chapter  15
9 Pages

Managing Fear: The Commerce in Blackness and the London Lord Mayors’ Shows

ByLondon Lord Mayors’ Shows IAN SMITH

Among the performance genres that contribute to the archive of racial representation in the early modern period, the annual London Lord Mayors’ Shows brought Africans, typically racially cross-dressed actors, into the English social imagination. Emerging in 1535 in the wake of the declining Midsummer Watch, the shows marked the installation of the new mayor each year on October 29th. A water pageant accompanied the mayor elect as he made his way along the Thames to Westminster for the swearing in. Upon his return to the city, the land pageant unfolded, consisting of spectacular processions that followed an established route along various landmarks punctuated with emblematic tableaux.1 Given the pivotal presence of the honoree and the ambassadorial jockeying at these events, David Bergeron proposes that, “all civic pageants are political events.”2 An alternate approach focuses our attention on the producers of these shows-the London livery companies or trade guilds that sponsored the mayoral pageants as expensive promotional entertainments favoring overseas commerce and fostering a foreign-infused taste for goods where Africans, showcased within the spectacle, became the metonyms for prized imports.