Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Funeral of Elizabeth of York, Wife of Henry VII


WHEN the news of Elizabeth's decease spread through the city, the utmost sorrow was manifested among all ranks of her subjects. The bells of St. Paul's tolled dismally, and were answered by those of every church and religious house in the metropolis or its neighborhood. Meantime the queen was embalmed at the Tower; for this purpose were allowed "sixty ells of holland cloth, ell broad; likewise gums, balms, spices, sweet wine, and wax; with which, being sered, 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 covered with black velvet, with a cross of white damask." The day after the queen's demise, Sunday, February 12, her corpse was removed from the chamber where she died to the chapel within the Tower, under the steps of which then reposed, unknown to all, the bodies of the queen's two murdered brothers, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. Far different was the order of their sister's royal obsequies to that dark and silent hour when the trembling old priest, who had belonged to this very chapel, raised the princely victims from their unconsecrated lair, and deposited them secretly within its hallowed verge. Could the ladies and officers of arms, who watched around the corpse of their royal mistress in St. Mary's chapel within the Tower during the long nights which preceded her funeral, have known how near was the mysterious resting-place of her murdered brothers, many a glance of alarm would have fathomed the beautiful arches, and many a start of terror would have told when the wintry wind from the Thames waved the black draperies which hung around.

The Tower chapel was on this occasion what the French call a chapelle ardente.  The windows were railed about with burning lights, and a lighted hearse stood in the choir of the chapel. In this hearse was deposited the royal corpse, which was carried by persons of the highest rank, with a canopy borne over it by four knights; followed by Lady Elizabeth Stafford and all the maids of honor, and the queen's household, two and two, "dressed in their plainest gowns," or, according to another journal, "in the saddest and simplest attire they had, with threadden handkerchiefs hanging down and tied under their chins." The Princess Catherine, led by her brother-in-law, the Earl of Surrey, then entered the chapel, and took her place at the head of the corpse: a true mourner was she, for she had lost her best friend and only protectress. When mass was done and offerings made, the princess retired. During the watch of the night, an officer-at-arms said, in a loud voice, a paternoster  for the soul of the queen at every kyrie eleison,  and an oremus  before the collect.

On the twelfth day after the queen's death, mass was said in the chapel early in the morning. "Then the corpse was put in a carriage covered with black velvet, with a cross of white cloth of gold, very well fringed. And an image exactly representing the queen was placed in a chair above in her rich robes of state, her very rich crown on her head, her hair about her shoulders, her scepter in her right hand, her fingers well garnished with rings and precious stones, and on every end of the chair sat a gentlewoman usher kneeling on the coffin, which was in this manner drawn by six horses, trapped with black velvet, from the Tower to Westminster. On the fore-horses rode two chariotmen; and on the four others, four henchmen in black gowns. On the horses were lozenges with the queen's escutcheons; by every horse walked a person in a mourning hood. At each corner of the chair was a banner of Our Lady of the Assumption, of the Salutation, and of the Nativity, to show the queen died in child-bed; next, 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 on foot, bareheaded but in a mourning 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. In Fenchurch and Cheap-side were stationed groups of thirty-seven virgins,—the number corresponding with the queen's age, all dressed in white, wearing chaplets of white and green, and bearing lighted tapers. From Mark-lane to Temple-bar alone were five thousand torches, 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 in the city." The Earl of Derby, the queen's old friend, led a procession of nobles, who met the funeral at Temple Bar. The Abbots of Westminster and Bermondsey, in black copes and bearing censers, met and censed the corpse, and then preceded it to the churchyard of St. Margaret, Westminster. Here the body was removed from the car and carried into the abbey. It was placed on a grand hearse streaming with banners and banneroles, and covered with a "cloth of majesty," the valance fringed and wrought with the queen's motto, "Humble and Reverent," and garnished with her arms. All the ladies and lords in attendance retired to the queen's great chamber in Westminster Palace to supper. In the night, ladies, squires, and heralds watched the body in the abbey.

The next morning the remains of Elizabeth were committed to the grave; her sister Catherine attended as chief mourner. The queen's ladies offered thirty-seven palls, first kissing them, and then laying them on the body. Four of these palls were presented by her sisters, who were all present as mourners. A funeral sermon was preached by Fitzjames, Bishop of Rochester, from the text in Job, Miseremini mei, miseremini mei, saltem vos amici mei, quia manus Domini tetigit me.  "These words," he said, "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 Archbishop of Canterbury." The palls were then removed from the coffin, the queen's effigy placed on St. Edward's shrine, and the ladies quitted the abbey. The prelates, with the king's chaplains, approached the hearse, and the grave was hallowed by the Bishop of London: after the usual rites the body was placed in it.

by Agnes Strickland

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