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Theatrum Ceremoniale. Monarchy, Parliament and Ritual in England, 1688/89-c. 1800

Michael Schaich

The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries were a period of fundamental change in the history of the British state: The Glorious Revolution readjusted the constitutional balance between king and parliament; the exile of James II and his successors established a rival court with its own claim to political legitimacy; the personal unions first with the Netherlands and then Hanover and the union with Scotland (1707) underlined the composite nature of the British monarchy; and the change of dynasty from the Stuarts to the Hanoverians decisively confirmed the Protestant character of the body politic.

It is hard to imagine that such fundamental changes to the political and constitutional framework remained without effect on the symbolic portrayal of the British political system. Starting with the events of 1688/89 my project therefore analyzes the various ways in which the broader political and constitutional developments impinged upon the representations of power and the legitimization of monarchical and parliamentarian rule. In particular, I ask whether the new constitutional arrangement was in need of a new symbolic language to convey the shifting distribution of power between monarch and parliament. To what extent can we detect a transition from a model of representation which had the monarch at its center to one which emphasized an abstract idea of the state with the person of the king at the sidelines.

Concentrating on the performance of major political rituals and ceremonies (funerals, coronations, openings of parliament, audiences, royal weddings etc.) such a politico-cultural approach may help to illuminate one of the perennial problems of early modern historiography, the rise of the early modern state. At the same time, taking its cue from novel research by British historians, it may also help to describe more precisely the fortunes of the British court during a phase of its history which has until very recently been depicted mainly as a period of decline. And finally, it may also contribute to a better understanding of the personal union between Great Britain and Hanover which hitherto has been analyzed primarily in terms of foreign policy and international relations.