The Queen is Dead: The Death and Burial of Mary I

It's probably not unfair to say that Queen Mary I died of a broken heart, though medically it was probably ovarian cancer that lead to her demise. Mary's life was one of unrelenting sorrow and disappointment.

After a golden childhood in which she was the cherished "pearl" of her father's kingdom, Mary's life was thrown into misery when Anne Boleyn entered the picture and her father sought an annulment from her mother. Mary refused to accept her father's position on the divorce, or as head of the church. She believed denying the authority of the pope was tantamount to denying Catholicism as a whole, and accepting that her parents had never been married was a lie that would damn her soul. Mary was exiled from court, separated from her beloved mother and refused permission to see her, even as Katharine lay dying. She eventually broke down under her father's relentless bullying and submitted to him, but their relationship was never the same.

When she came to the throne, Mary saw it as a chance to set everything right again and restore England to the enchanted, golden kingdom she remembered from her childhood. She expected her own marriage to be as happy as she remembered her parents' union as being before Henry was "lured away" by Anne. Mary was half in love with her husband before she even met him. She began rolling back the religious reforms of her father and brother's reigns, expecting the English people would be grateful to be taken back into the arms of the Catholic church.

She was deeply disappointed on both accounts.

By 1558, she was a broken woman, abandoned by her indifferent husband after two false pregnancies, and bewildered by the persistent "heresy" she fought so hard to eradicate from her kingdom. Strange that a woman who venerated saints martyred for their faith wouldn't understand why burning "heretics" didn't have the desired effects.

As Mary lay in her bed in St. James Palace, the halls echoed with silence. The court had abandoned her as well, flocking to her sister Elizabeth, who would soon wear the crown. It was something Elizabeth never forgot - how Mary had been abandoned by the fickle court as she lay on her deathbed. It was one of the reasons Elizabeth always resisted naming her heir, delaying unto the last moments of her life.

Mary slept longer and longer hours as her illness sapped her strength, and toward the end, her moments of lucidity were few. But she was able to make her will. In the end, Mary couldn't quite bring herself to name her sister as heir, saying only that the throne should pass as the law dictated.

John Foxe wrote of her death in his Acts and Monuments:

As touchyng the maner of whose death, some say that she dyed of a Tympany, some by her much sighing before her death, supposed she dyed of thought and sorow. Whereupon her Counsell seyng her sighing, and desirous to know the cause, to the ende they might minister the more ready consolation vnto her, feared, as they sayd, that she tooke that thought for the kynges Maiesty her husband, whiche was gone from her. To whom he aunsweryng agayne: In deede (sayd she) that may be one cause, but þt is not the greatest wound that pearseth my oppressed minde: but what that was she would not expresse to them.

Jane Dormer's account says Mary gave her ladies pious exhortations, and had pleasant visions of angelic little children playing around her bed and singing.

Her sickness was such as made the whole realm to mourn, yet passed by her with most Christian patience. She comforted those of them that grieved about her; she told them what good dreams she had, seeing many little children like Angels play before her, singing pleasing notes, giving her more than earthly comfort; and thus persuaded all, ever to have the holy fear of God before their eyes, which would free them from all evil, and be a curb to all temptations. She asked them to think that whatsoever came to them was by God's permission; and ever to have confidence that He would in mercy turn all to the best.
From the time of her Mother's troubles, this queen had daily use of patience and few days of content, but only those that she established and restored the Catholic Religion to her kingdoms. While she was queen, in those few years, she suffered many conspiracies, and all out of malicious humours to God's truth. She gave commandment to all, both of her Council, and servants, to stand fast in the Catholic religion ; and with those virtuous and Christian advices, still in prayer and hearing good lessons, receiving the holy Sacraments of the Church, left this world, which was the 17th day of November, 1558.
That morning hearing Mass, which was celebrated in her chamber, she being at the last point (for no day passed in her life that she heard not Mass) and although sick to death, she heard it with so good attention, zeal, and devotion, as she answered in every part with him that served the Priest; such yet was the quickness of her senses and memory. And when the Priest came to that part to say, Agnus Dei, qui follis peccata mundi, she answered plainly and distinctly to every one, Miserere nobis, Miserere nobis, Dona nobis pacem.
Afterwards seeming to meditate something with herself, when the Priest took the Sacred Host to consume it, she adored it with her voice and countenance, presently closed her eyes and rendered her blessed soul to God. This the duchess hath related to me, the tears pouring from her eyes, that the last thing which the queen saw in this world was her Saviour and Redeemer in the sacramental species; no doubt to behold Him presently after in His glorious Body in heaven. A blessed and glorious passage.

