt, University Lecturer in Modern English Literature
  • Rev E.M. Walker, MA, Fellow and Tutor of Queen’s
  • Joseph Wells, Esq., MA, Fellow and Tutor of Wadham

Ladies’ General Committee:

  • 76 women

Audit Committee:

  • 8 men

Ampitheatre Committee:

  • Chairman: W.P. Ellis, Esq., MD
  • 15 men

Performers’ Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor S.M. Acott
  • 25 men

Horse Committee:

  • Chairman: Councillor J. Hastings
  • H.J. Fletcher
  • 22 men

Press Committee:

  • 10 men


Patrons: TRH Prince and Princess of Wales; HRH Princess Royal and the Duke of Fife, KG; TRH The Prince and Princess Christian; HRH Princess Louise and the Duke of Argyll; HRH The Duchess of Albany; Leading members of the university, city, and county.

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

  • Housman, Laurence
  • Bridges, Robert
  • Binyon, Laurence
  • Oman, Charles
  • Godley, A.D.
  • Raleigh, W.A.
  • Fagan, James B.
  • Wordsworth, Elizabeth
  • Weyman, Stanley
  • Shakespeare, William


  • Laurence Housman, Esq. (St Frideswide)
  • Robert Bridges, Esq., MA, MB (Theobaldus Stampensis)
  • Laurence Binyon, Esq., BA (Henry II and Fair Rosamund)
  • C. Oman, Esq., MA, FSA, FBA (Friar [Roger] Bacon)
  • A.D. Godley, Esq., MA. (St Scholastica’s Day)
  • W.A. Raleigh, Esq., MA, DLitt (Masque of the Mediaeval Curriculum)
  • James B. Fagan, Esq. (Henry VIII and Wolsey)
  • Miss Elizabeth Wordsworth (James I, AD 1605)
  • Stanley Weyman, Esq., BA (Magdalen College and James II)
  • William Shakespeare (James I scene—Macbeth Act IV Scene I)

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


300 horses.

Financial information

The receipts amounted to £14874. 15s. 4d. After the payment of all expenses there was a net balance of £659.

Object of any funds raised

In aid of the Radcliffe Infirmary and Oxford Eye Hospital.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 5000
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. The Legend of St Frideswide. The Beginnings of the City, c. AD 727

The pageant opens with the Legend of St Frideswide. The scene is the riverbank, with sheep being driven to pens and fishermen mending their nets. A shepherd alerts his companions to a boat full of women coming around the bend of the river, seemingly being chased. They pull the boat ashore. Frideswide, daughter of Didan, King of the Mercians, an overlord of the district, is fleeing with her maidens from the neighbouring Prince, Algar, Earl of Leicester, whom she has rejected. The peasants give her shelter. Two galleys soon arrive, manned with armed warriors, and led by Algar. The fishermen try to stop Algar, but he forces his way to Frideswide. She begs heaven for protection; immediately, a flash of lightning strikes Algar blind. Overwhelmed, Algar now pleads with Frideswide to help him. She forgives at once and joins him in prayer in asking for Heaven's forgiveness. His sight is miraculously restored; he lays his sword, crown, and jewels on his shield, which his armour bearer carries, and vows to build upon the spot a convent for the safe housing of the Princess (which, in future, formed the beginnings of the City of Oxford). Frideswide predicts the future glory of Oxford and prophesies of its greatness. She is then carried away in a wagon accompanied by nuns who already had a house nearby. Algar, in awe, leaves with his warriors.

Episode II. The Coronation of Harold Harefoot, AD 1036

Harold Harefoot was the only King to be crowned at Oxford. A choir processes in, followed by a procession of acolytes, carrying flaming candles and swinging fragrant censers of incense. Then follow the Bishops, in their copes with croziers in their hands, and then the old Archbishop of Canterbury, his hand raised in blessing as he passes through the courtiers. Finally Harold appears, carried on a shield above the shoulders of his thanes. The crowd roars as Harold is led by the Archbishop and presented to his people. He kneels before the altar and is anointed, and invested with the sword, the sceptre, and the virge. Finally, Harold is crowned by the Archbishop. Harold is led back to the throne, and nobles come forward to pay homage. Harold then leaves, passing beneath an arch formed of the nobles’ swords.

