The Pageant of Parliament

Other names

  • Parliament and the People

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Royal Albert Hall (Kensington) (Kensington, Middlesex, England)

Year: 1934

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 24


29 June–21 July 1934

Every evening (excluding Sundays) at 8pm; Saturday matinees at 2.30pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Creighton, Walter
  • Secretary to Organiser: Miss Pamela Hopkinson
  • Assistant Secretary to Organiser: Miss Jean Wait
  • Secretary to Costume Committee: Miss R. Clark
  • Secretary to Production Committee: Miss R. Denny
  • Assistant to Producer: Christopher G. Ede
  • Production Manager: Shayle Gardner
  • Assistant to Production Manager: Geoffrey Nares
  • Stage Director: Peter Bax
  • Stage Managers: R. Halford Forster and Kenneth Howell
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Beryl de Querton, Alfred Millen, Michael Brennan, John White
  • Musical Director: Leslie Bridgewater
  • Special Music by: Roger Quilter, Leslie Bridgewater, J. Strachey
  • Choral Adviser: Dr Malcolm Sargent
  • Chorus: Members of the Royal Choral Society
  • Choreography by: Quentin Todd and Margaret Craske
  • Music: Mrs Nation

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • President: The Rt. Hon. Viscount Hailsham, PC
  • Vice Presidents: The Viscountess Falmouth; the Lady Rennell of Rodd; the Rt. Hon. Sir Austen Chamberlain, KG, PC, MP; Colonel John Buchan, CH, MP; A. Ernest Jones, Esq., MC
  • Sponsor for the House of Lords: The Rt. Hon. Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent, KG
  • Sponsor for the House of Commons: The Rt. Hon. JCC Davidson, CH, MP

Executive Committee:

  • Chairman: The Rt. Hon. Lord Rennell of Rodd, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, PC
  • Vice-Chairman: Nigel C. Colman, Esq., MP
  • Hon.-Treasurers: A. Ernest Jones, Esq.., MC; Sir William Ray, MP, JP; A. Cathles, Esq., CA
  • Hon. Secretaries: The Hon. Mrs T.A. Emmet, MA; Miss Marjorie Graves, MP, FRHistS
  • Producer: Walter Creighton, MC
  • Organiser: Mrs E.B. Shaw-Mackenzie

General Committee:

  • The Viscount Borodale, MP
  • A. Ernest Jones, Esq., MC
  • Colonel John Buchan, CH, MP.
  • Captain Dennis Larking, CMG
  • C.B. Cochran, Esq., MP
  • Miss M. Maxse
  • Nigel C. Colman, Esq., MP
  • The Hon. Mrs J.C.C. Davidson
  • Violent Lady Melchett, DBE
  • Lady Mulleneux-Grayson
  • Bertram Mills, Esq. JP
  • The Hon. Mrs T.A. Emmet, MA
  • The Viscountess Falmouth
  • Mrs J. Nation
  • Lady Hammond Graeme
  • Sir William Ray, MP, JP
  • Miss Marjorie Graves, MP
  • The Rt. Hon. Lord Rennell of Rodd, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, PC
  • Captain A.U.M. Hudson, MP
  • The Lady Rennell of Rodd
  • Edward Hulton, Esq.
  • Countess Di Sant’Elia
  • W.G.D. Hutchison, Esq. MP
  • The Rt. Hon. Earl of Winterton, MP
  • 13 men, 11 women = 24 total

Management Committee:

  • The Viscountess Falmouth
  • The Lady Rennell of Rodd
  • The Hon. Mrs Emmet, MA
  • Mrs Nation
  • A. Ernest Jones, Esq., MC
  • Miss Marjorie Graves, FRHistS, MP
  • Miss Maxse
  • Chairman: Nigel C. Colman, Esq., MP
  • Captain Larking
  • 3 men, 6 women = 9 total

Costume Committee:

  • Mrs Vesey Holt (Chairman), the Hon. Mrs Drogo Montagu, Miss Marian Marling

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

  • Creighton, Walter
  • Kipling, Rudyard
  • Shakespeare, William


  • Walter Creighton was primarily responsible for devising and writing the script.
  • Rudyard Kipling wrote three poems especially for the pageant.
  • Extracts from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night's Dream and Henry VI, Part I were incorporated in the pageant.
  • Historical advice by Professor George Trevelyan, OM.

Names of composers

  • Nation, Oliver
  • Nation, Mrs
  • Quilter, Roger

Numbers of performers


Including famous professional actors: Yvonne Arnaud, Laura Cowie, Shayle Gardner and Donald Wolfit.

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

All the proceeds from the first night went to the Personal Service League.1


It also seems likely that any other profit went to the Conservative Party. See pageant summary.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

15s.–2s. 6d.

Stalls: 15s., 10s. 6d., 7s. 6d.
Balcony: 5s., 3s. 6d.
Arena: 7s. 6d.
Gallery: 2s. 6d.
Boxes: Grand Tier (10 seats): £6. 5s. Loggias (8 seats): £5. and £3. 10s. Second Tier (5 seats): £2.

