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?