This study examines the historical developments in medieval London, the ceremonies practiced then and the roles these ceremonies played in overall the social setting.
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British monarchy was ever so splendid displaying itself in all its finery in the middle centuries. Many of these displays occurred in the pageantries, processions and rituals it held. The best of these were always in London, some of which have transcended time and are still commemorated today. Among these many medieval ceremonies are: ‘Trooping the color’; which marks the Queen’s official birthday; the ‘Order of the Garter’; perhaps the most prestigious oldest (founded by Edward III in 1348) and The State Opening of Parliament are traditions that date back to 15th century and are still held to date.
These ceremonies were used as avenues to address various social concerns. They were tailored to meet special individual and social requirements. For example in the royal ceremonies held at the palace, when the king and his knights met annually for celebration, they also created new knights from people who were considered to be of the most outstanding traits and military minds. (There were women knights known as Lady Companions) They were also available to fulfill the primary role of a bodyguard; that of providing defense of the Sovereign capital and of providing military assistance to the civilian authorities as needed at all ceremonial events.
London’s ceremonies were a major tourist attraction. Its court tradition and processions, offered a chance for people to enjoy a real glimpse into the spectacle of pageantry and the sight of ancient traditions that have survived the brunt of time. Through the various ceremonies, ‘outsiders’ were able to understand the social relations of the urban class and family patterns that were displayed then. In these, the different social networks and strata were evident.
Court pageantry was most visible in the ceremonial entries, weddings and meetings, which were celebrated with extravagant decorations and grand civic tournaments. As a result the ceremonies stimulated growth of local crafts industries, such as the metalwork industry for production of armors and weapons; stone sculpture for funeral monuments, enamel and silver work for daily usage and ceremonial objects, and tapestries which helped decorate the large interior spaces of palaces and to express the courts’ taste as well as luxury.
From the ceremonies, It could be seen how people regarded each other, whether as friends or equals and who mingled with whom? As such it was possible to analyze different social relationships of the groups or classes in the urban society. People participated in the occasional civic festivities, such as processions, entries, and peace celebrations or organized their own competition or festivals both for public and in the private spheres of their meeting-places, according to their social ranks; of knights, dukes, merchants among the others.
In the years 1480-1565, Miller and Hatcher (1995) say, a culture of rhetoric enjoyed the limelight and institutions like the Chambers of Rhetoric, occupied a central place in the vibrant urban life of the sixteenth-century. Ceremonies for guilds and confraternities of laymen devoted to the practice of vernacular theater and poetry came up. Participants in these functions were a remarkable array of merchants and artisans.
Some of the ceremonies in these Chambers involved training of the members in the writing and reciting of versed texts and in the performance of plays. Subsequently, more chambers were founded by local inhabitants not only in large metropolitan centers but also in small towns and even, in some regions, in villages because of their role in communal development and in the construction of an urban culture. They also resulted in articulate public communication. Through the ability of their members to fashion complex discourses, they sustained urban and princely politics while expressing the concerns of their own social group. The ceremonies underlined the relations among different groups and neighborhoods within one city, when held locally and, when held on a regional or interregional level, they emphatically celebrated the relations among different cities and towns within the urban network.
As the city’s influence and attraction spread well beyond its borders, there rose economic hierarchical political networks. Evidently, these networks not only necessitated interaction, but also stirred great rivalry between cities and towns. Some ceremonies which were characterized by elaborate ritual generated jealousy among rivals. To purge such feelings of intense rivalry a symbolic sphere was created, where real political and economic tensions were channeled. With time these symbolic spheres and competitions temporarily replaced the need for real rivalry and offered communities the opportunity to commit themselves and strengthen their mutual ties. As these practices got ritualized, the interdependencies within the urban network became part of a set of cultural strategies to decrease tensions; therefore, it can be argued, as Rigby, (1995, p113) posits, that these ceremonies contributed to what can be called an “economy of symbolic exchanges”.
Their practices reflected and reinforced and contributed actively to the creation of civic networks of social trust. In this process, urban identity that is–both in the strict sense of belonging to one city or town, and in the larger sense of a consciousness of being part of a greater community of interdependent cities and towns–was constantly tested and redefined.
Contests of the shooting guilds, notably those of the crossbow and of the hand-bow between regions and inter-regions, promoted brotherly love, recreation, and a sense of virtue, and banished hate, envy, sloth, wrath, and other sins. In order to achieve this end the organizers tried to avoid the explicit formulation of the contests by using alternative terms such as feasts, meetings, plays, jewels, or prize giving ceremonies; suggesting the spirit of winning, while veiling the possibility of their losing and ultimately of hurt feeling. The organizers of competitions were very creative in the invention of numerous categories for prizes to be won, there were always losers–and, more often than not, bad losers. They were also used to award prizes to the best crafts, entry, funniest clown, most impressive fireworks, and for many other categories. Everyone had something to gain from. In this manner compelling social harmony was instituted within a limited time and space,
The medieval ceremonies were an avenue to better the relations with other groups and communities while enhancing the honor of the whole community, society and by extension, of the city or town it represented. Therefore people invested in symbolic capital–in the first place their collective honor, as a company, a city or town. Collective honor was an essential value in a society where being a member of a well-defined group or corporations was crucial to social survival. To develop this collective honor in such complex urban societies of the medieval era, it was necessary to interact with other groups. Early modern urbanites clearly understood that the strength of a group’s collective honor was best tested in the public sphere. It is therefore not coincidence that most interregional ceremonies were held during specific periods–such as during and after the civil wars and during the growing tensions when crisis forced urban communities closer together.
Ceremonies organized in the context of religious events, contributed to the shaping of a unique religious culture that drew its meaning ritualized exchange of values, practices, and ideas among the inhabitants of different cities, towns, and villages. Religious processions were at this time common and were held everywhere in Europe, in cities and even in small towns and London was not left behind.
Rhetorician culture in many respects was a unique feature of urban culture. In pre-Reformation England, craft and religious guilds were responsible for the high degree of specialization and associations that devoted themselves as well as industrial growth.
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In conclusion we must conclude at this point that ceremonies played an important role in the process of defining and redefining collective identities in the society: not only individual and group, but also regional and interregional urban identities
Because institutional growth and social development were linked to two features: urban association and public space, the concept of ceremony in early London urban culture revolved around these two. The people used and adapted corporate models in order to express their ever-changing cultural and religious needs and values; at the same time they helped to mold urban public space–both in a physical and in an intellectual sense–into an open, flexible, and competitive civic sphere that was profoundly marked by the relations within the urban network.
E. Miller and J. Hatcher, 1995. “Medieval England: towns, commerce and crafts, 1086-1348”, London and New York.
Rigby, S.H. 1995 ‘English society in the later Middle Ages: class, status and gender’ London, Basingstoke, p113.
Thrupp, S.1948 ’The merchant class of medieval London’ Chicago.