Associated events

  • A series of weekly lectures on Parliamentary history and development at the National Portrait Gallery.
  • 6 June. S.B. Chrimes, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, ‘Parliament under the Tudors’.
  • 13 June. S.B. Chrimes, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, ‘Parliament under the Stuarts’.
  • 20 June. S.B. Chrimes, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, ‘Parliament under the Stuarts’ (second lecture).
  • 27 June. A.T. Milne, ‘Parliament in the Eighteenth century’.

Pageant outline

Parliament and the People—A Pageant of 25 Incidents

Part I

Magna Carta, 1215

A Baron, with his family and household, are travelling through [undisclosed area]. They are attacked by the King’s men, but saved by Robin Hood. The outlaw appeals to the people: ‘How long will you bear this cruelty and oppression?’ The clergy, Barons, and leaders of the people are roused, and declare that they will claim their rights—or wage war on the King. Meanwhile, messengers go to King John, who is seated on his throne scowling. He reacts with rage when the messengers inform him of their claim. The women and children of the crowd wail in despair at the angry King. The clergy, Barons, and leaders of the people decide to challenge the King, and surge forward with a mob of people to meet the King’s messengers. The King enters with his faithful Barons, and seals the charter that is presented to him. A man sings a song of liberty.

The First Great Parliament, 1295

The Recorder, a monk, is talking to a young novice who is illustrating a parchment, recording the first parliament of Edward in 1295. Groups of clergy, Barons, and representatives of the people come marching into the arena, and assemble in the House of Lords. King Edward enters and ascends the throne; the Recorder explains that the King gathered the people together to ask how the monies for war could best be spent. The crowd breaks into a tumult of enthusiasm, blessing the King. The Recorder looks into the future, and speaks to the audience:

But the natural fruit of the tree which we have this day planted, being not planted by any one man but by the desire of all men, will grow through long centuries to come, nurtured through the rain and storm of trouble and the sunshine of endeavour, into a tree under which many peoples scattered throughout the world may take shelter.

The recorder then explains how the King won in Wales, due to the first Parliament allowing him the monies, and that Wales joined England. Welsh Bards are heard singing and King Edward is seen with his court at Carnarvon Castle. A Bishop proclaims the newly born first son, Edward, as Prince of Wales. Queen Eleanor enters with the baby in her arms. The Monk again looks into the future and declares that throughout all time the heir to the throne shall bear by birth and duty the title of Prince of Wales. He instructs the novice to write about the troubles in warfare between England and Scotland, and the growth of power for Parliament, and the time of civil strife of the House of York against the House of Lancaster.

The Wars of the Roses, 1455–85

Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Suffolk, and the Earl of Warwick squabble humorously over allegiances to the houses or York and Lancaster. Warwick and Plantagenet go with the White Rose, while Suffolk and Somerset go with the Red Rose. Warwick ends by declaring that the argument shall send ‘a thousand souls to death and deadly night.’ The Monk again takes up the story, and describes the chaos of the Wars of the Roses, explaining how the common people went on peacefully with their business, not caring which side won. The Monk explains that, due to the wars and the evils of the day, it was a time of a lack of government—Parliament being used by both houses of York and Lancaster for their own gains. Back in the arena, the Lancastrian Party is victorious in battle, and they cry ‘The Red Rose’. But then the Yorkists have their own victory, and cry ‘The White Rose’. Meanwhile, in the House of Lords, Lords from both houses are impeached. A rhymester confronts the Monk, and tells how the invention of the printing press will make clear the rights of people and the printed word of all future history.

In 1479 Edward IV is seated at his throne with his Queen, child, and Lords. He receives the first printed book; around him groups of people are reading the Bible for the first time. At Caxton’s Printing Press two apprentices now become the Recorders. They tell of the bloodshed of the Wars of the Roses and how Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was victorious over Richard III at Bosworth Field—becoming King of England and reuniting the houses after marrying Elizabeth of York.

In 1486 the marriage of Richard III and Elizabeth of York is seen and celebrated.

The Tudor Dynasty, 1485–1608

The apprentices of a printing press read proofs which tell of the Tudor dynasty, and the way in which the Parliament was used merely as an instrument of rule by the King. They explain how, through the patient craft of Henry VII and the imperious vigour of Henry VIII and the troublesome times of Edward VI and Mary, Parliament learned to assert itself more boldly.

In 1566 Elizabeth I is pacing to and fro as the old Marquis of Winchester kneels in front of her—she complains of Parliament meddling in her affairs. Winchester pleads with her, invoking the loyalty of her people ‘scattered at toil over land and sea’. She forgets her anger, expressing her love for her subjects. In the House of Commons, Nicholas Bacon reads out an address to the assembled MPs, regarding the question of the Queen’s marriage and succession. The Queen, angered at this, enters. The MPs cannot look at her, as she shows her scorn at their insolence. She leaves, declaring that she will not be forced to do anything. They discuss her wrath in the Commons. The Queen sends a messenger who relays her command that the question of the succession should not be touched upon again. The Commons reacts badly to this—seeing it as a violation of their privileges. They resolve to maintain their privilege, and pen a letter as such to the Queen.