Episode III. Theobaldus Stampenis. The Beginnings of the University, c. AD 1110

Theobaldus Stampensis, a priest from Caen, arrives with a band of poor scholars, coming to Oxford due to its reputation as a place of learning. Monks enter and recognise Theobaldus as a man who ‘reviles’ their order. Theobald boldly ignores the angry monks and accuses them of being lazy and greedy. Citizens prevent Theobaldus from being attacked by the monks, who are eventually driven off. Theobaldus begins to teach the eager citizens. He relates a vision he has had, of a glorious and beautiful city, full of scholars and learning. He also predicts, however, a great riot, disputes, and an innocent man burned alive. He finally predicts, to the amazed crowd, himself speaking to them, before a great audience sat as if in a theatre (i.e. the pageant scene taking place). He then instructs them to follow him to lay the foundations of a school to make the city glorious.

Episode IV. Henry II and Fair Rosamund, c. AD 1160

‘Fair Rosamund’ is seen beneath the trees on the bank of the river, while nuns pass by in a long procession on the opposite bank. The King and Thomas Becket ride up. Henry tries to dissuade Rosamund from joining the convent at Godstow but is interrupted by the approach of the Queen with knights and ladies. The Mayor and Corporation of Oxford then enter; the King presents to them their charter of rights and privileges. By this time Rosamund has reached the further bank and has been received by the waiting nuns, and Henry, when the Queen's procession has left, sees Rosamund disappear forever.

Episode V. Friar [Roger] Bacon, c. AD 1270

Friar [Roger] Bacon, one of Oxford's first and most famous students of science, and a successful inventor, enters. The Friar presents to amazed onlookers a human head in brass, which he assures them will answer any question put to it. He then climbs aboard a medieval contraption of a motor car, which actually breaks down. He is finally pushed away on the ‘car’ by the delighted townspeople.

Episode VI. St Scholastica's Day. (The Struggle between Town and Gown), AD 1354

The St Scholastica's Day riot of 1354 was one of the most serious ‘town and gown’ conflicts. It arose out of a tavern brawl during a religious festival, actually beginning over a dispute about the quality of the wine. A hasty scholar is the one who makes the remark; the barkeep resents it; and the townsmen join the fray. The scholars rush to help their comrades. The fight becomes serious, until the townsmen, led by a leader bearing a black flag, sweeps the scholars from the field. At a later point, the Chancellor of the University, with a body of armed men, orders the leading townsmen to appear before him. He pronounces a sentence of penance, ordered by the King. The humbled townsmen kneel before the Chancellor and meekly accept their punishment, making the town subservient to the university.

Masque of the Mediaeval Learning.

A student goes out in search of Good Learning. After conversing with the Seven Liberal Arts and the Three Philosophies, he feels equally attracted to Theology, Law and Medicine. But finally, with some reluctance, he chooses Theology. His companion, on the other hand, is fascinated by the pleasure and joy of life, and is instead overwhelmed by the Temptations which beset the path of Youth.

Episode VII. Wolsey Receives Henry VIII at Oxford, AD 1518

The scene begins with a humorous debate among scholars and clerks about what sort of play should be presented to the King—and whether it should be in Greek, Latin, French, or English. Other japes take place, providing a comedic beginning to the episode. A procession of dignitaries and ecclesiastics then enters, including Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. They have come out to honour Henry, who is with his Queen, Catherine of Aragon. The King is in Oxford to hear from the Cardinal about the details of his scheme for supressing the smaller monasteries and for establishing with their endowments a foundation to be called Cardinal College. Preceded by archers, heralds and trumpeters, the King and Queen arrive from Abingdon on horseback, and enter preceded by a train of courtiers on foot. After the formal reception, where Wolsey and the King happily greet each other, a merry scene takes place:

‘The Coming Chivalry’ [A play performed for Henry VIII—it seems that much of this, if not all, was cut for the actual performances.]

This play-within-the-play shows a young Knight on a hobby horse meeting a Spirit of the Age. He seeks adventure; she seeks truth. She informs him that the honour is in the quest, not the finding. She waves her torch and brings forward a vision of a castle surrounded by glorious nature. She tells the Knight he must make this his home: the Castle Industry. But first he must rescue a damsel from Dragon Ignorance. Eschewing weapons, he instead dons a scholar’s cap and gown, and uses a book blazened with the University’s arms for a shield. The Dragon Ignorance enters, breathing fire from his nostrils. He saves the damsel, Knowledge, and defeats the Dragon. The Castle Industry slowly moves out of scene.

Wolsey reappears and is about to lead the King to St Frideswide’s, when he sees the monarch in animated conversation with Ann Bullen [Boleyn]. Locals whisper and watch. Catherine interrupts Henry, and he is led off by the Cardinal as the crowds cheer.

Episode VIII. The Funeral of Amy Robsart, AD 1556

A choir chants solemnly as a long and stately procession, garbed in black, enters to honour Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Lord Dudley, afterwards Earl of Leicester. The procession is on its way to St Mary’s Church. [The interest in Amy’s death is due to her being neglected by her husband, who was a favourite of the Queen, and her dying in mysterious circumstances. Dudley did not even attend the funeral.]

Episode IX. The State Progress of Queen Elizabeth I, AD 1566

A trumpet fanfare announces the approach of Queen Elizabeth on a state progress. Welcoming the Queen is the Earl of Leicester, the Chancellor of the University. Walking before him are the Esquire Bedels carrying gold staves, and beside the Earl are the Doctors of the University in scarlet robes. Eight bearers carry the Queen, shoulder high, in a litter covered with gold cloth. All around the litter there is a laughing crowd of courtiers. The Chancellor salutes the Queen, kneels, and kisses the hand held out to him. The civic authorities come forward, the mace is delivered up to the Queen, and she is presented with a cup in finely wrought silver, double gilt and filled with golden coins. The Royal procession passes on to the Cathedral through an avenue of kneeling scholars, who shout ‘Vivat Regina’; the gratified Elizabeth responds graciously with ‘Gratias ago, Gratias ago.’ As the procession passes out of sight the chanting of the ‘Te Deum’ is heard.

Episode X. Visit of James I, AD 1605. [Includes Macbeth Act IV Scene 1.]

In anticipation of the Royal visit, Oxford is in a state of excitement. Lord Bacon and Sir Thomas Bodley talk in the street, where, outside St John's College, a temporary stage has been erected. The stage-management is done by William Shakespeare. The Royal party appears on horseback, escorted by a detachment of cavalry, and supported by a brilliant court. They stop to watch a performance of the Witches Scene from Macbeth.

Episode XI. Charles I. at Oxford. The Happy Days, AD 1636

Ladies and courtiers are sitting and laughing by the riverbank. Strains of music can be heard in the distance; a state barge comes into sight, with minstrels on its deck. The boat carries King Charles I, Henrietta Maria, his Queen, their children the Princes Charles and James, and Princess Mary. The barge comes to the shore, and the Royal party is received by Archbishop Laud, President of St John's College, and the other Heads of Houses and officials of the University. A pavane is danced before the royal visitors to the music of the band of musicians half hidden beneath the shade of the trees. The barge is then rowed away.

Episode XII. The Early Days of the Civil War, AD 1643

King Charles rides out to meet his Queen on her arrival from the North. She is met by her consort on horseback. They receive news of the Royalist victory on Roundway Down. Despite the uncertainty of the War, the scene is a cheerful one. The King dismounts and enters the Queen’s coach. A procession is formed from the respective escorts, the heralds and trumpeters, the pikemen and musketeers, and the cavalcade. With flags flying, and the beating of drums, they make a triumphal progress into the City.

Episode XIII. The Surrender of Oxford, AD 1646

A Psalm is chanted by the victorious Puritan soldiers. The Royal troops, in battle array, are led out by Sir Thomas Glemham, having surrendered rather than allow the city to suffer further siege. Despite the surrender, it is made clear that the city is antipathetic to the followers of Cromwell, their sympathies always lying with the cavaliers.

Episode XIV. The Expulsion of the Fellows of Magdalen by James II, AD 1687.

The King arrives with a small escort of cavalry, and is received with diplomatic courtesy by the City and University. White-robed maidens scatter flowers before the King and his soldiers, and the Waits (local musicians employed by town authorities) of the City make their best efforts to do him honour. Constables of the various parishes, and representatives of the various city guilds (the Glovers, the Cordwainers, the Tailors and the Mercers) enter, preceded by signs bearing the arms of their companies. The crowd gathers round, and the King touches sufferers of ‘the King’s evil’ [scrofula]. The fellows of Magdalen are summoned and told they must send away the President they have chosen for themselves, the Protestant Dr Hough. In his place they are told to accept the Royal nominee, Mr Farmer, a Roman Catholic. With due respect, but firmly, the Fellows stand by their constitutional rights, but the King's command of expulsion is carried into effect.

Episode XV. Scene in the Eighteenth Century [St Giles’ Fair], AD 1785

The County gentry and the sedan chairs of the townspeople gather, as stalls and shows are set up. King George III arrives on the river in the Royal Barge. Handel's ‘Water Music’ can be heard as the barge approaches, while the crowd watches excitedly. The King alights with his Queen and family, and passes through the crowds of loyal subjects. The Fair then carries on. Away in the distance the chant from the early Frideswide Scene can be heard; one after another, the figures from the 1000 years of the pageant’s history assemble.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Frithuswith [St Frithuswith, Frideswide] (d. 727) abbess of Oxford
  • Ælfgifu [Ælfgifu of Northampton] (fl. 1006–1036) first consort of King Cnut
  • Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057) magnate
  • Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman
  • Siward, earl of Northumbria (d. 1055) magnate
  • Æthelnoth (d. 1038) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Harold I [called Harold Harefoot] (d. 1040) king of England
  • Henry II (1133–1189) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Clifford, Rosamund [called Fair Rosamund] (b. before 1140?, d. 1175/6) royal mistress
  • Becket, Thomas [St Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London] (1120?–1170) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Aquitaine], suo jure duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) queen of France, consort of Louis VII, and queen of England, consort of Henry II
  • Bacon [Bakun], Roger (c.1214–1292?) philosopher and Franciscan friar
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536) queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • More, Sir Thomas [St Thomas More] (1478–1535) lord chancellor, humanist, and martyr
  • Pace, Richard (1483?–1536) diplomat, humanist, and administrator
  • Linacre, Thomas (c.1460–1524) humanist scholar and physician
  • Tunstal [Tunstall], Cuthbert (1474–1559) bishop of Durham and diplomat
  • Anne [Anne Boleyn] (c.1500–1536) queen of England, second consort of Henry VIII
  • Stafford [née Boleyn; other married name Carey], Mary (c.1499–1543) royal mistress
  • Dudley [née Robsart], Amy, Lady Dudley (1532–1560) gentlewoman
  • Babington, Francis (d. 1569?) college head
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Dudley, Robert, earl of Leicester (1532/3–1588) courtier and magnate
  • Cecil, William, first Baron Burghley (1520/21–1598) royal minister
  • Bodley, Sir Thomas (1545–1613) scholar, diplomat, and founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626) lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
  • Heminges, John (bap. 1566, d. 1630) editor of Shakespeare's first folio
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
  • Mary II (1662–1694) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
  • Laud, William (1573–1645) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
  • Glemham, Sir Thomas (1595–1649) royalist army officer
  • Hough, John (1651–1743) college head and bishop of Worcester
  • Farmer, Anthony (b. 1657) college head designate
  • Smith, Thomas (1638–1710) scholar
  • Walker, Obadiah (1616–1699) college head and author
  • Parker, Samuel (1640–1688) bishop of Oxford
  • Charnock, Robert (1663–1696) Jacobite conspirator
  • Jeffreys, George, first Baron Jeffreys (1645–1689) judge
  • Penn, William (1644–1718) Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania
  • George III (1738–1820) king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
  • Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz] (1744–1818) queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and queen of Hanover, consort of George III

