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Rituals of Royalty: Prescription, Politics and Practice in English Coronation and Royal Funeral Rituals c. 1485
By Joel Francis Burden
PhD Dissertation, University of York, 1999
Abstract: While the past three decades have witnessed an explosion in the study of ritual culture within a series of academic disciplines, the fruits of this research have so far made little mark on the study of English royal rituals in the later middle ages. This thesis offers a more theoretically informed empirical analysis of English coronation and royal funeral rituals in the period c.1327 to c. 1485. It is argued that royal rituals need to be viewed as situated cultural occasions which were produced and consumed within discrete performative spaces and temporal contexts. It follows therefore that the analysis of function and meaning within rituals ought to be located more narrowly within the immediate contextual environments in which rituals were devised, prescribed and performed.
In Chapter One of the thesis I provide an overview of the historiography of late medieval coronation and royal funeral rituals, and I offer an extended analysis of some more theoretical approaches to the study of ritual within non-historical disciplines. Part 1 of the thesis consists of two chapters which examine different dimensions of the relationship linking textual prescription and performative practice in royal ritual. Chapter Two seeks to problematise some prevalent historical perceptions concerning the textual authority and prescriptive reach of liturgical ritual ordines, and it argues that these texts were situated, partisan and not fully comprehensive in their scope. Chapter Three argues that historians need to pay greater attention to the way in which meaning in ritual was conveyed through visual media. This chapter examines the importance of the visuality of royal ritual both in terms of its operation within ritual performance and its impact outside of the parameters of ritual culture. More broadly, it also explores the relationship linking the visual character of ritual to the growing textualisation of procedure. Part 2 of the thesis consists of four chapters in the form of case studies which examine the relationship of politics and ritual practice. These chapters explore some examples of the varying political uses which coronation and royal funeral rituals served within their immediate performative contexts. On the basis of these studies it is argued that royal rituals ought to be seen as dynamic and generative aspects of late medieval political culture.
Introduction: This thesis examines English royal ritual culture in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, focusing specifically upon the rituals of coronation and funeral. Ritual culture is an aspect of late medieval kingship which has generated a relatively rich seam of surviving prescriptive, narrative and administrative evidence. Rituals literally caught the eye of contemporary observers (as was intended), and they have continued to attract the attention of medieval historians, particularly because they provide interesting and colourful filler material within the ever popular genre of historical biography. However, despite the emergence of cultural history in recent decades and the considerable influence this has exercised on the study of urban rituals, there has been relatively little attempt by political historians to undertake any re-analysis of the rituals of kingship. In part, this situation is perhaps explained by the traditional tendency within the historical discipline to view patterns of change over time as the definitive object of historical investigation. Accordingly, the study of ritual has been discouraged by a prevalent perception that the prescribed character of ritual practice meant that it was essentially a fixed feature within the changing world of politics. It is a key contention of this thesis that ritual in fact manifested a dynamic quality which enabled it to operate as a generative aspect of the fabric of politics.