The Christening of Prince Arthur

The Rose both red and white. In one rose now doth grow.
The Rose both red and white. In one rose now doth grow.

On Sunday the 24th of September 1486, Prince Arthur Tudor was christened at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were the Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Thomas Stanley, the Earl of Derby.

“The city turned out to see the solemn procession, which was captured in an engraving by an unknown artist, showing no less than five people carrying the baby’s train under a fringed canopy. He was wrapped in crimson cloth of gold furred with ermine. Elizabeth’s family played prominent roles in her absence, with her mother being one of the named godparents.” (Licence)

Margaret Beaufort was absent from the celebrations. Possibly because she did not wish to overshadow her daughter-in-law’s family, especially the Queen Dowager who outranked her. It is a myth that Elizabeth’s family were treated with hostility during Henry VII’s reign. Some historians believe that he suspected his mother-in-law of playing a role in Lambert Simnel’s rebellion and historical fiction writers blame him for her low-key funeral. But the fact is that Elizabeth Woodville was a pious woman, and she won the commons during her first time in Sanctuary when she gave birth to the King’s first legitimate son, Edward, Prince of Wales (one of the lost princes in the tower) and she depended largely on their charity. The fact that she didn’t ask them to fight for her and played her role of the ‘good wife’ to perfection endeared her to them. And her daughter was pretty much the same and some have gone so far as to say that she became the image of the ideal wife and consort, that she was the basis by which Henry VIII judged all of his wives.

“It was not until the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon wrote his history of Henry VII’s reign, that Elizabeth was explicitly linked to the Lambert Simnel conspiracy.” (Higginbotham)

Whether she was involved or not, her family’s religiosity was widely admired and commented on, even for the times.

The Queen Dowager’s brother, the late Earl of Rivers hosted his brother-in-law’s sister, the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy when she came for her last visit to England in 1480 and the two shared a common interest in education, and he expressed a deep interest in fighting in a crusade. One of her surviving brothers did fight in a crusade. Sir Edward Woodville aided Henry VII during the Simnel fiasco and then went on to give his services to the Catholic Kings when they fought against the Moors. He was also present for the christening, helping others carry the canopy over the baby.

“The Cathedral door was hung with cloth of gold and the nave had been magnificently “hanged with cloths of Arras and red sarcenet” and laid with carpets right to the altar … To one side was a curtained area, behind was “a fire of coals”, a chafer of water, and silver basins. It was here where he could be kept warm and clean, that the prince was undressed completely.” (Weir.)

He was given to John Alcock [Bishop of Worcester] who immersed him in the basin of holy water just enough to touch his forehead and christened him. His aunt, Anne of York then came and placed a cloth on his forehead and he was handed over to his maternal grandmother and godmother, Elizabeth Woodville who laid him on the altar “after which the Earl of Oxford took the prince in his right arm, and Peter Courtenay [Bishop of Exeter] confirmed him.” Gifts were brought, offerings were made, and then Cecily took the baby and brought him back to his mother.

Arthur would later be invested as Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia besides becoming Duke of Cornwall. The hope of the Tudor rested entirely on his shoulders from the moment of his birth. Poems were made about him, extolling his lineage, remarking how he was the true embodiment of the union between Lancaster and York.

Sources:

  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
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