George Herbert Tercentenary

Other names

  • Pageant of 17th Century Rural Life

Pageant type

Jump to Summary


Place: Gardens of Wilton House (Wilton) (Wilton, Wiltshire, England)

Year: 1933

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 4


7–8 June 1933

7 and 8 June, 3pm and 6pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Director and Producer [Pageant Master]: Jackson, Mrs Maurice
  • Organizer: Edith Olivier
  • Director of Music: Miss Marjorie White, Medallist of the Royal Society of Arts
  • Arranger of Dance: Miss Gwen Pinniger
  • Costumes: Mrs Fernald; Miss Collard
  • Celebrations Planning and Co-ordination: Rev. M.F. Alderson
  • Secretarial Work: Mrs E.J. White
  • Conductor: Rev. M.F. Alderson
  • Episodes Scored and Arranged by: Sidney Lovett
  • Historical Details: E.D. Whiteman of the British Museum

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Walton, Izaak

Names of composers

  • Gibbons, Orlando
  • Johnson, Robert
  • Bull, John
  • Jenkins, John
  • Farnaby, Giles
  • Byrd, William

Numbers of performers


Financial information

Object of any funds raised


Linked occasion

Tercentenary of the death of George Herbert

Audience information

  • Grandstand: Not Known
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

1s. 8d.–1s.

1s. 8d. all day admission; 1s. admission until 5pm.

Associated events

The previous Sunday (6 June 1933) there was a civic service attended by the mayor (Lord Pembroke and Montgomery) and preached by the Bishop of Sherborne at which hymns set to Herbert’s poems were sung. Other events included:

  • George Herbert afternoon (5 June 1933) featuring madrigals and music and a lecture and poetry reading given by Poet Laureate John Masefield and Sir Henry Newbolt in the grounds of Wilton House.
  • Parochial pilgrimage of the parish (9 June 1933).
  • Final series of commemorative services at St John’s Church, Bemerton, preached by Archdeacon of Sarum (11 June 1933).

The following events were held each day:
  • 4.30-6.00 and 7.30 to 8.00 Wilton Fair.
  • 4.30-5.00 and 7.30-7.45 A tableau where the Countess of Pembroke entertains Queen Henrietta Maria and Elizabeth of Bohemia, with Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice; the Earl of Pembroke in attendance of Charles I.
  • 5.00 and 7.45 A tableau where the Countess gives aid and advice to the sick and poor at the Gothic Hall.
  • 5.00-5.45 and 8.00-8.30 Archery.
  • 5.15 and 8.00 Beggared Cripple and Miscreants in Stocks.
  • 5.15-6.00 and 8.00-9.00 Gipsy encampment.
  • 5.00-5.45 and 8.00-9.00 Ladies of quality with children at leisure, with embroidery. Gentlemen of quality at dice playing and chess.

Pageant outline

Episode I. James I Visits Wilton, 1623

Scene I. The Chase

James I visits Wilton House to knight George Herbert’s brother, Henry. James is seen descending the stone stairway on the south front of Wilton House, accompanied by his host, William Earl of Pembroke and the Duke of Hamilton with the Marquis of Hamilton, Duke of Richmond and Sir Francis Bacon. The Countess of Pembroke follows at a short distance. The King and his party crosses the river to hunt deer. After an exciting chase the company returns to the house.

Scene II. The Knighting of Henry Herbert

A fanfare and royal music herald the King’s appearance. He enters from the main centre doorway on the east front, accompanied by the Countess and Earl of Pembroke, Bacon and George Herbert, etc. They gather to knight Henry Herbert whom Pembroke presents. Henry Herbert is duly knighted.

Scene III. The Masque

The ceremony being over, the assemblage watch a miniature masque ballet arranged and designed by Inigo Jones. The King then returns to the house to a banquet.

Episode II. Interlude—A Chelsea Garden, 1626

This scene is an allegory of Herbert’s transition from courtier to priest. Herbert’s mother, Magdalen, is seen coming into the garden with Elizabeth Newport, her elder sister. George Herbert enters with Nicholas Ferrar, who carries a small model of a Church. Herbert wishes to discuss with his mother how to employ his gifts, but she fears the effects that a rigid life will have on his health. She remonstrates with him, but she is assured by John Donne (the famous poet) that her son must be allowed to follow his wishes. She overcomes her fears and gives her consent. Herbert then kneels whilst praying for guidance, as his mind is in agony between the spiritual and courtly life. He prays whilst the choir sings and is ultimately roused by Bishop Andrewes.

