Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

  After dinner the next day, November 24, the Queen made her state entry into London. Dressed by her sisters, she was “royally appareled, having about her 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 lace curiously wrought of gold and silk and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled. Her fair yellow hair [was] hanging down plain behind her back, with a caul of pipes over it.” This was a coif cross-barred with a network of gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy. “She had a circlet of gold, richly garnished with precious stones upon her head,” resting atop the coif. White symbolized virginity, or in Elizabeth’s case chastity and purity, as did loose hair.10

  Emerging in great state from the Tower, with Cecily of York carrying her train, Elizabeth climbed into an open litter richly hung with white cloth-of-gold damask and upholstered with matching cushions of down. Eight white horses were harnessed to the litter, and above it was a canopy on gilt staves borne by four of the new Knights of the Bath. Preceded by Bedford and four baronesses riding gray palfreys, and followed by her master of horse, Sir Robert Cotton, leading her horse of estate, Elizabeth was borne into the City, where huge crowds had gathered to see her and watch her progress through the streets. In a chariot behind her rode Cecily with Katherine Wydeville, Duchess of Bedford, and following them came another chariot carrying Elizabeth’s aunt, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and another bearing Margaret Chedworth, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk (widow of John Howard), with six baronesses on palfreys trotting behind. Also in attendance were Lord Stanley and the other new Knights of the Bath. The Queen’s squires trotted along on palfreys “harnessed with cloth of gold” emblazoned with the white roses and suns of York, “richly embroidered.” It was a magnificent procession, calculated to impress the crowds, enhance the reputation of the Tudor dynasty, and proclaim the universal approval of the Queen.

  London was en fête. The streets were hung with tapestries, and velvet and cloth-of-gold hangings streamed from the windows in Cheapside. Along the processional route children dressed as angels, saints, and virgins sang “sweet songs as Her Grace passed by” on her way to the Palace of Westminster.

  On November 25, St. Katherine’s Day, Elizabeth went to her coronation 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.11

  With Cecily again bearing her train, Elizabeth entered Westminster Hall with her attendants and took up her position beneath a purple silk canopy of estate supported by silver lances held by the barons of the Cinque Ports. Here, she waited for the procession to form. She was attended by her aunt, the Duchess of Suffolk, her fourteen-year-old cousin, Margaret of Clarence, now the wife of Sir Richard Pole, and Margaret Beaufort.

  As Elizabeth passed on her way to the abbey on a “new bay-cloth” (baize) striped runner, the people surged forward behind her, each one eager to snip off a piece of the stuff on which she had trodden, such valued souvenirs were traditionally their perquisite. But the crowd was too boisterous: “there was so much people inordinately pressing to cut the bay-cloth that certain persons in the press were slain, and the order of the ladies following the Queen was broken and distroubled.” This tragic incident cannot but have blighted the day for Elizabeth, who must have been painfully aware of the tragedy enacted in her wake.

  In the calm of the abbey, Cecily was once more train bearer as Elizabeth walked along the nave, supported on either side by the bishops of Ely and Winchester; going before her were her uncle, John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, carrying a gilt scepter topped with the fleur-de-lis,12 as he had at her mother’s coronation; William FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel, who bore the rod with the dove; and—in his robes of estate—Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, who had the honor of bearing the consort’s crown. Also in the procession was the Earl of Oxford, as Lord Great Chamberlain, wearing “his Parliament robes.” After the Queen and Cecily “followed the Duchess of Bedford and another duchess and countess, appareled in mantles and surcoats of scarlet, furred and powdered, the duchesses having on their heads coronets of gold richly garnished with pearl and precious stones, and the countess on her head circlets of gold in like wise garnished, as doth appear in the book of pictures thereof made”—which, sadly, does not survive.

