The Coronation of Elizabeth of York

EOY red and SOT

On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.

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Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.

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Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.

Tower of London

 The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”

Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.

The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.

“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)

With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”

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Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.

“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)

Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.

As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.

Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.

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Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
  • Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
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Queen Mary I’s Death

Mary I Tudor painting

On the 17th of November 1558, Queen Mary I passed away at St. James Palace. She was forty two. Immediately, her coronation ring was taken to Elizabeth I who upon receiving quoted from one of the psalms declaring, quite coincidentally under an oak tree as one of her namesakes supposedly had been under when Edward IV found her, that “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Elizabeth was the new queen, she would go on to become the longest reigning monarch of the Tudor dynasty, and with her the reign of her sister would become less and less important and remembered only for the persecutions.

But before everyone is quick to judge, and the expense of being preachy, we must remember the times she lived in. Her actions should not –by any means- be condoned, but neither should the acts of her predecessors and successors be justified or overlooked because of their success. In her short reign, Mary managed to institute a new coinage, refounded universities, as well as instituted a curriculum that was inspired by the Humanist ideals she’d grown up with, and took a page from her brother’s book of common prayer where religious books were concerned. However, as more Protestants rose up against her, and condemned her for her religious inclination as well as her decision to marry a foreign (Catholic) Prince, her policies which once promised would respect everyone’s faith (as long they practiced it in “quiet charity”) became the opposite.

When the Lady Elizabeth had heard of her sister’s failing health by her sister’s servants and Count de Feria, she was very hostile towards them. Although she appreciated her sister making a codicil to her will acknowledging that she would respect her father’s will, guaranteeing Elizabeth’s place in history as England’s next Queen; she remarked to the Count that regardless of what her brother-in-law had done for her, she would not be in any way grateful to him since she had done nothing wrong. Many decades after her death, Jane Dormer would recall that meeting, claiming that she had also been sent there to deliver some of Mary’s jewels to her. Whether she did or did not, it is possible that Mary sought to reconcile herself with her sister. After all, when Mary had reclaimed the crown, she did so, stating that it wasn’t only her right but her sister’s as well.

Close to death, Mary asked to hear mass before midnight, then at night of the next morning she slipped away.

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“So peaceful was her passing” Linda Porter writes “that those around her did not realize, at first, that she was gone.” Mary had endured a lot in her life, and she persevered. Yet, just as in life, she was never to know peace. Shortly after she died, the news was delivered to her friend and distant cousin, Reginald Pole who also lay dying. When he heard the news “though his spirit was great, the blow nevertheless having entered his flesh, brought on paroxysm earlier, and with more intense cold.”

“She like himself, “had been harassed during many years for one and the same cause, and afterwards, when it pleased God to raise her to the throne, he had greatly participated in all her other troubles entailed by that elevation.” Just twelve hours after Mary’s passing, he too died, unreconciled with and condemned by the pope.” (Whitelock)

Mary I and Reginald Pole tried something similar her maternal grandmother had done in Castile which was root out corruption in the Church, this as we can imagine probably wasn’t very popular with some clerics. But the pope’s discontent largely has to do with England’s religious landscape. England would never be a Catholic kingdom. Almost a decade later when their cousin, Margaret Douglas, conspired to have her eldest son married to the Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I’s men spread rumors that she tried to have Mary alter their father’s will so she would be name her heir in place of Elizabeth. In another effort to further slander her name, she was also accused as being the main culprit behind the sister’s rivalry.

“Within hours of Mary’s death, the preparation of her body began. Her heart and bowels were removed, her belly opened and filled with preservative herbs and spices.” (Whitelock)

She remained at St James for almost a month until her funeral in mid-December. Elizabeth spared no expense for the funeral. A beautiful eulogy was written for Mary titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’ which read the following:

Mary Tudor coronation

“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.”

This however was altered, as ordered by Elizabeth, to include the new Tudor Queen and create a starch contrast between the sisters, where Mary is praised but so is Elizabeth who it is implied will be a greater monarch than her predecessor.

Elizabeth and Mary

“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 lie long and fruit,
and subjects truth to serve.”

This wasn’t the only thing that was changed. John White, Bishop of Winchester delivered the funeral sermon praising Mary’s virtues, saying that “she was a king’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was King’s wife. She was a Queen and by the same title a King also” concluding with wishing Elizabeth a prosperous reign “in peace and tranquility if it be God’s will.” That last sentence sealed his fate and he was placed under house arrest.

