In this pamphlet, Gilbert Dugdale describes the lavish events surrounding James I’s accession to the English throne in 1603–04. He shows how the idea of monarchy is shaped and reinforced through public spectacle and performance. But he also acknowledges the King’s desire for a degree of privacy, noting that James tries to watch the preparations without being seen himself.
Coronation and triumphal progress through London
Dugdale describes James’s journey from Scotland to the ‘blessed Coronation’ in London on 25 July 1603 (sig.B1r). He says the hearts of Londoners burned with ‘wilde fire’ to celebrate James’s kingship, but they were delayed for nearly a year because the plague was killing thousands (B1r). It was only when the ‘Infection ceased’ in the ‘joyfull spring time’, that they could ‘solemnize’ the occasion with the King’s progress through London on 15 March 1604 (B1v). Dugdale then gives a lengthy account of the ‘fire workes on the water’ and magnificent ‘Pageants’ that were staged on huge wooden arches throughout the city (B1v–B4v).
Shakespeare’s role in the procession
He also reveals that the ‘Kings acters’ were part of the triumphal procession on 15 March (B1v). Shakespeare would probably have been present as a member of this company – initially known as the Chamberlain’s Men, but renamed as the King’s Men when James became their patron in 1603.
Ben Jonson’s role in the procession
Dugdale describes in detail one of the pageants staged on Fenchurch Street, in which there were speeches of ‘excellent eloquence’ (B2r). Ben Jonson was one of the chief poets commissioned by the City of London to write these speeches welcoming James.
James’s desire to remain incognito
The pamphlet also includes a fascinating anecdote showing James’s desire to watch events, but avoid the public eye. Dugdale says the King and Queen came to the Royal Exchange to see the preparations, ‘thinkeing to passe unknowne’ amongst the assembled crowd. But the ‘wylie Multitude’ created a ‘hurly burly’ and began to run ‘up and downe’. By publicly expressing their joy at seeing the King, they forced James to retreat behind the ‘staire dores’ where his ‘pleasure’ was to be ‘private’ (B1v–B2r).
King James I and Measure for Measure
It seems likely that Measure for Measure (c. 1604) was the first of Shakespeare’s plays to be written with James’s court in mind. The earliest recorded performance was given by the King’s Men on 26 December 1604, in the banqueting hall of Whitehall Palace. With this in mind, it is easy to see parallels between the play and the events of James’s accession, some of which were witnessed by Shakespeare himself.
The play explores the idea of theatre as a metaphor for public office, through its thought-provoking depiction of the disguised Duke and his hypocritical deputy Angelo. It might also reflect King James’s desire to remain incognito when the Duke says, ‘I love the people, / But do not like to stage me to their eyes’ (1.1.67–68).