To give an idea of the range of material, consider this rather stark frontispiece [Example 2] of a letter describing the wedding of Philip II and Mary Tudor in 1554. The imperial eagle is centred, topped by the imperial crown and flanked by the prince’s columns and device Plus ultra. Then there is this frontispiece for the royal entry into Lyons in 1548 where the printer’s device is beautifully engraved, and seems, momentarily at least, more important than the occasion being recorded. A different approach is the overview of an event provided at the beginning of the account of the entry of Maria Magdalena, archduchess of Austria into Florence prior to her wedding to Cosimo II in 1608 [Example 4]. Here, the entire procession is stretched out and, at intervals, there appear the triumphal arches and monuments that had been erected to greet Maria Magdalena with their meaning briefly indicated in the text below. Thus, through a Festival book, it is sometimes possible to take in at a glance a complete event, giving the reader a view of the occasion more comprehensive and more detailed than any mere spectators could have gained even though they had actually witnessed the entry.
Moreover, festival books were designed in part to allow the principal actors the opportunity to experience again an important occasion in their lives, and to understand better the meaning of the symbols that had been laid on the surface of monuments. They also served as a memorial to noble participants who could recall in later life the splendour of past deeds, like the Lord Great Chamberlain in this coloured illustration [Example 5], which shows his procession at the head of the great line of officials who led James II at the opening of Parliament in 1685. The Lord Chamberlain was in charge of all royal ceremonial, and it was he who masterminded the same king’s coronation two years later. One can gauge the nature of the complex arrangements required from this view of the moment of crowning at Westminster [Example 6] where the vast reaches of the Abbey are faithfully rendered, showing the scaffolds erected for spectators, and projecting an extraordinary calm and sense of order. The same qualities are found in this static vision of the banquet which followed the coronation, given in Westminster Hall where the engraving shows [Example 7] the diners at the long tables, as well as the spectators who had paid money to see them eat. One can admire, too, the careful delineation of the handsome beams of this old ceremonial place. A final image from this event [Example 8] illustrates well the kind of aspirations that creators of festivals struggled to project for even the weakest of monarchs. In this firework display over the Thames, James is shown as the Sun King (perhaps rivalling the status of Louis XIV) with opposite him, the figure of a Roman knight bearing the king’s laurel crown. These are undoubtedly images of power and authority, however they are expressed in flames which were quickly to fade, and disappear altogether through the ineptitude of this sensuous, pleasure-seeking monarch. As William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle had written to James’ predecessor: “ For what preserves you kings more than ceremony”; and certainly, we know of the ambitious hopes, never fulfilled, but eloquently projected in this record of the festival.