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

  The funeral route from the Tower to Westminster was the same as that followed at Elizabeth’s coronation fifteen years earlier; now, as then, nobles, royal officers, citizens, and clergy united together to pay their respects, and hundreds of painted escutcheons bearing the arms of the King and Queen were made, to be carried or displayed in the funeral procession. Following the chariot were “eight palfreys saddled with black velvet, bearing eight ladies of honor, who rode singly after the corpse in their slops and mantles, every horse led by a man afoot without a hood but in a demiblack gown, followed by many lords. The Lord Mayor and citizens, all in mourning, brought up the rear, and at every door in the City a person stood bearing a torch.” Among the ladies were the Queen’s four sisters, all wearing mourning attire with sweeping trains, even the nun Bridget. The principal mourner was Katherine, Countess of Devon, supported by Mary Say, Countess of Essex, Lady Elizabeth Stafford, and Elizabeth, Lady Herbert.

  As the cortege passed each church along the route, “a solemn peal with all the bells was rung,” and each curate came forward to cense the corpse, “and thus was this gracious princess with the King’s Chapel and others singing all the way before her conveyed unto Charing Cross.” “At Fenchurch and Cheapside were set thirty-seven virgins all in white linen, having chaplets of white and green on their heads, and bearing lighted tapers”—each girl representing one year of the Queen’s life, with their chaplets the colors of the Tudor royal livery. They were dressed as virgins because a woman who had died in childbed was honored as a virgin. “In Chepe the Lady Mayoress ordained also thirty-seven other virgins, in their hairs [i.e., with their hair loose], holding likewise pretty tapers, in the honor of Our Lady, and that the good Queen was in her thirty-seventh year [sic].”

  The somber pomp of the occasion impressed onlookers. “From Mark Lane to Temple Bar alone were five thousand torches” carried by bearers wearing white woolen gowns and hoods, “besides lights burning before all the parish churches, while processions of religious persons singing anthems and bearing crosses met the royal corpse from every fraternity [guild] in the City. And as for surplus of strangers, who had no torches, as Easterlings [Baltic traders], Frenchmen, Portugals, Venetians, Genoese, and Lukeners [natives of Lucca], even they rode in black. All the surplus of citizens of London that rode out in black stood along Fenchurch to the end of Cheap[side].” The London craft guilds had paid for the black mourning clothes worn by their members, and also for white robes worn by those who stood with lighted torches beneath the Eleanor Cross at Charing as the coffin passed.

  At Temple Bar the cortege was met by a procession of noblemen headed by Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, who had played such an important role in Elizabeth’s life and was himself to die the following year. At Charing Cross the abbots of Westminster and Bermondsey, wearing black copes, met and censed the corpse, then preceded it to St. Margaret’s churchyard at Westminster, where it was received by eight bishops,19 the abbots of Reading, St. Albans, Winchcombe, and Stratford, and the priors of All Hallows Barking by the Tower and Christ Church, Canterbury. Here the peers “took their mantles” in readiness for the obsequies in the abbey.

  The body was “censed and taken out of the chair,” along with the effigy and banners. With Derby leading the procession, it was carried under a canopy “with all due solemnity” on the shoulders of “certain lords” to the door of Westminster Abbey. Inside the church it was laid on a grand catafalque hung with banners and covered in “cloth of majesty” of black cloth of gold with a valance embroidered with the Queen’s motto, “Humble and reverent,” and garnished with her coat of arms, gold roses, portcullises, and fleurs-de-lis.20 The wooden effigy of Elizabeth was laid on top. “Then began the dirge.”

  After the service, Dorset and Derby escorted Katherine Courtenay and all the lords and ladies across to the Queen’s great chamber in the Palace of Westminster, where Katherine presided over a supper at which fish was served. Meanwhile, in the abbey, knights, ladies, squires, and heralds kept watch over the body all night, their vigil illuminated by over 1,100 hearse candles, which were kept burning throughout the rest of the ceremonies.

  Royal funerals at that period normally took place over two days, with the state obsequies on the first day and the interment on the second. At six o’clock the next morning, February 23, the Dean of Westminster went to summon the female mourners to Our Lady’s Mass at seven o’clock, and an hour later Katherine Courtenay and the Queen’s other sisters assembled in the “cathedral [sic] vast and dim.” The abbey had been hung with black cloth, and was lit by the candles around the hearse and 273 tapers bearing escutcheons, placed high up above the hangings.

