Winchester National Pageant

Other names

  • Winchester Pageant

Pageant type

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Place: Wolvesey Castle (Winchester) (Winchester, Hampshire, England)

Year: 1908

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 8


25 June–1 July 1908

25, 26, 27, 29, 30 June and 1 July 1908 at 3pm, plus two evening performances on 27 June and 1 July.

A full dress rehearsal was staged on 22 June 1908, and was watched by members of the Mother’s Union and the Girls’ Friendly Society.1

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Benson, F.R.
  • Costume and Property Department: Madame Dorey (Wardrobe), Miss Moss (Ecclesiastical Vestments), Mrs Wombwell (Headgear), Mrs Fort (footgear), Mr D.T. Cowan (Arms and Accoutrements), Mr N.C.H. Nisbett (Heraldry)
  • Stage Management & Cast (Principals): Mr Owen Chambers
  • Chorus and Orchestra: Mr C. Gamblin
  • Colour Scheme and Cast (Minor Parts): Miss Burn-Murdoch
  • Costumiere Artistique: Miss Jennie Moore
  • Dances Designed by: Mrs F.R. Benson, and choreographed by Mrs Owen Chambers
  • Costume Designers: Mr Herbert Norris, Miss Dorothy Carleton Smythe, Mr Alfred Rodway
  • Music: Mr Christopher Wilson

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • President: The Marquess of Winchester, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire
  • Vice-President: R.J. Harris [ex-Mayor of Winchester]
  • Hon. Secretaries: Chaloner Shenton; Sir Bampfylde Fuller, KCSI, CIE; Rev. Canon Arthur S. Valpy
  • Hon. Treasurers: A.E. Deane & E.W. Toby
  • Secretary: Mr F. Murray

General Purposes and Finance Committee:

  • Chair: Marquess of Winchester

Housing, Accommodation, and Traffic Committee:

  • Chair: R.J. Harris

Staging, Libretto and Music Committee:

  • Chair: The Archdeacon of Winchester

Grand Stand and Seating Committee:

  • Chair: T. Sopher

Printing and Advertising Committee:

  • Chair: A.R. Dyer

Costume Committee:

  • Chair: B.D. Cancellor

Executive Committee:

  • This included: The Right Worshipful the Mayor of Winchester; the Duke of Wellington and Earl of Northbrook, as well as the Right Hon. Lord Eversley [prominent Liberal peer], Capt. The Hon. Guy Baring, MP [Conservative MP for Winchester, 1906–16], and The Ven. The Archdeacon of Winchester (Chairman of Staging, Libretto, and Music Committees).

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

  • Stuart, Esmé
  • Benson, F.R.
  • Quiller-Couch, Arthur
  • Skrine, J.H.
  • Zimmern, A.E.
  • Newbolt, Henry
  • Morshead, E.


  • Miss Leroy (Esmé Stuart): Introduction, Episodes I and IX.
  • Mr F.R. Benson: Introduction and Episode I.
  • Mr A.T. Quiller-Couch: Episodes II and VI Part II.
  • Rev. Canon Skrine: Episodes III and IV.
  • Mr A.E. Zimmern: Episode V.
  • Mr Henry Newbolt: Episodes VI Part I and VII.
  • Mr E. Morshead: Episode VIII.

Names of composers

  • Wilson, Christopher

Numbers of performers


Men, women and children involved.Named in the Pageant Book, c. 185–200 men, 50–60 women, and 3 children.

Financial information


Sale of Tickets: £10534. 15s.
Sale of Books of Words and Music: £569. 11s. 8d.
Total Receipts: £11127. 9s. 4d.


Grand Stand, Orchestra Stands, etc: £2194. 9s. 7d.
Costumes and Props: £2058. 12s. 2d.
Printing: £829. 11s. 3d.
Advertising: £378. 12s. 9d.
Master of Pageant [Benson’s fee]: £550
Music: £386. 1s. 5d.
Barrack Account (Bandsmen, Orderlies, etc): £324. 5s. 5d.
Site: £1014. 3s. 7d.
Wolvesey Trustees Dilapidation Claim: £47. 5s.
Office Expenses: £486. 6s. 2d.
Police: £111. 0s. 10d.
Misc/Sundry: £184. 7s.

Total Profit: £2562. 14s. 2s.