Reality probably wasn't so inspiring. Mary was given last rites just before midnight on Wednesday, November 16, 1558 and mass was celebrated in her chamber for the last time at dawn the following morning. Afterwards, Mary fell asleep and died somewhere between five and seven AM. One account says she passed so quietly that no one noticed for a while, which is why we don't know the exact time of her death.

The few remaining courtiers scattered, everyone hoping to get to Elizabeth first with the news. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton pulled a ring from Mary's finger (some sources say it was her coronation ring; others say it was her betrothal ring) and took it to Elizabeth as proof of the queen's death, but was crushed when he arrived and discovered that his news was already rendered "stale" by the arrival of the council.

Mary's body was left with the handful of loyal household attendants who would prepare her for burial. They didn't have undertakers in the Tudor era. It was Mary's own physicians and household officers that embalmed her, rendering their final services to their queen. Her mother, Katharine of Aragon was embalmed by her chandler, the household officer in charge of candles and soap.

Mary was disemboweled by her surgeons and her heart and lungs were removed. The Clerk of the Spicery and the chandlers packed body's cavity with spices and herbs before wrapping it in cerecloth, a wax-coated white cloth used for burial shrouds. (Agnes Strickland cites an early historian, Gregorio Leti, who claimed Mary was buried in the habit of a nun, but considering she was uxorious in the extreme, I think it's unlikely.)

The cloth-wrapped body was enclosed in sheets of lead by the "serjeant plummer," and then was placed inside a coffin. It was covered in purple velvet and decorated with lace and gold gilt nails - exactly the kind of coffin that Mary would have wanted.

As was common, the organs that had been removed were buried separately. Mary's heart was placed in a silver casket lined with velvet and buried in the Chapel Royal of St. James. Her entrails might have gone to Westminster Abbey, because this interesting tidbit is found in the Memoir of Richard Busby.

About the beginning of the year 1670, the funeral obsequies of General Monk were celebrated previously to which a royal vault was opened in which were two urns; one appropriated to Queen Mary, the other to Queen Elizabeth. I dipped my hand into each. I took out of each a kind of glutinous red substance, somewhat resembling mortar. That of Mary only contained less moisture.

For over twenty days, Mary lay in state inside St. James, candles flickering around her bier. Elizabeth had ordered the highest respects be paid to her sister, modeling the services on those performed for her father. With one difference, however - Mary's rites were fully Catholic. Her ladies prayed around the clock beside her coffin, while masses were said for Mary's soul.

On December 13, the funeral began. Mary's coffin was placed on a magnificently bedecked hearse and drawn to Westminster Abbey. On top of the coffin lay a wooden effigy, dressed in one of Mary's own gowns, holding a scepter and wearing a crown. Embalming being as primitive as it was, the wooden or wax effigy would lie in view for the month-long duration of the funeral instead of the actual body, so they felt it was important for it to be as lifelike as possible.

