John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth Volume III

John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth Volume III
John Nichols
Edited by Elizabeth Goldring, Faith Eales, Elizabeth Clarke and Jayne Elisabeth Archer
Oxford University Press; 2014
878 pages

This amazing collection of texts related to the Elizabethan Era focuses on the Queen’s progresses during the years 1579-1595. Despite the fact that reading in this detail about court entertainments and municipal pageants may not be to everyone’s taste, readers will acknowledge that this is certainly the definitive edition of Nichols’s work.  Kudos to the editors for explaining the differences between texts and illustrations supplying extensive footnotes and providing modern interpretations for the primary sources.

Topics covered ranged from what apprentices could wear to the relations between Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and William Cecil, Baron Burghley. For this reviewer there was extra enjoyment in reading in more detail about houses such as Losley, Petworth and Cowdray having visited them; and reflecting on memories connected with other experiences associated with items mentioned by Nichols: surveying the Golden Hinde replica, viewing the drawing from 1587 of Mary, Queen of Scot’s funeral at the Newberry Library in Chicago, and inspecting the Ditchley Portrait at the NPG knowing the painting commemorated Elizabeth’s entertainment in 1592.  The previously mentioned items are, obviously, beyond the typical tourist areas such as Oxford.  Elizabeth I’s entertainments at Oxford were of particular interest as this reviewer is writing a blog entry for ElizaRegina at regarding the foundation of Jesus College under Elizabeth’s direction.

The single disappointment as nothing to do with the text–it is the contemporary reader’s inability to see Theobalds and the complete Whitehall.  They must have been magnificent palaces and their demolition is regrettable especially since so many entertainments, progresses and pageants were held there during Elizabeth’s reign.

The dramatic performances listed, especially those given at Oxford, those designed for the Duke of Anjou’s visit and those of the Accession Day Device from 1595 (written by Francis Bacon) were interesting if not for the faint of heart.  One feels as if there is great progress being made in reading the text but it is actually the result of skipping dozens of pages because it is written in Latin.  Obviously, any texts written in Early Modern English require concentration and patience which qualities reward the reader ten-fold with the essence of the time period.

Elizabeth used her public image to promote her reputation and authority.  Nichols’ work delves into how the traditions of ritual gift giving for New Year’s and other commemorative events and progresses solidified the Queen’s persona.  Presenting the sovereign with valuables still exists to this day as modern royal families accept gifts be they from local citizens (many who can ill-afford providing them) or distant sheikhs. Although the Tudors did not create the system of progresses, Elizabeth certainly gained from it as it provided her with an expense-free vacation, her palaces received much needed maintenance and cleaning while her hosts gained opportunities to promote themselves and apply influence.