Masque of Anne Boleyn returns to Blickling Hall in centenary exhibition

By Ben Miller | 09 March 2009
A black and white photograph of nobility enjoying themselves in the grounds of a manor house

The 100th anniversary of a masque performed at Blickling Hall is being marked with a revealing exhibition. Picture courtesy Aylsham Town Council

Exhibition: The Masque of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall, Blickling, until August 31 2009

Long before Prince Harry was out and about at a variety of shindigs, The Queen, Henry VIII and the hoi polloi of the Tudor and Jacobean periods enjoyed lavish theatrical fundraisers in the form of masques.

The colourfully costumed skirmishes of music, dance and song were private versions of the pageants ordinary citizens would attend, featuring fictional tales based on real historical dancers.

The Masque of Anne Boleyn, a prose by English director Walter Nugent Monck specifically written for staging at Boleyn’s birthplace of Blickling Hall, debuted at the Norfolk site 100 years ago, and now an exhibition is revealing original programmes, scripts, black and white photographs and costumes from the shows, including items found by 1938 pageant initiator Colonel Tom Purdy’s attic, donated by his grandson.

A black and white photograph of costumed figures jostling in park grounds

Nobility including Queen Mary and Henry VIII attended the events. Picture courtesy Aylsham Town Council

With a cast of more than 300 thespians, Monck’s piece was popular enough to be revived in 1925 and 1938, and the latter run was attended by Queen Mary, who was a patron of the pageant at Blickling.

The events hosted in the grounds were important earners for the local community, initially raising money for the repair of Erpingham Church and supporting Aylsham Schools and renovations on the parish church.

This centenary exhibition is an idea by National Trust volunteer Derek Lyons, who has worked with Aylsham Town Council and residents to realise his vision.

A picture of a black and white flyer for an entertainment event

Ancient programmes found in the attic of a former pageant leader are on display. Picture courtesy Aylsham Town Council

“It's a great chance to show our visitors the research that goes on behind the scenes at National Trust properties such as Blickling,” says House Manager Jan Brookes, who admits the collection was “too good to keep to ourselves.”

“Derek put a lot of time and effort into researching the masque and we felt that it was something we wanted to share with our visitors, in particular the local community, as it’s part of their heritage.”

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