The Armada, 1588

The troops of Elizabeth are assembling at Tilbury. She speaks to her Army and subjects, declaring her will to lay down her life for her God, kingdom and people, and gives the famous ‘body of a weak and feeble woman, but… heart of a King’ speech. The people cheer and break into singing. In the distance beacons glow up red out of the night, as people gather around, asking for news. Reports of a huge armada frighten the people, but they maintain their belief in the English forces led by Lord Charles Howard of Effingham. They pray. All of a sudden messengers rush in, bringing news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth raises her hands to Heaven. The Elizabethan Muse tells of the victory, and celebrates both England and Elizabeth, as the crowd celebrates enthusiastically.

In 1601, outside a big country house, a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed. The Queen, an old woman, comes to her faithful ministers. Robert Cecil, Marquis of Salisbury, thanks her for abolishing monopolies. She eulogises her reign, before the crowd breaks into the ‘Song of Liberty through Government’. Four scarlet-clad trumpeters facing towards the four corners of the Compass sound forth the glory of the Elizabethan age.

Part II

The Stuart Period, 1604

Shakespeare is seen writing a sonnet, as a boy with a lute picks out an accompanying tune. Gradually the orchestra grows, as James I and his Queen, Anne of Denmark, are seen holding court on the ice in front of Greenwich Palace, watching a skating ballet. A big dancing bear is led on with a man, as the crowd surges around laughing and jesting.

In 1605 Francis Bacon takes up the story, talking to his secretary about his latest book and also about the Gunpowder Plot. He dictates details of where copies of the book should be sent. He writes to Toby Mathew, in France, expressing his distress at the conflict between King James and the House of Commons over the Divine Right to rule. As he is talking, the Plotters are shown under the Houses of Parliament. One of them pens a letter without the others seeing, and slinks out. Lord Monteagle is now seen eating with his family. A servant brings the letter, which warns the Lord of the Plot. Back in the cellar under the Houses of Parliament, Guy Fawkes is nervously covering the barrels of gunpowder with brush wood, before leaving. Sir Thomas Knevett, a Westminster magistrate, with four soldiers, catches Guy Fakwes trying to lay the fuse. In the distance, and the present, a group of London urchins march in with a motley procession of Guys. They deride Guy Fawkes.

In 1640 London is the first city of the world. Tradesmen and their apprentices are selling cloth, as crowds throng among the stalls. Soldiers back from Ireland swagger in, pushing Puritans out of the way. A group of Cavaliers and Roundheads have gathered, and become the Recorders. They discuss the insolence of the soldiers, and the situation in Ireland, and then begin to argue about the rights of Parliament and King. Above, workmen are busy preparing Westminster Hall, putting up a rough timber box behind the empty throne. The trial of Lord Strafford for High Treason is about to take place. The Roundheads and Cavaliers continue to bicker. The Commons assemble and the Lords take their place in Westminster Hall. Prince Charles takes his place, as do the King and Queen. Strafford is brought in amid mixed cries of loathing and support. The arguing continues, some in support, some against the charge. Strafford is acquitted—the King and Queen are delighted. Others in Parliament are not so pleased, and decide that Strafford must die. The Cavaliers and Roundheads begin to group on opposite sides. A Bill of Attainder is passed against Strafford, condemning him to death. Strafford is put in prison in the Tower.

In 1642 Charles is seated reading, while Henrietta Maria embroiders. Young prince Charles, a boy of twelve, is with them. They talk about Shakespeare’s Richard II, before Henrietta angrily tells the King that he must be strong and act like a King—and not let Parliament govern his actions. Charles defends Parliament at first, but she continues to encourage him to assert his power. Back with the Roundheads and Cavaliers, the King enters, on his way to arrest the five Members with Pym and Hampden at their head for treason. The Roundheads insolently ignore the King. Some MPs flee, while others stay to face the King. He enters with the Elector Palatine. The King explains that he has come for Pym and Hollins, but the Commons is silent to his requests. He leaves, as the House breaks into cries of ‘privilege’.

In 1650 the poet Andrew Marvell is visited by Major General Harrison, one of Cromwell’s generals. They argue about the death of the King—Harrison distressed that Marvell seems to be sympathetic to the King. Harrison tells Marvell that he should be praising Cromwell—which the poet proceeds to do, but not wholly convincingly. In the House, Cromwell is seen making a furious speech, before dissolving parliament. Harrison calls in the soldiers, who hustle out the members, as Cromwell storms at them. The Speaker is hustled out by Harrison. Soon only Cromwell and his soldiers are left; he seizes up the orders and Act of Dissolution, and commands them to lock the doors. The scene ends with John Bradshaw defiantly telling Cromwell, ‘…you mistake, sir, if you think this Parliament dissolved. No power on earth can dissolve this Parliament but itself.’

Part III


A Restoration Song, ‘In our Hearts he Dwells’ (Oliver Nation).

The Restoration, 1660

In the distance Restoration Ballads are being sung, as Samuel Pepys, who is now the Recorder, is sat in a chair bickering with Mrs Pepys. He describes the joy felt by the populace when Parliament was recalled and made amends with the King, following the death of Cromwell. At Dover, the joyous landing of King Charles II is portrayed. Pepys declares, despite the scorn of his wife, that ‘if King and Parliament would but once agree, England would become a safe place for a man such as I to live in. And, Madam, let me tell you, that day is bound to come when in the defence of our liberties Parliament will become united, so that under the guardianship of both parties in the State, of both Houses of Parliament, and of Sovereigns whose title rests on Parliament and right, our laws will for ever be secure.’

