SOCIAL EVENTS Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval York royal visits routes ceremony livery gifts symbols theatre pageantry expenditures
Subject: Arrangements for royal visits
Original source: York City Archives, House Book, volume 1, ff.93, 95, 97, 98, volume 2, ff.15-18
Transcription in: Lorraine Attreed, ed. The York House Books (1461-1490), Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1991, 287-88, 291-92, 481-85.
Original language: Middle English
Location: York
Date: 1480s


4 August 1483

[List of members of city government present at the meeting]

On which day it was agreed by all those listed above that my lord the mayor and all my masters, his colleagues the aldermen, in scarlet [gowns], and all my masters of the 24, and the chamberlains, and all those who have been chamberlain, as well as those who have bought exemptions from bearing office in this city, in red gowns, shall on horseback meet our most dread liege lord the king at Brekles Mills. Furthermore, that the bridge wardens and everyone else who has been a bridge warden, along with all other honest men of the city, shall be [dressed] in red, upon penalty of forfeiting 20s. to be paid to the community of the city by any man doing otherwise. My lord the mayor is to levy the fine in that regard, or face the penalty of 40s. payable to the community of the city. All others of whatever occupation shall, [dressed] in blue, violet and musterdevillers, shall meet our sovereign lord on foot at St. James' church.

Memorandum to send for dom. Henry Hudson, Richard Burges the parish clerk of St. Crux church, Richard Standish parish clerk of Christ Church, William Hewet parish clerk of All Hallows, William Gylmyn parish clerk of [St. Michael le] Belfrey, George Lovell esquire of St. Mary's Abbey, to consult them on a show to be presented when the king comes to Micklegate Bar, Ouse Bridge, and Stonegate.

11 August 1483

[List of members of city government present at the meeting]

On which day it was agreed by all those listed above that , as regards the show to be put on when his grace the king comes, the costs of the same shall be covered by the chamber and recorded by the chamberlains.

28 August 1483

[List of members of city government present at the meeting]

On which day it was agreed that our sovereign lord the king shall be presented when he arrives with 500 marks in a pair of gilt silver basins, or in a gold cup or gilt piece [of plate], and that our sovereign lady the queen shall be presented with £100 of gold in a piece [of plate]. Of which my lord the mayor promised to contribute £20, Master Meitcalf the recorder £100, Master York £40, Master Lam £10, Master Tong £20, Master Fereby £20, Master Tod £10, sheriff Miles Greenbank [blank], Thomas Allayn £10, William Chymney £10, Henry Williamson £5, Thomas Scotton £5, John Hag 100s., Michael White £5, John Harper £5, William White £10, Richard Clerk £10, Robert Gyll £5.

2 September 1483 at the common hall

[List of members of city government present at the meeting]

That same day it was agreed that the Creed play shall be performed before our sovereign lord the king next Sunday, at the cost of the most honest men of every parish in the city.

[ .... ]

[spring 1486]

It has been decided by the mayor, his fellow aldermen, and others of the common council of the city that – they being hopeful of finding the king prepared to be a gracious lord to the city as the result of intercession by the most reverend father, the archbishop of York, and other lords spiritual and temporal of his most noble council, and they and all the inhabitants displaying how happy and overjoyed they are about his most royal person coming to the city, with other of his lords – they are to make arrangements and preparations to greet his grace the king in the following manner. That is to say:

First, whereas it has been the custom for the two city sheriffs then in office, with 20 horse, to meet previous kings coming to the city at Tadcaster bridge, since that is at the boundary of the franchise, it is now decided that not only the two sheriffs but also two of the aldermen, accompanied by 40 horse, are to pay their respects to his grace there.

Second, whereas it has been the custom for the mayor and aldermen, dressed in long scarlet gowns, and others of the council, accompanied by the inhabitants of the city, on horseback, to pay their respects to kings coming to the city about two miles from the city, they have decided that the mayor and aldermen in the scarlet costume mentioned, the common councillors and the [city] clerk in violet, the chamberlains in murrey, and many of the inhabitants in red, shall meet the king on horseback at Bilbrough cross, about 5 miles from the city. Other inhabitants lacking horses or unable to provide themselves with red gowns are to wait for the king on foot between Dringhouses and the city, apart from a certain number of children who are to be gathered together beside St. James chapel, crying out "King Henry!" in the way that children do.

Third, at the entrance and first bar of the city is to be cleverly crafted a scene incorporating a heaven characterized by great joy and angelic harmony; underneath the heaven is to be an unpopulated world, full of trees and flowers, where springs up a pure red royal rose (moved by some device). Before which rose is to appear another rose, of pure white. Towards which, once the pair have come together, all other flowers shall show clear deference and recognition of sovereignty, showing that the rose is the foremost of all flowers, as Bartholomew states. And next is to appear out of a cloud a crown that will descend over the roses. After which is to appear a city with citizens, with its founder called Ebrauk, who is to give salutations to the king with the following words in prose, and afterwards present the king with the keys of the city, representing Ebrauk surrendering his inheritance – his title and his crown – to the king, as if pleased with him above all other men.