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Pall Mall Magazine
London Illustrated News
Manchester Guardian
Oxford Mail
Oxford Times
Oxford Chronicle
Aberdeen Journal
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette
Bedfordshire Times and Independent
Berwickshire News and General Advertiser
Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press
Bucks Herald
Burnley Express
Burnley Gazette
Cambridge Independent Press
Cheltenham Chronicle
Cheltenham Looker-On
Coventry Herald
Derby Daily Telegraph
Derbyshire Courier
Dover Express
Dundee Courier
Dundee Evening Telegraph
Essex Newsman
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
Falkirk Herald
Gloucester Citizen
Gloucester Journal
Gloucestershire Chronicle
Gloucestershire Echo
Grantham Journal
Hastings and St Leonards Observer
Hull Daily Mail
Lancashire Evening Post
Leamington Spa Courier
Leicester Chronicle
Lichfield Mercury
Lincolnshire Chronicle
Lincolnshire Echo
Luton Times and Advertiser
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser
Northampton Mercury
Nottingham Evening Post
Portsmouth Evening News
Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser
Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Sheffield Independent
Stamford Mercury
Sussex Agricultural Express
Tamworth Herald
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser
Wells Journal
Western Daily Press
Whitby Gazette
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald
Yorkshire Evening Post

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

Book of words

The Oxford Historical Pageant Book of Words. Oxford, 1907.

Other primary published materials

  • Souvenir of the Oxford Historical Pageant, 1907 (Oxford, 1907), np.

References in secondary literature

  • Dobson, M. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History. Cambridge, 2011.
  • Howe, Anthony. ‘Intellect and Civic Responsibility: Dons and Citizens in Nineteenth-Century Oxford’. In Oxford: Studies in the History of a University Town since 1800, edited by R.C. Whiting. Manchester, 1993, 12-52.
  • Readman, Paul. ‘The Place of the Past in English Culture c.1890–1914’. Past and Present 186 (2005), 147-199.
  • Ryan, Deborah Sugg. ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant, Visual Spectacle and Popular Memory.’ Visual Culture in Britain 8, no. 2 (2007), 63-82.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Bodleian (Oxford), John Johnson Collection, Pre-1960 ephemera. Pamphlets. Box 6.
  • East Sussex Record Office. Postcards. R/E/4/27/4/16.

Sources used in preparation of pageant



The Oxford Historical Pageant of 1907 was a major civic event, and took place in the grounds of Magdalen College. Despite being wholly a part of the initial outburst of pageant fever, it was one of the first to not be directed by the genre’s originator, Louis Napoleon Parker. Taking the reins instead was the actor and producer Frank Stevens, self-styled as ‘Frank Lascelles’—a former ‘leading member’ of the Oxford University Dramatic Society who had been a ‘great success as Romeo when an undergraduate.’1 After leaving Oxford as a student, he had worked on the stage in London in the noted company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and he took several lead roles in productions of Shakespeare.2 Oxford was Lascelles’s first pageant; he went on to become an internationally acclaimed master. He gained the title ‘the Man Who Staged the Empire’ after producing imperial pageants in Quebec (1908), Cape Town (1909), London (1911), Calcutta (1912), and London again (1924). He also staged many more civic pageants in the inter-war period, in places such as Stoke-on-Trent (1930), Bradford (1931), and Leicester (1932), before his untimely death in 1934.3 Lascelles claimed to have been inspired by Louis Napoleon Parker’s Warwick Pageant in 1906 but, as Deborah Sugg Ryan has argued, his pageants were a distinctive evolution of Parker’s form rather than a faithful reproduction.4