Elizabeth I’s successor went a step further and ordered a great effigy for the Tudor Queen, and also ordered that two sisters be put together. Mary I’s tomb was once marked, and although it still is, only one of the two sisters is remembered in this great monument and that is Elizabeth.

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The plaque on their joint tombs reads: ‘Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the resurrection.’

Perhaps it is the romantic in all of us that wish that these two troubled sisters found peace in the afterlife, but given their loss and struggle, especially Mary’s whose reign is still obscured and seen through one lens, it is impossible that they ever will. History is written by the victors, they say and that couldn’t be truer. Mary’s achievement which were continued (albeit some of these improved) by her sister, are nearly forgotten.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Mary Tudor by HFM Prescott
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.

The Royal Wedding of Prince Arthur and Infanta Catalina

Arthur and Catherine of Aragon

On Sunday, 14th of November 1501, Katherine of Aragon and Arthur Tudor were married in a splendid ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. She was led to the church by her brother-in-law, Henry Tudor, the Duke of York who also wore white and gold. White was a color not normally seen in brides, and yet Katherine wore it, dazzling the English onlookers as she exited from her chambers with her ladies and Dona Elvira, and accompanied by the young Duke into the Church.

Arthur for his part rose up early, awoken by a handful of noblemen led by the Great Chamberlain of England, John de Vere [13th Earl of Oxford]. The two were one of a kind, and no expense had been spared for this occasion. London had made sure that Katherine received a great reception two days earlier when she arrived to London (once again accompanied by her brother-in-law) and the day before the wedding, he had thrown a big party, with his mother and wife present. Katherine for her part, made a great impression on the English people. Beautiful, petite, with blue eyes, fair skin and red-golden hair, she fit the medieval standards of beauty and her expression looked both serene and content. But appearances, as one historian pointed out, can be deceiving. Katherine was her parents’ daughter, and like them, she adapted quickly to her new environment. Besides her unusual choice of color, she had donned a gown that was Spanish in design, and which must have looked odd to some of the spectators. The skirt was bell-shaped, called a vertugado and highly fashionable in Spain, and it would also become fashionable in England when she became Queen eight years later. The rest of her dress consisted of gold, pearls, and gems and on her head, she wore a long silk veil.

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Furthermore, the cathedral was hung with marvelous tapestries displaying both of their families’ heraldic symbols as well as Arthur’s fabled ancestry to his mythical namesake. When the trumpets sounded, the young Duke led Katherine into the church, her train being carried by his aunt, the Queen’s sister, Lady Cecily Welles. The King, Queen and the Countess of Richmond were nowhere to be seen. They had opted to watch the ceremony behind a screen instead, fearing that their presence would overshadow the young couple. “The Archbishop of Canterbury” points the Receyt of Ladie Kateryne “was waiting there for her with eighteen more bishops and honorable abbots” who were anxious for the ceremony to start.
Several people shouted “King Henry! King Henry!” and “Prince Arthur!” as she and Arthur momentarily turned to acknowledge the congregation. After the Mass was over, Arthur stepped aside to sign the last papers of their union. The young Duke once again took Katherine’s arm and led her to her next destination at the Bishop’s Palace where a great banquet awaited them.

“The food and its service were designed to display the royal wealth to the full. Arthur had Catherine would have been honored by the creation of subtleties, sculptured in marzipan, of allegorical, historian and religious figures. Warham’s table had been graced by one design featuring a king seated on a throne, surrounded by kneeling knights and flanked by two gentlemen on horseback. A second design centered on St Eustace kneeling in a park under a great tree of roses, with a white hart bearing a crucifix between its horns.” (Licence)

Other figures would have included heraldic symbols of both their dynasties. Just as in the church, the Bishop’s palace would have been full of Tudor and Trastamara imagery, with their ancestors thrown into the mix.

Henry VII Shadow in the tower

This was the wedding of the century, and Henry VII must have felt like this was his greatest accomplishment. After years of fighting off pretenders and putting down rebellions, here was a marriage that would validate his dynasty, show off his kingdom’s wealth, and give him a strong alliance with the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon whose monarchs had become a legend.

