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Festival and the Renaissance and Early Modern court

Festivals took place throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. This was a period when national identities were being established and redefined, under the stress of military and religious conflict, as in the Wars of the Schmalkaldic League in Germany 1531-48, the French Wars of Religion 1562-98, the Swedish Civil War 1592-1604 and the Thirty Years’ War 1618-48.

Courts, the principal focus of authority in the Early Modern period, sought to express and shore up their evolving identities by mounting public shows on significant occasions such as marriage, the birth of an heir, a princely funeral. These shows were intended to ratify a court’s beliefs, underpin its social structures, certify its legitimacy - as with the elected kings of Poland-Lithuania - and demonstrate the derivation of its culture from classical and biblical precedents.

Festivals were employed to cement relations between the Prince and important cities, as in the case of the royal entries of 16th-century French kings to Paris, Lyons, Rouen, or to forge and confirm alliances, as, for example, the festivals of Protestant Union courts - Brandenburg, Württemberg, Hesse-Kassel - in early 17th-century Germany, or to greet important foreign princes as in the splendid entry of Henri III into Venice, 1574, or of Christine of Lorraine, wife of Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici, into Genoa, 1579.

By design or inevitable consequence the festivals, expensive as they typically were, also often provided a short-term boost to the local economy, and stimulated artistic endeavour and achievement.

The short studies which follow are written by acknowledged experts in this field. You can use hypertext links to jump to the title page of books that describe festivals mentioned in the essays. The links appear in square brackets, in the form [0xxx], each of the 253 digitised books having a unique number.

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