At the centre of the narrative and organisation of the Oxford Pageant was the relationship between ‘town and gown’. Lascelles, describing what were once ‘rival factions’, said that the University and the City had ‘joined hands in the production, and play[ed] side by side for a few brief summer hours in an effort to show as realistically as circumstances will permit some of the picturesque scenes of their common history.’5 According to the historian Anthony Howe, the dons and townsmen of Oxford were happy to cultivate an image of the city as a ‘bastion of patrician stability’, especially during a period of extensive poverty and some industrial unrest. A pageant supported this image while creating ‘the image of a timeless, traditional Oxford’ which appealed to the working man.6 As was usual for Edwardian pageants, the narrative in the press was thus not just about revelling in the glories of the past, but also ‘making substantial sacrifices in the present for the permanent benefit of the future.’7 As was also common, leading figures associated with the pageant, such as the Vice-Chancellor and the historian Sir Charles Oman, lauded its potential for stimulating local patriotism, creating civic fellowship, and educating the local community.8 As Deborah Sugg Ryan has pointed out, the souvenir and other memorabilia featured the conjoined shields of the University and City, and both town and gown were given equal representation in the pageant as the ‘possessors of a shared, if not always amicable, public history’.9 Despite these conciliatory aims, however, the participation of the university was not always assured. Only three academics wrote and supervised an episode, and undergraduate involvement was limited by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Herbert Warren, lest they fail to concentrate on their studies. University authorities, seemingly, were concerned that the pageant would be seen as entertainment rather than education.10

Certainly, Lascelles was happy to entertain. In a ‘prefatory note’ to the Book of Words, presumably written by Lascelles, it was explained that ‘a modern Pageant… is often compelled, by reasons of space, time, and suitability for representation, to foreshorten history. The critic must not murmur if persons and events are found in a juxtaposition for which there is no absolute warrant in the chronicles, or if fancy sometimes bodies forth possibilities which may never have been realities.’11 In terms of structure and style, therefore, Lascelles’s Oxford Pageant was different to Parker’s pageants at Sherborne, Warwick, and elsewhere. Instead of the usual dialogue-heavy ten scenes, there were fifteen, only nine of which had dialogue, as well as an allegorical Masque. While Parker did not eschew humour, Lascelles went even further—sometimes at the expense of historical realism. The Friar Bacon scene was a particularly good example. One of Oxford’s most famous students of science, Bacon was portrayed as an eccentric inventor—shown driving a medieval contraption of a motor car shaped like a dragon! Not everyone was happy with the liberties that Lascelles took with history in this respect. Francis A. Gasquet, an English Benedictine monk and historical scholar, wrote to the Times to ‘appeal’ to the managers of the pageant to withdraw the Bacon scene because he was played ‘as the buffoon of the piece’. ‘Surely it is a mistake’, he argued, ‘for the University of Oxford, after years of strange neglect, to degrade the memory of one of its most distinguished sons in so unnecessary and offensive a manner.’12 Gasquet would have been even angrier if he was in attendance at the performance where the Friar’s ‘car’ ‘made insufficient allowance in turning the corner’, and ended up ‘full speed into the river.’13 Of course, being Oxford, the university featured several times. One scene featured Theobaldus Stampenis and the beginnings of the University in AD 1100; another was a Masque of the Mediaeval Curriculum, which showed a student searching out learning, while his companion was overwhelmed by the temptations of youth; also portrayed was the expulsion of the Fellows of Magdalen College in 1667. Unlike Parker, Lascelles was not squeamish about featuring the English Civil War, and he even brought the historical narrative all the way up to the late eighteenth century, ending the pageant with St Giles’ Fair in 1785.

