The Funerary Procession of Queen Elizabeth I

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28 APRIL 1603: Elizabeth I’s Funerary Procession took place. She was carried from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey where she was laid to rest on the Lady Chapel.

“It was an impressive occasion: the hearse was drawn by four horses hung with black velvet, surmounted by a life-sized wax effigy of the late Queen, dressed in her state robes and crown, an orb and scepter in its hands; over it was a canopy of state supported by six earls.” (Weir)

The procession was followed by a palfrey led by the Master of the Horse and the Marchioness of Northampton who acted as chief mourner. The other ladies followed her in nun-like mourning, black clothes, hoods and cloaks along with other people who were also wearing black. These included lords, councilors, courtiers, heralds, servants and 276 commons.

Elizabeth I Funeral Procession

In spite of the solemnity of the mourners, bright colors were seen in the form of colorful banners, trumpets and the Queen’s coffin which was covered in rich purple cloth topped with her effigy holding unto a scepter and with a crown on her head.

“Westminster” Chronicler John Stow wrote, “was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy.” After the Mass had ended, her household servants broke their white staves and tossed them at her tomb to symbolize the end of their allegiance.
Truly, it was a sight to see and also a reminder than it was the end of an era. Gone were the days of the Tudors, now it would be the Stuarts who reigned.

She was buried at the Lady Chapel where the first Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I’s grandfather, also lay with his wife and mother. Three years later, King James I decided to rebury her in a different vault and honor her memory by building a magnificent burial. Unfortunately, this monument didn’t include an effigy of the Queen’s sister, Mary I who was reburied with her.

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The plaque on her tomb reads the following:

“Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth & Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

Bess remains one of the most celebrated monarchs in history. She became Queen when she was twenty five years old. On receiving the news of her sister’s death and given her ring, she quoted one of the psalms, stating that this was the Lord’s will and it was beautiful before her eyes. Her reign lasted forty-four years, outlasting that of her father and the other Tudors.
Known as “Glorianna”, “Good Queen Bess” and “the Virgin Queen” for her refusal to marry, she also had one colony in North America named after her. She is the third longest female monarch in English history and to some, one of the most important women in history. In his biography on Elizabeth I, David Starkey says that what differentiated her from her sister was that while Mary “aimed for a heavenly crown; Elizabeth aimed for an earthly one.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir