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Reading: Taking Possession: Rituals, Space and Authority


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Taking Possession: Rituals, Space and Authority


Jennifer Mara DeSilva

Ball State University, History Department
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In Early Modern Europe, authority over communities, both people and spaces, was visualized through ritual gestures, acts, and processions. Communities gathered to witness ceremonial entries that drew on accepted forms of gestures and speech, identifying individuals and articulating their place in the urban power relationship. Ceremonial entries by rulers, ambassadors, bishops, and other office-holders, sometimes called possesso, joyeuse entrée, adventus or triumph, drew on ritual acts projecting messages of possession in order to establish reputations of prestige and authority. This introductory essay draws on cultural anthropology and recent historiography to build a framework for understanding rituals of possession that went beyond the traditional triumphal entry to incorporate substitutes, new modes of prestigious display, and attend to conflicts. By “taking possession” of communities, offices, and spaces using accepted ritual forms, early moderns initiated conversations about authority and power that were far more flexible in their scope, practice, and participants than expected.

How to Cite: DeSilva, J.M., 2016. Taking Possession: Rituals, Space and Authority. Royal Studies Journal, 3(2), pp.1–17. DOI:
Published on 19 Dec 2016.
Peer Reviewed


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