As Ryan has argued, Lascelles had a distinctive ‘visual sensibility’; influenced by his passion for painting, he believed that pageants should use dramatic movement of large crowds in procession and dance, with blocks of colour, rather than extensive dialogue. This was in direct contrast to Parker’s reliance on ‘the reconstruction of historical narrative through the spoken word.’14 In this way, argues Ryan, Lascelles’s pageants ‘emphasized the visual, temporal and fleeting in order to impress visions of history upon the mind of the observer and said that “things seen are more powerful than things read”’.15 Parkerian pageantry was ordered and systematic; Lascelles’ pageantry was strange, provocative, and based on visual memory.16 As the Times noted, the series of scenes moved ‘quickly’; this became a characteristic style of Lascelles’ pageants.17 Those scenes which depended on ‘spectacle entirely’ were more successful, the newspaper argued, than those in which there was a lot of dialogue.18 But similarities with Parker’s pageantry were more numerous than the differences; royal visits, for example, featured heavily, from Harold Harefoot to George III. In this way, as with Parker’s pageants, the celebrating community (in this case Oxford) was given a central role in the life of the nation. Costumes were also made locally; a large cast of over 1500 was used; and all performers were voluntary. Regardless of subtle differences, then, audience members would have still understood the Oxford pageant as being part of the wider movement started by Parker, and the pageant attempted to achieve similar civic aims to the others in the period of ‘pageantitis’.

The reception was mostly positive. A special correspondent for the Times went over-the-top before the pageant even began: ‘No city in the Old World’, the writer argued, had ‘a right more absolute to unfold some of its story before admiring eyes’.19 After actually witnessing a performance, another reporter from the Times reported that ‘the performance, as a whole, reflects immense credit on the master of the pageant and on the performers in one essential respect as well as generally… organization was perfect, and the actors were more ready with their words than is usual on the first night of a professional performance.’20 Another correspondent from the Times, however, though commending the quality overall, thought it too long at three hours without an interval, and, furthermore, criticised some of the scenes for being ‘inferior’ (particularly those dealing with Theobaldus Stamepensis and the funeral of Amy Robsart).21 Local newspapers across the country reported on the pageant and, for the most part, agreed that it was (as the Manchester Courier put it) ‘a triumph of pictorial drama.’22 One noteworthy exception, however, was an editorial in the Manchester Guardian. Clearly already sick of pageant fever in general, it described how pageants were ‘terribly formless. Group after group wades through period after period…. everywhere pageants are so tiresomely alike.’ The Oxford Pageant, it argued, ‘ought to have been especially good’ but, in the end, ‘shapelessness’ robbed the ‘city of her due. Nothing in the episodes brought out the peculiar character of the place’. The only promise of the pageant, in the journalist’s opinion, was the Masque of Medieval Learning, which could avoid formlessness by enacting the symbolism of a town—‘with her industries, her griefs, and her triumphs, throned amid the passing show’. A town Masque, according to the editorial, would not be as exhausting as a pageant, and it would be cheaper as well.23 While masques never came to replace pageants, symbolic scenes did grow in popularity as part of pageants more generally, especially in the inter-war period—another way that Frank Lascelles shaped the genre.

Despite this initial hostility, or at least ambivalence, Lascelles was successful in inspiring both ‘town and gown’ with the conviction that the pageant was ‘an absolute moral necessity’, as Sir Charles Oman (Professor of Modern History) put it.24 But the feel-good character of the pageant should not be overstated. In the run-up to the first performances, the pageant grandstand was almost burned down by rioting Oxford Christ Church rowers participating in a ‘rag’. Police had to patrol the pageant grounds, and the Oxford Volunteer Fire Brigade was on hand to extinguish fires. A hut was razed to the ground, as was a bridge in the pageant grounds, and fighting between the police and students led to ‘several men’ having ‘their teeth knocked out.’ Three hundred pounds worth of damage was done but, incredibly, no one was arrested.25 As Ryan has pointed out, this incident had strong echoes in the St Scholastica’s Day Scene in the actual pageant, which showed a riot erupting between ‘town and gown’ after an altercation in a local public house.26

