Celebrations and Trepidations

In May 2016 the Queen’s 90th birthday party will take place in the private grounds of Windsor Castle. Traditionally, royal celebrations have been a grand affair. These were occasions of pomp and pleasantry, times in which courtiers and citizens expressed loyalty and affection to the monarch (real or otherwise). Immigrants played a notable role in such festivities.


Festival in Antwerp LE.34.43

The early history of urban celebrations has a colourful history. Religious festivals took place on significant dates in the Church calendars. Fetes were organized when royals made a formal entry into a city, either at home or abroad. Festival books were the printed accounts of these occasions. Impressive entries like those of the Habsburg princes in Antwerp and Brussels produced albums that are the most splendid specimens of the Renaissance book.*

Triumphal processions began in ancient Rome. These included the construction of arches which were known as ‘arcus triumphales’. During the Renaissance civic festivals became the highlights of urban life throughout Western Europe. The entry of a (new) sovereign was an occasion on which humanists, artists and rhetoricians joined forces to prepare celebrations. Occasional decoration became an art in itself. Arches were put together out of wood, canvas and greenery, and decorated with allegorical paintings and Latin inscriptions. The elaborate London entry for James I, known as ‘The Magnificent Entertainment’, included ornate and iconographical arches. In 1604, architect Conraet Jansen published his pamphlet Herlycke arcus triumphal, ofte Eerepoorte vande Nederlantsche natie opgherecht in London (The precious triumphant arch erected by the Dutch nation in London). The previous year he had been commissioned by a committee of twelve members of the London Dutch Church to design and built a triumphal arch in honour of the new monarch James I. It was one of seven arches to celebrate the king and it turned out to be one of the finest arches of its kind ever to be built in Britain. It was conveniently and rather symbolically positioned at Cornhill Street near the Royal Exchange. In the words of the architect, the Flemish and Dutch decided to erect their own triumphal arch in order to ‘honour the King and show their gratitude to God and the City’. For this purpose Jansen hired sixty-two people, consisting of six carpenters, twenty-three joiners, four timber handlers, fourteen carvers, one turner and fourteen painters. He invited artists Daniel de Vos and Pauwels van Overbeke to come over from Antwerp and take charge of the canvas-painting. They were assisted by London-based Dutch painters Adriaen van Son and Martin Droeshout.

The iconographic program of reliefs, paintings and sculptures that decorated the arch displayed a Calvinistic message as well as a representation of Anglo-Low Countries friendship. The front was dedicated to the praise of the new monarch; the back highlighted the achievements of the Flemish and Dutch in England. James was represented as the new British Salomon. Seventeen young women representing the provinces of the Low Countries were positioned on the main gallery. They were dressed in traditional local costumes each holding the coat of arms of the province she represented – these were the united Low Countries proper, not the divided areas of the Northern United Provinces and the Southern Spanish Netherlands. This was a political message that the Low Countries’ community in London wanted to convey to their host nation: it symbolized the cultural Calvinist identity of the community as a whole. When the king arrived at the Royal Exchange, he was greeted at the arch by a delegation of more than fifty leading members of the community. The arch represented a prosperous immigrant community full of confidence and proud to present itself to the host nation.

With the death of James and the imminent coronation of Charles I in 1625, the Dutch community in London proposed the building of another triumphal arch. A committee of elders at Austin Friars was appointed to organize matters. Most prominent amongst the participants was Bernard Janssen, an experienced surveyor and architect who had played a significant part in the grand construction of the Audley End estate in Essex. His father was the sculptor and mason Garet Janssen [Gerard Johnson], a religious refugee from the Low Countries who had arrived in London around 1567. His brother Gerard Janssen the Younger sculpted the memorial portrait bust of Shakespeare in 1616 (Stratford upon Avon). The leading painter of the pictures for the arch was Francis Cleyn, who was in charge of the Mortlake tapestry factory which was mainly manned by weavers from the Low Countries. Poet Ben Jonson accepted the invitation to take part. The cancellation of the coronation came as a huge blow to the organizers considering the advanced state of the preparations and the amount of money invested. A description of the arch has been left by Cesar Calandrini in his contemporary history of the London Dutch community.

There are telling differences between the planned arch of 1625 and the one erected in 1603/4. The biblical allusions and Protestant allegories of the earlier arch were to be replaced by bland statements of the importance of maintaining true religion (Charles had an intense dislike of strict Calvinism). The emphasis on the contacts with the Netherlands, the paintings depicting Dutch ships, fishing vessels on the English coast, the harbour of Middelburg and the depiction of particular Dutch arts and crafts had disappeared. The robust confidence reflected in the program of 1604 had evaporated. Anglo-Dutch relations were turning sour. Mercantile competition had heated up. The hostility between the two East India companies deteriorated into hostility, and the Amboyna massacre of 1623 had stirred up strong anti-Dutch sentiments.

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Charles II’s coronation entry into the City of London in April 1661 was to be the last of its kind. It was organized in the same way as its Elizabethan and Stuart precursors with pageants and triumphal arches. The initial Dutch reaction to becoming involved in the festivities surrounding the ‘Merry Monarch’ was lukewarm. The money squandered with the cancellation of Charles I’s coronation may well have remained fresh with the community. They no longer stood out with their own distinct display, and their reluctant contribution to the festivities was financial solely. At this point in time relations were once more overshadowed by bitter trade rivalries which would lead to the second Anglo-Dutch war three years later.


* The Library holds a number of these splendid books, including:

La ioyevse & magnifique entrée de Monseigneur Françoys: Fils de France, et Frere Vnicqve dv Roy, par la grace de Dieu, Dvc de Brabant, d’Anjou, Alençon, Berri, &c. en sa tres-renommée ville d’Anvers. (Anvers: Christophe Plantin, 1582). LE.34.43

A relation of the glorious triumphs and order of the ceremonies, obserued in the marriage of … Charles, King of Great Brittaine, and … Henrietta Maria … Together with the ceremonie obserued in their troth-plighting … As also the Kings [Louis XIII’s] declaration containing a prohibition … to vse any … commerce with … Spaine. (Published in the Parliament of Paris, the 12 of May, 1625). Syn.7.62.270

Ogilby, John

The entertainment of His most excellent Majestie Charles II: in his passage through the city of London to his coronation: containing an exact accompt of the whole solemnity; the triumphal arches, and cavalcade, delineated in sculpture; the speeches and impresses illustrated from antiquity. To these is added, a brief narrative of His Majestie’s solemn coronation: with his magnificent proceeding, and royal feast in Westminster-hall. ([London]: Printed for R. Mariot and T. Dring, 1662). Brett-Smith.a.14

An extensive bibliography of festival books is provided by Festivals and Ceremonies / eds. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Anne Simon (London: Mansell, 2000). B150.490.1 

Guest author: Dr Jaap Harskamp

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