The Glorious Revolution, 1689

Both Houses are crowded with Lords and Ladies and people in bright apparel. William III enters, leading Mary by the hand. The Clerk reads aloud the Declaration of Rights, confirming that, without Parliament’s consent, actions like raising money or keeping a standing army are illegal, as well as confirming the Prince and Princess of Orange as King and Queen. William declares his intention to ‘maintain the laws, and to govern by the advice of Parliament.’ Lord Halifax crowns the King, before the crowd sings the ‘Song of Liberty’.

1720. In a coffee house three gentlemen have met—a Whig, a Tory, and one without strong party feeling. They argue about politics—from the inclusion of Scotland in the Union, to the power of Parliament. Robert Walpole causes disagreement—with the Tory grumbling that the man is ‘no better born and of no greater estate than ourselves’ while the Whig reminds his sparring partner that ‘Walpole was the only man of them all who foretold that the South Sea Bubble would burst.’ The time of the South Sea Bubble Boom on Change Alley is now depicted, with groups of smart people buying worthless shares. Amongst them are wandering street vendors, singing the ‘Cries of London’ and ending with a chorus of ‘Who’ll Buy?’ As the Coffee House debaters continue to bicker, Change Alley is now seen as a dreary place, with people in rags wandering around. Dr Johnson is having a cup of tea with Mrs Thrale. James Boswell comes rushing in, reporting how the Commons has been crowded by ladies who have forced their way in; this scene is then depicted. They refuse to leave, despite being told to by the Speaker, and shriek with laughter. Boswell tells Johnson that the Speaker has hence forbidden ladies from further entrance to the House. Johnson predicts: ‘Mark my words, there will be no holding women soon. They will be as good as we men before long, and will come down from the Gallery and sit on the floor of the House in their own right.’

Trafalgar, 1805

Sailors are singing Sea Shanties, and the haunting melody of ‘Shakow Brown’ throbs through the air. In the Guildhall, the Lord Mayor’s Banquet is being held—it is 9 November, and the Battle of Trafalgar has been fought. The Lord Mayor makes a toast to the courage and foresight of William Pitt, and the glory and sacrifice of Admiral Lord Nelson. On board the Victory, amidst the turmoil and wreckage, Nelson can be seen dying. After a moment’s silence the Lord Mayor continues his speech, and proposes the health of Pitt. Pitt rises wearily from his seat and answers: ‘I return you many thanks for this honour you have done me, but Europe is not saved by any one man. England has saved herself by her exertion, and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.’ The guests cheer.

The Reform Bill, 1832

Away in the distance another crowd is cheering and a mob of people comes hustling in shouting and yelling. Soon a brass band with drums breaks through the noise. Whigs are sticking up posters inscribed with slogans such as ‘Reform’ and ‘Down with the Boro’mongers’, while the Tories reply with posters stating ‘Down with the Radicals’ and ‘Our old Constitution for ever’. The mob is confusedly cheering and shouting for Slumkey and Fizkin [from Dickens’s Pickwick Papers]. Rival factions brawl, before the crier enters and rings the bell, followed by the Mayor and his officers. A rowdy election takes place, the Reform Bill being the contentious element. The Whig candidate eventually seems to get the upper hand, declaring that without the Bill revolution will come—and that with it, Parliament would be ‘the trust mirror of the prosperity, honour and intelligence of England.’

1833. In his room the Editor of ‘The Mirror of Parliament’ is seated at his high desk and dictating to his Secretary. Charles Dickens, a young man of 21 and at that time a reporter, enters. Dickens excitedly interrupts, bringing news of the passing of the Factory Act. The Editor is unmoved, but Dickens explains how good it will be for the poor children. He celebrates the government, declaring that ‘this Government puts an end to slavery at home amongst the little children as well as amongst our black brethren overseas… It is an age worth living in although a long day’s work remains to be done about it’. Meanwhile, a grim factory is shown, with children leaving in dirty rags. Not far away, a clean school is shown with smiling children and teachers. In the moonlight a group of African-American slaves are shown awaiting the striking of midnight before the dawning of 1 August 1934. One reads from the Bible as the others gather around and listen. They praise God for their freeing. As the bell tolls for twelve, a tremendous flash of lightning and thunder comes. They cower, but released from their fear they soon spring to their feet in a mad ecstasy of joy. Dickens watches on and cries, ‘An end to oppression. Liberty! Liberty!’