Episode III. Visit of Charles I to Wilton and the Presentation of the Living of Foulstone to George Herbert, 1630

Charles I and Henrietta Maria come into the gardens from the main centre doorway on the east front with the Earl and Countess of Pembroke, Elizabeth of Bohemia and Lords, Ladies, esquires and so on. The Queen sits in the gardens and wishes to see Herbert, a favourite of James I. Charles and William Laud converse with Pembroke on the qualities of George Herbert who is presented to the King. He makes obeisance on being presented the living and protests his unworthiness. Laud takes Herbert aside to persuade him to accept as the choir sings. The mood is changed. A tailor enters to kit Herbert in a canonical coat.

Episode IV. George Herbert as Rector of Foulstone with Bemerton

Scene I. George Herbert’s Charity

Herbert is taking leave of his wife, Jane Danvers, before setting out for Salisbury to hear some music played. ‘On his way to Salisbury he saw a poor man with a poorer horse that had fallen under his load; they were both in distress and needed present help, which Mr Herbert perceiving put off his canonical coat, and helped the poor man to unload and after to load his horse.’2 The poor man blessed him. Herbert, who was always very neat, thus arrived into Salisbury soiled and discomposed: ‘when one of the company told him he had disparaged himself by so dirty an employment, his answer was that the thought of what he had done would prove music to him at midnight’3

Scene II. George Herbert as Rector Among His People

It is a holiday and the people gather for revels and mirth. The people pause for a few moments amid their jollities to hear the bell from Foulstone Church. The fun recommences. Morris dancers, Robin Hood, mummers and a typical band of gipsies of the period make their way through the scene. The gipsies, tired after a long tramp, sit in the shade of a tree with their horses and watch the revels. However, their fear is overcome and they join in the dancing. The chief gipsy’s daughter can outdo the village acrobat and astonishes the villagers. An old woman begs and tells the fortunes until the people become impatient and accuse her of witchcraft. She escapes their attempts to duck her and she and the gispies move off. The revellers break and go back to their houses.

Scene III. Merrymakers on the Green

Inhabitants of Bemerton, Quidhamton and Fugglestone at a fair. There is country dancing and Maypole dancing from schoolchildren. The gipsies come back to perform. Puritans ‘with austere countenance, but charming clothes’ appear as well. This is followed by the fair which spectators are able to visit, sampling dairy produce, cordials, ale, sweets, tobacco and various other produce as pedlars move through the crowd. Miscreants are put in the stocks. There is a dancing bear and his leader and children play various games. Izaak Walton spends his time quietly fishing. Beyond the fair, in the gardens of Wilton House, the nobility go about their business, playing archery, chess and dice and listening to music, with women working on beautiful tapestries.4

Key historical figures mentioned

  • James VI and I (1566–1625) king of Scotland, England, and Ireland
  • Herbert, William, third earl of Pembroke (1580–1630) courtier and patron of the arts#
  • Herbert, George (1593–1633) Church of England clergyman and poet
  • Bacon, Francis, Viscount St Alban (1561–1626) lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher
  • Villiers, George, first duke of Buckingham (1592–1628) royal favourite
  • Herbert, Henry, second earl of Pembroke (b. in or after 1538, d. 1601) nobleman and administrator
  • Jones, Inigo (1573–1652) architect and theatre designer
  • Donne, John (1572–1631) poet and Church of England clergyman
  • Andrewes, Lancelot (1555–1626) bishop of Winchester
  • Ferrar, Nicholas (1593–1637) religious writer and administrator
  • Charles I (1600–1649) king of England, Scotland, and Ireland
  • Henrietta Maria [Princess Henrietta Maria of France] (1609–1669) queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland, consort of Charles I
  • Elizabeth, Princess [Elizabeth Stuart] (1596–1662) queen of Bohemia and electress palatine
  • Rupert, prince and count palatine of the Rhine and duke of Cumberland (1619–1682) royalist army and naval officer
  • Maurice, prince palatine of the Rhine (1621–1652) royalist army officer and naval officer [also known as Maurice, Prince]
  • Laud, William (1573–1645) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Walton, Izaak (1593–1683) author and biographer

Musical production

Double string quartet conducted by the Reverend M.F. Alderson played the following pieces:

  • Orlando Gibbons. ‘The King’s Juell’. 
  • Anon. ‘King James’ March’.
  • Robert Johnson. ‘Alman’.
  • John Bull. ‘The King’s Hunt’. 
  • Bull. ‘Boeren Dans.’ 
  • J. Jenkins. ‘Mitter Rant’. 
  • Anon. ‘Belle, Que Tiens Ma Vie’. 
  • Farnaby. ‘For Two Virginals’. 
  • William Byrd. ‘Agnus Dei’ from 5 part mass. 
  • Farnaby. ‘Dream’, ‘Rest’, ‘Conceit’, ‘Humour’, etc.
  • Orlando Gibbons. ‘Italian Ground’. 
  • William Byrd. ‘Pavane’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Bath and Wiltshire Chronicle
The Sphere
The Daily Mail
The Times
Manchester Guardian
Western Gazette
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
The Salisbury and Winchester Journal, and General Advertiser
Salisbury Times and South Wilts Gazette
Southern Daily Echo

Book of words

George Herbert Tercentenary; Pageant of 17th Century Rural Life. Salisbury, 1933.

Foreword by Sir Henry Newbolt, CH.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Cecil. Hugh and Mirabel Cecil. In Search of Rex Whistler: His Life and His Work. London, 2012.
  • Chitty, Susan. Playing the Game: A Biography of Sir Henry Newbolt. London, 1997. At 277.
  • Egremont, Max. Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography. London, 2005. At 378–379.
  • Ricketts, Harry. Strange Meetings: The Poets of the Great War. London, 2010. At 190.
  • Sturgis, Matthew. ‘Rex Whistler Alone’. Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2013. Accessed 14 March 2016,
  • Wilcox, Helen. ‘Hallow’d Fire: Or, When is a Poet Not a Priest?’ In George Herbert's Pastoral: New Essays on the Poet and Priest of Bemerton, edited by Christopher Hodgkins. Newark, 2010. 91-109. At 91.
  • Thomasson, Anna. Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing. London, 2015.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre, Chippenham:
  • Press Cuttings. 930/83.
  • Book of Words. 930/84.
  • Visitors’ book at Wilton House for the event. 930/85.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Walton, Izaak. The Life of George Herbert. London, 1670.


Pageants often attracted a range of eminent writers, poets, historians and other ‘literary types’. Examples include the historian Charles Oman in the 1907 Pageant of Oxford; the writer Arthur Quiller Couch in the 1908 Winchester Pageant; G.M. Trevelyan in the 1922 Berkhamsted Children’s Pageant; Rudyard Kipling in the 1924 Pageant of Empire; E.M. Forster in the 1934 Abinger Pageant; and T.S. Eliot in The Rock.5 Certainly in terms of its size, and perhaps overall, the 1933 George Herbert Tercentenary Pageant, held in the Wiltshire village of Wilton, attracted by far the greatest number of prominent writers—strange for a pageant that did not include any dialogue.

George Herbert and other ‘metaphysical poets’ of the early seventeenth century had seen their stock rise dramatically thanks to a series of articles in the Times Literary Supplement by T.S. Eliot.6 Eliot’s claim was that John Donne, Edmund Spenser, George Herbert and others had access to a form of poetic experience that contemporary society could no longer access, in which thought and emotion were united. It was a hugely influential argument, and led to a dramatic reassessment of these poets in the interwar period.7 The tercentenary of the death of George Herbert in 1933 thus promised to be a moment of veneration of one of England’s greatest (and hitherto neglected) poets. Herbert had been a nobleman of great promise with close connections to the court, groomed for high office. However, he rejected the worldly life and entered the priesthood in 1629, serving at Bemerton for four years until his death in 1633 at the age of 39.8 His posthumously published collection of poems (though circulated during his lifetime), The Temple, is a testament to the retiring, reflective life. The poet and critic V. de Sola Pinto, writing in the commemorative volume published in 1933, remarked:

Keats declared that ‘Beauty is Truth’. Herbert’s philosophy might be summed up in the converse of that statement, which is not quite the same thing: ‘Truth is Beauty’. Beside the beauty of truth, which for Herbert was the truth of religion, all sensuous beauties faded into insignificance. Yet the poignancy of his poetry is largely due to the fact that he loved those sensuous beauties, and it was only the beauty of spirit that could draw him away from them.9

From September 1932, newspapers highlighted Herbert’s place in national, and international, consciousness, with the Western Gazette remarking that: ‘Herbert’s writings are still widely read, and are in demand in America to a remarkable extent. Nowadays a visit to the George Herbert Church at Bemerton is an object of pilgrimage to many American tourists.’10 In February, a letter in the Yorkshire Post called readers’ attentions to a service commemorating his death in February and mentioned the upcoming pageant at Wilton.11

The pageant was to be a stellar event. It began on 5 June 1933 with an afternoon of madrigals and music, chaired by the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery (who owned Wilton House). The afternoon concluded with a recital of Herbert’s poems and lectures given by the poet and historian Henry Newbolt (whose report on The Teaching of English in England, 1922, had effectively established contemporary teaching of the subject in schools and universities), and the Poet Laureate John Masefield. The Salisbury and Winchester Journal, which printed the lectures at great length, recorded Masefield’s words: ‘It was 300 years since Herbert was rector there. Ten generations of men had passed since then, and yet he was known still as a saint among men. So shone a good man in a naughty world.’12 However, Masefield was not entirely laudatory, criticizing Herbert’s method of constructing poems, though he ‘loved his utterances because they contained so much of the man’ (a sentiment, incidentally, with which Newbolt violently disagreed).13 The following day saw a service preached at Herbert’s own church at which a number of Herbert’s hymns were sung including ‘Let All the World in Ev’ry Corner Sing’, ‘The God of Love my Shepherd is’, and ‘Teach Me, My God and King’.14 In his foreword to the programme and Book of Words, Newbolt explained why Herbert’s words were so important in the dark time of the early 1930s:

We live to-day in a world of heavy clouds with few bright intervals; and it may be thought by some that the times are too serious for pageantry. But an old and great nation has a decisive part to sustain in every dangerous crisis, and cannot afford to pass by an opportunity of commemorating the finer spirits of its own past. Now is the moment in which to recall men like George Herbert—not merely to speak a few passing words of eulogy, but to strengthen ourselves for what may be coming upon us, by the remembrance of his life and character, and by the realisation of the circumstances in which he passed his few but exemplary years.15

The pageant was an impressive affair, which showed, in mime, Herbert’s slow transition from courtly man, riding with King James I at the hunt, to priesthood and charity work among the local inhabitants. As Newbolt stressed: ‘We have tried to imagine him as he was, not only in his family circle and at the moment of his dramatic choice, but as he afterwards moved and appeared daily among the neighbours whose character and happiness depended so largely upon his’; he noted that ‘many of those present will be able to think themselves back three hundred years ago, and to realise their oneness with their kinsmen of that date, as fellows in an undying community.’16 The sense of uninterrupted continuity, retiring from the perils of everyday life, was one which the pageant sought to express and emulate. In the pageant, Newbolt played Nicholas Ferrar; the poet Siegfried Sassoon played the Marquis of Hamilton; the writer and painter Rex Whistler played Inigo Jones; and the Earl and Countess of Pembroke played their descendants. Most notably, the Dean of Westminster, the celebrity religious writer W.R. Inge, played his seventeenth-century counterpart John Donne.

The press heaped praise on the pageant, with the Daily Mail praising the ‘Dazzling scenes’ and calling Wilton an ‘Arcadia’.17 The Bath and Wiltshire Chronicle commended the ‘admirable and truly ideal setting for the pageant’ and the ‘skilled organisation’ and ‘patient rehearsal’.18 The paper reflected that, on top of a number of aristocrats playing their ancestors, ‘here are probably many of the actual descendants of the very parishioners of George Herbert.’19 The paper also featured an acrostic poem which spelled out ‘George Herbert Priest’. The Salisbury Times and South Wiltshire Gazette stressed the continuity of place and landscape, writing that though ‘Many of the trees with which he was familiar have gone… the contour of the land is the same, the stately house is substantially unchanged, and the river whence he drew so much inspiration pursues its placid way just as it did then.’20

The reporter for the Times, whose reviews of local pageants could often be acerbic or condescending to local ways, seems to have got lost in reverie, wandering ‘titter totter’ through the grounds and musing on Herbert’s life. The reporter, who eventually strolled back to the pageant, praised the scene:

There can be no distinguishing individual performances in a pageant of this kind, for the group is everything – the movement of splendid dresses against as lovely a background as any in England – but this pageant, so firm in its local and historical continuity, showing George Herbert alive again among the people with whom he lived, has a special, intimate glory rare in celebrations of this kind.21