[There follow four seven-line stanzas of poetry, as Ebrauke's speech, in essence requesting him to be a good lord to the city].

Fourth, when the king progresses along the streets he is to see them decorated with the best cloths that can be obtained with the city, for its honour. When he arrives at Ouse Bridge, at the corners of Skeldergate and North Street, because no gaps should appear, cloths are to be hung and some viable method devised so that, if the weather is fine, rose water shall rain down on the lords preceding and following the king.

Fifth, on the crest of Ouse Bridge is to be a royal train in which will suddenly appear sitting together in council six crowned kings – representing the six Henries – who, after the king has had a leisurely chance in which to view them, shall commit a sceptre to Solomon (dressed as a king). Solomon is to accept the sceptre and recite the following words in prose to the king, yielding the sceptre to him, as a symbol that he is the possessor of wisdom and justice.

[There follow three seven-line stanzas of poetry, as Solomon's speech, in essence flattering the king, acknowledging him as the legitimate successor to the throne, and exhorting him to wise and just rule].

Sixth, there is to appear at the end of the street (which later becomes Coney Street) running into Ousegate a presentation in which hailstones are to be made, by some device, to fall upon the lords and others preceding the king – hailstones to be made by the comfitters craft.

Seventh, at the common hall is to be [erected] what appears to be a mighty castle, in which David is seen as the leader [of the inhabitants]. Reciting the following words, he is to surrender to the king his sword of victory. In the castle are to be citizens dressed in white and grey who, after the king has viewed and acknowledged them, are with a cheerful disposition to show their true and heartfelt affection for the king.

[There follow three seven-line stanzas of poetry, as David's speech, in essence flattering the king and praising the city].

Eighth, at the end of Swinegate, where it meets Stonegate, Our Lady is to appear [as if] from heaven and welcome the king the following words. After which she is to ascend back into heaven, with angels singing, and with snow falling (to be made by craftsmen from wafers, so as to appear like snow).

[The record concludes with three stanzas of varying length, as the Blessed Virgin's speech].


It became increasingly common as the fourteenth century wore on for royal visits to English towns to receive ceremonial welcomes, some more elaborate and showy than others. Such displays were an attempt to win royal favour by flattering the king, and to show unity and harmony among the residents, as an indication the town was well governed. In addition, such welcomes represented an acknowledgement of the visitor's legitimacy as the ultimate lord of the town, and indicated to the king that he could rely on the town's support. On the other hand, the prestige of a royal visit was exploited for the benefit of the town and particularly of its ruling elite; as Fabrizio Nevola notes, visiting VIPs were used "to reinforce and corroborate relevant aspects of the civic image through their involvement in ritual events." [Siena: Constructing the Renaissance City, Yale University Press, 2007, 33]

The first set of extracts above deal with the visit of Richard of Gloucester to the city only a few weeks after he had taken the throne, part of his inaugural tour of his realm. Since Richard had previously been a champion of city interests – part of a policy to win friends in the north – his accession was welcomed by the city. The contributions towards a monetary gift by the mayor, aldermen and councillors reflect that support. The intent to welcome Richard royally was encouraged by the king, who wished to show the southerners in his entourage his popularity in the north; his secretary wrote to York Corporation on 23 August, encouraging a reception with pageants, speeches and the streets hung with decorations.

An account of the royal visit itself, which began with a state entry on 29 August, the king and queen accompanied by numerous bishops, earls, lords and leading officers of state, is not recorded in the House Books. But other evidence suggests lavish pageantry that included the investiture of Richard's son as Prince of Wales.

The initial enthusiasm of the citizens for Richard was not unanimously maintained over time, although the city continued to support him during Buckingham's rebellion, and sent troops to help him at Bosworth (they arriving too late). Henry VII's accession was greeted with mixed feelings and some trepidation. Nonetheless, the Corporation was wise enough to know its best interests lay with another splendid welcome when Henry prepared to visit the city, and the preparations for this one were recorded in more detail. There was a great deal of emphasis on flattering the king, while yet at the same time asserting the city's expectations that Henry would treat them fairly and justly. The king's procession through the city, replete with ambitious special effects, was to follow the same route as the Corpus Christi pageants.

Henry's visit was part of his first major progress through the kingdom after winning the crown. His visit to York, which took place in June, is the best documented of the welcomes he received at various towns. Arrangements reflected the socio-political hierarchy in the town. The chamberlains' account for that year recorded expenditures of £35.18s.6d on miscellaneous related expenses, such as: carpentry for scaffolding and other structures probably associated with pageants; the purchase or fabrication of props, costumes, and backdrops; fees of a choir of clerics. Another £30.3s.4d was spent on items given to the king, but the details were recorded in a book that has not survived to us.

Showy welcomes were not limited just to the monarch. When, in the summer of 1469, Edward IV's queen, Elizabeth Woodville, paid a visit to Norwich with her daughters, but without her husband (who was preoccupied with a resurgent Lancastrian challenge), the Corporation put considerable effort into providing suitable ceremonies, beginning with the despatch at various times of scouts to to ascertain the progress of the royal party into Norfolk and coordinate with the Queen's officers the time and place of her entry into the city. A consultant with expertise in pageantry was brought from Ipswich, together with his assistants, to produce the spectacle. The members of the Corporation, in all their finery, greeted the Queen and her party at a designated city gateway, where a stage had been set up, covered with red and green cloth and decorated with royal banners, arms and other symbols, together with two giant statues fashioned from wood and leather. Actors portraying apostles, patriarchs and virgins performed a pageant of the Salutation of Mary and Elizabeth, and, to the accompaniment of a choir and organ-playing, the Queen's party proceeded to its accommodations at a local friary. There a second, similarly decorated stage saw the show resume with another choral performance, but further plans were thwarted by a sudden and persistent downpour, which drove everyone inside.



"the 24"
The city councillors.

A grey cloth, named after a town in Normandy.

"dom. Henry Hudson"
A chaplain, rector of All Saints; he, along with three other unnamed clerics, was again involved in organizing the pageants during the 1486 visit, at which time Hudson was parish priest at Spofford.

"the chamber"
I.e. city government; or, more specifically, its financial arm.

"Master Meitcalf"
Miles Metcalfe was a member of a gentry family of the county and a Yorkist. It is suspected to have been Richard of Gloucester who had persuaded his brother, Edward IV, to recommend Metcalfe for the post of recorder (legal expert) of York in 1477; the incumbent Guy Fairfax, a supporter of the Earl of Northumberland, whose influence in the north Richard was trying to supersede, was resigning because of his appointment as justice of the King's Bench. Certainly Richard in April 1483, as Regent, appointed Metcalfe – by then a member of his ducal council – as justice of the county palatine of Lancaster. Metcalfe's strong support for Richard and his personal wealth explain why his contribution to the gift was so much higher than of the mayor and aldermen. That very support led the newly-enthroned Henry VII to demand that York replace Metcalfe with his own nominee, on the grounds that Metcalfe had been working against him, and to exclude Metcalfe from a list of northerners pardoned for their Yorkist sympathies. The city's own sympathies and determination not to come under Henry's thumb are shown by its stalling tactics – accepting Henry's nominee only on a stand-in basis, while Metcalfe worked to obtain a return to grace. Metcalfe's influence in the north may have been part of the reason Henry waited until spring 1486 – some three months after Metcalfe's death – to make his first visit there.

"Creed play"
In 1446, chaplain William Revetour (who had also held a minor post in the city bureaucracy) had bequeathed a copy of the text of the play to York's influential Corpus Christi gild, along with some props, on condition it be performed annually for the following ten years; the gild was still using a copy of that text over a century later. Possibly this was the text used for the play to be presented to Henry VII. Revetour also bequeathed a copy of a play about St. James to the gild of St. Christopher, and other props to the York girdlers for their Corpus Christi play.

"cost of the most honest men"
I.e. a collection would be taken up.

Tadcaster is just under 10 miles southwest of York.

Cloth of a purple-red colour (the colour of mulberry).

"first bar"
The gateway into the city: Micklegate bar, the entrance from the south.

"red royal rose"
Symbolizing Henry Tudor, as the Lancastrian heir, while the white rose was his Yorkist wife.

The legendary founder of York (Eboracum), from what little is revealed of him in his speech and from other sources, his pretensions were Arthurian in scope (though earlier). He was one of the line of successors of Brutus, the fugitive from Troy and thereby connected to the New Trojan claims of London; York would have been able to claim a status second only to that of London, on the basis of this legend (other cities, such as Canterbury, Winchester, Leicester, were said to have been founded by later kings).

The term could be applied, in the Middle Ages, to rhyming verse.

"the street"
This would have been Spurriergate.

The producers of confectionery (i.e. sweetmeats, known today as candies).

"common hall"
The city guildhall.

"meets Stonegate"
This was halfway up Stonegate.

"Our Lady"
I.e. the Holy Virgin.

main menu

Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: October 31, 2014 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2014