The idiom in which the Habsburgs were celebrated derived in part
from the chivalresque Burgundian world described in the Chronicles
of Olivier de la Marche and partly from the iconography of the Holy
Roman Empire. Perhaps the only constants of Habsburg festivals in
the first half of the 16th century were the two-headed imperial
eagle, the Pillars of Hercules, and Charles’ personal motto,
non plus ultra. The Festival itself was a site of cultural
exchange, mediation and hybridity, as when Maria of Hungary staged
a tournament that included hawking and jousting at the palace of
Binche in Germany, based on the Spanish romance of chivalry Amadís
de Gaula .
Charles V (1500 -1558). Holy Roman Emperor. Paris:
Baltasar Moncornet, 1650-1660
BL 1762.a.1 vol. 2
Charles was a monarch constantly on the move, seeking to assure
through personal contact the loyalty of his subjects in the many
provinces, lands and states that made up his empire. He visited
Germany nine times, Spain six, Italy seven, Flanders ten, France
four times, England twice. He sailed the Mediterranean eight times
and the Atlantic four. His descendants, the three Philips who followed
him (Philip II, III and IV), in marked contrast confined themselves
largely to the Iberian peninsula.
Although the British Library’s collections are not rich in
Spanish material, there are festival books relating to royal entries
into Toledo, Valencia, and Pamplona and, above all, material related
to the brides who travelled to take up their places by their husbands’
sides - as when Isabel de Valois passed through Toledo on her way
to marry Philip II or when Margaret of Austria travelled through
Italy to marry his son [e.g. 0138,
Charles’s brother Ferdinand, despite having been brought
up in Spain, would inspire a similar range of celebrations in Eastern
Europe as King of the Romans , in their ancestral lands in the Tyrol,
Hungary, Poland, and parts of modern-day Germany [0087,
his coronation 0098].
His successors, from Emperor Maximilian and Archduke Ferdinand
to Ernst Archduke of Austria ,
and Ferdinand of Austria ,
are also represented.
It is possible to trace through this collection the development
of Habsburg power from the imperial coronation at Aachen in 1519
the extraordinary Peace of Madrid signed by the captive Francis
Charles’ confirmation as Emperor by the Pope (the last affirmation
of its kind) at Bologna in 1529 [e.g. 0086,
Philip’s introduction onto a European stage and his progress
through Western Europe from Italy to the Netherlands [e.g. 0114,
his marriage to Mary Tudor which looms larger in festival accounts
than in Tudor historiography [e.g. 0118,
the battle of Lepanto in 1571 at which, as Cervantes wrote, the
myth of Turkish invincibility perished even if, in the end, the
myth did not feature in Ottoman expansionist aspirations for long
The festival accounts also punctuate the stories of the foremost
royal families of Europe, their births and baptisms ,
and deaths, among them exequies for Ferdinand 'the Catholic',
Charles V and Mary Tudor,
and Philip III .
The celebration mounted for a royal entry provided an opportunity
to cement the bond between sovereign and city, but it could also
represent a reassertion of colonial overlordship. For example, Charles’s
changed relationship to the Netherlands as king rather than merely
as duke was celebrated in an entry into Bruges in 1515.
The absorption of Portugal by Spain in 1580 was marked by the triumphal
entry by Philip II into Lisbon and reaffirmed by Philip III’s
visit in 1619.
Royal entries could also cement commercial bonds and favourable
terms of trade, such as when the English merchants paid for a triumphal
arch in Lisbon for the same entry by Philip III .
Some events, for example Charles’s entry into Paris in 1541
while on his way to suppress Ghent bloodily for its refusal to pay
yet higher taxes, were moments of extraordinary diplomatic or international
rapprochement. The sudden appearance of Charles, Prince of Wales,
in Madrid to conclude marriage with the Spanish Infanta in 1623
was a similarly unorthodox move [0148,
The status of the festival book as a historical document, however,
needs to be carefully qualified by the realisation that in some
instances, such as Philip II’s entry into Antwerp in 1549,
the events recorded in the book never actually took place
Not only was the entry cut short because of heavy rain, but many
of the complex architectural structures lavishly described in the
festival book had never been constructed, because there had not
been enough time to do so.
Festival books, that caveat aside, can tell us a great amount about
court ritual, precedence and etiquette. Burgundian court etiquette
was introduced into Philip II’s household in 1548, specifically
to smooth over problems that his European tour might throw up for
an entourage and peoples of very different customs. This was a trial
run for his apparently impeccable behaviour in England, when he
married Mary Tudor and bravely tried the local beer.
Festival books offer a crucial nexus for the study of international
relations (one deals, fascinatingly, with Suleiman the Magnificent
not only because they commemorate international occasions, dynastic
marriages, ambassadorial visits, and mourning in every corner of
an empire - but also because a single event may be recounted in
many different languages for different national audiences. The advantage
of incorporating multiple accounts of particular events is the opportunity
to read them against each other, for clues about how they respond
to the audiences for whom they were written and how they may reflect
the agenda of that cultural milieu.
Festival books were both propaganda and news, bringing a captive
public into the private worlds of their monarchs and ruling elites,
and for the historian they provide a window onto the arcane world
of court ritual, and an insight into the cultural forms in terms
of which early modern political elites expressed and celebrated
their power. The festival book was arguably the earliest form of
international news, informing all parts of the empire of the latest
triumph, encounter or event in which their monarch had participated.
Just because we should not believe everything we read in the press
does not mean that we should not read it in order to be well informed.
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