Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Part 9

On these occasions, the presence of the people could also be heard. A crowd of 7,000 had greeted Henri II as he went through the city gates at Lyons in 1548. In the Low Countries, the clamour of the people was heard at Bruges in 1515 appealing to the young prince Charles to reinvigorate the city and its trade. At Antwerp, in 1594, that Theatre of Peace (which so resembled the Colosseum) offered a visual reminder and plea from the townspeople that the wars that had devastated their country for so long might cease. In German states, at Halle in 1616 for example, peasants were participants in the revelry - over 120 of them joined in the procession, tumbling as they went, and carrying sheaves of corn and farm implements. Occasionally, though, this populace was not quiescent. After the duc d’Anjou had left an elaborately contrived garden filled with elegant statues wrought in ancient fashion at the centre of Tours in 1576, despite the guards posted all around, the crowd came in and “pillaged, ravaged and ransacked”.

Such checks notwithstanding, festivals were significant contributions to political debate; and, to understand fully their meaning, each Festival book needs to be set within its immediate context. At Toulouse in 1565, for example, Charles IX’s entry was marked by an emphasis on local history, the inventor of the arches going back to old volumes of annals (and to Plutarch and Strabo). New dynasties sought to reinforce their claims to legitimacy, as in Emperor Ferdinand I’s entry into Prague in 1558, or that of Sigismund III into Cracow thirty years later. The marriage celebrations of the Elector Palatine in 1613 were the culmination of years of political manoeuvering and gatherings among Protestant princes who had wished, in their festivals, to make visual statements about war and peace and national identity, as well as expressing their hopes for unity. Henri III’s tour of Northern Italian cities on his return to France from Cracow in 1574 was greeted with a remarkable series of Festivals given by princes anxious to have a powerful monarch’s support. Even Venice – that standard bearer of freedom and republicanism – entertained him for many days. In ballets and operas, too, there was the same concern to make political statements. The opening scene of the opera put on in Florence in 1637 to celebrate the Duke’s wedding, projected a view of Florence [Example 34] inviting spectators to recognize the significance of that place in the drama.

In general, very precise political motives directed the themes, images and verses of a spectacle, and these were especially emphasized in the printed record. At Caen in 1532, François Ier was left in no doubt as to what the city wanted – equal status with rival towns in Normandy. The duc de Nevers’ secretary, Blaise de Vigenère, in his published version of Henri III’s entry into Mantua in 1574, reworked the images and their appropriation, manipulating their meaning in order to cement closer political relations between his master and the king. Henri IV saw the legitimate line of the Bourbons displayed at Lyons in 1595; and, in the same year, the citizens of Abbeville seized the opportunity of the king’s entry to put into relief his role as Catholic monarch at a time when the Pope had still to pronounce absolution.