On balance, the Oxford Pageant was a small success, but its reception, perhaps, did not quite live up to expectations. In terms of attendance, the pageant was seemingly a disappointment—though no exact figures were given. The Times optimistically suggested that the pre-pageant buzz had been so high that it had been thought that all the tickets were sold, leading to people to erroneously believing they would not be able to attend.27 With a grandstand that held 5000, the organisers were clearly expecting large crowds. Causing a particular stir with his attendance, at least, was famous author Mark Twain, who told the press that he was attending in order ‘to get some ideas for his own funeral’!28 In the end, the pageant made a profit of £659, about £38,000 in 2015 money, which was distributed to the Radcliffe Infirmary and Oxford Eye Hospital. This was nowhere near the £10000 profit that had been envisaged before the pageant took place, but it was a good return nonetheless—especially considering that some pageants in these years made substantial losses (such as Dover in 1908 and the English Church Pageant in 1909).29 At the least, the 1907 event did not dampen the city’s enthusiasm for the genre; another pageant was held just five years later to celebrate Oxford’s ‘millenary’. Its importance today lies primarily in the part it played in expanding the pageantry format beyond the initial style of Louis Napoleon Parker. Ryan has argued that scholarship on pageantry has been over-reliant on Robert Withington (an early and influential interpreter of the form, author of a compendious study), and has thus neglected the importance of Lascelles on pageantry both at home and abroad.30 This is probably fair—though Parker should still be remembered as the originator of the genre. But, undoubtedly, Lascelles was influential; in the inter-war period especially, the style of pageantry he had begun to showcase at Oxford became ever more popular, and especially adaptable to larger industrial towns and cities that sometimes lacked the medieval or early modern identity of smaller places.


  1. ^ Souvenir of the Oxford Historical Pageant, 1907 (Oxford, 1907), np.
  2. ^ Deborah Sugg Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant, Visual Spectacle and Popular Memory, Visual Culture in Britain 8, no. 2 (2007): 55.
  3. ^ Deborah Sugg Ryan is the authority on the life of Frank Lascelles. She provides an excellent description of Lascelles’ transformation into Lord of the Manor and international pageant-master in: Ryan, ‘The Man who Staged the Empire: Remembering Frank Lascelles in Sibford Gower, 1875–2000’, in Material Memories, ed. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsley (Oxford, 1999), 159-179.
  4. ^ Ryan, ‘The Man Who Staged the Empire’, 168.
  5. ^ Souvenir of the Oxford Historical Pageant, 1907, np.
  6. ^ Anthony Howe, ‘Intellect and Civic Responsibility: Dons and Citizens in Nineteenth-Century Oxford’, in Oxford: Studies in the History of a University Town since 1800, ed. R.C. Whiting (Manchester, 1993), 40.
  7. ^ ‘The Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 21 May 1907, 11.
  8. ^ Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant’, 74
  9. ^ Ibid., 69.
  10. ^ Ibid., 70.
  11. ^ The Oxford Historical Pageant Book of Words (Oxford, 1907), 6.
  12. ^ Letter from Francis A. Gasquet to the Editor of the Times, 25 June 1907, 4.
  13. ^ Aberdeen Journal, 4 July 1907, 8.
  14. ^ Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant’, 68.
  15. ^ Ibid., 69.
  16. ^ Ibid., 73.
  17. ^ ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 22 June 1907, 14.
  18. ^ ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 28 June 1907, 10.
  19. ^ ‘The Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 21 May 1907, 11.
  20. ^ ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 22 June 1907, 14.
  21. ^ ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 29 June 1907, 6.
  22. ^ ‘Thousand Years of History’, Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 28 June 1907, 7.
  23. ^ Editorial, The Manchester Guardian, 8 August 1907, 6.
  24. ^ Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant’, 70.
  25. ^ ‘”Bump” Bonfires at Oxford’, The Times, 31 May 1907, 10.
  26. ^ Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant’, 73.
  27. ^ ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Times, 28 June 1907, 10.
  28. ^ ‘Mark Twain’s Grim Humour’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 18 June 1907, 4.
  29. ^ ‘The Oxford Pageant May Clear £10,000’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 22 June 1907, 4.
  30. ^ Ryan, ‘”Pageantitis”: Frank Lascelles’ 1907 Oxford Historical Pageant’, 69. Robert Withington, English Pageantry: An Historical Outline (Cambridge, 1920).

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Oxford Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1142/