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.

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary

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

The Death of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I collage

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty four years and was the longest reigning Tudor monarch, and third longest ruling Queen monarch in English history.
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Born on September 7th 1533, she was bastardized three years later following her parents’ annulment and her mother’s execution.

Anne Boleyn with child

It isn’t known whether Elizabeth had any recollection of her mother.

Probably she didn’t given that she was very young at the time. But she spent a lot of time with people who did, most of whom belonged to her maternal family. During her coronation she included the personal emblems of her ancestors, including her mother’s during her coronation (the royal falcon); this small gesture along with the ring bearing Anne’s picture shows Elizabeth’s desire to know about the woman who gave birth to her.

Out of all the English monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to any nation or any house. This can be due to the emotional trauma she experienced at a such young age when she was demoted from Princess to mere “Lady”, and subsequently saw wife after wife being replaced by her father on mere whim. But there is also the pragmatic aspect that some historians deny and that is that Elizabeth had seen the troubles that a foreign marriage had brought to her half-sister, Mary I. England was not used to having female Kings, and the concept of one would mean she would have to marry someone equal to her, and for that to happen she would have to look elsewhere, beyond her English borders. This would also mean she would have to negotiate some sort of agreement where her husband would have to agree to keep himself and his councilors separate from English affairs; and the possibility of death during childbirth. England had a bad history with boy-kings. The last time, it resulted in the wars of the roses and that was something that was still fresh on the minds of many people.

Elizabeth I armada

“Her determination to preserve what was hers also turned her into a great war leader against Spain. She was not a general in the field nor an admiral … Instead, and more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full of scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.’” -David Starkey

Therefore, by refusing any marriage offer –while coyly entertaining every ambassador, making all sorts of promises that she would consider- she abstained herself from such troubles and was able to be her own mistress.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her councilors’ preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before on March 9th, Robert Cecil, son of her late and most trusted adviser William Cecil (Lord Burghley), wrote to George Nicholson, the English ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was about her business, walking back and forth in her chambers, pondering on the future that awaited her country once she was gone.
Less than a week later, her condition worsened and she was no longer able to move as freely. Then on the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Sir Robert tried to cheer her up but to no avail. Elizabeth, as the rest, knew that her days were numbered and she wouldn’t live for another week.

On Tuesday, the twenty second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her, insisting that she dictate her will so she could leave a successor but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth was always hesitant when it came to the issue of an heir. So many had competed for that position and so many were now gone.
Katherine Grey had married without permission and died nearly half mad in 1568, and ten years later her younger sister Mary Grey -who wasn’t allowed to see her husband because Elizabeth feared she could also produce children and rival claimants- and lastly, Mary, Queen of Scots who lost her head in 1587.
The favorite on everyone’s mind was James VI and one simple word from their queen’s mouth would give his claim even more validity but the Queen, probably not caring or in agony, remained adamant in her position. A story later circulated that Elizabeth I had indeed named James by way of her fingers when the council asked her to move her finger a certain way to mean that James was her successor and she did, but this cannot be corroborated and it is likely false.

Elizabeth I allegory
“Elizabeth was not, primarily, an exceptional woman; she was an exceptional ruler.” -Biographer Lisa Hilton

The death of Elizabeth I marked the end of an era. A bloody, tumultuous era packed with religious and social change. She was not a staunch Protestant but she did push for Protestant reformer on the Church, primarily on the Book of Common prayer, and neither was she a Catholic –though one Pope expressed admiration for her, claiming that if she wasn’t a Protestant, he would support her instead of Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth was a moderate and she took a moderate approach. That is the type of monarch she was. Her laws were just as fierce, if not fiercer in some aspects, than her father’s, grandfather’s and siblings.

Eworth_Elizabeth_I_and_the_Three_Goddesses_1569

The way in which she used her image says a lot about her. In one painting she is standing next to the goddess but if one looks closely it is the goddesses who are standing next to her, leading her to her destiny. Elizabeth was in popular eyes not just an anointed sovereign, but the head of all spiritual and earthly matters.

Elizabeth I Queen tomb

 

Elizabeth I was highly honored by her successor who built a beautiful monument, at the cost of overlooking her predecessor who was placed beneath her. The two sisters lie together with Elizabeth’s effigy being the only one visible and a plaque that reads: “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

King Henry VII’s Burial: Reassesing the first Tudor Monarch

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.

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 most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII has Holbein put him and his father on their right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument where it 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.’

The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he'd given him his long awaited for son.
The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he’d given him his long awaited for son.

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.

Sources:

  • 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
  • Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence

Queen Mary I’s last will.

Mary I played by Sarah Bolger
Mary I played by Sarah Bolger

On the 30th of March 1558, Queen Mary I made her will believing she was still pregnant and would soon give birth. Bringing a (male) heir would solve many of her problems regarding her religious establishment –which maintained her father’s establishment and differed very little from it. One of her wishes was that her mother’s remains would be moved from St. Peterborough Cathedral to Westminster. After Mary became Queen, she legitimized her status as her parents’ true daughter and her mother’s status as Henry VIII’s true Queen. While this has been criticized by many biographers as proof of her fanaticism, in fact, the decision was a smart one and one she needed to do. Her grandfather, the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII, legitimized his future wife’s (Elizabeth of York) family, therefore making his union to her the following year more symbolic, as a true union of the Houses of Lancaster and York.
Furthermore, before the year was over, in November 7, 1485 during his first Parliament he reaffirmed the Beauforts legitimacy, re-enacting the statue of 1397 by Richard II and overturning the one of 1407 which had barred them from the succession.
Mary’s decision to rebury her mother at Westminster was not so much a religious one as a dynastic one, if she would indeed bear a son, her son needed to have all taint of illegitimacy gone from him and also bare the prestige of a great lineage. And possibly, a personal one, based on how her mother had been humiliated in her later years and buried as a ‘Princess Dowager’; Mary wanted to give her mother the justice she never had in her last years.

This never happened. Mary died months later in November and she was not buried until December. Neither of her wishes to be buried next to her mother or her mother reburied in Westminster were carried out. Instead, Catherine remained buried at Peterborough and she would not be joined by another Queen until decades later by none other than Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland. Mary lies buried in Westminster Abbey under her sister in a large golden sarcophagus where only her sister Elizabeth’s effigy is visible.
The pregnancy that Mary experienced was another phantom pregnancy

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor history by Claire Ridgway
  • Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen by John Edwards