The period 1450-1700 was a period of change and uncertainty in Dublin. It showed the change in Dublin from town to beginnings of a city. There was also a lot of both political and social change to which pageantry and ritual played their part. To understand this change and the involvement that pageantry and ritual had you must first go back and trace the roots of Dublin and how the seed of a city was planted. The origins of Dublin as a town are closely linked to the activities of the first settlers: the Vikings.
They came to Ireland as raiders, mainly from the Norwegian fjords, in the ninth century and sailed up Irish rivers to plunder wealthy monasteries and capture prisoners whom they sold as slaves to Iceland and on the continent. It was only in the middle of the tenth century that the former raiders began to be transformed into merchants and craftsmen and their strongholds became coastal trading settlements1. In spite of the over lordship by Gaelic families, particularly during the eleventh century, these settlements survived as distinct places until the Anglo-Normans conquered their towns in the late twelfth century.
Some historians refer to the time when the Vikings plundered rich monasteries and withdrew again in their ships as the ‘hit and run’ period. It lasted from 795 to 836. In 841, according to Annals of Ulster, the Vikings set up a permanent camp at the mouth of the Liffey. It was described in Irish sources as Longport. This was the beginning of the Longport phase which lasted from 841 to 902. At the end of the ninth century Irish resistance to the Longport increased and in 902 the Irish managed to defeat the ruling Dublin Norse and to expel them.
The elite of the Viking families and their followers sailed across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, England and to Southern Scotland. But ffifteen years later they came back from the exile and re-established their settlement at Dublin. This event effectively marks the second major phase of Viking settlement in Dublin and constitutes the dun phase (917-1014). When the Vikings returned in the early tenth century they brought with them a well-developed urban concept resembling the Anglo-Saxon towns which they would have seen during their enforced stay in England.
In this view the Vikings were catalysts through which urbanisation was transferred from England to Ireland. The move from raiding into trading, with intermittent emphasis on one or the other, would probably have been common all over the Viking world of the time. This short outline confirms that towns were not an innovation that the Vikings brought fully- fledged from Scandinavia to Ireland. On the contrary, a place like Dublin, located at a pivotal site in the expanding Viking age trading network, was the product of the Viking age itself.
Early Medieval Dublin was a vibrant place and indeed this vibrancy lasted through to our period and manifested itself through the pageants and ritual that existed at that time. Many of the pageants and rituals were indeed centred on what were called the guilds. These were a type of organisation that people of a certain trade belonged to. These guilds helped to build the bonds of community and bridge gaps. Apart from this they also had many other functions such as economic, civic order and discipline and they provided a basis of civic government3.
The economic function was how each guild had an internal set of rules for their members to follow. If you were a member of the guild you could seek protection from outside competition. Guilds were organisers of trade and indeed trade fairs. Without these guilds, economic life would not have had any shape or form. The guilds were also in charge of civic order and discipline. There was no police force to speak of in Dublin at this time so guilds provided a type of policing system. Each one of the guilds had certain rules for apprentices to follow and if these rules were broken for any reason there was consequences to be faced.
This internal police system ensured this happened. Also around the time we are studying citizenship was an important issue and this was done through the guilds. Citizenship gave people the freedom to trade which was very important at this time but to be a citizen of Dublin also meant that you had to pay taxes and also protect the city in times of attack. They also relied on local moral pressure to keep citizens in order. Many of these guilds and also fraternities had a role to play in socio-cultural bonding. St. George’s fraternity is an example of this.
They fitted into the framework of religious juncture and they made sure to enhance the religious pageantry on feast days. The fraternity was a body that was essentially formed for religious reasons whereas guilds were formed out of people from the one type of job. There was a great deal of emphasis placed on the role of these fraternities in society. They were more locally based than guilds. In the fourteenth and fifteenth century people wanted a greater sense of security and so more people focused on the fraternities to do this. People had a great fear of purgatory and they depended on priests saying mass for them.
The majority of people at this time were not wealthy enough to get the service of Chaplin so this was how fraternities came about. Most of these fraternities were formed in the fifteenth century but they had their roots in the fourteenth century at the time of the Black Death. People were more aware of the shortness of life so the importance of these fraternities became more apparent. Guilds and fraternities were very similar to each other. They were dedicated to saints and they also had a chapel4. They were both located near or in a parish church.
They had their own feast days and were even sometimes side by side in the one church sharing the same altar. This shows how the economy could have been side by side with religion. The main similarity that existed between the guilds and fraternities was the fact that they were both dedicated to saints and each had their own specific feast days to celebrate. The most important ones were the Corpus Christi procession and the pageant of St. George. Both of these contributed to the pageantry and ritual of this time but more importantly they contributed to civic identity.
The Corpus Christi procession gave ample opportunity for the display of liveries, banners, insignia and emblems of the various guilds. It was still however, a religious act, a solemn and public profession of Catholic faith in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. The patronal feasts of the guilds were days of great rejoicing and display. Gorgeous processions in picturesque and costly robes with lights and flowers and music, moved in perfect order, gaily through the streets and delighted the hearts of young and old. Everything that happened had a religious basis to it.
The procession would head towards the church where mass would be said. Then all the brotherhood from the guild would head to the hall for the festive dinner. The procession and the occasion were very important to the guilds and in their minds helped religion make their children both good and happy. Public dinners, with music and song, at which all the guild men assisted with wives or sweethearts, would follow the religious ceremonies. After dinner, theatrical representations of a semi-religious nature would amuse and instruct young and old. For the Corpus Christi celebration the theatrical representation would sometimes be Adam and Eve.
These theatrical representations event would ensure that both body and soul were looked after at the patronal feasts. It is true that feasting and drinking sometimes gave occasion to ecclesiastical interference, but a natural readiness to submit to and obey would prevent a universal abuse of the good things. St. Georges day happened on April 23. It had a special representation of the old legend of the dragon in honour of the saint. For this pageant very special regulations are to be found in the ‘chain book of Dublin’, said to have been chained in the guild hall for reference by the citizens.
The pageant of St. George was mainly about duty and ceremony. The governor would be on horseback while the sheriff would be alongside him carrying the pole axe, the standard and the sword. The elder master of the guild would lead the procession while the elder warden of the guild and four trumpeters would also be there to guide them down to the chapel. The chapel itself would be adorned with all sorts of things deemed fit for this special occasion. Both processions were a chance for the guilds to bring people together. Pageants were not of infrequent occurrence.
As early as 1538 plays were acted at Hoggen Green before the Earl of Ossory, Lord Justice. 5 The practice of performing plays or mysteries had indeed been discontinued in the seventeenth century, but they were replaced by less pretentious exhibitions, to which each guild contributed something having reference to its own peculiar craft, from classical mythology or from Holy Writ. Thus the Smiths presented episodes from the myths of Vulcan and his consort Venus; the Vintners personated Bacchus, the Adam and Eve and the Carpenters Joseph and Mary.
As important as these processions were, it was not long before they were curtailed. During the period of the Reformation a lot of changes were introduced that affected these ceremonies and rituals. In 1532 Henry VIII had begun his quarrel with the Pope by declaring himself Supreme Head of the Church in England. To the end of his life, however he upheld the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church and he dealt equally harshly with those who denied her doctrines and his own supremacy. In Ireland there was little or no move towards religious innovation.
Some complaints were made from time to time about religious appointments and greediness on the part of various lay patrons and monasteries but there were no great scandals and the attachment of the ordinary people to the church was undiminished The upper classes of the Pale nobles, gentry, clergy and commercial classes were not inclined to accept the Kings supremacy as head of the church, while the ordinary people knew little, and understood less about the matter. Because so few of the Irish clergy had conformed, Henry found it necessary to appoint an Englishman as Archbishop of Dublin in 1535.
The new archbishop George Browne was tactless and domineering and achieved little success in his efforts. Only one bishop, Staples of Meath, supported him and generally the clergy refused to hand over their churches to them. An act was passed in 1536 in which King Henry was declared Supreme Head of the Church in Ireland. All holders of public office were required to take the oath of supremacy acknowledging Henrys position and anyone who refused to take the oath was judged to be guilty of treason. The following year Henry ordered the closure of monasteries throughout the whole country6.
All of them in and around the city of Dublin were confiscated and handed over or sold to laymen. In the case of the Priory of All Hallows (on the site of the present day Trinity College), it was handed over to the mayor, corporation and citizens of Dublin and ‘their successors for ever’ in gratitude for resisting Silken Thomas. The following year a commission was appointed to destroy all relics and remove images, ornaments and chalices from the churches, while many of the more valuable items were sent to England.
The gradual replacement of religious ceremonies and rituals were not only victims of the reformation. The dissolution of the religious orders also had another casualty; the relationship between civic families and particular houses7. These relationships had been built up in previous centuries in the matter of testamentary gifts of land and personal wealth, preference as places of burial and repository hopes for spiritual succour such as orbits.
Within the trade and merchant guilds the replacement of religious ceremonies and rituals associated with traditional religious festivals meant differing reactions and opinions occurred in the first decade or so after the 1560 settlement. The Corpus Christi procession which usually involved all members of guilds was cancelled altogether. Some fraternities used this change in attitude to religious ceremonies as a chance to abandon other customs too. But the city council ensured that some customs continued on.
The reason given was due to the attachment to civic pieties but the real reason was the need for civic order to be maintained rather than anything else. Throughout the period 1450-1700, pageantry and ritual can be seen throughout Dublin. It was much stronger in 1450 than in 1700 but this was mainly due to the trade guilds and fraternities. If it were not for the Reformation and the dissolution of monasteries\that came with it maybe the Corpus Christi procession and indeed others like it would still be as important today as it was then.