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Treasures in full. Renaissance Festival Books

Ronnie Mulryne, Margaret Shewring (dir.)


View 253 digitised Renaissance festival books (selected from over 2,000 in the British Library’s collection) that describe the magnificent festivals and ceremonies that took place in Europe between 1475 and 1700 - marriages and funerals of royalty and nobility, coronations, stately entries into cities and other grand events.

What is a festival?

In Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, important events in the life of a princely dynasty, such as marriage, the birth or christening of an heir, a coronation or a funeral, were celebrated by mounting a festival.

Religious festivals took place on saints’ days and significant dates in the Church calendars. Festivals also occurred when a prince made a formal entry into a city, either at home or abroad. The term ‘festival’ refers as well to the artistic elements that accompanied these occasions, such as:

 theatrical, operatic or ballet performances
 equestrian, aquatic or firework displays
 temporary architectural constructions.

What is a festival book?

Festival books are printed accounts of these occasions, issued by or with the approval of court, city or religious authorities. They are often customised with the arms of a princely house, hand-coloured illustrations or a fine binding. The books usually offer eye-witness accounts of a festival, sometimes embellished with moral or philosophical reflections - though at their simplest they may just be a list of names.

They range from lavish folios to inconspicuous pamphlets and were published in many languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Latin. Thousands of festival books, referring to thousands of festivals, have survived in great collections such as those of the British Library.

How to view the texts of the festival books

You can select a book or books to view by searching on various attributes of the book or festival, for example book title, festival participants, type of page illustration etc. For full details of what can be searched see our Search tips page.

The ’Search the texts’ box above offers a simple non-specific keyword search which covers most of the data held - eg entering ’Milan’ would find festivals held in Milan, books published in Milan, festivals involving the Duke of Milan etc. Enter one or more words (e.g Bologna AND Charles V) and click the Go button.

There is also a full list of all the books held on this site, sorted by title, with links to the detailed description of each book.

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