Concluding after an evening service on 15 June that was proceeded by a pilgrimage from Herbert’s grave at Fugglestone Church to the Church at Bemerton (admittedly, slightly less than a mile!), the Archdeacon saw the events that had unfolded at the pageant as a sign of a Christian revival rooted in the image of Herbert (echoing an earlier sermon preached on Herbert by the Bishop of Bristol), which married the beauty of the Catholic faith in Anglican traditions: ‘‘when we remember that the love and reverence which George Herbert won from the men of his own day is thus echoed three centuries later we see how great was the spiritual stature of the man. He was here but three years, but over that Ministry may be written the verses of the wise man of old…”He being made perfect in a short time fulfilled long years”’.22 Writing to the Salisbury and Wiltshire Journal a few weeks later, Frederick E. Hansford, a noted authority on Herbert, congratulated the pageant: ‘If the celebrations are of merely transitory interest, if your readers fail to find comfort in the quiet, soothing lines of the pastor-poet, then the fault will certainly not be yours.’23

Whether or not Herbert’s example inspired a revival—a further pageant at Wilton House in 1937 omitted the poet entirely24—this event has at least earned a literary footnote. Siegfried Sassoon, mourning the departure of his lover Stephen Tennant, had agreed to play the part of the Marquis of Hamilton. Against his expectations, Sassoon enjoyed the pageant greatly. He also made the acquaintance of Hester Gatty, whose brother Richard played Charles I. The two were married on 18 December 1933.25

As the Bath and Wilts Chronicle wrote, the pageant was part of a wider cultural upsurge that stressed the continuity and tranquillity of rural England, which the forces of fascism and the economic and social crisis at home threatened to overwhelm:

One of the most interesting features of the social life of England of the past quarter of a century—a feature common to the life of town and village alike—has been the revival of pageantry. If it is true that to the poet and to the mystic ‘every common bush is aflame with God,’ it is surely equally true that to the student of history well-nigh every inch of England has its associations with famous men or famous deeds. We walk each hour of each day upon the sepulchres of a warrior race. The songs of our dead poets—the precepts of our dead thinkers, the warnings of our dead statesmen—all these things are not lost. They are a rich seed, the harvest of which still awaits our gardening… The lessons of a pageant are more than the lessons of achievement of value of a communal purpose. They tell of the value of the continuity of human endeavour. They remind us that life was not always such as we moderns experience.26

A number of pageants were held at Wilton including one in 1937.


  1. ^ Daily Mail, 8 June 1933, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  2. ^ George Herbert Tercentenary (Salisbury, 1933), 16. This is a quotation from Izaak Walton’s Life of George Herbert.
  3. ^ George Herbert Tercentenary (Salisbury, 1933), 16. This is a quotation from Izaak Walton’s Life of George Herbert.
  4. ^ Ibid, 20-21.
  5. ^ This is discussed in Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton, 2004), 54-61.
  6. ^ T.S. Eliot, Homage to John Dryden: Three Essays on the Poetry of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1924).
  7. ^ See Stefan Collini, ‘Where Did it All Go Wrong? Cultural Critics and “Modernity” in Inter-War Britain’, in The Strange Survival of Liberal England: Political Leaders, Moral Values and the Reception of Economic Debate, ed. E.H.H. Green and Duncan Tanner (Oxford, 2007), 247-74.
  8. ^ Helen Wilcox, ‘Herbert, George (1593–1633)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 8 January 2016,
  9. ^ V. de Sola Pinto, George Herbert After Three Hundred Years, (no place of publication, 1933), 8. Copy held in Swindon and Wiltshire History Centre, Chippenham. 930/82.
  10. ^ Western Gazette, 9 September 1932, 12.
  11. ^ G. Currie Martin, ‘Letter’, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 9 February 1933, 6.
  12. ^ The Salisbury and Winchester Journal, and General Advertiser, 9 June 1933. np. 930/84.
  13. ^ Western Gazette, 9 June 1933, 6.
  14. ^ George Herbert Tercentenary, unpaginated.
  15. ^ Ibid, 7.
  16. ^ Ibid, 7.
  17. ^ Daily Mail, 8 June 1933, np, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  18. ^ Bath and Wilts Chronicle, 8 June 1933, np, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  19. ^ Ibid.
  20. ^ Salisbury Times and South Wilts Gazette, 9 June 1933, np, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  21. ^ Times, 8 June 1933, 16.
  22. ^ Salisbury Times and South Wilts Gazette, 16 June 1933, np, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  23. ^ Frederick E. Hansford, ‘Letter’, Salisbury and Wiltshire Journal, 4 July 1933, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.
  24. ^ Times, 1 July 1937, 14.
  25. ^ Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography (London, 2005), 378-379.
  26. ^ Bath and Wilts Chronicle, 8 June 1933, np, Press Cuttings, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. 930/83.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘George Herbert Tercentenary’, The Redress of the Past,