The Eve of Mary Tudor’s Coronation

Mary I Tudor

On the 30th of September 1553, Mary Tudor emerged from the Tower to begin her procession through London. Her journey began at 3’o clock in the afternoon. She was greeted with cheers from the thousands of people lining to see their new monarch. With her were her sister and her stepmother, the Ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves. The Queen’s messengers came out first, followed by trumpeters, esquires of the body, the new Knights of the Bath who’d been invested the day before, heralds, bannerets, members of the Royal Council, Garter knights, and the rest of the nobility. These numbered about five hundred. The nobles were dressed for the occasion, wearing gold and silver, and on their mounts too “which caused great admiration, not more by the richness of the substance than by the novelty and elegance of the device.”

The ambassadors were also dressed for the occasion, and lined up behind the nobles; each of them were accompanied by a lord of the Privy Council. (The French ambassador for example rode alongside Paget, the Imperial Ambassador was accompanied by Lord Clinton. Renard and others rode with Lord Cobham). Other foreigners included the merchants, the Italian ones for example wore “suits of black velvet lined, beautifully trimmed with many points of gold and garnished all around with embroidery of more than a palm in width.” Spanish cavaliers (four in total) followed “attired in cloaks of mulberry colored velvet lined with cloth of silver, with a very fine fringe of gold all about.” Then came the heraldic symbols being carried by her courtiers. The Earl of Sussex, the chief server, carried her hat and cloak then “two ancient knights with old-fashioned hats, powdered on their heads, disguised,” which recalled the people of their country’s old glory when they held Normandy and Guienne. The Chancellor, the Lord Mayor carried the golden scepter, and finally the Earl of Arundel who carried Mary’s sword.

And then came the person for whom they were all cheering and were eager to see, the Queen-to-be herself, Mary Tudor. Coming out in a chariot “open on all sides save for the canopy, entirely covered with gold and horses trapped with gold.”

Linda Porter in her biography of Mary, writes that “she was a small but unmistakably superb figure”. Mary wore a “Gown of purple velvet, furred with powdered ermines, having on her head a caul of cloth of tinsel, beset with pearl and stone, and above the same upon her head a round circlet of gold, beset so richly with precious stone that the value thereof was inestimable.”

Purple was the color of royalty. Mary was the first female King in English history. She knew the power of imagery, so she made sure that her coronation was something that people would always remember. And on the eve of her coronation she spared no expense. One of the things that must also be said about this rich display of imagery is how the queen wanted to present herself to the people. Women in power were still an oddity. Even though her maternal grandmother, the indomitable Isabella Trastamara, had been a Queen in her own right in Castile; England never had such experience. The closest thing to a Queen Regnant they had had been in Matilda FitzEmpress and that ended in disaster. For many years her image was carried through the mud and it wasn’t until she was relegated to the position of King’s mother, and religious matron that she finally got the respect from her English peers. Mary was threading on very dangerous grounds. She knew that if she rode on horseback, as many kings had done before her, she would open the door to more criticism. So she opted for a middle path. One where she would be relegated to the image of queen consort, wearing her hair loose to symbolize her virginity, and ride on litters or carriages, but also one where she would make it clear that she was sovereign of her reign and her authority could not be challenged. Opting for color purple reaffirmed this.

Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from
Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from “The Tudors”.

Behind the Queen were her ladies which included the Marchioness of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess of Arundely, and among many others her sister and stepmother. They were granted a special place, and as members of the royal family (especially Elizabeth) they were treated with great respect. Elizabeth’s new clothes were courtesy of her sister, she had sent her a lot of gifts and gowns so she could pick and choose what she wanted. She and Anne of Cleves both wore cloth of silver that matched the silver trappings of their carriage. Mary had not seen her sister in a long time and she probably wanted to re-establish the bond the two sisters had shared when Bess was a kid, but time –as the motto that Mary would adopt- would reveal to the new Queen, that there was no going back.

As her progress passed through many streets, she was greeted with pageants, salutations (one where a girl dressed as a woman was held up by two men sitting up in a chair so she could greet the queen), and acrobatics.

“The procession paused at Fenchchurh Street to see a costly pageant presented by the Genoese merchants –a triumphal arch inscribed with verses celebrating Mary’s accession, flanked by four great giants. At Gracechurch corner the Hanseatic merchants had set up an artificial mount and a little fountain spouting wine; by some mechanism a man “flew down from the top of the pageant as she rode by.” The most elaborate and flattering of the representations was that of the Florentines, who saluted Mary as “liberator of her country,” and pointedly compared her to the Hebrew heroine Judith who by beheading the tyrant Holofernes delivered her people from the threat of slavery. Holorfernes they meant Dudley, whose beheaded was still a recent memory. Mary was also compared to Pallas Athena, and an inscription told how her fame was so great it reached the stars … At the conduit in Cornhill was “a very pretty pageant made very gorgeously” in which three little girls dressed as women took the parts of Grace, Virtue and Nature. Grace wore a crown and carried a scepter, and when Mary rode by all three children “kneeled down, and everyone of them sang certain verses of gratifying the queen.”” (Erickson)

Once she reached St. Paul’s churchyard, she was greeted with more spectacle. Sir John Heywood who had praised her in the past, sat under a vine and delivered an oration in Latin and English that celebrated her upcoming coronation. There were also a choir of men and boys that sang for her, and then a pageant where children carried burning tapers “made of most sweet perfumes.”

After these ended, Mary called all her councilors and addressed them in a solemn manner:

“Sinking on her knees before them, she spoke at length of her coming to the throne, of the duties of kings and queens, her intention to acquit herself of the task God had been pleased to lay on her to His greater glory and service, to the public good and all her subjects’ benefit. She had entrusted her affairs and person, she said, to them, and wished to adjure them to do their duty as they were bound by their oaths; and she appealed especially to her Lord High Chancellor [Gardiner[, reminding him that he had the right of administration of justice on his conscience. Her councilors were so deeply moved that not a single one refrained from tears. No one knew how to answer, amazed as they were by this humble and lowly discourse, so unlike anything ever heard before in England, and by the queen’s great goodness and integrity.”

Mary Tudor resplandescent

This was a great contrast to their previous masters who had been extremely strict and straight forward. Mary was all of these things, but she also knew how to put a show, having learned from experience and observing many great women in their position behave with dignity and grace (most notoriously her mother, and no doubt the stories she must’ve heard from her about her grandmother Isabella, and her late governess, the Countess of Salisbury). She had been preparing for this role all her life. As Leanda de Lisle writes in her latest biography on the Tudors, she was “a warrior queen, established by God, by blood and by law” and she wasn’t going to disappoint. While she appeared merciful on the outside, she would prove to be just as firm as her ancestors.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
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