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Why Royal Guests Have Always Been a Royal Pain

September 19, 2019 in History

By Hadley Meares

Every summer, Queen Elizabeth I and her massive court set out on a months’ long progress, with a mile-long train of dozens of carriages, carts and over a thousand horses. For this elaborate summer vacation, no regular inn would suit the Virgin Queen. Instead, Elizabeth stayed at her monied and titled subjects’ country estates—a great honor for them, but also her right as absolute monarch of the British Isle. “Every nobleman’s house is her palace, where she continueth during pleasure and till she return to some of her own,” , “yet it is significant that mention was made of it in diplomatic reports within two months, and it may well be that the traditional assumption that it began at Wulfhall is the correct one.”

While her father’s hosts made sure to supply the King with copious hunting, jousting and other entertainments, nothing could match the lengths that Queen Elizabeth’s subjects went to entertain their illustrious visitor. Wealthy courtiers attempted to outdo each other as hosts to the Virgin Queen, and they had ample opportunity. On her first summer progress in 1575 alone, Elizabeth visited with 41 of her subjects.

The bar was set high by her childhood love and lifelong advisor Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. As Elizabeth arrived at Kenilworth Castle in 1575, she was welcomed with a dramatic pageant featuring some very advanced special effects. Tinniswood writes:

She was greeted by a fanfare from trumpeters stationed on the wall of the castle gatehouse. Then a figure dressed as the Lady of the Lake floated across the waters of the moat on a movable island to welcome her in verse, ending, “Pass on Madam, you need no longer stand, / The lake, the Lodge, the Lord, are yours for to command.”

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, welcoming Queen Elizabeth I to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, July 1575.

During the Queen’s days-long stay, the Earl’s household offered firework displays, deer hunting and bear-baiting; and “feats of agility put on by an exceptionally nimble Italian acrobat,” notes Tinniswood.

Sometimes hosts’ attempts to please their royal guests could go horribly wrong. One mock battle put on by the Earl of Warwick during the Queen’s stay at Warwick Castle ended with cannonballs used in the show raining down on a nearby village, setting fire to multiple houses.

Not only were Elizabeth’s hosts expected to spend lavishly on her court accommodations and entertainment, …read more


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