This article examines the representation of the medieval past in historical pageants in twentieth-century England. Pageants were an important aspect of popular engagement with the past, and often focused heavily on the medieval period. Different episodes and characters both historical and legendary—Alfred the Great, King John and Robin Hood, for example—featured at different times and in different ways during the twentieth century. Many communities saw their origins as being medieval, and almost all found important stories to tell from this period. However, the emphasis shifted over time, with the lessons of the ‘constitutional Middle Ages’ featuring prominently in Edwardian pageants, whereas by the 1950s elements of the romantic and grotesque were increasingly prominent. Throughout the twentieth century, aspects of civic medievalism were an important feature in pageants, particularly those staged in urban locations, but the style of representation of the medieval period changed over time, partly under the influence of new media—notably the cinema, radio and television. In the second half of the twentieth century, historical pageantry declined significantly, though it never disappeared; and although popular interest in the medieval past was undiminished, it increasingly took different forms.
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