Elizabeth spared no expense in decking out the chapel for the service:

First, the Chapel was hanged with black cloth and garnished with scutcheons. The Altar was trimmed with purple velvet, and in the Dean's place was hanged a canopy of purple velvet, and in the midst of the said Chapel there was made a Hearse 4 square of 46 great Tapers, the which did weigh 20 lbs. weight, the piece being wrought with Crowns and Rosses of the same, and beneath the same Tapers a Vallance of Sarcenet, with the'Queen's worde ' written with letters of gold, and a fringe of gold about the same Vallance, and within that Vallance a Vallance of Buckrum with a fringe of black silk. The said Hearse was richly set with 'penceles and Seochins of Arms in metall.' There was under the said Hearse a Majestie of Taffeta with a Dome gilded, and 4 Evangelists in the 4 Corners of the said Majestie.
The 6 posts were covered with black velvet, and on every post a 'scochin' of sarcenet in fine gold, the rayle of the same hearse within was hanged with a broad black cloth and the ground within both railes covered with black cloth, also the other side of the stools, which was instead of tbe rails on each side, was hanged with black. At each end there was made a Rail over what the said Chapel, which was also hanged with black and garnished with seochins ; within the rayles stood 15 stools covered with fine black cloth, and on the same 15 cushions of purple velvett, and under the feet 15 cushions of black clothe, at the head of the Hearse, without the rayle, there was made an altar, which stood on the left-hand of the Choir, covered with purple velvet, which was richly garnished with ornaments of the Church, which Chapel being thus furnished, order was given to the Serjeant of the Vestry for the safe keeping of the same till such time as the said Royal corpse was brought down unto the said Chapell.

Some sources say Elizabeth made dark hints about her displeasure if the court didn't turn out for Mary's funeral, so it was a parade of the highest nobles in the land.

Then the Bushope of Worcester and other bushops, with the Queen's Chapel went up to fetch the said Corpse, and the Chapel stayed in the Great Chamber and the said Bushops went into the Chamber where the corpse was, and censed it and said divers prayers, and after the said Corpse was taken up by 8 Gentlemen and all the other sett in order, that is to say the Cross and on each side a white branch (carried by boys in surplices), then the Chapel, then all the Gentlemen and Squires with the Chaplains of no dignity, and on each side went the foresaid officers with torches and the said Guard also.
Then all Knights and after them Councillors—then Barons, Bishops (not in pontificalibus), then the Overseers, then Earls, then the Executors, then the Kings of Arms; then the Corpse covered with a Pall of Cloth of Tissue of Gold (with the Crown of Cloth of Tissue) on each side the Corpse two Noblemen, that is to say, the Marquis of Winchester, the Earl of Westmoreland, Earl of Shrewsbury, and the Earl of Derby which touched the Corpse with his hands, and over the said Corpse was borne a canopy of purple velvet with 6 blue 'knopes' borne by 6 gentlemen. Then after the Corpse the Chief Mourner the Lady Margaret Countess of Lynnoux assisted by the Earl of Huntingdon and Viscount Montague, her train born by the Lady Katherine Hastings assisted by the Vice-Chamberlain, and after her the other (14) mourners, two and two: after them the other Ladies and Gentlemen, then after followed the Garde, and in this order went into the Chapel where the Corpse was placed within the Hearse, and Mourners, on each side seven, and at the head the Chief Mourner, kneeling at the Stools and Cushions as is aforesaid.

The services were elaborate and lengthy, as Tudor royal funerals always were. Finally, after all of the ceremonies, Mary was buried in the chapel built by her grandfather, Henry VII.

Then the corpse was taken up by them that before bare the same and was carried to the chapel which was appointed for her burial, and there the foresaid Archbishop with the other Bishops said all the ceremonies. In the meantime of the saying of these prayers the iiij gentlemen ushers took away the pall, then the corpse was let into the grave and the Archbishop cast earth on the same.
Then came the noblemen, being officers, to the grave and brake their staves over their heads and cast the same into the grave; as the Lord Treasurer, the Lord Chamberlain, the Treasurer and Comptroller, the Sergeant Porter and the Gentlemen Ushers, their rods, and then they departed again to the other noblemen. And the burial ended, the Archbishop and the other Bishops did unrevest themselves. The ceremony of the burial done, as is aforesaid, of the said noble Queen (whose soul, God pardon!) the Noblemen and Prelates then there assembled, having with them the officers of arms, then came forth unto the face of the people, and Garter, principal King-of-Arms, assisted by ij Bishops, did declare the style of the Queen's Majesty in this manner.
"Of the most high, most puissant, and most excellent Princess, Elizabeth, by the grace of God, Queen of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.; God save Queen Elizabeth." Unto the which word all the noblemen held up their hands and caps, and the trumpets standing in the Rood loft sounded; and this done all the estates and others departed to the Abbot's house to dinner.

