On the 14th of December 1558, nearly a month after she had passed away, Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France was buried on Westminster Abbey. The Queen died on the 17th of November at St James Palace. Her body was laid to rest there in her Privy Chamber under the cloth of state before it was moved to Westminster. The procession began on December 10th. Acting as chief mourner was her beloved cousin Margaret Douglas the Countess of Lennox.
Displaying the banners of the English royal arms, the Queen’s coffin was laid to rest on the Chapel Royal for three days before its final journey to Westminster. With the Countess were the Queen’s household servants dressed in black, the heralds and the gentlemen mourners who walked under the banners of the white greyhound and falcon and of the royal arms.
On the 13th, the procession resumed, men and women walked towards the Abbey, once more dressed in black. The five heralds meanwhile bore the royal coat of arms, the royal helmet, the royal shield, the royal sword and the coat of armor. The queen’s coffin was a draped in purple velvet, with a lifelike effigy depicting the Queen crowned, holding the scepter and orb.
“At each corner of the funeral chariot a herald on horseback bore a banner of the four English royal saints. After the chariot followed the chief mourner, Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox, and Mary’s ladies in waiting all in black robes, attending her in death as they had in life.” (Whitelock)
The procession halted at the great door of the Abbey where it was met by four Bishops and an Abbot who censed the coffin and the effigy before it was taken inside. The queen’s coffin lay there overnight with over a hundred gentlemen and her guard who kept building.
The next morning, a funeral Mass was held and here is where Elizabeth showed everyone who was boss, and that despite showing respect to her sister’s memory, she was still going to include a mention of herself, even if others didn’t consider it relevant.
After all, the yet-to-be crowned, Queen Elizabeth intended her sister to have a funeral worthy of her status and lineage. No expense was spared. The Marques of Winchester was put in charge of funeral arrangements. But changes had to be made. The Bishop of Winchester, John White, was in charge of preaching the funeral sermon. He had prepared a beautiful homage for England’s first Queen titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’. Although it was a badly written poem, it extolled the queen’s reign. This isn’t what got Elizabeth to make him change the poem however. It was the fact that there was no mention of her at all:
“How many noble men restored
and other states also
Well showed her princely liberal heart
which gave both friend and foe.
As princely was her birth, so princely was her life:
Constant, courtise, modest and mild;
a chaste and chosen wife.
Oh mirror of all womanhood!
Oh Queen of virtues pure!
Oh Constant Marie! Filled with grace,
No age can thee obscure.”
So he was forced to add the following:
“Marie now dead, Elizabeth lives,
our just and lawful Queen
In whom her sister’s virtues rare,
abundantly are seen.
Obey our Queen as we are bound,
pray God her to preserve
And send her grace life long and fruit,
and subjects truth to serve.”
White delivered the sermon saying very little about Mary’s religious policies which for better or for worse have come to define her reign.
“She was a King’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was a King’s wife. She was a Queen, and by the same title a King also … What she suffered in each of these degrees and since she came to the crown I will not chronicle; only this I say, howsoever it pleased God to will her patience to be exercised in the world, she had in all estates the fear of God in her heart … she had the love, commendation and admiration of all the world. In this church she married herself to the realm, and in token of faith and fidelity, did put a ring with a diamond on her finger, which I understand she never took off after, during her life … she was never unmindful or uncareful of her promise to the realm. She used singular mercy towards offenders. She used much pity and compassion towards the poor and oppressed. She used clemency amongst her nobles … She restored more noble houses decayed than ever did prince of this realm, or I did pray God ever shall have the like occasion to do hereafter … I verily believe, the poorest creature in all this city feared not God more than she did.”
The last sentence was based on two verses of Ecclesiastes which said the following: “I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive … for a living dog is better than a dead lion”. This and wishing Elizabeth “a prosperous reign” while adding “if it be God’s will” landed him once more into trouble. It was a veiled reference to Elizabeth, alluding to his point of view that Mary had been a great queen and her death left a hole in many Catholic’s hearts, while Bess was not. He was placed under house arrest the next day “for such offenses as he committed in his sermon at the funeral of the late queen”.
As when the heralds had cried when they entered the Abbey to hear the mass, “the Queen is dead! Long Live the Queen!”
Before Mary’s death, several courtiers had moved to Elizabeth’s house, courting the new Queen. Now that the last reminder of Mary’s reign was finally laid to rest, the Virgin Queen’s could begin.
Sadly for Mary it was done at her own expense. Mary’s reign as previously stated has been defined by her religious policies and how these were defined by Protestant chroniclers. Over two hundred ‘heretics’ were burned during Mary I’s reign. Linda Porter makes the case point in her biography on her that some of these were done at a local level for which the queen had no control. Even if this is completely accurate, the fact that it happened can’t be overlooked. But neither can the other atrocities committed during her ancestors and successors’ reigns. The truth is always somewhere in the middle, and the reason why we always idolize history and cling to old phrases such as “the good old days” is because we are scared and tired of the times we live in. And so we are taken over by nostalgia, and live in this make-believe world where despite our knowledge of the period, we tend to believe that amidst all the chaos there were a few who were different. Those who were “ahead of their times”. But nobody was. The past, as an author once wrote, is an alien world and these people lived according to the standards of the time. There were some who were more practical and tolerant than others but they still held some kind of prejudice. Mary was no different and neither was her sister.
Her wishes to be buried next to her mother, as well as having her mother’s coffin be moved to Westminster, were not respected. After her sister’s death in 1603, James I ordered a great monument for his predecessor. Elizabeth’s coffin was placed on top of Mary’s and only her effigy was visible. Once again, Mary was overshadowed. Perhaps what reads in the plaque gives those who believe some hope, that the two sisters will someday be reunited.
- The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
- Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
- Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
- Tudor by Leanda de Lisle