  There was no tradition that prevented kings from attending the coronations of their consorts, but Henry VII allowed his wife to enjoy her hour of glory alone. He watched the whole ceremony with Margaret Beaufort and “Lady Margaret Pole, daughter to the Duke of Clarence,”13 from behind a “well-latticed” screen covered with cloth of Arras, which stood on a “goodly stage” specially erected between the altar and the pulpit. Elizabeth Wydeville was not present to see her daughter’s triumph (although, as her biographer Arlene Okerlund imagines, she perhaps saw the river pageant from Bermondsey), nor were Elizabeth’s younger sisters; but her half brother Dorset was there, having been allowed out of the Tower for the occasion. The abbey was packed with the nobility of England, as well as fifteen bishops and seventeen abbots, demonstrating how beloved a queen Elizabeth was, and how eager people were to see her crowned, as was her right, and to endorse the joining of York and Lancaster.

  John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was waiting to receive the Queen, and prayed over her as she prostrated herself on the carpet before the high altar. She knelt to be anointed with holy oil on the forehead and breast, unlacing the gown fashioned for the ceremony. Then her coronation ring, symbolizing her faithfulness, was blessed, after which she received the scepter and rod, and was “with great solemnity crowned.” The ritual followed had been laid out for the crowning of a Queen consort in Westminster Abbey’s Liber Regalis, a late fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript containing the Latin orders of royal services, including coronations, which was in use from 1399 to 1559. The prayers dated back to the twelfth century, exhorting the Queen to virtuous conduct, so that, like the five wise virgins, she would be worthy of the Celestial Bridegroom—or rather, the King’s bed.14

  It is not known for certain which crown was blessed and placed on Elizabeth’s head. “A crown and two rods for a queen” are first recorded in an inventory of “precious relics” taken in 1450, but they were probably older than that. “Queen Edith’s crown” is listed in a Commonwealth inventory of 1649.15 In 1045, Edith of Wessex had married the Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, whose crown was used at the coronation of every monarch, but the crown that bore her name was probably not Saxon in origin. It was apparently the consort’s crown added to the regalia in the late fourteenth century, and was recorded in 1649 as being “of silver gilt enriched with garnets, foul pearl, sapphires, and other stones,” and valued at £16 [£1,200]. It is tempting to conclude that Queen Edith’s crown was regarded as being invested with a similar sanctity to her husband’s, but there seems to have been no tradition of crowning queens with a hereditary crown.

  In a panel painting known as the St. George altarpiece, which dates from ca. 1503–09 and is now in the Royal Collection (see Appendix I), Elizabeth is shown wearing a very ornate imperial crown—a “closed” crown featuring gold arches. This type of crown—as opposed to a traditional open circlet with crosses and fleurs-de-lis—was first worn in England by Henry V (reigned 1413–22). Similar crowns appear in drawings of Richard III and Anne Neville in the Rous Roll, and in various images of Richard III and Edward IV. A drawing of the wedding of Henry V and Katherine of Valois, in the Beauchamp Pageant, dating from ca. 1485, shows them both wearing imperial crowns. The earliest image of an English queen wearing an imperial crown is a medal of Margaret of Anjou, dating from 1463. Henry VII also wears one in the St. George altarpiece, but it differs from Elizabeth’s so it is unlikely that they were m
ade at the same time; possibly Elizabeth was wearing the one made for Margaret of Anjou, which was probably also worn by Anne Neville and perhaps Elizabeth Wydeville. The King and Queen wear their imperial crowns in an illumination in the “Ordinances of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception” of 1503 (see Appendix I), and these crowns are probably the same ones that appear in the St. George altarpiece. By the fifteenth century it had become customary for a queen to wear her crown on the anniversary of her coronation, so it is possible that the crown worn by Elizabeth in the painting is the one that had become associated with her, which she wore for her crowning. As one of the crown jewels, it was normally entrusted to the care of the Master of the Jewel House in the Tower of London.

  None of Elizabeth’s crowns survive. The ancient crown jewels, as symbols of monarchy, were “totally broken and defaced” in the seventeenth century under Oliver Cromwell because they symbolized “the destestable rule of kings.” Detailed inventories were made of what was destroyed, but Elizabeth’s imperial crown does not appear to be listed. Almost certainly it was used by at least one later Queen. A woodcut depicting the coronation of Henry VIII shows Katherine of Aragon being crowned with a very similar crown, probably the one used by her mother-in-law. Like Elizabeth, she wears hers on top of her long-lappeted gable hood in a stained-glass window in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. This is not the crown that appears in Elizabeth I’s coronation portrait (or in any of her numerous portraits), so by 1559 it had probably gone out of fashion; Elizabeth’s granddaughter’s crowns have wider arches. The likelihood is that her own crown had already been melted down and perhaps remodeled.

