At their heart, royal progresses were a performance of royal power: opportunities for the king to see his subjects and (perhaps more importantly) be seen by them, to bestow favour upon his hosts and thereby to cement his lordship. The keyword here is ‘performance’, in both symbolic and practical terms.
The passage of the royal retinue between geographical locations created potent interactions between king, courtiers, and provincial communities. At royal entries, towns and cities performed their loyalty and civic pride; abbeys acted as both pilgrimage destinations and well-appointed stopovers; regional magnates gained valuable (albeit expensive) access to their royal guest at leisure, at prayer, and while hunting in their estates.
The royal progress also posed extreme logistical challenges. Although slimmed down, the royal household nevertheless numbered several hundred, including the ‘Riding Chapel’, a hand-picked team of six men and six boys from the Chapel Royal. Throughout Henry’s reign, the timings of his progresses were governed in part by the liturgical calendar, with days of rest (and heightened ceremonial) on Sundays and major feast days.
The performance theme investigates how these interactions worked in practice: how the king’s own resources were integrated with those of his hosts; how the king’s residences impinged upon the ceremonial lives of regional communities; how the movements of the court circulated tastes and repertories; how foreign fashions were imported through direct contacts between kings, ambassadors and courtiers; and how changing habits and circumstances, such as the dissolution of the monasteries, re-shaped the manner and function of the royal progress.