“It feel to the Earl of Oxford in his capacity as Lord Chamberlain of England to test ‘the bed of state’ by lying down first on one side and then on the other to check that nothing protruded from the mattress that could do harm to the prince and his bride.” (Williams)

Following the ceremony the bedding took place. Katherine was the first one to lay in bed. Her husband then appeared, escorted by his father and some of his friends who wished him well. What happened next would be something that many of us would still ask today and as for the answer, at the expense of having books thrown at me by hardcore fans, it is something I am anxious to give my two cents given what we know so far about the period in terms of sex, marriage and religion, but I will reserve it for another time and simply say that whatever the truth is, only two people know what happened on that day and they took that secret to their graves.

Sources:

  • Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife by Patrick Williams
  • Sister Queens: The Unfortunate and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

London Welcomes the Spanish Princess

Katherine of Aragon by Sittow

On the 12th of November 1501, Katherine of Aragon arrived to the city of London. She had met her future brother in law, Henry Tudor Duke of York, days prior. He and his party escorted the Infanta to the city. The roads were sanded and graveled to prevent horses from sliding and everywhere she turned there was a new pageant. The city was joyous to see their new princess. The Spanish Infanta was everything they hoped for in a consort. She was shy, humble with her eyes cast downward, looking away whenever she was paid a compliment but most of all she was beautiful with red-golden hair, fair skin and blue eyes. “But appearances” as historian Julia Fox points out in her dual biography on her and her sister, “can be deceiving”. 

Katherine had her mother’s warrior spirit. The Lord Mayor, Sir John Shaa was in charge of the celebrations. According to the ‘Receyt of the Ladie Catheryne’, Katherine wore her hair loose “down to her back through a specially designed gap in her headdress” which consisted of a wide-brimmed hat that looked like a cardinal hat that was “held in place by a golden lace.”

Tudor Rose

There were twelve pageants in total and the first she came across was the one on the bridge where she and Arthur were marvelously represented by actors that also celebrated their future marriage. Laden with symbols, she would have recognized the Tudor rose, the Beaufort portcullises, the Welsh red dragon of King Cadwalldr that Henry VII had used as his main standard when he fought Richard III at Bosworth field (and was now part of the royal coat of arms), and last but not least the ostrich feathers which represented the Prince of Wales.

The other pageants consisted of historical and celestial figures which approached the Spanish Princess to talk of the joys of marriage. One of these was Saint Ursula who was a British saint and who had accompanied thousands of young girls on a pilgrimage to Rome. She was the epitome of virtue and piety as they hoped Katherine would be. Then there was her namesake, St. Catherine, who had also been a princess in addition to being a church scholar and highly revered. She told the Infanta that she would have two husbands, a celestial one in God and an earthly one in Prince Arthur. (Ironically, Katherine would have two husbands). The next one paid homage to her native ancestor, the revered King of Castile, Alfonso the Tenth better known as “El Sabio” (the wise) who stood next to the biblical figures of Raphael and Job and the philosopher Boethius. The Castilian King told her that a “princess young and tender” was fated to come to England to “marry a noble prince” and that from her many kings would follow.

When her party reached Cheapside for the fourth display, she saw an actor playing Arthur. This amused her as she saw him standing in between the pillars decorated with red and white roses that symbolized the dynastic conflict between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The penultimate pageant was the most important as its great structure depicted the Temple of God with heavenly figures giving their approval to the marriage and comparing the king and founder of the Tudor dynasty to God himself.

“The actors declaimed that while God has bestowed matrimony as a sign of the union between Himself and human beings, Henry had bestowed matrimony on Katherine and Arthur to bring peace and prosperity to the realm.” (Fox)

Last but not least, the final pageant was set up in the churchyard of Saint Paul where three golden thrones were erected representing Katherine and Arthur with Honor in the middle.

Arthur Tudor 2

Although she couldn’t see them, the King and Queen and her betrothed were nearby, watching everything unfold.

When the ceremonies ended she received gifts from the Lord Mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury and made offerings to St. Erkenwalkd then retired to the Bishop’s Palace. The following day she would meet her mother and grandmother in law and entertain them at Baynard Castle and the day after that, she would marry Arthur becoming Princess of Wales.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Tudor. Passion, Manipulation and Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence