Edward of Westminster ‘the most comfortable earthly treasure’ is born

Edward of Westminster and his parents

On the 13th of October 1453, on the feast of St. Edward the Confessor, Prince Edward was born on the Palace of Westminster. He was the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. There are many misconceptions regarding this prince, the principal one consisting of an apocryphal story where Margaret presents her son to her husband and he says that he must have been conceived by the holy spirit. In the “White Queen” the Neville sisters repeat this myth saying adding there is no way the prince is the king’s son because the king was asleep at the time of his conception but this story is false and didn’t come about until 1461. Henry VI was within his mental capabilities at the time of his son’s conception. When Margaret knew she was with child, she and the Duchess of York went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin.

cecily_neville_hours
Cecily Neville wrote the unborn child was “the most precious, most joyful, and most comfortable earthly treasure that might come unto this land and to the people thereof.”

But then something happened. On July 17 the town of Bordeaux was lost, it was a humiliating defeat for the English and when Henry was told he went into a catatonic state. Nothing could wake him up. Margaret went into her confinement uncertain of what the future would hold for her and her baby. She gave birth to her only son in Westminster. Immediately the birth was announced to London, according to Bale’s Chronicle:
“Wherefore the bells rang in every church and Te Deum was solemnly sang.”

The next day the prince was christened by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester (Henry’s confessor). His godparents were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Beaufort (Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beaufort’s uncle), and Anne Stafford nee Neville the Duchess of Buckingham who was also Margaret Beaufort’s mother in law and Cecily Neville’s sister.
But as one historian points out, “if the birth was cause for great joy, it was also clear that the condition of the boy’s father could no longer be ignored.” His son was presented to him but Henry could not recognize him and his mother tried to make a bid for power and establish a regency council in her husband and son’s names but the nobles favored Richard (including the Tudor brothers, Edmund and Jasper).
With the destruction of the royal house of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou remained in England for some time, until she was ransomed back in France where she died. If Edward had become King, given the education he was given, and the models he was taught to admire, he would have likely taken after his warring ancestors, including the much admired, Henry V. His life was cut short in the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. His father followed suit. The official story was that he died of melancholy after he was informed of his son’s death. Not many believed this story, and the rumors abounded that Edward IV had him killed. Not long after his death, a cult grew around him, and during Henry VII, Edward’s tomb was also visited by many pilgrims.

Sources:

  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster 1453-1471 by Susan Higginbotham
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
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God Save the First Queen of England, France and Ireland!

Mary I coronation

On Sunday, the 1st of October, Mary Tudor was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. She was the first female King in English history. Her day began early when she departed from the Tower of London, she was accompanied by her ladies and other nobles. As before, there were elements that were identified with the coronation for queen consorts, but also others that were of Kings. Instead of riding a litter as queen consorts had done, she chose to walk barefoot to the Abbey. She dressed splendidly for the occasion, wearing “parliament robes of crimson velvet under a rich canopy borne by the five barons of the cinque ports” in addition to having her hair loose with a circlet of gold around her head.

Following her were her ladies and gentlemen (by two) which included knights, aldermen, the French and Latin secretaries, councilors, the knights of the Garter, and those carrying the three swords which represented Spiritual and Temporal Justice, and Mercy. The sword of state was carried by Edward Courtenay (who’d recently been ennobled as the Earl of Devonshire), the Duke of Norfolk carried the crown, the Marques of Winchester carried the orb, and finally the Earl of Arundel carried the scepter. Mary’s train was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk who was assisted by Sir John Gage. Behind her were her sister and stepmother, the ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves.

Westminster Abbey Mary I Tudor's coronation

When she reached the Abbey, she would not have been surprised to find it decorated with heraldic symbols and popular Tudor images. The pulpit was covered in rest worsted, with the porch of Westminster Hall decorated with blue cloth. In addition, there was the royal chair which was covered in damask gold with the three lions and the fleur-de-lis representing the crowns of England and France –the latter which England still lay claim too and enabled Mary to add to her title of Queen of France as well.

Stephen Gardiner then turned to the crowds and gave the following announcement:
“Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man the crown and royal dignity of this real of England, France, Ireland, where upon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the Peers of this land for the consecration, inunction and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, inunction, and coronation?”

To which everyone shouted “joyfully Yea, yea,” followed by “God save Queen Mary!”

Mary then made an offering to the altar and following with ancient tradition, she prostrated herself before it on cushions while prayers were being said for her. Then she rose and listened to the sermon from the Bishop of Chichester which had to do with obeisance to kings.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

Then came the moment of truth. The moment that Mary had anxiously been waiting –and preparing- for all her life. The actual coronation. Still lying before the altar, she took the sacrament and said her oaths, and listened to the rest of the prayers. Then she went behind a screen at the left of the altar to make her first change of clothing. She was helped by some of her ladies. After she emerged she was anointed with the holy oils (by Gardiner) on her breasts, shoulders and forehead.

“Because so much depended on her anointing Mary had taken special care to ensure the validity of the ritual. She feared that the oils to be found in England were tainted as a result of the ecclesiastical censures brought against the nation by the pope many years earlier.” (Erickson)

This is true. Mary went above and beyond to make sure everything was perfect. So the oils were brought from Flanders. Judith M. Richards in her journal article about “Gendering the Tudor Monarchy” about Mary Tudor, discusses a lot of the issues regarding the first Queen of England’s coronation. Mary wanted to present herself as more than just a King, she wanted people to perceive her as both a woman and a king. Elizabeth would follow this model many years later when she addressed the troops at Tilbury in 1588 when she was at war with Spain. England never had a queen, and the concept of a female monarch was still very alien to many, even those that accepted Mary. So she had to thread very carefully. And one way she could be accepted without eliciting much criticism was by presenting herself as the paragon of virtue and morality (wearing her hair down and with a circlet as queen consorts traditionally wore) while at the same time, showing herself as ordained by god like monarchs before her. So here was a woman who was took the role of mother and guardian of her country, but also as an enforcer. And she made sure that people remembered this glorious day by having pamphlets be printed and distributed across Europe. (Not for nothing, her sister would take on the same roles, when on the eve of her coronation she would be compared to biblical figures like Esther and Deborah who were famous for upholding the moral values and preserving their people’s faith).

With a canopy being held over her head, she was given privacy to change back into her velvet robes. She then sat on the royal chair and was given the spurs and swords, had the ring placed on her finger then had the crown of Edward the Confessor placed on her head, followed by the Imperial crown and then another crown that was especially made for her.

Her subjects, including Gardiner and some of the courtiers that had carried the canopy and the heraldic symbols for her, knelt before their new monarch and swore their allegiance to her.  With the ceremony at an end the Te Deums being sung, Mary made her final offering to the Abbey (still carrying the orb and the two scepters of king and queen in her two hands) before departing for the state dinner that awaited her at Westminster Hall.

Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from

Feeling triumphant, Mary didn’t let the exhaustion win her over. Her sister and her stepmother were her guests of honor, seated next to her, basking in the attention and enjoying the spectacle that was being played out before them. There were some (like Renard) who didn’t like the Queen trusting Elizabeth with such honors, but Mary didn’t pay any attention to them. She was after all the daughter of a King and now the sister to the Queen, and she and her stepmother were awarded the highest positions that any man or woman could wish for. No other lady sat next to the queen or rode in a chariot that outranked the others. But there was a big difference between the sisters that Mary wouldn’t find out (or admit to it) until much later when the two became bitter rivals. For now though, she had no cause to worry. This was her moment and as far as she was concerned, it was meant to last.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades
  • Gendering the Tudor Monarchy: Mary Tudor as ‘sole queene’ by Judith M. Richards/Journal article