1914. Out of the darkness comes the crash of breaking glass. A woman suffragette is standing addressing a crowd of other women, a hammer in her hand. She declares that, without liberty, life is not worth living. Policemen rush at her and carry her away. Other women struggle with the police, holding banners declaring ‘Votes for women’. A crowd of sympathisers rush in and try to rescue the women. Then a barrel organ blares out, and smart women and children in the dress of 1914 promenade. A Punch and Judy show is put up, before a procession of suffragettes in white, purple and green march in—until again dispersed by the police. One woman shouts: ‘Let us prove ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim is recognised or not.’ As the hubbub and protest continues, newspaper boys rush in with posters, crying out that war has been declared between France and Germany. Soon after, more newsboys carry placards declaring: ‘Belgian Neutrality Violated.’ Big Ben is heard striking a single vibrant note out of the darkness. Everyone becomes utterly silent, and, as if turned to stone, stare up towards the darkness from which the sound has come. The silence is broken by an unseen voice: ‘We have great and vital interests in the Independence, of which integrity is the least part, of Belgium. If, in a crisis like this, we run away from these obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian treaty, I doubt whether, whatever material force we might have at the end, it will be of very much value in face of the respect we should have lost.’ After a few seconds of motionless silence the crowd shudders into life as a growing murmur of ‘War-War-War’ rustles through it. From the enshrouding darkness, through which a single low note throbs, a procession of people is seen passing, reading the Casualty Lists and the Official News. Again there is a moment’s darkness, through the throb of which a ticking sound is heard, which slowly predominates. A tape machine ticking out the news in a club is seen. A blinded officer is standing by. An elderly clubman comes in. The officer asks him: ‘Would you mind reading out the news? Its official, isn’t it, sir?’ The old man reads: ‘An Armistice has been signed at eleven o’clock this morning, when all hostilities ceased.’ ‘Thank God’ the blinded man mutters. Cheering and bells outside are heard, as the officer declares, ‘All that they had to give, They gave that peace might live.’ Vaguely some of the old war ballads are heard.

1934, Today

Callender’s Band at Broadcasting House is just finishing playing. The BBC announcer steps to the microphone and says: ‘You have just heard a selection of favourite songs from the Great War played by the BBC Band in their concert from Broadcasting House. The next item on the programme will be “The March of Today”’. Three groups of people are listening in: a boy’s holiday camp; young men and girls resting after tennis; and some ‘dear old things’ sitting in deck chairs on a lawn. In the background slum housing is being demolished, as one placard announces ‘Away with the Slums’ as another group of men build, one placard announcing ‘New Housing Schemes.’ People from Ascot come sauntering in, gaily dressed; a group of city clerks and typists leave their offices; postmen, telegraph boys, policemen, vegetable sellers, street cleaners, firemen, flower women, and children mingle. A group of boys from Westminster enters, dressed in black tails and top hats. Sailors, soldiers, pilots, railway porters, costers, busmen, and all sorts and conditions of men join in with representatives of the Dominions with their flags. Groups of boy scouts go through physical exercises. The BBC announcer returns to the microphone and announces:

We will now go over to the Albert Hall where the Pageant of Parliament is drawing to a close. In a series of pictures like living posters the audience has seen unrolled the story of Parliament and the People, the story that began over seven hundred years ago, when subjects boldly claimed from their Sovereign through Government the rights of liberty and self-expression. We have seen how Parliament grew, not made by any one man, but the natural outcome through long centuries of the common sense and good nature of the English people, who have shown that they prefer committees to dictators, elections to street fighting, and talking shops to revolutionary tribunals. This national characteristic has always been the true foundation of our English Parliament, that Mother Parliament from which the Parliaments of the British Empire have proudly sprung.

He ends by declaring: ‘England could not long do without Parliament since it must always remain her ultimate means of expression. So in the history of Parliament we see the history of the soul of Britain—slow to change, but when convinced of the necessity, most ready and resolute to change.’ Peers and Peeresses are assembling for the opening of Parliament. Members of the House of Commons flock into the Bar of the House of Lords. A brilliant stream of light pours down on some choristers—behind them is the carved end of an oaken stall with the Royal arms. Slanting across this is a huge Union Jack. The Choir Boys sing the hymn ‘Non, Nobis Domine’, before the song is taken up by the whole massed crowd, who give praise to God.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hood, Robin (supp. fl. late 12th–13th cent.) legendary outlaw hero
  • John (1167–1216) king of England, and lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Eleanor [Eleanor of Provence] (c.1223–1291) queen of England, consort of Henry III
  • Edward II [Edward of Caernarfon] (1284–1327) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Neville, Richard, sixteenth earl of Warwick and sixth earl of Salisbury [called the Kingmaker] (1428–1471) magnate
  • Pole, John de la, second duke of Suffolk (1442–1492) magnate
  • Cecil, Robert, first earl of Salisbury (1563–1612) politician and courtier
  • Edward IV (1442–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Caxton, William (d.1492) printer, merchant, and diplomat
  • Henry VII (1457–1509) king of England and lord of Ireland
  • Elizabeth [Elizabeth of York] (1466–1503) queen of England, consort of Henry VII
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Paulet, William, first marquess of Winchester (1474/5?–1572) administrator and nobleman
  • Bacon, Sir Nicholas (1510–1579) lawyer and administrator
  • Wentworth, Peter (1524–1597) member of parliament
  • Shakespeare, William (1564–1616) playwright and poet
  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Anne [Anna, Anne of Denmark] (1574–1619) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of James VI and I
  • Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626) lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher
  • Fawkes, Guy (bap. 1570, d. 1606) conspirator
  • Catesby, Robert (b. in or after 1572, d. 1605) conspirator
  • Wright, John (bap. 1568, d. 1605) conspirator
  • Winter [Wintour], Thomas (c.1571–1606) conspirator
  • Percy, Thomas (1560–1605) conspirator
  • Parker, William, thirteenth Baron Morley and fifth or first Baron Monteagle (1574/5–1622) discoverer of the Gunpowder Plot
  • Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Wentworth, Thomas, first earl of Strafford (1672–1739) diplomatist and army officer
  • Erle [Earle], Sir Walter (1586–1665) politician
  • Lenthall, William, appointed Lord Lenthall under the protectorate (1591–1662) lawyer and speaker of the House of Commons
  • Marvell, Andrew (1621–1678) poet and politician
  • Harrison, Thomas (bap. 1616, d. 1660) parliamentarian army officer and regicide
  • Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658) lord protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Wentworth, Sir Peter (1592–1675) politician
  • Bradshaw, John, Lord Bradshaw (bap. 1602, d. 1659) lawyer, politician, and regicide
  • Pepys, Samuel (1633–1703) naval official and diarist
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange
  • Mary, princess royal (1631–1660) princess of Orange, consort of William II
  • Savile, George, first marquess of Halifax (1633–1695) politician and political writer
  • Johnson, Samuel (1709–1784) author and lexicographer
  • Piozzi [née Salusbury; other married name Thrale], Hester Lynch (1741–1821) writer
  • Boswell, James (1740–1795) lawyer, diarist, and biographer of Samuel Johnson
  • Norton, Fletcher, first Baron Grantley (1716–1789) speaker of the House of Commons
  • Johnstone, George (1730–1787) naval officer, colonial governor, and politician
  • Pitt, William [known as Pitt the younger] (1759–1806) prime minister
  • Wellesley [formerly Wesley], Arthur, first duke of Wellington (1769–1852) army officer and prime minister
  • Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758–1805) naval officer
  • Hardy, Sir Thomas Masterman, baronet (1769–1839) naval officer
  • Dickens, Charles John Huffam (1812–1870) novelist