£2000 was given to Cathedral Restoration Fund and £210 to F.R. Benson for Expenses leaving final balance of £278. 15s. 6d.4

Object of any funds raised

Winchester Cathedral Preservation Fund.


Cost of repairs was £80000, and £30000 was still needed by time of pageant.5

Linked occasion

No primary occasion, although this was partially to commemorate the Pan-Anglican Conference.

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: 4500
  • Total audience: n/a


Grandstand featured a ‘royal box’.

Sell-out crowds were reported for many performances, and one performance drew an audience of 8000.6

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Daytime performances: 800 at 2s. 6d., 1000 at 5s., 2000 at 10s. 6d., 1000–1200 at 21s., with 200 42s. tickets on first day only. [On first day 1000 at 21s.; on all other days 1200.]7

Two evening performances, 27 June and 1 July: three-quarters of tickets at 1s. and one-quarter at 5s., and children under 15yrs to be admitted at half-price.8

Ticket prices were a source of considerable debate in advance of the pageant: Interesting report in Hampshire Independent, 6 June 1908, 8.

Associated events

  • Special Service in Winchester Cathedral (25 June 1908), with address of welcome by the Lord Bishop of Winchester. Nearly 50 bishops and archbishops attended, and the total congregation was about 3000. 
  • Special Services in Winchester Cathedral (Sunday 28 June 1908) with the Bishop of Massachusetts leading the morning service and the Bishop of Niagara the evening.
  • Short Musical Services in Winchester Cathedral (at 12 noon, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 June, and 1 July).
  • Special visits made by royal figures on particular days, e.g. Princess Louise (26 June), Duke and Duchess of Connaught (30 June), as well as the Lord Chancellor, Speaker of House of Commons, and ‘distinguished members of the houses of parliament’ (27 June).
  • Reception and lunch held by Mayor of Winchester for visiting mayors and the Chinese Ambassador.

Pageant outline

Introduction. The Coming of the Romans, AD 43–827

Druid and priest standing at altar and Holy Well, with priests playing cymbals and harps. Surrounding Britons and Belgae demand a sacrifice to prevent the Roman victory. British Charioteer enters declaring the battle hangs in the balance. Crowd demands sacrifice of Druid’s daughter, then Romans enter with Emperor Vespasian who grants them laws.

Edict of Constantine, AD 313:

Hymn to Apollo is sung then the Roman governor proclaims the coming of Christianity, Christians celebrate.

Departure of the Romans, AD 383:

Romans leaving with Britons imploring them to stay, with one proclaiming ‘Rome hath but taught us peace, who now will teach us war?’

Cedric AD 591:

Chorus worshipping Woden, with kneeling British captives proclaiming servitude to the Saxons and their various standards. Cedric is proclaimed King and ‘Conqueror of Hampton and of Gwentceaster!’ [Southampton and Winchester] by the crowd.

Birinus and Kynegils AD 635:

Chorus sings song to Great Mother the Earth. Meeting of two Kings: the pagan Kynegils and the Christian Oswald whose followers insult each other. Birinus, a Priest, calms them and Kynegils offers Oswald his daughter. The two embrace and all are baptized.

Egbert, AD 827:

Egbert and the ‘Underkings’ enter. The Archbishop of Winchester crowns Egbert, who offers him land. Bishop Herefryth proclaims ‘Your realm is divided, King, but the Church is one. We stand for England. Christ shall conquer Thor.’12

Episode I. King Alfred, AD 862–900.

Depicting famous scenes from the life of King Alfred. Alfred learning to read; as a young King browbeaten due to the Danes; Alfred retreating—‘I and my Thegns to Athelney retire’13; Alfred wandering in the Danish camp ‘disguised as a harper’, an Abbot is killed after refusing to pay ransom, Alfred learns of the Viking plans and Saxons rush in to slaughter the them; Alfred’s peace with the Danes, surrounded by his children and priests; his legacy—‘books written in their mother tongue’ and ‘memories which should need no monument or Pageant to keep them alive.’14

Episode II. Canute and Emma, c. AD 1020.

Canute returning from failing to make the sea turn at Southampton. With his Queen, Emma, he endows Winchester cathedral, offering his crown and several other gifts. House-carls and Monks sing praises to Canute (the latter in Latin)

Episode III. The Trial of Waltheof. William the Conqueror, AD 1075.

