to syllabus


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


In the intro to this essay, Cannadine contrasts contemporary views of royal rituals from 1820 to views from the 1860s, and then contrasts those with views from the 1970s—what is the point of this contrast?  And what is his goal in the chapter?


Unlike many of our essays so far, Cannadine provides a longish discussion of historiography and especially of methodological problems involved in studying ceremonies and rituals—what is his main point about how one might go about studying and understanding the history of royal ceremonies?


On p. 106, Cannadine lists 10 aspects of royal rituals/ceremonies and their performance that he thinks must be examined if we are to understand the historical meanings of these ceremonies:

1)      the political power of the monarch

2)      what the public thinks about the monarch

3)      the economic and social structure of the society

4)      the kind of media that existed and its attitude towards the monarchy

5)      the technology and fashion of the time (e.g., in transport)

6)      the national self-image

7)      conditions in the capital city

8)      the attitude of those in charge of the ceremonies

9)      how well the ceremonies are actually performed

10)  how much the occasion was exploited commercially



He then divides the history of English monarchical rituals since the 1820s into 4 periods (1820s-1870s; 1870s-1914; 1914-1953; 1953-1977).


We are going to break into groups, and each group will be assigned either the period 1820-1870s OR the period 1870s-1914.  Your group’s task is to explain what Cannidine finds re. each of these 10 aspects for ‘your’ period, and then to explain what Cannidine thinks that this shows about the meanings of royal ceremonies in that period.  So be sure that you are ready to explain what Cannadine has to say about each of these 10 points in his sub-sections on 1820-1870 and on 1870-1914!



For the period 1914-1953, Cannadine argues that although the actual political power of the monarch declined, popular approval of the monarchy was very high.  At a time of enormous social changes, the monarchy and its rituals and ceremonies represented (or seemed to represent) stability.  The media in this period fawned over the monarchy; the advent of radio in particular made it possible to depict the monarch as a comforting  “father figure’ and as the head of the archetypically British middle class family 9conforting in its familiarity and stability).  The use of carriages and other anachronistic technologies in royal ceremonies also emphasized stability (the seemingly un-changing nature of rituals that were actually not all that old).  This fit well with the national self-image of Britain as the last of the world’s “grand monarchies” and the keeper of noble ancient traditions and of the British monarch as the head of a vast and still-important Empire (although, in fact, the sun was beginning to set on the British empire…).  London itself, which in comparison to other world capital cities had witnessed relatively little reconstruction of its public buildings (as well as squares and parks) in this period, seemed to embody stability and tradition.  Royal ceremonies and rituals were attended to with great care and attention to detail and creativity that both reinforced this image of stability and helped create instant “traditions” (playing Elgar’s new tunes at ceremonies, the annual Christmas broadcast, etc.).  The dignity and ‘restraint’ shown in ceremonies contrasted dramatically with the bombast and flurry of fascist and Nazi (and  Soviet) public ceremonies, and this, too, reinforced the impression of “stability” rooted in “ancient” traditions.  The mass production of souvenirs associated with royal ceremonies and events indicate the popularity of the monarchy in this period, and reinforce the impression that people understood these ceremonies and invented traditions as comforting symbols of stability and continuity in a world of disconcerting change.


For the period 1953-1977, Carradine points out that the monarch had little political power yet the monarchy (again) was very popular.  [Keep in mind that all of this would change in the era of Charles and Dianna!]  Despite the decline of the Empire and the demotion of Britain’s status in the world, the crown and its rituals have remained symbols of comforting continuities—links to the old geopolitical world when Britain was the great power and to old [imagined] “morale’ world of “traditional values.”  If anything, as national prestige declined, the public image of the monarchy became more nostalgic and reverent, as if pride in royal ceremony had become a surrogate for pride in the greatness of the Empire.

OK—so, what is Cannadine's main point?


First, what is his main point about the seemingly paradoxical fact that, in Britain, ceremonies and rituals associated with Royalty were “invented” most intensely and became increasingly important as the power of the monarchy itself declined?


Second, what is his main point about the methods we can use to understand rituals and ceremonies and their historical meanings?


Hobsbawm, “Mass-Producing Traditions:  Europe, 1870-1914”


Hobsbawm points out that we can divide the traditions that were “invented” in the 1870s-1914 (a period of intensive invention of traditions) as falling into two general categories:  “political” and “social.”  What was the general goal of the “political” invention of traditions and of “social” invention of traditions, and in each case “who” did most of the inventing?


Again and again in this essay, Hobsbawm says that states had to find ways to secure the loyalty/obedience/cooperation of their populations in this period.  WHY?  What sorts of changes had rendered securing loyalty a challenge?


For instance, why did social and political “modernization” (including the attendant development of class consciousness) tend to undermine traditional authority and why did the extension of voting rights to the mass of the population make “loyalty” a problem?


At about the same time that states realized that constitutional systems and electoral politics were a “fact of life,” social scientists began to study the irrational aspects of human group behaviors and dynamics.  Hobsbawn is suggesting a connection here—what is it?


What does he mean when he notes (p. 269) that state leaders 9be they liberal moderates or conservatives) tried to create a “civic religion,” and what role did invented traditions play in that process?


Hobsbawm devotes part of this essay to comparing the invented Republican traditions in France to the invented Imperial traditions in Germany.


  1. What was the basic political function of tradition-building “innovations” in Third Republic France (e.g., secularized education, the invention of patriotic public celebrations like Bastille Day, and the mass production of monuments devoted to figures like “Marianne” (the female embodiment of the Republic)?  (In other words, what “problem” were these supposed to help “solve”?)
  2. What was the basic political function of tradition building in Second Empire Germany (e.g., monuments to heroic battles of the “German people” against foreign enemies and especially to the Franco-Prussian War, as well as the use of figures like “Deutsche Michel” (the strong and brave but sometimes gullible German “everyman”)?  (In other words, what “problem” were these supposed to “solve”?)
  3. What was the basic difference between the invented traditions in France and in Germany?





Hobsbawn argues that in the USA traditions were invented that addressed a “problem” that was more similar to the German situation than it was to the French situation.  What “problem” was solved by traditions that helped differentiate between “American” and “un-American” ideas and behavior?


States were not the only actors inventing traditions in the 1870s-1914.  Various political party and social groups also created new traditions.  Where did the celebration of May Day come from, how did May Day celebrations combine the “new” and the “old,” and were May Day celebrations intended to be “inclusive” or all people in “the nation”?


Hobsbawm spends several pages discussing workers’ clothing and workers’ sports activities—what is his point here?  What does this have to do with the “invention of traditions”?  And does Hobsebawm think that the socialist party organizations and activists were able to control and direct this process of creating working class traditions?


What kinds of traditions and rituals did middle class people create in this period to delineate their identity (their social world) from that of the lower middle class and the working class?  Also, how did people in the “upper middle class” symbolically differentiate themselves from the “ordinary” middle class?  (Pay attention here to the purposes of new institutions like the DAR, old boys clubs, fraternities, and the Ivy League.)


Hobsbawm points to tennis as a perfect example of a middle class sports activity.  Why, and what did tennis offer to middle class women in particular?


So, the various traditions and institutions that arose around sports can be seen as the “social” creation of traditions; why might new sports traditions also be considered as “political”?  And how can we tie that back into the problem that began this essay—the issue of securing loyalty to the state?


In the last section of this essay (which is really intended as a post-script to the book as a whole), Hobsbawm speculates that some kinds of invented traditions survived WWI better than others.  What kinds of invented traditions does he think “translated well” into the post-WWI world?