"Their labour doth returne rich golden gaine": Fishmongers' Pageants and the Fisherman's Labor in Early Modern London


Scholars of early modern English drama have characterized the London Lord Mayors’ pageants as elaborate arguments for “unity” among the city’s various interests. However, such scholarship tends to overlook the reality of competition among London’s industries and the way in which guilds’ specific interests showed up in the pageants they commissioned. This paper complicates the unity aesthetic by analyzing representations of English fishing in pageants commissioned by the Fishmongers’ Company, an ancient guild of merchants whose prestige depended on the humble labor of disenfranchised fishermen. I trace these representations across three pageants – Thomas The Device of the Pageant: Set forth by the Worshipfull Companie of the Fishmongers (1590), Anthony Munday’s Chrysanaleia: The Golden Fishing: Or, Honour of Fishmongers (1616), and Elkanah Settle’s The Triumphs of London for the Inauguration of the Right Honourable Sir Thomas Abney, Kt. (1700) – to show how one company used pageant conventions to argue for its continued relevance in an economy increasingly dependent on the long-distance trade of luxury goods. I argue that these shows affirm sea labor in a way that anticipates the maritime nature of British Empire and the Fishmongers’ importance within that economic scheme. In doing so, this paper suggests that the London guilds, although frequently characterized by historians as being fossilized in a kind of willful “nostalgia,” were in fact highly responsive to change and, more specifically, attuned to the representational possibilities of the pageant for imagining a specific industry’s role in a prosperous national future.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.