On the 8th of August 1553, Edward VI was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey beneath a white marble vault in the Lady Chapel. The night before, a procession was led with “great company” of men and children, including Henry VIII’s bedesmen from the Greyfriar’s Church and Edward’s servants who wore black. Among the many symbols displayed ere the traditional Tudor symbols: The Welsh dragon, the greyhound, his father’s lion and of course, the Tudor rose which represented the union of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York. A symbol which would be shown on every Tudor’s coronation and funeral. Behind them came the coffin “covered by a canopy of blue velvet upon a chariot decorated with cloth of gold pulled by seven horses.” (Skidmore) Edward VI’s effigy was sculpted by Nichollas Bellin, and in it he wore the garter collar and bore the standards of the Tudor rose and the Seymour insignia.
In spite of his troubled reign, due to his young age, Londoners mourned him deeply. And as a king, he showed a level of firmness and coldness that reminded people of their first two Tudor monarchs.
His sister (the yet to be crowned Mary I) feared a Protestant funeral would make her look weak in the eyes of the Lutherans who she said “would only become more audacious, and would proclaim that she had not dared to do her own will”. Renard and others in her council advised caution and told her of the seditious talk that had been circulating among Protestant circles in the capital, adding that giving him a Catholic funeral would make her subjects “waver in their loyal affections” for her. In the end Mary agreed to a compromise and five days after her triumphant entrance into London, she ordered her brother’s burial. His body was moved from Whitehall where it had been residing for almost a month to Westminster where he was buried following Protestant liturgy. The Mass was presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer with the Marquess of Winchester acting as his chief mourner. Meanwhile Mary held a separate requiem (Catholic) Mass for his soul at St. Peter’s chapel in the tower of London presided by George Day, Bishop of Chichester which according to one observer was considered a great insult to his memory and “prepared the way for papistry just like an advance raiding party.”
Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
On the 11th of May 1509 Henry VII was laid to rest in the Lady Chapel that he built for himself and his wife, at Westminster Abbey. Their effigies can be appreciated, as well as the effigies of his other descendants (also buried here). Westminster was no strange place to Henry. Three months after his coronation, he married the beautiful Elizabeth of York here. The wedding as Suzannah Lipscomb describes in her book A Journey Through Tudor England “was cause for celebration indeed. It marked the coming together of the warring houses of York and Lancaster: an end to the bloody Wars of the Roses that had torn England apart on and off for over thirty years. A strikingly attractive and intelligent woman, with long golden hair, Elizabeth wore her finest robes for the wedding –described as glowing ‘with gold and purple dye’- and a necklace ‘framed in fretted gold.’ She carried symbolic white and red roses.”
Their marriage also gave birth to a new symbol: The Tudor Rose. Yet the red rose of Lancaster and white rose of York joined together in matrimony was nothing more an illusion. The Yorks and Lancasters sported more devices than just one rose each. Their origins as Leanda de Lisle states:
“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in the English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long associated with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. But 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.”
In the five hundred and sixteen years after his death, he remains a figure of controversy, everything from he was a miser, or not a good enough king, or his mother killed the princes in the tower, has been said about him, but the truth is we think this way of Henry because he spent more time behind a desk, overseeing his country’s development, and his family’s welfare for that matter, than in becoming popular. We usually remember the monarchs who were once young, energetic, and handsome and who despite causing so much trouble afterwards, still dressed splendidly and spent their money on huge frivolities. And it is because of that, that we tend to overlook the more serious and less romanticized monarchs. Henry’s life story however is just as interesting as all of these other monarchs. And the fact of the matter is that regarding the princes’ disappearance, is something we will never know. But just as Richard’s defenders say that you cannot condemn him based on little evidence, you can use the same argument for Henry and his mother. There are ‘perhaps’ ‘could haves’ but never any certainties. Just as kings were known to be pious, they were also known to be cruel and Richard was not any different. The facts don’t lie, to secure his power, he executed Lord Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother), Richard Woodville (hers on), and Hastings and imprisoned others that he considered were also a threat. His brother and father had been brutally killed when he was very young, and being exposed to violence at a very young era, no doubt, had an effect on him. The same can be said for Henry Tudor who saw from an early age the destruction of his mother’s house, the Beauforts, and his uncle’s, the Lancastrian. And when he became a target of Edward IV (who feared he would be perceived as the new hope for the lase Lancastrians) he and his uncle Jasper fled the country.
This alone makes his story one of the most amazing found in English medieval history.
“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation, and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and hiss former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should have not on” (Skidmore)
As the royal procession reached Westminster Abbey on that fateful day, people could see the massive wax tapers weighing over twelve hundred pounds. As his coffin was lowered down to be placed next to his wife, the choir sang ‘Libera me’: “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day … When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”
Despite his miserly attitude after the death of his son and wife, he kept corresponding with his eldest daughter whose affection for her was clearly evident as he consoled her in one of their first letters when she told him that she was feeling homesick. On his deathbed, Henry had made provisions so 10,000 masses would be said to aid his soul’s journey into the afterlife, and the other half to religious gifts and charities. When his son ascended to the throne he posed an important question which perhaps still resonates today when we hear debates about which Tudor King (of the first two) mattered the most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII had Holbein put him and his father on the right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument that reads “The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his country and finally gave peace to its citizens but the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing, the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.” The message is clear, ‘my dad was great but I am greater.’
There is no doubt that Henry VIII did change the course of English history by separating from the Roman Catholic Church and commissioned a new bible in English by Miles Coverdale which made it easier for people to have access to; but his father (a man who triumphed against all odds) was just as great.
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
The Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
Henry VII by SB Chrimes
The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones