Blenheim Pageant

Other names

  • Oxfordshire Pageant

Pageant type


Produced by Oxfordshire Women’s Institutes

Jump to Summary


Place: Blenheim Palace (Woodstock) (Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England)

Year: 1951

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 2


14 and 21 July 1951

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Rye, Alan
  • Assistant Pageant Master: Kitching, Alan
  • Costume Designer: Maisie Marshall

Names of executive committee or equivalent


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

  • Rye, Alan
  • Torre, Raf de la
  • Masefield, John

Names of composers


Numbers of performers

800 - 800

Financial information


Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Festival of Britain

Audience information

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


Associated events


Pageant outline

Scene I. Proclamation of James I at Banbury

Scene II. The Death of Hampden at Thame

Scene III. The Siege and Surrender of Oxford

Scene IV. The Secret Meetings of Lord Saye and Sele at Broughton Castle

Scene V. Pages of the County’s History

Scene VI. Proclamation of Cromwell’s Death

Scene VII. Refugees from the Great Plague

Scene VIII. William III at Oxford

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Hampden, John (1595–1643) politician
  • Fiennes, James, first Baron Saye and Sele (c.1390–1450) administrator
  • William III and II (1650–1702) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and prince of Orange

Musical production


Newspaper coverage of pageant

The Stage
Banbury Advertiser
Bedfordshire Times and Independent
Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser (Australia)

Book of words


Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature


Archival holdings connected to pageant


Sources used in preparation of pageant



Blenheim Palace had previously hosted a Pageant in 1938.1 It was one of many cities, towns and villages across the country which hosted pageants for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Women’s Institute (WI) pageants had flourished in the late 1920s and early 1930s (see entries for Berkshire and Staffordshire), often being organised on a county-wide basis. However, these had waned in subsequent years, making the Blenheim (or Oxfordshire) Pageant something of a rarity (see also entry for Raglan 1951). The location was surprising, given the opposition of the Conservative Party, led by former Blenheim resident Winston Churchill, to the notion of the Festival.

Nonetheless, the pageant was a welcome event, patronised by the great and the good—a marked contrast from the ‘people’s history’ element of many other Festival Pageants, such as East Grinstead, Rushden, and Headley. John Masefield wrote the prologue, performed by Lady Brunner, President of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and daughter of the famous actor Henry Irvine.2 Lord Saye and Sele played his illustrious ancestor, James Fiennes, who met in secret at Broughton Castle during the Civil Wars and other prominent performers included the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Lady Rosemary Churchill, along with members of dozens of WI’s across the county. On 21 July the pageant was attended by Princess Margaret.3 The Stage, which was often critical of pageants, declared that ‘During a Festival year in which pageants are almost a daily event, the production at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, of the Pageant of Oxfordshire, was outstanding by reason of the richness of the history’ noting also that the ‘costumes glowed in loveliness’.4

A further Pageant was held at Blenheim in 1953, to celebrate the five hundredth year of the village.5


1. ^ The Times, 2 August 1938, 14.
2. ^ Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 21 September 1951, 2.
3. ^ The Stage, 26 July 1951, 13.
4. ^ Ibid.
5. ^ A.P. Baggs, W.J. Blair, Eleanor Chance, Christina Colvin, Janet Cooper, C.J Day, Nesta Selwyn and S.C. Townley, 'Woodstock: Introduction', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 12, Wootton Hundred (South) Including Woodstock, ed. Alan Crossley and C.R. Elrington (London, 1990), 326-33, British History Online, accessed 14 December 2016, 

How to cite this entry

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