Fit for a King
The need to express majesty may have been greater in Henry VII and Elizabeth I than in royals contemporary with them or even before and after their reigns. Both had precarious claims to the throne, both had rivals waiting to step in and both had to project strength to Continental Courts. Henry and Elizabeth used Court ceremonial, dress and jewels and building programs / portraiture to convey their royal dignity.
Henry VII realized the need to show his majesty to the nobles at home and abroad at his coronation. If he “looked, behaved and ruled like a king, perhaps the exhausted, traumatized country of England would come to believe he was one” (Penn 11). Apparently he succeeded as a contemporary recalled the rejoicing “[f]or whan the kynge … was crowned in all that grete tryumphe & glorye…” (Fisher 306).
One of the greatest ceremonials that Henry VII hosted was the marriage of his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon in November of 1501. It is not the scope of this entry to discuss the entire celebrations but it was well-known to have cost a great deal of money with the purpose being to emphasize to the Spanish the affluence and security of his Court. The Spanish were impressed as were envoys from around Europe. A contemporary who attended the wedding feast described the display of plate which was intended to show Henry’s wealth, “And ye shall understande that in the said halle was ordeyned a cupbourde of 6 stages height, being Tryangled; the which Cupbord was garnysshed w gilt plate, as fflagons, greate pottes, standing, cuppys, and bolles, to a greate value” (Kingsford 250).
Henry VII’s expenses reveal that he did not spare for his attire of which he had a “penchant for expensively dyed black clothes” (Penn 6). Jewelry purchased for large sums of money were of “diverse precious stones and other juells that come from beyond the see” (Norton 147). Raimondo de’ Raimondi of Soncino, Milanese Ambassador in England, wrote to Ludovico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan: “His Majesty, in addition to his wonderful presence, was adorned with a most rich collar, full of great pearls and many other jewels, in four rows, and in his bonnet he had a pear-shaped pearl, which seemed to me something most rich” (Hinds).
Henry had an affinity for the European Courts, which is understandable when one thinks of the many years he spent on the Continent, and tried to copy many of their fashions, be it traditions or architecture. Building projects culminated in his stunning chapel at Westminster Abbey, although Richmond Palace, built on the site of the burned Sheen, was also a great showpiece. Henry spared no expense in providing the palace with tapestries, furnishings and other costly adornments. In fact, Richmond was referred to by contemporaries as …“Riche mount a pun on Henry’s title as Earl of Richmond, and his conspicuous talent for heaping up wealth” (Perry 17).
Although not as ‘cash rich’ as her grandfather, Elizabeth understood the need to display her majesty at her coronation. Sir John Hayward, writing his recollections of Elizabeth’s reign, recalled how for her coronation procession she was “most royally furnished, both for her persone and for her trayne, knowing right well that in pompous ceremonies a secret of government doth much consist, for that the people are naturally both taken and held with exterior shewes” (Bruce 15). And what a show she put on! C. S. Knighton and Richard Mortimer, while quoting the oft-footnoted Neville Williams’ estimate that the cost of the coronation was £16,742, believe it was closer to £20,000—or about 10% of her annual revenue (Knighton 125). Since Williams’ figure is the most credited, I used that to calculate the current value of costs: £4,730.00 using the retail price index or £73,900.00 using average earnings figures*. “We learn that besides the queen’s parliament robe there were provided a kirtle, surcoat, and mantle of crimson velvet furred with ermine, and like robes of purple velvet, also furred with ermine” (Grindal).
As queen, Elizabeth had gowns from all over Europe and was described by a German visitor, Heutzner, as “very majestic” (Ripley 317). Her wardrobe was extensive and famous. Not only were the dresses and sleeves made of costly fabrics such as satin and velvet (her favored color scheme was of black and white), they were also embellished with gold braid, fur (mink) and precious gems. The French were impressed with the number of pearls on her gowns saying that “…all the other princes of Christendom had not the like quantity of pearls of that sort” (Somerset 360). Elizabeth loved clothes and realized “the part which external magnificence could play in propagating an image of regality and power…” (Somerset 357).
Her jewels were beyond compare as she had at her disposal the wealth which her father had accumulated from the dissolution of the monasteries and the rings, pendants, necklaces and bracelets she acquired. of her ostentatious display. Andre de Maisse, the French Ambassador to her Court, wrote to Henry IV of her ostentatious display that she “wore innumerable jewels on her person, not only on her head, but also within her collar, about her arms and on her hands, with a very great quantity of pearls, around her neck and on her bracelets”…(Erickson 389). Another Ambassador of Venice, Giovanni Scaramelli, described her gown of silver and gold which “showed her throat encircled with pearls and rubies….” Elizabeth “wore great peals like pears round the forehead. She had a vast quantity of gems and pearls upon her person; even under her stomacher she was covered with golden jeweled girdles and single gems, carbuncles, balas-rubies and diamonds. Round her wrists in place of bracelets she wore double rows of pearls of more than medium size” (Perry 316).
As Roy Strong reminds us, the purpose of state portraits was to “depict a ruler accompanied by the full panoply of state …posed in a majestic and grave manner…” (Strong 37). Elizabeth knew she needed portraiture “designed to emphasize the legitimacy of the Tudor right to the throne” (Strong 12) and this was demonstrated in the painting, The Allegory of the Tudor Succession, 1572. It is well-known that the images approved by Elizabeth Regina were not intended to imitate her features true to life. State portraiture was to convey her majesty, power and successes.
Although other rulers of the era used similar elements such as dress and ceremonies to project royal imagery, Henry VII and Elizabeth I understood their particular need to convey the legitimacy of their power.
*Used the calculator at Measuringworth http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/
Erickson, Carolly. The First Elizabeth. New York: Summit Books. 1983. Print.
Fisher, John. The English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of
Rochester. London: Published for the Early English Text
Society by Trübner, 1876. Google Books. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.
Grindal, Edmund. The Remains of Edmund Grindal: Successively Bishop of London and Archbishop of York and Canterbury. Cambridge [England: Printed at the UP, 1843. Google Books. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.
Hayward, John, and John Bruce. Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. London: Printed for the Camden Society by J.B. Nichols and Son, 1840. Google Books. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.
Hinds, Allen, ed. “Milan: 1497.” Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in theArchives and Collections of Milan: 1385-1618. (1912): 310-341. British History Online. Web. 24 November 2012.
Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge. Chronicles of London (1189-1509). Oxford: Clarendon, 1905. 234-50. Google Books. Web. 21 Dec. 2012.
Knighton, C. S., and Richard Mortimer. Westminster Abbey Reformed: 1540-1640. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2003. Google Books. Web. 25 Nov. 2012.
Norton, Elizabeth. Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Stroud: Amberley, 2010. Print.
Penn, Thomas. Winter King; the Dawn of Tudor England. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.
Perry, Maria. The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth from Contemporary Documents. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1990. Print.
Ridley, Jasper. Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue. New York: Fromm International Publishing Corporation, 1989. Print.
Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.
Strong, Roy C. Gloriana: The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I. London: Pimlico, 2003. Print.