The trial of Waltheof and other Saxon thegns by William the Conqueror for aiding rebels. The first three admit their guilt and are sentenced to confiscation of land and life in prison. Waltheof defies the charges. William asks his niece Judith (Waltheof’s wife) to testify against him. The court finds him guilty and he is taken to Winchester. Waltheof proclaims:

That I, the last of Englishmen should fall
By the churl axe of headsman…for a wife!
This is the last of Senlac field—my death.
Harold, great Harold, had I died with thee!’15

Interlude. St Giles’ Fair, AD 1102.St Giles Fair, Country Dances, a thief is chased and caught, boys playing football, a Miracle Play is performed as a dumbshow.

Episode IV. Henry de Blois, AD 1141–1153

Depiction of the Anarchy.

Part I. Building a castle walls with workmen singing:

Pat a brick, pat a brick
Mason’s man,
So I do, master,
Fast as I can.
Here’s for the water, here’s for the time,
Singing lustily, keeping the time,
When Harry the Bishop is Master.

News comes that the King has taken the Bishops of Sarum, Lincoln and Ely and many other castles.

Part II, Scene I. Outside the Bishop’s Castle with ‘A crowd of peasants ragged and woebegone’ complaining. Prince Henry enters promising an end to the war before Empress Matilda arrives to besiege the castle.

Part II, Scene II. Workmen finishing the ramparts and preparing for war overseen by Henry. Matilda besieges the castle, and there is an ensuing battle where the Empress is routed. Stephen enters and offers Henry a reward. Henry asks for peace. Stephen finally declares Henry ‘Heir of my crown and sceptre.’

Episode V. William of Wykeham, 28 March 1394

Hymn sung from Wolvesey Chapel offstage: ‘Iam lucis orto sidere’ [a populist Wykehamist hymn]. At the conclusion, the choir, clergy, Wykeham, and Bishop enter. The whole scene, except Wykeham’s brief address to the crowd, is in Latin, concerning the founding of the college and Wykeham’s pledge to preserve the cathedral. The text is largely taken from those regularly spoken at the college: In services and as the grace.

Episode VI. Part I. The Resignation of Bishop Foxe, AD 1516

The aged, nearly blind Bishop, founder or Corpus Christi College Oxford, is resigning his see. Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, represents the new church settlement in which monks and monasteries are a thing of the past. Both Foxe and Wolsey accept that their age and the age of the humanistic New Learning is at an end.

Episode VI. Part II. Reception of Emperor Charles V by King Henry VIII, AD 1522

Henry entertains the Holy Roman Emperor at Winchester, with the now blind Foxe present. Foxe, who baptised Henry, is ridiculed by Wolsey, More and Henry, who are more inclined to drink and be merry. Foxe is warmly received by Charles V, who proclaims ‘Blind men are prophets’. Morris men perform a scene featuring ‘Fool and Maid Marion, dragging a huge wooden horse.’ The Morris men sing ‘Henry VIII’s song’:

Pastime with good Companye
I love and shall until I dye.
Grudge who lust, but none deny:
So God be pleased, thus live will I.
For my pastaunce,
Hunt, sing and daunce,
My hearte is set;
All goodly sport
For my comfort
Who shall me let?

The fool [King Priam] enters to perform a pageant-within-pageant. He exchanges witticisms with Henry and brings on Cupids who set up and perform a game of tennis ‘but scurry away as a trumpet sounds’. Six Greek and six Trojan knights enter and perform a joust, which the Greeks win before crossing lances to salute Henry, forming a tent. Henry tires, stating ‘Too much of sport is troublesome’, and everyone exits through the lances, save Cromwell and Foxe. After Cromwell mocks Foxe and departs, the latter laments the present state of the Church:

Dear Mother Church! If fire must purify,
If tribulation search thee, shall I plead
‘Not in my time, O Lord’? Nay, let me know
All dark, yet trust the dawn, remembering
The order of thy service, thy sweet songs,
Thy decent ministrations—Levite, priest
And sacrifice—those antipasts of heaven.