  The Mass of the Trinity was celebrated. Afterward the princesses and Lady Katherine Gordon, who took precedence immediately after them, were among the twenty ladies who presented thirty-seven palls of blue, red, and green cloth of gold, one for each year of Elizabeth’s life. The first pall was “laid along the corpse” by Elizabeth Say, Lady Mountjoy, who made an obeisance as she approached and kissed her pall; the rest followed suit. The Queen’s sisters, Katherine and Anne, each presented five palls.21

  John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, officiated at the final requiem Mass, with Katherine of York, the chief mourner, making the only offering, in accordance with tradition. Then Richard FitzJames, Bishop of Rochester, preached the funeral sermon, taking as his text Job 19: Miseremini mei, miseremini mei, saltem vos amici mei, quia manus Domini tetigit me (Have pity, have pity on me, O ye my friends, for the hand of God hath touched me). “These words he spake in the name of England, on account of the great loss the country had sustained of that virtuous queen, her noble son, the Prince Arthur, and the recently deceased Archbishop of Canterbury [Henry Deane]”—three deaths that had left a nation bereft.

  After the sermon the palls were removed from the coffin and the ladies left the abbey, “after whose departing the image with the crown and rich robes were had to a secret place by St. Edward’s shrine” and the men proceeded to the actual burial. Until the Lady Chapel was completed, Elizabeth was interred temporarily in a vault specially made for her in the crossing of the abbey—“the void space between the high altar and the choir,” where monarchs were customarily crowned. Here, “Her Grace was laid until the new chapel were fully edified and made.”22 William Warham, Bishop of London, hallowed the vault with appropriate rites and ceremony, then the clergy and the King’s chaplains approached the hearse and lifted the coffin, which was lowered into it, whereupon the Queen’s chamberlain and her gentlemen ushers, weeping, broke their staves of office and cast them into the grave, to symbolize the termination of their service. It is possible that, like other early royal funeral effigies, Elizabeth’s was laid on top of her temporary burial place. In his will of 1509, Henry VII left orders that her body be brought from there and interred beside him in the new Lady Chapel.23

  To speed Elizabeth’s passage through Purgatory, Henry VII had not only paid for those 636 Masses to be said for her soul, but also for at least £240 [£116,660] in alms to be distributed by her almoner to the bedridden, the blind, lepers, and other unfortunates.24 In 1504, Henry founded a chantry at Westminster for himself, Elizabeth, his parents and ancestors, and handsomely endowed it with a yearly income of £804.12s.8d. [£391,130].25 In 1506, Margaret Beaufort founded another chantry in the new Lady Chapel for the souls of herself, her parents, her husbands, her deceased daughter-in-law, the Queen, and Elizabeth’s deceased children.26

  The King remained in seclusion at Richmond for six weeks after the funeral, prostrate with grief and so ill with quinsy—a complication of tonsillitis that can cause breathing difficulties—that it was said he was near death. He was unable to swallow and could barely open his mouth.27 His mother came to nurse him, bringing sweet wine and ordering physic for him. It seems that the loss of Elizabeth—and of Arthur the year before—impacted badly on Henry; as for the remaining six years of his life, his health steadily declined.28 By 1504 he had become “a weak man a
nd sickly, not likely to be no long-lived man.”29

  He could not remain in solitude; life had to go on. The Emperor Maximilian, “hearing that Queen Elizabeth had died, sent a solemn embassy to visit and comfort the King,” whom he had heard was “sorrowful and sad at the death of so good a queen and wife.” On Palm Sunday, March 15, his wasted frame clad in blue velvet,30 Henry rode to St. Paul’s Cathedral “in great triumph” with the Imperial ambassador riding by his side. “And there the bishop made an excellent and comfortable oration to the King concerning the death of the Queen.”31 Henry also wore blue mourning for the ceremonies of Maundy Thursday on March 19.32

  In April he paid off Elizabeth’s ladies, gentlewomen, and servants, and in May he settled her funeral expenses, and rewarded her dry nurse with £3.6s.8d. [£1,620].33

  The sad news of the Queen’s death had reached Spain by April 11, when Queen Isabella wrote at once to her ambassador in England: “We are informed of the death of the Queen of England, our sister. We have spoken of the audience you are to seek, and the consolation you are to administer upon our part to the King of England, our brother. He is suffering from the loss of the Queen his wife, who is in glory.”34

  Henry VII never did secure the canonization of Henry VI—Pope Julius II asked too high a price—so his plans for a shrine in the new Lady Chapel at Westminster were abandoned in favor of his own monument being built to the east of the altar. He had always envisaged a fine tomb for himself and his queen. In 1506 he considered a design by Guido Mazzoni, based on the effigy of Charles VIII at St. Denis. The following year he commissioned a black-and-white marble tomb chest with gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth, which may have been designed by Mazzoni, although royal craftsmen were to execute the work; but these effigies were never made, because Henry VIII “disliked” the designs, according to a later note on the estimate.

  It seems Henry VII did too. In his will of 1509 he left a lavish sum of money to be spent on his chapel and monument; the total eventual cost was at least £20,000 [£9.7 million], about £5,000 more than his son estimated. He also left minute instructions for a different tomb, still with a black-and-white marble chest; this was to have “our and our wife’s images” in gilt-bronze lying on it, side by side, “as good or better than any of the other kings and queens in the abbey.”35 The new chapel was consecrated the day after the King’s death in 1509, so that he could be buried there in the large vault that had been constructed at the east end. As he ordered, he was laid next to Elizabeth; her body had been exhumed and placed in the vault so it could rest beside his for eternity.

  The vault measured 2.7 meters long, 1.5 meters wide, and 1.4 meters high. Both bodies were encased in anthropoid lead coffins marked by Maltese crosses, with only the King’s bearing a coffin plate. These were in turn chested in wooden outer coffins. Urns containing the entrails of the royal couple may have been buried with them. Bacon observed that Henry VII “dwelleth more richly dead in the monument of his tomb than he did alive at Richmond or any of his palaces.”

  In October 1512, Henry VIII commissioned the Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiano to build a Renaissance-style tomb for his parents over the vault. Torrigiano, a fearless, volatile man who broke Michelangelo’s nose during a fight, had worked under Pinturicchio on the Borgia apartments in the Vatican. Before 1507 he had traveled to England in the company of some Florentine merchants. By 1511 he had come to the attention of the young King, who asked him to design a fine tomb and effigy for Margaret Beaufort in the south aisle of the new Lady Chapel. In producing this outstanding sepulchre, which is reckoned to be his masterpiece (and on which Elizabeth of York’s arms appear), Torrigiano proved himself superior to any sculptor then working in England, and so earned himself the honor of building a tomb for the founders of the Tudor dynasty. It was the first major Renaissance monument to be erected in England, and was designed as the centerpiece of the Lady Chapel, which would in time come colloquially to be known as “the Henry VII Chapel.” In 1516, Torrigiano was also contracted to build the principal altar in the chapel. He returned to Rome while these works were being executed, hoping to persuade Benvenuto Cellini to come to England to assist him, but Cellini refused on account of Torrigiano’s arrogance and pride, and because he did not want to live among “such beasts as the English.”36

  Torrigiano’s innovative marble tomb, one of the greatest sepulchres in Westminster Abbey, is considered to be “the finest Renaissance tomb north of the Alps.”37 It is of white and black touchstone work with elaborately decorated gilt-bronze pilasters and Corinthian capitals at each corner. Tudor roses, portcullises, dragons, greyhounds, and crowns abound in the ornamentation of the monument. The tomb chest of Tournai marble is decorated with an exquisitely carved frieze, copper-gilt Italianate figures, and gilt-bronze medallions with reliefs of the Virgin Mary and the King’s patron saints; cherubs sit at the head and feet of the tomb, supporting the royal arms. The monument is surrounded by a massive intricate bronze grille by one Thomas the Dutchman, dating from 1505 and bearing royal badges and emblems. Originally it was adorned with thirty-two figures of saints, of which only six survive, and enclosed a chantry chapel with its own altar, long vanished, although the step on which it stood remains, along with the bar that once supported a canopy over the altar.

  In 1512, Henry VIII commissioned Humphrey Walker and Nicholas Ewen, coppersmiths, to cast gilt-bronze effigies of his parents under the direction of Torrigiano. They took six years to complete, and rest on a white marble plinth. The tomb cost the King £1,500 [£569,400]; it was finished on January 5, 1519. It appears that the sculptors used the death masks from the funeral effigies of the King and Queen as models for their tomb effigies. The quality of their workmanship is superb, and the naturalism of the heads, hands, and figures marks a departure from the stiff formalism of medieval effigies, and set a new standard for royal tomb sculpture. Elizabeth is portrayed with a slender figure, when in reality she was buxom and plump in her latter years; she and Henry lie side by side with their hands joined in prayer. They wear plain attire without any trappings of royalty, for their crowns—the only regalia ever to adorn the effigies—were lost or stolen after 1677, when they appear in an engraving of the tomb by John Dart in Francis Sandford’s A Genealogical History of the Kings and Queens of England. It is this very simplicity that invests them with a realism at once majestic and pious, and in true Renaissance tradition shows the King to be a scholar, humanist, and great prince. The serene figure of Elizabeth wears traditional ceremonial robes—a square-necked surcoat with a low-slung girdle over a gown with cuffs and a chemise inset, a mantle secured by tasseled cords, and her customary long gable hood, beneath which (unlike in portraits) her wavy hair is loose in token of her purity and her queenship. It bears a good resemblance to her portraits and her funeral effigy. Her head rests on two cushions and her feet on a lion.38

  Henry VII’s will made lavish and precise provision for perpetual daily Masses to be said at the tomb altar for his soul and that of his late wife. Four candles, each eleven feet high, were to be kept burning around the monument, and on feast days and solemn ceremonials of the Church, thirty candles were to enclose it, each taller than a man. The candles were to be replaced when they had burned down to a height of three feet. Each year, on the anniversaries of the deaths of Henry and Elizabeth, no fewer than a hundred candles were to be lit in the chantry. Fines were to be imposed if the monks defaulted on these obligations.39 Thus did the King hope to ensure the safe passage of his soul and Elizabeth’s through Purgatory to eternal bliss. Alas, the dissolution of Westminster Abbey in 1540 put an end to these sacred rites.

  The tomb survived with much of its splendor intact. Elizabeth, wrote Fuller, “lieth buried with her husband in the chapel of his erection, and hath an equal share with him in the use and honor of that, his most magnificent monument.” Writing in the reign of her granddaughter, Elizabeth I, John Stow also found much to admire in this “sumptuous sepulchre and chapel,” with its breath
taking Perpendicular fan-vaulted roof, Tudor emblems, and brilliant stained-glass windows that flooded the interior with light. It was, opined Bacon, the stateliest and daintiest chapel in Europe.

  A white marble tablet inset in the bronze frieze to the right hand of the Queen’s effigy bears the Latin inscription placed there on the order of Henry VIII:

  Hic jacet regina Hellisabect,

  Edwardi IIII quondam regis filia,

  Edwardi V regis nominate soros,

  Henrici VII olim regis conjux,

  Atque Henrici VIII mater inclyta.

  Obit autem suum diem turri Londiniarum,

  Die Febrii 11, Anno Dom. 1502 [sic],

  37 annorum etate functa.

  This translates as: “Here rests Queen Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, sometime king; sister of Edward V, who bore the name of king; formerly wedded to King Henry VII; and also the illustrious mother of Henry VIII; who closed her life in the palace of the Tower of London on February 11, in the year of Our Lord 1502 [sic], having completed her thirty-seventh year.” This recital of the Queen’s royal connections was intended to proclaim the noble ancestry and connections of the Tudor dynasty, as was a further inscription around the tomb, also placed there by her son: “Here is situated Henry VII, the glory of all the kings who lived in his time by reason of his intellect, his riches, and the fame of his exploits, to which were added the gifts of bountiful nature, a distinguished brow, an august face, an heroic stature. Joined to him his sweet wife was very pretty, chaste, and fruitful. They were parents happy in their offspring, to whom, land of England, you owe Henry VIII.”

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