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

  Presently the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral tolled out for the Queen, and as their mournful chimes were taken up by all the London churches and religious houses, orders went out to every parish and monastery in the kingdom to have masses sung for the repose of her soul. Soon afterward, “throughout the realm” there were “solemn dirges and Masses of requiems.” In London alone, on the day after her death, 636 masses were offered up for her on the King’s orders, and at Walsingham fifty-six pounds of wax candles were burned as the monks prayed for her.84 Knowing how beloved Elizabeth had been by her household, the King sent Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert, and Sir Richard Guildford to afford “the best comfort that hath been seen of a sovereign lord” to all the Queen’s servants, “with good words.”85

  After Elizabeth’s body had been washed, dressed in her robes of estate, and laid out on her bed, her children were brought to pay their respects and say good-bye. On the day after her death, four yards of flannel for swaddling bands was purchased for her motherless infant, “my Lady Katherine, the King’s daughter,” as well as a pair of black sarcenet mourning sleeves for the young Queen Margaret, who had evidently been close to her mother in these past months. According to the evidence in Elizabeth’s accounts, they had offered together at Mass, and Margaret walked only a pace behind Elizabeth at court.86 Young Mary was dressed in mourning too; in June she was wearing dark blue damask banded with velvet, white stockings, and tawny silk ribbons.87 Prince Henry was provided with mourning attire of black cloth furred with lambskin, a cloak of black velvet, and black hose, shoes, and gloves—twelve pairs of each.88

  In 1494, Henry VII had drawn up ordinances for the mourning of a queen, and now, since he was incapacitated by grief, it may have been Margaret Beaufort who drew up new ones specifying in minute detail the size and design of hoods, trains, and formal surcoats that were to be worn.89 The court was plunged into black, with over nine thousand yards of black cloth supplied to the Great Wardrobe by Richard Smythe, yeoman of the Queen’s robes; Thomas Mounte, John Lewis, William Smith, John Kirkby, and Thomas Spight, merchant tailors; William Bailly, mercer; Richard Conhill, John Copland, and others, intended for the households of the King, Queen, their children, the nobility, and two hundred “poor folk” who would each carry “a weighty torch” in the funeral procession. It was said to be “the greatest livery of black gowns that ever was seen in our day,” and cost £1,483.15s.10d. [£721,270].90

  On the day she died, Elizabeth’s body was embalmed by the Sergeant of the Chandlery, who had been supplied with “sixty broad ells of Holland cloth, forty ells of lining Holland cloth for the cerecloth, gums, balms, spices, sweet wine” and 156 pounds of wax. The corpse would have been washed with wine and rosewater, anointed with balm and perfumed with spices, then “cered”—wrapped tightly in cloth cut into strips soaked in the molten wax. When that had set, “the King’s plumber closed her in lead, with an epitaph likewise in lead showing who and what she was. The whole was chested in boards [a wooden coffin] covered with black velvet with a cross of white damask.” The coffin was made of holly wood.91

  The Queen’s obsequies lasted for two weeks, and it was “within the parish church of the Tower,” the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, that “her corpse lay for eleven days,”92 having been carried there on Sunday, February 12, the day after her death.93 The coffin was borne by persons of the highest rank, with a canopy held over it by four knights; it was followed by Lady Elizabeth Stafford, first lady of the bedchamber, the ladies and maids of honor, and every member of the Queen’s household, walking two by two, “dressed in their plainest gowns,” as their new mourning garments were not yet ready. The stained-glass windows of the chapel had been lined with black crepe and its walls hung with black silk damask; it was lit by the flickering flames of five hundred tall candles. The coffin was placed on a bier before the altar, then, acting as chief mourner, Katherine, Countess of Devon, entered the chapel with her brother-in-law, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Katherine took her place at the head of Elizabeth’s body, and remained there while Mass was celebrated and the offerings were made, after which she retired.94 She must have been deeply grieved at the loss of the sister who had so generously succored her through the past months, and to whom she was obviously close.

  Cecily, the sister nearest to the Queen in age, who should have taken precedence before Anne and Katherine, and who had been prominent at court in 1501, was not present at Elizabeth’s lying-instate—but Cecily was still in disgrace. Neither she nor Anne were in attendance on Elizabeth in the weeks leading up to her confinement, and although they were to attend her funeral, Katherine would again act as chief mourner. Cecily’s presence in the funeral procession might suggest that the King had relented in their shared grief and allowed her to join her sisters on this occasion.

  Surrounded by eight hundred burning tapers, the Queen’s coffin lay in state, watched over by six ladies at all times, with Katherine Courtenay a constant presence during many of the vigils. They wore the “most sad and simplest clothing that they had, on their heads threaden kerchiefs hanging on their shoulders and close under their chins, and this daily until their [mourning] slops [kirtles], mantles, hoods and paris (partlets [yoyes]?) were made” ready for the funeral.95 Katherine’s train, borne by Elizabeth Stafford, was as long as a duchess’s, and she was always attended by Surrey and ladies and gentlemen of the court. “The other gentlewomen gave way to their betters, but the chief mourner kneeled at the head [of the bier] alone, and thus they continued their watch.” Bishops said Mass on three consecutive days, and during the night watches an officer-at-arms recited a paternoster (the Lord’s Prayer) for the soul of the Queen at every Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy, a prayer invoking God), at Oremus (the invitation to prayer), and before Collect (a short general prayer). At the offering, Katherine “was led by two of the greatest estate present, and the noblest gave her the offering, the chamberlains and officers-at-arms marshaling her.”96

  Not a stone’s throw away from the chapel where Elizabeth reposed in state lay buried the chest in which the bones that almost certainly belonged to her lost brothers were rotting away.


  “Here Lieth the Fresh Flower of Plantagenet”

  The Queen was widely mourned. She had been “one of the most gracious and best-loved princesses in the world.” Ferdinand and Isabella wrote: “The tidings have, of a truth, caused us much grief.”1 In Scotland, out of respect for his mother-in-law, James IV ordered dirges to be performed at the abbeys of Newbottle, Melrose, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, Kelso, and many other places.2 When Margaret Tudor arrived in Scotland later that year, James expressed his sympathy for the loss of her mother and brother, adding that he too had lost his own mother when he was young.3 In Ireland, the Annals of Ulster, in which English affairs rarely featured, recorded: “The wife of the King of the Saxons died, to wit, the daughter of King Edward, and Isabel [sic]4 was her name: a woman that was of the greatest charity and humanity from Italy to Ireland.” William Parron, who had predicted that Elizabeth would live to see eighty, fled the realm.

  Thomas More, then a young London lawyer, was moved to write an elegy, “A Rueful Lamentation on the Death of Queen Elizabeth”:

  Oh ye that put your trust and confidence

  In worldly joy and frail prosperity,

  That so live here as ye should never hence,

  Remember death and look here on me.

  Example I think there may no better be.

  Yourself wot well that in this realm was I,

  Your Queen but late, and lo, now here I lie.

  Was I not born of old worthy lineage?

  Was not my mother Queen, my father King?

  Was I not a king’s fere [companion] in marriage?

  Had I not plenty of every pleasant thing?

  Merciful God, this is a strange reckoning:

  Riches, honour, wealth, and ancestry

  Hath me forsaken, and lo, now here I lie.

  If worship [worth, honour,
renown] might have kept me, I had not gone;

  If wit [intelligence] might have me saved, I needed not fear;

  If money might have holp, I lacked none;

  But oh, good God, what vaileth all this gear?

  When Death is come, Thy mighty messenger,

  Obey we must; there is no remedy;

  Me hath he summoned, and lo, now here I lie.

  Yet was I late promised otherwise,

  This year to life in wealth and delice.

  Lo! Whereto cometh thy blandishing promise

  Of false astrology and divinatrice,

  Of God’s secrets, making thyself so wise?

  How true is for this year thy prophecy?

  The year yet lasteth, and lo, now here I lie.

  O, brittle wealth, aye full of bitterness,

  Thy single pleasure doubled is with pain.

  Account my sorrow first, and my distress

  In sundry wise, and reckon there again

  The joy that I have had, and I dare sayn,

  For all my honour, endured there have I

  More woe than wealth, and lo, now here I lie.

  Where are our castles now, where are our towers?

  Goodly Richmond, soon art thou gone from me;

  At Westminster, that costly work of yours,

  Mine own dear lord, now shall I never see.

  Almighty God vouchsafe to grant that these

  For you and your children may well edify.

  My palace builded is, and lo now here I lie.

  Adieu, mine own spouse, my worthy lord!

  The faithful love, that did us both combine

  In marriage a peaceable concord,

  Into your hands here I do clear resign,

  To be bestowed on your children and mine;

  Erst were ye father, now must ye supply

  The mother’s part also, for here I lie.

  Farewell my daughter, Lady Margaret,

  God wot full oft it grieved hath my mind

  That ye should go where we might seldom meet;

  Now I am gone, and have left you behind.

  O mortal folk, but we be very blind:

  What we least fear full oft it is most nigh—

  From you depart I first, for lo, now here I lie.

  Farewell, Madam, my lord’s worthy mother;

  Comfort your son, and be of good cheer,

  Take all at worth, for it will be no other.

  Farewell, my daughter Katherine, late the fere [companion]

  Unto Prince Arthur, late my child so dear.

  It booteth not for me to wail and cry;

  Pray for my soul, for lo, now here I lie.

  Adieu, Lord Henry, loving son, adieu!

  Our Lord increase your honour and estate.

  Adieu, my daughter Mary, bright of hue,

  God make you virtuous, wise, and fortunate.

  Adieu, sweetheart, my little daughter Kate!

  Thou shalt, sweet babe, such is thy destiny,

  Thy mother never know, for lo, now here I lie.

  Lady Cecily, Lady Anne, and Lady Katherine,

  Farewell, my well-beloved sisters three.

  O Lady Bridget, other sister mine,

  Lo, here the end of worldly vanity!

  Now are you well who earthly folly flee

  And heavenly things do praise and magnify.

  Farewell, and pray for me, for lo, now here I lie.

  Adieu my lords, adieu my ladies all,

  Adieu my faithful servants every one,

  Adieu my commons, whom I never shall

  See in this world: wherefore to Thee alone,

  Immortal God, verily Three in One,

  I me commend; Thy infinity mercy

  Show to Thy servant, for lo, now here I lie.5

  More’s poem, which was to be one of several epitaphs hung up on wooden boards near the Queen’s burial place, reflects two popular contemporary themes: the fall of princes, and warnings from beyond the grave of mortality and the transience of life. Yet More’s differs from late medieval elegies, in that he shows Elizabeth not just as a sinner but as a Renaissance pattern of virtue.6

  The elegy must have been written in the week after the Queen’s death, for More speaks of the infant Princess Katherine as if she was still living. Tragically, she “lived not long after”7 and “tarried but a small season after her mother” before being “called unto a far better kingdom.” She died in the Tower on February 18, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The site of her grave is unknown; probably, like her brother Edmund, she was interred in the Confessor’s Chapel in an unmarked grave.8

  Another epitaph, which may have been hung near Elizabeth’s tomb, was also in verse form:

  Here lieth the fresh flower of Plantagenet,

  Here lieth the white rose in the red set …

  God grant her now Heaven to increase

  And our own King Harry long life and peace.9

  Elizabeth was given a lavish funeral costing £2,832.7s.3d. [£1,381,000],10 far in excess of the £600 spent on Prince Arthur’s funeral, or on that of Edward IV even.11 Her grieving widower spared no expense. Such open-handedness on the part of a miserly king might well have reflected Henry’s feelings for his dead wife, but it was also a very public statement of her prime dynastic importance in the annals of English royalty.

  On February 22, Mass was said early in the morning in St. Peter ad Vincula. At noon “the coffin was put in a carriage covered with black velvet, with a cross of white cloth of gold, very well fringed.” Then, with the two hundred poor men going before, followed by royal officers and clergy, it was borne in procession through London on a chariot “drawn with six horses trapped with black velvet.” All the City churches were shrouded in black for the occasion.12

  On the coffin lay “an image or personage like a queen, clothed in the very robes of estate of the Queen, having her very rich crown on her head, her hair about her shoulders, her scepter in her right hand, and her fingers well garnished with gold rings and precious stones.”13 As at Elizabeth’s coronation, the virginal loose hair proclaimed her chastity. The effigy cost £2 [£970], and its clothing £5.2s.6d. [£2,500].14

  From the thirteenth to the eighteenth century it was customary for funeral effigies of royal persons to be displayed at state funerals. Westminster Abbey possesses several such effigies, besides what is left of Elizabeth of York’s; the earliest recorded, which does not survive, was that of Edward I; Henry V’s effigy is also lost, as possibly are others. The oldest extant is that of Edward III (1377), and there are two others that predate Elizabeth’s: those of Anne of Bohemia, queen of Richard II (1394), and Katherine of Valois, queen of Henry V (1437); and of course there are several later examples.

  In the seventeenth century the poet John Dryden recorded that these effigies lay in open presses, where “you may see them all a-row.” In the eighteenth century, around the time that the practice of making funeral effigies died out, John Dart recorded that they were “sadly mangled, some with their faces broke, others broken in sunder, and most of them stripped of their robes”—by Oliver Cromwell’s men, he supposed. They were a sorry sight—a “ragged regiment.” But the face of Elizabeth of York, he noted, was still perfect. Later still, it was described as having “a pleasant and slightly roguish, or boylike, air.”15

  The upper part of her painted effigy of soft Baltic wood, with a jointed left arm (the right is missing) beautifully carved from pear wood, and some beautiful gold satin from the original bodice, survives today in the Norman Undercroft Museum in Westminster Abbey. The rest of the effigy is either lost or in too poor a condition to display, much of the body having disintegrated after being saturated with water when Westminster Abbey was bombed in the Second World War. That also left the head and bust blackened and damaged, the wood split, the nose missing and the remains of the bodice stiff with filth—it was described, prior to cleaning in 1961, as an “unpleasant-looking fabric of dirty gray with a shimmer of yellow.”16<
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  The effigy was made by two Dutchmen, Laurence Wechon, “the carver,” and Hans van Hoof, and was five feet eleven inches tall, with a wooden head and bust, jointed wooden arms, and fir poles for legs. The body—from the bust to the feet—was formed of hoops, stuffed with hay, and covered in leather, which was secured with nails. Beneath the Queen’s own robes of estate, it was clad in clothes specially made for it: a crimson satin square-necked “garment” seamed and bordered with blue and black velvet, having a wider neckline than on bodices in the Queen’s portraits (as appears from the outline on the wooden bust), and dark cloth stockings to the knees; the latter were still in place in 1890, but have since disappeared. The wig was hired and does not survive. The ears have holes, thought to have been for earrings,17 but earrings were not commonly worn at this period, so perhaps they were for attaching the wig.

  Almost certainly, the face, which so closely resembles Elizabeth’s portraits, is a death mask, like the head of Henry VII’s funeral effigy, which survives with it. Signs of the stroke that killed Edward III are evident in the face of his funeral effigy, so it is likely that the tradition of using death masks for such effigies dated from 1377 at the latest. The sunken aspect of the features of the effigy reflect the Queen as she looked in death. The accounts for Elizabeth’s effigy record payments to “two porters, for fetching of the coffin from the Princes’ Wardrobe,” to one John Scot “for watching in the Tower a night,” and to two more porters for bringing the effigy to the Tower, presumably so the face could be modeled from Elizabeth’s dead features.

  At each corner of the funeral chariot “sat a gentlewoman usher kneeling on [beside] the coffin, which was in this manner conveyed from the Tower to Westminster. On the forehorses rode two chariot men; and on the four others, four henchmen in black gowns. On the horses were lozenges with the Queen’s escutcheon; by every horse walked a person in a mourning hood. At each corner of the chariot was a banner of Our Lady of the Assumption, of the Salutation, and of the Nativity,” and these banners “were all white in token that she died in childbed.” An early sixteenth-century drawing of the funeral procession made for Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms,18 shows the wheeled chariot bearing a large coffin with hooded mourners at each corner carrying their banners. On the hearse lies the effigy with loose hair and a crown and scepter.

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