  While Mass was said, Elizabeth remained seated on the ancient coronation chair, then the pax was brought to her. She kissed it and went to the altar, where she prostrated herself again to make her confession. After this, she was given communion, then enthroned once more. The ceremony culminated with the Queen escorted to St. Edward’s shrine, where she laid her crown on the altar dedicated to him.

  A manuscript drawing of the coronation of Joan of Navarre, wife of Henry IV, in 1403,16 but dating from ca. 1485–90, might more accurately portray the crowning of Elizabeth of York. It shows a queen seated on a throne on a raised platform beneath a canopy of estate bearing the royal arms, with two bishops placing the crown on her head, and lords and ladies standing at the foot of the steps. The Queen wears traditional ceremonial dress of a style dating back to the fourteenth century: a sideless surcoat with a kirtle beneath, and a mantle fastened across the upper chest with cords and tassels. Her hair, by custom, is loose.

  It has been suggested17 that Thomas Ashwell’s anthem may have been sung at Elizabeth’s coronation, given the repeated emphasis on her name:

  God save King Henry, whereso’er he be,

  And for Queen Elizabeth now pray we,

  And for all her noble progeny.

  God save the Church of Christ from any folly;

  And for Queen Elizabeth now pray we.18

  The ceremony over, the procession then re-formed and Elizabeth returned to the Palace of Westminster. While she washed and refreshed herself in preparation for her coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, Bedford acted as the Queen’s Champion. Riding a horse trapped with red roses and dragons, he led other mounted lords around the hall, ensuring that the hordes of spectators were kept well back. Then the Queen and her train entered and the banquet commenced. Again the King and his mother played no part, watching from another latticed closet hung with cloth of Arras, set up on “a goodly stage” in a window embrasure to the left of the high table, “that they might privily, at their pleasure, see that noble feast and service.”

  Elizabeth, wearing her crown, sat alone at the high table at the top of a flight of steps. “The Lady Katherine Grey and Mistress Ditton went under [in front of] the table and sat at the Queen’s feet; and the countesses of Oxford and Rivers kneeled on either side, and certain times held a kerchief before Her Grace.” Archbishop Morton, seated nearest the Queen on her right, was guest of honor. When all were in place, the trumpeters and minstrels standing on a stage at the farther end of the hall “began to blow,” and knights entered the hall in procession, carrying a vast array of dishes up to the high table, where the Queen would make her choices before they were offered to others. The first dish was a subtlety, an elaborate sugar sculpture, often with dynastic or political symbolism.

  John Ratcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter, the Queen’s “sewer or dapifer, came before her in his surcoat with tabard sleeves, his hood about his neck and a towel over all, and sewed [essayed, or tasted] all the messes” (portions of food sufficient for four people). The royal cooks had excelled themselves: twenty-four dishes were offered to the Queen at the first course: “shields of brawn in armor,” frumenty (wheat porridge) with venison; a rich “bruet,” or brewet (broth with meat); minced venison with spices and dried fruits, “pheasant royal,” “swan with chawdron” (spiced entrails), capons of high grease, “lampreys in galantine” (eels in a seasoned bread sauce spiced with ginger), crane with cretonne (a thick meat soup with almonds and eggs), pike in Latimer sauce; “heron with his sique,” or sake, another word for sauce; carp “in foil” (leaves), kid, perch in jelly, “coneys of high grease,” “mutton royal richly garnished,” “Valence baked” (raisins or almonds), “custard royal,” “tart poleyn”—probably baked in the shape of the piece of armor that protected the kneecap, “leyse damask” (lees—residual yeast from ale or wine—in rosewater), ruby-red fruit “sinopia,” “fruit formage”—formage being old French for cheese; and another subtlety, which is not described.

  The tables were then cleared for the second course, which was heralded by another fanfare of trumpets and the parading of a third subtlety, this time served with hippocras (spiced wine). A further twenty-seven dishes were offered: mawmenny (rich beef or chicken broth) garnished with lozenges of gold leaf; roast peacock in hackle, i.e., re-dressed in its plumage; bitterns, pheasants, “browes” (broth or gravy), “egrets in beorwetye” (possibly a beer sauce), cocks, partridge, sturgeon with fresh fennel, plovers, suckling rabbit, “seal in fenyn [leeks] entirely served richly,” red shanks, snipe, quails, “larks engrailed” (presumably in a pie with an indented crust), crayfish, “venison in paste royal” (pastry), baked quinces, marchpane royal, cold baked meats, “lethe of Cyprus” and “lethe ruby” (milk puddings), fritters, “castles of jelly in temple-wise made,” and a last subtlety.19 During the meal the King’s minstrels “played a song before the Queen.”

  After the feast, Elizabeth distributed largesse three times, as was customary at coronations, and Garter King of Arms, “with other kings of arms, heralds, and pursuivants, did their obeisance, and in the name of all the officers, gave the Queen thanks, saying, ‘Right high, mighty, most noble and excellent Princess, most Christian Queen, and all our most dread sovereign and liege lady, we, the officers of arms and servants to all nobles, beseech Almighty God to thank you for the great and abundant largesse which Your Grace has given us in honor of your most honorable and righteous coronation, and to send Your Grace to live in honor and virtue.’ ” And he cried her largesse “in five places of the hall.”

  “Then played the Queen’s minstrels, and after them the minstrels of other estates.” A bowl and towel were presented so the Queen could wash her hands, whereupon the trumpets sounded, “fruit and wafers” were served to her, and the Lord Mayor, Sir William Horne, came forward and offered her the traditional golden goblet of hippocras—wine infused with costly spices—in return for which she gave him a covered gold cup in fee. “And after the feast the Queen departed with God’s blessing and the rejoicing of many a true Englishman’s heart.”

  Verses were composed in her honor, such as this one, “Prophecy for the Crowned Queen,” probably written by Bernard André:

  Descend, Calliope, from your sacred ridge, descend, bearing the quill of clean-shaven Apollo, and come with your Pythian lyre, first of the Muses.

  The Queen, progeny
of highest Jove, whiter than the roses of spring, bears her crown as Diana leaps brightly from the midst of rose gardens.

  Sprung from the noblest gods of heaven, you were joined by divine majesty to so great a prince, who excels all the earth with becoming virtues.

  O nymph, who gave wondrous birth to such a prince, and who surpasses the divinities in virtue, you are blessed more than the mother of Phoebus, begotten of a great father.

  Her chastity, sworn by united compact, restored increased limits of justice for all ages in which the peaceful Sibyl reigns in love.

  O Commonwealth, the Queen with joyous heart takes up her glorious crown.

  Rejoice for both roses, and ever celebrate them with honour.

  With “divine inspiration,” André “foretold the success of the happy prince,” Arthur, while lauding his “distinguished mother.” Calliope, the goddess muse of epic poetry, was the inspirer of this panegyric, along with Apollo, or Phoebus, the god of music and prophecy, light and the sun. Diana was a huntress but, more importantly here, the virgin goddess of women and childbirth. The Sibyl had the gift of prophecy. The theme of the roses predominates.

  On the morning after the coronation, the King and Queen, the Lady Margaret and the princesses, heard Mass in St. Stephen’s Chapel, “nobly accompanied” by eighty peeresses, ladies, and gentlewomen. Then Elizabeth went in procession to the Parliament chamber, where “she kept her estate” to receive guests, sitting on her throne under a canopy of estate, with the Lady Margaret seated firmly at her right hand, and her aunt, the Duchess of Bedford, and Cecily of York, on her left. They sat together thus at the banquet that followed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and many duchesses and baronesses also at the table. After dinner Elizabeth presided over the celebrations at court, during which she and her ladies danced. On that day, November 26, Elizabeth was finally assigned her dower as Queen of England. The next day she was conveyed by barge to Greenwich Palace.

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