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  • Cited by 18
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2014

4 - The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the ‘Invention of Tradition’, c. 1820–1977


In 1820, The Black Book, a radical critique of the corruption and power of the English Establishment, made this comment on royal ritual:

Pageantry and show, the parade of crowns and coronets, of gold keys, sticks, white wands and black rods; of ermine and lawn, maces and wigs, are ridiculous when men become enlightened, when they have learned that the real object of government is to confer the greatest happiness on the people at the least expense.

Forty years later, Lord Robert Cecil, the future third marquess of Salisbury, having watched Queen Victoria open parliament, wrote with scarcely more approval:

Some nations have a gift for ceremonial. No poverty of means or absence of splendour inhibits them from making any pageant in which they take part both real and impressive. Everybody falls naturally into his proper place, throws himself without effort into the spirit of the little drama he is enacting, and instinctively represses all appearance of constraint or distracted attention.

But, he went on to explain:

This aptitude is generally confined to the people of a southern climate and of non-Teutonic parentage.