Episode VII. The Marriage Festivities of Queen Mary and Philip of Spain, AD 1554

The scene is Wolvesey Palace. Two processions enter: one of Spanish dancers and soldiers in national costume drawing ‘a car with a model of a galleon upon it, flying Spanish colours.’ The other is of English archers and arquebusiers with the Royal Standard, and a Maypole with dancers with a car containing a model of an English ship ‘markedly smaller than that of the Spaniards.’ A chorus is sung: ‘What shall we do for a gay young Spaniard (x3) / Wooing a wife from England / Way! hay! there she rises! (x3) / Give him a wife from England..’. The two processions then collide in a tussle. Lady Winchester remarks: ‘We cannot match Castilian grace or Andalusian fire; but our poor jiggling may at least provide foil to enhance them.’ Other English dignitaries display perturbation about joining with their natural enemy. English sailors jump on the stage and sing a hornpipe and the scene concludes with a mock battle with the English fighting the Spanish and capturing their ship, dragging it offstage and singing an ‘improptu anti-papistical version of their runaway chorus’. The chorus runs: ‘What shall we do for the Pope’s own darlings? (x3) / Bring the Pope to England/ Way, hay, there she rises (x3) / No more Popes for England!/ What if they come with a great Armada (x3) / Playing at bowls for England/ Way, hay, there she rises (x3) / Play ‘em at bowls for England!’

Episode VIII. Sir Walter Raleigh on the Way to Execution, 1603

The programme notes that ‘The main situation is in accordance with historic fact; but, for the sake of dramatic effect, the details are readjusted.’ Raleigh was in fact reprieved ‘to be offered as a shameful sacrifice to Spain fifteen years afterwards.’16 Raleigh is being tried for treason against James, with the mob jeering and hustling him. Captain and Boatswain attest to his stature as an English hero and patriot, whilst the Sherriff attempts to stop them. Raleigh mounts the scaffold and makes his case, which is an elegy for Elizabethan England. Messenger arrives with a reprieve from the King, and the Sherriff remarks ‘Sir Walter Raleigh is reprieved! Hurrah! A brave man lives!’ Sailors cheer and bear Raleigh through the crowd on their shoulders.

Episode IX. Charles II The Merrie Monarch, AD 1683

Charles on one of his last visits to Winchester. May Day festival with dancing and garlands of oak and flowers. Maidens sing an ‘old song’ whilst there is Morris dancing. Winchester greets the King rapturously, whilst a fool mocks him. Charles asks Christopher Wren to build him a Royal Palace, then greets Nell Gwynn who asks for money to give to a fellow orange-girl. There is much humour when none of the attendant Lords have any cash to offer. The Queen arrives and all retire to the Castle. All characters of the pageant return on stage to sing ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ and ‘God Save the King’.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Vespasian [Titus Flavius Vespasianus] (AD 9–79) Roman emperor
  • Cynegils (d. 642) king of the Gewisse
  • Birinus [St Birinus] (d. c.650), bishop of Dorchester
  • Oswald [St Oswald] (603/4–642) king of Northumbria
  • Ecgberht [Egbert] (d. 839) king of the West Saxons
  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Aelfred, the Great]
  • Cnut [Canute] (d. 1035) king of England, of Denmark, and of Norway
  • William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087), king of England and duke of Normandy
  • Waltheof, earl of Northumbria (c.1050–1076) magnate
  • Matilda [Matilda of England] (1102–1167) empress, consort of Heinrich V
  • Stephen (c.1092–1154) king of England
  • Henry I (1068/9–1135) king of England and lord of Normand
  • Wykeham, William (c.1324–1404) bishop of Winchester, administrator, and founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford
  • Fox [Foxe], Richard (1447/8–1528) administrator, bishop of Winchester, and founder of Corpus Christi College, Oxford
  • Wolsey, Thomas (1470/71–1530) royal minister, archbishop of York, and cardinal
  • Oldham, Hugh (c.1450–1519) bishop of Exeter
  • Henry VIII (1491–1547) king of England and Ireland
  • Charles V (1500-1588) duke of Burgundy, rule of Spain and Holy Roman emperor
  • More, Sir Thomas [St Thomas More] (1478–1535) lord chancellor, humanist, and martyr
  • Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540) royal minister
  • Mary I (1516–1558) queen of England and Ireland
  • Philip [Philip II of Spain, Felipe II] (1527–1598) king of England and Ireland, consort of Mary I, and king of Spain
  • Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618) courtier, explorer, and author [also known as Raleigh, Sir Walter]
  • Charles II (1630–1685) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • James II and VII (1633–1701) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Gwyn, Eleanor [Nell] (1651?–1687) actress and royal mistress
  • Wren, Sir Christopher (1632–1723) architect, mathematician, and astronomer [also known as Wren]

Musical production

Chorus and Orchestra led by Mr C. Gamblin

Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Times
Illustrated London News
Hampshire Chronicle
Southampton Times
The Wykemamist
Southern Daily Echo
The Graphic

Book of words

Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music. Winchester, 1908.

Other primary published materials

  • Lewis, Col. J.F. Short Historical Notes on the Winchester Pageant. Winchester, 1908. [Copy in Hampshire RO, Winchester.]
  • Oaten, Frank, comp., Royal Winchester, 1908: Characters in the National Pageant and their Impersonators. St Albans, 1908. [Copy in Hampshire RO, Winchester.]
  • Winchester National Pageant: Programme of Arrangements, Episodes, etc. Winchester, 1908.

References in secondary literature

  • Quiller-Couch, A.T. Brother Copas. London, 1911.
  • Readman, Paul. ‘Commemorating the Past in Edwardian Hampshire: King Alfred, Pageantry, and Empire’. In Southampton: Gateway to the British Empire, edited by Miles Taylor, 95–113. London, 2007.
  • Trewin, J.C. Benson and the Bensonians. London, 1906.
  • Yoshino, Ayako. Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England. Tokyo, 2011. Especially 223-45.

Brother Copas was a novel by Quiller-Couch, author of some of the Winchester pageant script. The novel featured a pageant held in ‘Merchester’, a dead ringer for Winchester.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • F.R. Benson Papers, Shakespeare Memorial Library, Stratford-Upon-Avon.
  • Hampshire Record Office, Winchester.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
  • Asser, Life of Alfred. 893.
  • Chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
  • Cavendish, George. The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey. Oxford, C. 1555.
  • Freeman, E.A. The History of the Norman Conquest in England. London, 1867–79.
  • More, Thomas. Utopia. London, 1516.


The 1908 Winchester Pageant was, like those held in Sherborne (1905), Romsey (1907), and Oxford (1907), one of the crowning achievements of Edwardian historical pageantry, genuinely living up to its ‘national’ epithet. Whilst early twentieth-century Winchester may have become something of a backwater compared to nearby towns and cities such as Southampton and Reading, the pageant attempted to put the place squarely back into the national historical consciousness. As the Preface made clear: ‘The story of Winchester is, for many centuries, no small part of the story of England, and its greatness’. It added that names of great Saxon and Norman Kings, inherently intertwined with Winchester, ‘represent the Founding of our Royal line, the Making of our English Nation.’ The Preface went on to stress the hallowed nature of the ground on which the pageant was performed, stating that it was ‘full of romance: few plots of English ground are more so.’17

As Paul Readman has argued, part of the impetus for the pageant stemmed from the 1901 Millennium commemoration of the death of Alfred the Great (we now know he in fact died in 899), the Anglo-Saxon king who had made Winchester his capital.18 Local competition from Romsey cannot have hurt the town’s desire to stage a historical spectacle, drawing on an expanse of national history which foregrounded Winchester as the spiritual home of British monarchy, and by extension British history. It was, as the Shakespearian actor and impresario, F.E. Benson, put it, ‘the cradle of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom… and the foundations upon which the mighty British Empire have since been constructing were laid in Winchester by such great men as Alfred, Egbert, Canute, William the Conqueror.’19 The decision to stage a very large-scale pageant was taken consciously, with other pageants in mind. If the upcoming Bury St Edmund’s Pageant was to have a thousand performers, Winchester must at least match that: ‘What Bury St Edmunds can do, what Warwick did last year, surely Winchester can accomplish.’20 Though conscious of the town’s relatively small size, the town’s organizing committee repudiated all notions of inferiority, listing dozens of urban centres connected to Winchester by railway. This circumstance, the committee felt sure, enabled the pageant to draw on a population of millions within travelling distance – many of whom, it was assumed, would be eager to come to Winchester. The nearly two years of planning available to Benson allowed for meticulous preparation of every detail.

One detail Benson could not have planned for, along with the weather, was the ‘Russian gun riot’, which took place a month before the pageant when the town was being thoroughly cleaned. The council attempted to remove railings around a gun captured during the Crimean war, which had become a symbol of working-class patriotism within the town. Ayako Yoshino suggests that this incident represented a flashpoint of class tensions in the town, with the over-officious council, which had gone to the expense and trouble of organizing the pageant, largely ignoring working-class sentiment. Another reading of this is that the working class took the gun as a symbol of imperialism and industrial modernity (of which they were a fundamental part), in contrast to the ancient city represented by the council, church, and College, from which they were effectively excluded (at one point the mob threatened to pull down the statue of King Alfred, erected in 1901, which had been paid for through a rise in local rates).21 In an uncanny paralleling of past and present, Episode VIII (written by E.D.A. Morshead) features a fight between local townspeople and sailors as Sir Walter Raleigh is being led to his execution. Though Raleigh is ultimately reprieved (although he would finally be put to death in 1618), it is clear that the sailors, representing English patriotic decency, are presented as active agents, having the potential to free the hero Raleigh from the clutches of state authority. It is, however, unlikely that Morshead would have changed the scene to reflect the city’s recent turmoil. Moreover, the allying of Winchester’s history with naval prowess – and the heroes associated with that prowess – was natural given the proximity of Southampton and Portsmouth.

Readman suggests that the pageant itself proved something of a draw to the working classes, many of whom showed an eagerness to buy the cheap seats. Certainly, some working people became intensely involved in the running of the pageant, fashioning scenery and making shields and spears at local authority workshops. That they were allowed to take work home with them suggests that the authorities hardly feared a mass uprising. Readman has also cross-referenced cast lists with the 1901 Census and found that many performers (though generally those taking less important parts) came from working-class districts of the town.22

In any case, the disturbances and simmering resentments seem to have been quelled by the opening day of the pageant. Tickets sold extremely well, with some 8000 arriving on the first day and causing a horrific crush:

Several thousands were awaiting admission at six o’clock, before the afternoon performance had concluded. Special trains brought in hundreds of visitors, who crowded the precincts of the pageant ground. The crush at the gates leading to the ticket office was terrible; women screamed and fainted, and frantically tore their way out of the dense, swaying, pushing, surging mass of humanity behind. When the gates opened the constables were almost overcome, and again around the ticket office the crowd screamed and fought for the little piece of paper which entitled them to admission.23

Such scenes go some way to undermining the image of stately decorum of a high-Edwardian summer projected by the pageant committee and suggest that the politics of the crowd were very much part of Edwardian Pageantry.

For the scenes in the pageant performance itself, Winchester drew on many of its illustrious sons. Of the seven scriptwriters, five had connections with the town and Winchester College: E.D.A. Morshead was a teacher at Winchester, Alfred Zimmern the classical scholar was an illustrious alumni, and Arthur Quiller Couch, the poet Henry Newbolt, and Benson himself all had children there.24

The narrative of the pageant presents something of an ideal type, blending the history of the church with the evolution of the English monarchy. The Prologue shows the history of the collapse of the Roman Empire (and the collapse of the rule of law) through the conversion of the West Saxons under Birinus. In fact this episode, which saw the conversion of the Wessex King Kynegils, shows an astute scene of realpolitik in which Birinus gains permission to preach across the Saxon Kingdoms, and Kynegils creates an alliance with Oswald of Northumbria. Though hardly a Damascene moment of conversion, it created the basis for the emergence of a strong southern Christian King, Egbert, under the dual powers of Church and Monarchy.

The episode featuring King Alfred displays fairly stock scenes from the heroic life of the great man: learning to read, caring for his Saxon subjects, and being harried by the Danes. It also portrays the fictitious scene where Alfred wanders disguised as a harpist among the Danish camp, where an abbot is martyred by pagans, then depicts Alfred’s victory over the Danes. However, the next scene, with King Canute (who made England a part of his vast, albeit short-lived Scandinavian empire), complicates the overall attempt to combine Winchester and the nation’s past to a firmly Anglo-Saxon past, in what is a perfect example of ‘Whiggish’ history. The trial and execution of Waltheof, one of the last thegns to remain loyal to the Anglo-Saxon cause, portrays him as a true hero of Winchester, against the imposition of foreign monarchs.

The remainder of the pageant is largely forced to acknowledge Winchester’s diminished status within British history after William the Conqueror established his capital in London. Aside from the episodes featuring local notables, such as those dealing with Henry de Blois and William of Wykeham, the action tended to involve monarchs or other notable figures (including Henry VIII and Charles V, Mary I and Phillip of Spain, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Charles II) merely passing through the town on their way to or from London or Southampton. Indeed, as Readman has argued, despite the obvious proximity of Winchester to the imperial ports and despite a number of scenes involving European monarchs, both the pageant and the 1901 Alfred Millenary were representations of Englishness that gave scant mention of the empire.25 Finally, a number of the scenes, involving diplomatic receptions, marriage ceremonies, and the ubiquitous scenes of folk merry-making, Morris and Maypole dancing, had little in the way of historical or dramatic significance and were more about creating a spectacle.

So far as the response from the press went, the event was compared favourably with other pageants, such as that at Oxford. All agreed that it was a triumph for Benson, with the Observer noting that ‘Winchester may congratulate itself on having achieved a gigantic success and opened the floodgates of praise from those who have witnessed the great display.’26 Other newspapers were similarly effusive in their praise. The pageant took receipts totalling over £11 000, of which £10545. 9s. 9d. were from ticket sales alone, and £2500 of profit was given to the Cathedral restoration fund, whose sinking timber foundations were heavily waterlogged (a fact attested to by the much-publicised images of a diver under the cathedral).27 Winchester held a further pageant in 1934


The novelist Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote Episodes II and VI Part II, wrote in his novel Brother Copas (a ‘roman a clef’ for the Winchester Pageant) about the uplifting sense of all the meticulous planning coming together, which expresses the mixed attitudes of intellectuals towards an often preposterous Pageant. Yet Quiller-Couch’s novel showed how the town and wider audience ultimately came together united by a backdrop of history. As Quiller-Couch wrote:

So the pageant went on unfolding its scenes. Some of them were merely silly…Indeed much of the pageant was extremely silly. Yet, as it progressed, Brother Copas was not alone in finding his heart lift with the total effect of it. Here, after all, thousands of people were met in common pride of England and her history…These thousands of people were met for a purpose in itself ennobling because unselfish…The rite took possession of them, seizing on them, surprising them with a sudden glow about the heart…This was history of a sort.28


  1. ^ Southern Daily Echo, 23 June 1908, 3.
  2. ^ Winchester National Pageant: Programme of Arrangements, Episodes, etc. (Winchester, 1908), vi.
  3. ^ Cast Book, Hampshire Record Office: 179M84W/7.
  4. ^ Minutes of Finance Committee, Hampshire Record Office: 179M84W/1.
  5. ^ Southern Daily Echo, 22 June 1908, 2.
  6. ^ See e.g. Hampshire Independent, 4 July 1908, 9.
  7. ^ Grand Stand and Seating Committee. HRO 184M84W/2.
  8. ^ Hampshire Independent, 6 June 1908, 8.
  9. ^ The Times, 26 June 1908, 12; Southern Daily Echo, 25 June 1908, 3.
  10. ^ Southern Daily Echo, 25 June 1908, 3; The Times, 25 June 1908, 5.
  11. ^ Southern Daily Echo, 30 June 1908, 2.
  12. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), 13.
  13. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), 15.
  14. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), 11.
  15. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), 31.
  16. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), 73.
  17. ^ Winchester National Pageant: The Book of the Words and Music (Winchester, 1908), vii.
  18. ^ Paul Readman, ‘Commemorating the Past in Edwardian Hampshire: King Alfred, Pageantry, and Empire’, in Southampton: Gateway to the British Empire, ed. Miles Taylor (London, 2007), 96–99.
  19. ^ ‘The Winchester Pageant’, Hampshire Observer, nd, copy held in Hampshire Record Office.
  20. ^ Ibid.
  21. ^ Ayako Yoshino, Pageant Fever: Local History and Consumerism in Edwardian England (Tokyo, 2011), 231–41.
  22. ^ Readman, ‘Commemorating the Past’, 100–2.
  23. ^ Hampshire Independent, 4 July 1908, 9, quoted in Readman, ‘Commemorating the Past’, 100.
  24. ^ Yoshino, Pageant Fever, 226.
  25. ^ Readman, ‘Commemorating the Past’, 108–9.
  26. ^ Observer, 28 June 1908, 10.
  27. ^ Yoshino, Pageant Fever, 230–31.
  28. ^ Arthur Quiller-Couch, Brother Copas (London, 1911), 335–36 quoted in Readman, ‘Commemorating the Past’, 103.

How to cite this entry

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