14 JANUARY 1559: ELIZABETH’S GLORIOUS PROCESSION

Elizabeth's procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.
Elizabeth’s procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.

On the eve of her coronation, Elizabeth Tudor left the Tower of London at three o’clock in the afternoon to start her procession. She was carried in a litter, and rode through London, telling her men to stop at every pageant she encountered to appreciate the artistry behind them.

The streets she passed and five pageants are as follow:

  • Gracechurch  Street –The first pageant that greeted Elizabeth referred to Elizabeth’s genealogy. Her Tudor forefathers, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and was compared to the latter who was praised for bringing unity and peace when she married Henry VII.
  • Cornhill -A stage was erected where it depicted  Elizabeth’s government governed by the four virtues: True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice.
  • Soper’s Lane -The Beatitudes were orated for her ‘”lessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. An allegory to Elizabeth’s plight at the hands of her sister.
  • Little Conduit, Cheapside -This pageant also attacked her sister, calling her reign “a decayed commonwealth” and portraying Elizabeth’s future one as a “flourishing” one. Further jest and jabs were made when Mary’s motto ‘Truth the daughter of time’ was deconstructed as Time’s daughter emerged carrying an English Bible which was labelled “Word of Truth” and pointed towards Elizabeth, symbolizing her as the true daughter of time and truth.
  • Fleet Street -This pageant delivered the most powerful tribute to Elizabeth, depicting her as the powerful prophetess Deborah.

After her eldest sister, Elizabeth was the second Queen Regnant in the history of  England, and the third in the British Isles. The iconography in each of these pageants is amazing. Dan Jones who wrote the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, talks about how the Tudors invented a mass propaganda machine to turn the war into their favor, and symbolize that their rise to power was pre-ordained. Elizabeth’s ascendance therefore, used the same type of spectacle her grandfather and founder of their dynasty, used.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I's paternal grandparents.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I’s paternal grandparents.

“At the corner of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted basements and built on “on the lowest stage was made one seat royal, wherein were placed two personages representing King Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the Fourth … not divided but that the one of them which was King Henry processing out of the House of Lancaster was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth being heir to te House of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of the which two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage … wherein was placed one, representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry VIII.” (Starkey)

After she thanked the performers she turned to the people gathered around her who, as always, were eager to catch a glimpse of their new monarch. Elizabeth Tudor had always been a pragmatic, witty, and highly intelligent young woman. With her smile she had won over hundreds, now it won her the popular acclaim of the entire city.

Elizabeth played by Cate  Blanchett in "Elizabeth" (1997)
Elizabeth played by Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” (1997)

“At Cheapside she smiled happily when someone called out to her ‘Remember King Henry VIII’ … and at Conduit (also in) Cheapside, she saw one of the performers holding up a copy of the English Bible which people had been imprisoned for reading in the days of old King Henry VIII. She asked what that boo was, and when they told her that it was the English Bible, she said that she would oftentimes read over that book’. She asked to have that book … When she received it, she took it in both hands and pressed it to her breast.” (Ridley)

After she reached the city limits at Temple Bar, another child came. Like the child who handled her the bible and she rewarded him with a kind gesture of devotion to the new religion, Elizabeth did the same, as the poem depicted her as Deborah -the mighty and indomitable biblical woman who fervently defended her people and fought the heathens. Elizabeth was the people’s chosen Queen, the blood of Lancaster and York united. Two roses from which sprung the glorious Tudor House, now produced from their descendant Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who was depicted gloriously as Henry’s rightful Queen), their next monarch, Elizabeth I.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien  Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter's coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter’s coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.

“Henry sat at his second wife, Anne Boleyn and on the stage above them sat a final figure representing Elizabeth I herself “crowned and apparelled as the other princess were.” The whole pageant was garnished with red roses and white and in the forefront of the same pageant in a fair wreath was written: ‘The Uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and York.'” A great play was made on Elizabeth’s name: like Elizabeth of York who brought unity to the realm through her marriage, it was explained he new Elizabeth would “maintain the same among her subjects.”” (Jones)

The people gathered would have had public access to these plays and seen these beautiful images. There is no question that the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York was a brilliant device crafted by her grandfather that gave England the illusion of peace and it worked so well that it protected him and his heirs throughout their kingdom. Threats remained -they always would, no matter what the dynasty- but this imagery was so evocative that it became the official language of history and monarchy. Now we know that the red rose was not the official Lancaster symbol, and that both sides used white roses; however we must see these symbols in the context of when they were used and how they were used.

Elizabeth’s coronation progress is one of the most symbolic royal progresses. Everyone was mesmerized, and Elizabeth returned their joy by these small acts of kindness, and made contact with every man and woman she encountered. At the last pageant there was a poor woman who had nothing great to give her except a sprig of rosemary and she was probably fearful that Elizabeth would not accept it, but she did and she was seen holding it firmly in her hands until she reached Westminster. Her next great moment, the one she had been waiting and wishing for secretly during her sister’s reign would come the following day, on Sunday January 15 when she would return to Westminster to be crowned.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper  Ridley
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudor  Dynasty by Dan Jones
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