London's Triumphal Arches
Size: H:268mm, W:231mm
Made in: London
Made by: William Kip
On 15 March 1604, almost a year after he had been crowned, King James I's royal procession made its triumphal way through London. The intervening period had been marked by the great plague of 1603, but now, with the disease abated, the city was safe once again for crowds to gather.
And what a sight these crowds would see. Across the City of London, seven towering triumphal arches stood 90 feet above the peering crowds. Each one was highly decorated with adornments representing seven different regions of the world. Combined, these magnificent arches transformed London into ancient Rome, and King James I became its 'conquering Caesar', guaranteeing peace and prosperity.
Evidence of these elaborate and remarkable displays of street theatre survives in a book published in 1604 called The Arches of Triumph, a sort of souvenir guide of the day.
This object is from the British Museum
'But now behold, In the quick forge and working-house of thought, How London doth pour out her citizens: The Mayor and all his brethren in best sort, Like to the senators of th'antique Rome, With the plebeians swarming at their heels, Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in'
Henry V, prologue to Act 5
- These arches were built for the royal procession of James I in 1604 (several months after his coronation due to the plague outbreak)
- The procession route was from the Tower of London, through the city, to Temple Bar
- Stephen Harrison, a 'Joyner and Architect' was the man behind the arches' creation, along with his team of over 250 craftsmen
- The arches would have spanned entire London streets - between approximately 40 and 70 feet across
- The passage through which King James I came was 12 feet wide and 18 feet high
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