Musical production

Music performed by the Royal Choral Society and presumably an orchestra:
  • [a song of liberty] (Part I, Magna Carta, 1215)
  • ‘Song of Liberty through Government’ (Part I, 1601)
  • ‘Song of Liberty’ (Part III, The Glorious Revolution, 1689)
  • ‘Non, Nobis Domine’ (Part III, 1934 Today)
  • Oliver Nation. A Restoration Song, ‘In our Hearts he Dwells’ (Part III, Prologue).

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Manchester Guardian
New York Times
Times of India
Aberdeen Journal
Burnley Express
Derby Daily Telegraph
Dundee Courier
Dundee Evening Telegraph
Edinburgh Evening News
Essex Newsman
Gloucester Citizen
Gloucestershire Echo
Grantham Journal
Hull Daily Mail
Kent & Sussex Courier
Lincolnshire Echo
Northampton Mercury
Nottingham Evening Post
Southern Reporter
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Western Daily Press
Western Morning News
Western Times
Yorkshire Evening Post
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer

Book of words

Pageant of Parliament. London, 1934.

Copy in British Library.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. BRYANT J7. Originally, Arthur Bryant was to direct the pageant; there is correspondence between him and the Conservative Party Union regarding this.
  • Pageant of Parliament. London, 1934. Inside the British Library copy there are also loose leaflets advertising the pageant.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Dickens. Pickwick Papers. The Election at Eatanswill. (Part III, The Reform Bill, 1832
  • Marvell. ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’. (Part II, 1650).
  • Shakespeare. A Midsummer Nights Dream. (Part I, 1601).
  • Shakespeare. Henry VI, Part I. (Part I, The Tudor Dynasty, 1485–1608
  • The Frontispiece of ‘Christian Prayer’, 1569. Lambeth Palace Library.


The Pageant of Parliament, also advertised as ‘Parliament and the People’, was a major pageant-play that took place in the Royal Albert Hall in 1934. It had an extensive run of 24 performances, a cast of 2000, and was technically advanced in terms of its production. Though most of the performers were amateur, there was also a sprinkling of famous names from stage and cinema—such as Yvonne Arnaud, Laura Cowie, Shayle Gardner, and Donald Wolfit. It was organised primarily by members of the Conservative Party, who made up part of the National Government coalition then in power. Douglas Hogg, 1st Viscount Hailsham, was the President; Sir Austen Chamberlain was a Vice-President; and James Rennell Rodd, Lord Rennell of Rodd, was the Chairman of the Executive Committee.2 The idea for the pageant seemingly came from the Hon. Mrs T.A. Emmet, to whom the Book of Words was dedicated.3 Formerly of the London County Council, she was backed by her father, Lord Rennell.4 As the Northern Whig magazine recognised, the Pageant of Parliament was indebted to the ‘initiative of its leading lady members’ who ‘work hard and are constantly producing new ideas for propaganda work.’5 In a sense, it was a highly visible example of the increasingly important role women played in party politics and organisation in the inter-war period.6

The pageant was devised, written and produced by Walter Creighton, an experienced actor and director of films, with excerpts from Shakespeare, and also original poems from Rudyard Kipling. Creighton was seemingly not the first choice for Pageant Master. Earlier, in 1933, Marjorie Maxse, the chief organisation officer of the Conservative and Unionist Central Office, had approached Arthur Bryant, who was currently producing the Greenwich Night Pageant. Bryant was arguably at the height of his popularity as a Pageant Master, having produced several small pageants in the mid-1920s, the larger Wisbech Pageant in 1929, and the massively popular Greenwich event in 1933. It appears that Bryant initially reacted positively to the approach: as late as September 1933, he was still officially attached to the project. In the end, however, he seemingly withdrew, to be replaced by Creighton; Bryant would not organise another historical pageant after Greenwich. In a draft letter, Bryant laid out his probable reasons for turning down the offer. While declaring his ‘love’ for producing pageants and his belief that it would make a ‘very wonderful show’, the ‘thought of another (when I am deep in the throes of one) does a little alarm me’.7

