Anthony Munday, from The Triumphs of Reunited Britannia London

[Click on image to enlarge] Following the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, James VI of Scotland came to the throne as James I of England, ushering in the Stuart dynasty. The people of England, used to regarding the Scots as both alien and inferior, now found themselves under a Scottish ruler, who made no secret of his desire to transform his two kingdoms into a single nation: Great Britain. James's plans for the political union of Scotland and England were met with stubborn opposition from his subjects on both sides of the border. The English Parliament proved so recalcitrant that the project eventually had to be shelved. Scotland would not join England and Wales as part of a single British state until 1707.

In the early years of James's reign, many poets and playwrights sought to flatter their new monarch with pieces celebrating the unity of Britain. Shakespeare's King Lear, with its stark portrayal of the disasters ensuing from Lear's division of Britain, clearly reflects the Stuart king's preoccupations — though Shakespeare's play is too pessimistic in tone, and too complex in its meditations on history and loss, to be labeled as simple propaganda. Far less subtle, and thus probably better calculated to please the king, is Anthony Munday's Triumphs of Reunited Britannia, a pageant performed on the streets of London in 1605.

Like Shakespeare's play, the pageant focuses on distant British antiquity. According to the chronicles of the time, Britain had been founded by the Trojan Brutus, who arrived there around the twelfth century b.c. (While this medieval legend had already been dismissed by most serious historians, it maintained a powerful hold on the popular imagination.) Brutus had founded the city of London, which he named Troya Nova. At the end of his life he divided the island of Britain among his three sons, Locrine, Camber, and Albanact, whose realms were thereafter known as Loegria (England), Cambria (Wales), and Albania (Scotland).

The first excerpt describes the staging of the pageant, and summarizes the action. In the second excerpt, drawn from the middle of the pageant, Brutus and his sons celebrate the long-awaited reunion of Britain under the "second Brute," King James.


On a mount triangular, as the island of Britain itself is described to be, we seat in the supreme place, under the shape of a fair and beautiful nymph, Britannia herself, accosted with >> note 1 Brute's divided kingdoms, in the like female representations, Loegria, Cambria, and Albania. Britannia speaking to Brute her conqueror (who is seated somewhat lower, in the habit of an adventurous, warlike Trojan), tells him that she had still continued her name of Albion, >> note 2 but for his conquest of her virgin honor, which since it was by heaven so appointed, she reckons it to be the very best of her fortunes. Brute shows her what height of happiness she hath attained unto by his victory, being before a vast wilderness, inhabited by giants, and a mere den of monsters. Goemagot and his barbarous brood being quite subdued, >> note 3 his civil followers first taught her modest manners, and the means how to reign as an imperial lady, building his Troya Nova by the river Thamesis, >> note 4 and beautifying his land with other cities beside.

But then the three virgin kingdoms seem to reprove him, for his overmuch love to his sons, and dividing her (who was one sole monarchy) into three several estates, the hurt and inconvenience whereon ensuing, each one of them modestly delivered unto him. He stays their further progress in reproof, by his and their now present revived condition, being raised again by the powerful virtue of poesy (after such length of time) to behold Britannia's former felicity again; and that the same Albania, where Humber slew his son Albanact, >> note 5 had bred a second Brute, by the blessed marriage of Margaret, eldest daughter of King Henry VII, to James IV of Scotland, of whom our second Brute, royal King James, is truly and rightfully descended; by whose happy coming to the crown, England, Wales, and Scotland, by the first Brute severed and divided, is in our second Brute reunited, and made one happy Britannia again; peace and quietness bringing that to pass, which war nor any other means could attain to. For joy of which sacred union and combination, Locrine, Camber, and Albanact, figured there also in their antique estates, >> note 6 deliver up their crowns and scepters, applauding the day of this long-wished conjunction, and Troya Nova (now London) incites fair Thamesis and the rivers that bounded the severed kingdoms (personated in fair and beautiful nymphs) to sing paeans and songs of triumph in honor of our second Brute, royal King James.


See, after so long slumbering in our tombs
Such multitudes of years, rich poesy
That does revive us to fill up these rooms
And tell our former age's history
(The better to record Brute's memory)
      Turns now our accents to another key,
      To tell old Britain's new-born happy day.

That separation of her sinewed strength,
Weeping so many hundred years of woes,
Whereto that learned Bard dated long length >> note 7
Before those ulcered wounds again could close
And reach unto their former first dispose,
      Hath run his course through time's sandy glass
      And brought the former happiness that was.

Albania, Scotland, where my son was slain,
And where my folly's wretchedness began,
Hath bred another Brute, that gives again
To Britain her first name. He is the man
On whose fair birth our elder wits did scan,
      Which prophet-like seventh Henry did foresee
      Of whose fair child comes Britain's unity. >> note 8

And what fierce war by no means could effect, >> note 9
To re-unite those sundered lands in one,
The hand of heaven did peacefully elect
By mildest grace, to seat on Britain's throne
This second Brute, than whom there else was none:
      Wales, England, Scotland, severed first by me,
      To knit again in blessed unity.

For this Britannia rides in triumph thus,
For this these sister-kingdoms now shake hands,
Brute's Troy (now London) looks most amorous
And stands on tiptoe, telling foreign lands
So long as seas bear ships, or shores have sands,
      So long shall we in true devotion pray
      And praise high heaven for that most happy day.


England, that first was called Loegria
After my name, when I commanded here,
Gives back her due unto Britannia,
And doth her true-born son in right prefer
Before divided rule, irregular;
      Wishing my brethren in like sort resign,
      A sacred union once more to combine.


I yielded long ago, and did in heart
Allow Britannia's first created name, >> note 10
My true-born Brute have ever took her part
And to their last hour will maintain the same.


It is no marvel that you gladly yield
When the all-ruling power doth so command,
I bring that monarch now into the field
With peace and plenty in his sacred hand
To make Britannia one united land:
      And when I brought him, aftertimes will say,
      It was Britannia's happy holiday.


Then you fair swans in Thamesis that swim,
And you choice nymphs that do delight to play
On Humber and fair Severn, welcome him
In canzons, jigs, and many a roundelay,
That from the north brought you this blessed day,
      And in one tuneful harmony let's sing,
      "Welcome King James, welcome bright Britain's king!"

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page