According to Creighton, the intention of the pageant was ‘not to suggest the history of Parliament in a hiccoughing fit of disconnected incidents, but to draw in bold lines the evolution of the Parliamentary idea.’8 A programme of historical public lectures, given by S.B. Chrimes and A.T. Milne at the National Portrait Gallery, accompanied the pageant.9 There was, naturally, a more generally educative aim to the pageant. Lord Rennell, in a letter to the Times, drew attention to the ‘value of its being witnessed by the largest possible number of parties from our schools’, to help ‘the youth of to-day to appreciate what their countrymen have achieved in the past to establish the finest of traditions.’10 It is likely that it was not explicitly party political, as, according to Bryant, it would not ‘command a larger measure of support among the general public’ since ‘so many people these days are frightened of associating themselves with party politics’—especially since the formation of the National Government.11 The Northern Whig argued that the purpose of the pageant was twofold. First, ‘to increase the prestige of the National Government’, and secondly, ‘to show the people of the country what they owe to the British Parliamentary institution.’ This second aspect, it argued, was ‘a great anti-Communist move’.12 Fears among the established political class of the country in the mid-1930s were increasingly high, reacting to what was seen as political radicalism in the form of fascism and communism on the continent.13 Treating the history of Parliament as a linear march towards present liberty thus allowed the organisers to make claims about Parliament’s ability to adapt. As the Times pointed out, it was, at once, ‘the most medieval thing in England, and the most modern.’ It embodied ancient ideals, embodied in the first episode’s sealing of Magna Carta, yet it still existed to express the ‘corporate ideals, desires, prejudices, foibles, aspirations, and grievances’ that present day Britons had ‘inherited from their ancestors.’14 Parliament had adapted to every kind of policy, displayed in the episodes: ‘centralized feudalism’, ‘the alternating oligarchies of Lancaster and York’, ‘the Erastian paternalism of the Tudors’, ‘aristocracy in the eighteenth century’, and the ‘middle-class rule in the nineteenth’. Finally, in the twentieth century, it had adapted to democracy. An ‘organ of a people and not of a philosophy’, the only political system with which it was incompatible, according to the Times, was ‘dictatorship’.15

If the aim was educational, there was still a strong financial motive. Ostensibly, part of the profits went to the Personal Service League, an organisation that helped the needy and unemployed.16 Yet the pageant was organised predominately by Conservatives, and it seems any other profits were to go to the party. Surreptitiously, the organisers purposefully neglected to mention that this was the object. In a letter to Bryant, they said ‘it would be a pity to give prominence to the fact that this appeal is being run for party funds’ and suggested ‘that it would be quite possible to avoid all mention of the financial object of the Pageant in all publicity’.17 Initially, the rather staggering target was £50000—a figure Bryant rightly pointed out was unrealistic. Instead, he argued, the object should be to either ‘enhance public interest in Parliament or to prepare the ground for a big campaign for party funds.’ To approach the pageant just to raise money was ‘foolhardy’.18 In the event, it is unclear whether the pageant actually made a profit or not.

When it came to judging the pageant in terms of its artistry, the production technique of the pageant was seen as being particularly novel—‘as impressive as its content’, according to the Observer.19 All together there were eight or nine stages. Extensive use of electric light and blackout meant that scenes could shift seamlessly. Throughout the pageant there were different ‘Recorders’ or narrators, such as two monks, apprentices at a printing press, and even Samuel Pepys. The action moved quickly, as different stages were used to illustrate the thoughts of the narrators. Such an approach, according to Creighton, meant that people did not have time to stop and say ‘Am I being bored?’20 In any case, according to the Essex Newsman, the answer to such a question would have been no: ‘it moves along with the speed of a cinema film.’21 Indeed, the same newspaper went so far as to describe the ‘long-awaited’ pageant as ‘infinitely better than the preliminary announcements promised’; it was ‘an impressive, colourful, and enthralling story’.22 Not everyone was so thrilled with the production, however. Colonel C. de W. Crookshank, MP, in a letter to the Times, agreed that it was a ‘magnificent conception and display which everyone should see’ but complained that the ‘amplification echoes made hearing very difficult’, the dark also making the programme difficult to read.23

More generally, the Times was supportive. In one report, it commented that ‘few, we imagine, came away unconscious of the chequered but insistent growth of the spirit of liberty implicit in the spectacle.’24 The Observer too was complimentary—describing how the pageant ‘held its first audience fascinated’, charming the ear as well as the eye.25 The Manchester Guardian was more critical. Underwhelming in its description of ‘a fairly good pageant’, it complained that ‘it does not tell us much about Parliament’, instead usually showing Parliament ‘in the process of being browbeaten or humiliated’. It concluded that ‘one did wish that something had been conveyed of the growth and grandeur and meaning of that Parliament with which the pageant is supposed to deal.’26 The Nottingham Evening Post was even more critical, spikily declaring:

It would be an excellent idea to invite MPs to see the pageant, because conceivably the lethargy of the present might draw inspiration from the vigour and keenness of old times. The pageant will show us Parliament rampant. To-day it is supine, or couchant, to the Whitehall bureaucracy.27

Financial details of the pageant’s outcome have proved difficult to find. Still, it was certainly a nationally important event—ambitious in its historical narrative, production, and the duration of its run. While there were some criticisms, contemporaries were also impressed by its scale and scope. Its size, organisation, and importance is indicative of several key developments in the inter-war period. Firstly, the growing role of women in party politics following political enfranchisement in 1918 and 1928. Secondly, the ability of historical pageantry to adapt from its outside and non-technical origins to new and more ‘populist’ effects more commonly associated with the cinema. Thirdly, the continued importance that historical pageantry had in terms of citizenship education, inflected in the 1930s with the desire to combat the spectre of political radicalism from the continent. It is no surprise that a similar Pageant encouraging political moderation was held at Runnymede, the site of the signing of Magna Carta, in the same year. It is perhaps an irony that the Royal Albert Hall would become the venue for a number of Popular Front and Communist Party-led pageants by the end of the decade, where the Pageant of Chartism and Music for the People gave markedly different accounts of British history.


  1. ^ ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, The Times, 28 June 1934, 8.
  2. ^ The Times, 10 November 1933, 14.
  3. ^ ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 24 June 1934, 11.
  4. ^ ‘London Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 8 April 1934, 10.
  5. ^ ‘Parliament through the Ages’, The Northern Whig, 6 September 1933, np. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. BRYANT J7.
  6. ^ See S. Innes, ‘Constructing Women’s Citizenship in the Interwar Period: The Edinburgh Women’s Association’, Women’s History Review 13, no. 4 (2004); V.A. Wright, ‘Education for Active Citizenship: Women’s Organisations in Interwar Scotland’, History of Education 38, no. 3 (2009); K. Hunt, ‘Rethinking Activism: Lessons from the History of Women’s Politics’, Parliamentary Affairs 62, no. 2 (2009); K. Hunt, ‘Making Politics in Local Communities: Labour Women in Interwar Manchester’, in Labour’s Grass Roots: Essays on the Activities of Local Labour Parties and Members, 1918–1945, ed. M. Worley (Ashgate, 2005); M. Andrews, ‘”For Home and Country”: Feminism and Englishness in the Women’s Institute movement, 1930–1960’, The Right to Belong; M. Andrews, The Acceptable Face of Feminism: The Women’s Institute as a Social Movement (London, 1997); C. Beaumont, ‘Citizens not Feminists: The Boundary Negotiated between Citizenship and Feminism by Mainstream Women’s Organisations in England, 1928–39’, Women’s History Review 9 (2000); J. Smith, ‘The Manchester and Salford Women Citizens’ Association: A Study of Women’s Citizenship, 1913–1948’ (PhD Thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007).
  7. ^ Draft of a letter by Bryant, undated and unaddressed. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. BRYANT J7.
  8. ^ ‘London Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 8 April 1934, 10.
  9. ^ ‘Parliament under the Tudors’, The Times, 7 June 1934, 10.
  10. ^ ‘Pageant of Parliament’, The Times, 3 July 1934, 15.
  11. ^ Draft of a letter by Bryant.
  12. ^ ‘Parliament through the Ages’.
  13. ^ Citizenship education became more common, with varying levels of success. See Peter Brett, ‘Citizenship Education in the Shadow of the Great War’, Citizenship Teaching and Learning 8, no. 1 (2013), 55-74. Guy Whitmarsh, ‘The Politics of Political Education: An Episode’, Journal of Curriculum Studies 6, no. 2 (1974): 134; Tom Hulme, ‘Putting the City back into Citizenship: Civics Education and Local Government in Britain, 1918–1945’, Twentieth Century British History, 26, 1 (2015), 26-51.
  14. ^ ‘Parliament in Pageantry’, The Times, 14 July 1934, 13.
  15. ^ Ibid., 13.
  16. ^ The Times, 10 November 1933, 14.
  17. ^ Letter from Conservative and Unionist Central Office to Bryant, 5 July 1933. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. BRYANT J7.
  18. ^ Letter from Arthur Bryant to Miss Maxse (chief organisation officer of the CU), 4 July 1933. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. BRYANT J7.
  19. ^ ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 1 July 1934, 13.
  20. ^ ‘London Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 8 April 1934, 10.
  21. ^ ‘Pageant of Parliament’, Essex Newsman, 7 July 1934, 1.
  22. ^ Ibid., 1.
  23. ^ ‘Pageant of Parliament’, The Times, 4 July 1934, 10.
  24. ^ ‘Parliament in Pageant’, The Times, 30 June 1934, 9.
  25. ^ ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, Observer, 1 July 1934, 13.
  26. ^ ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, Manchester Guardian, 30 June 1934, 13.
  27. ^ ‘Parliament in Pageant’, Nottingham Evening Post, 18 January 1934, 6.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Pageant of Parliament’, The Redress of the Past,