All in all, this extravaganza cost over £7,662, which is the equivalent to several million dollars today. But Elizabeth insisted upon it. Any disrespect shown to a Tudor monarch disrespected her own crown, after all.

Mary's widowed husband, Philip II of Spain wrote to his aunt about his wife's passing at the end of a letter describing his peace negotiations with France:

The queen, my wife, is dead. May God have received her in his glory. I felt a reasonable regret for her death. I shall miss her even on this account.

He instructed his agent in England to represent him at the funeral and make sure to collect an extensive list of jewels he had left behind in England when he last departed. He was given back La Peregrina, the massive pearl he had given to Mary for their wedding. (It was recently auctioned off at the estate sale of Elizabeth Taylor to an anonymous buyer.)

Mary's will specified that her mother, Katharine of Aragon, was to be exhumed from her humble tomb in Peterborough Cathedral and brought to lie beside Mary, and an honorable tomb be erected in memory of the both of them.

Despite the honor Mary paid to her mother's memory, she had made no moves to rectify her mother's simple burial as a princess dowager during her five-year reign. She left it to the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Did Mary really believe Elizabeth would re-bury Katharine with the honors due a queen when Elizabeth's legitimacy rested upon the notion that Katharine was not?

The tomb was never built, but too much shouldn't be read into that. Elizabeth seemed to have an aversion to tomb building in general. She never marked Anne Boleyn's anonymous grave beneath the floor of St. Peter-ad-Vincula, nor did she build a tomb for her father, nor for her little brother, whose grave was unmarked until 1966. She didn't even build one for herself. That fell to James I, after Elizabeth's death.

Mary's grave was unmarked for nearly fifty years after her death. Sources record that rubble from altars broken up during the Reformation were piled up on top of her tomb. When Elizabeth died, she was temporarily interred with her grandfather, Henry VII until James could finish building her magnificent tomb. When it was finished 1606, James exhumed Mary and buried her within it as well.

Elizabeth's carved marble effigy is the one that decorates the lid of the tomb, and it is her achievements inscribed in Latin on the sides, but an inscription on the lower portion of the tom mentions Mary's presence as well:

Partners in throne and grave, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of the Resurrection.

Perhaps Dean Stanley's epitaph was better than any inscribed on the tomb:

"The long war of the English Reformation is closed in those words. The sisters are at one; the daughter of Katherine of Aragon and the daughter of Anne Boleyn rest in peace at last."

The two coffins were placed into the same vault below the floor, Elizabeth's coffin placed on top of Mary's. For one last and final time, Mary was placed in a subordinate position to her half-sister.

The Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey mentions that Elizabeth's and Mary's tomb was opened once during the search for the body of James I:

The excavations, however, had almost laid bare the wall immediately at the eastern end of the monument of Elizabeth, and through a small aperture a view was obtained into a low narrow vanlt immediately beneath her tomb. It was instantly evident that it enclosed two coffins, and two only, and it could not be doubted that these contained Elizabeth and her sister Mary. The upper one, larger, and more distinctly shaped in the form of the body, like that of Mary Queen of Scots, rested on the other.
There was no disorder or decay, except that the centering wood had fallen over the head of Elizabeth's coffin, and that the wood case had crumbled away at the sides, and had drawn away part Vault of of the decaying lid. No coffin-plate could be discovered,  but fortunately the dim light fell on a fragment of the lid slightly carved. This led to a further search, and the original inscription was discovered. There was the Tudor Badge, a full double rose, deeply but simply incised in outline on the middle of the cover; on each side the august initials E R: and below, the memorable date 1603. The coffin-lid had been further decorated with narrow moulded panelling. The coffin-case was of inch elm; but the ornamental lid containing the inscription and panelling was of fine oak, half an inch thick, laid on the inch elm cover. The whole was covered with red silk velvet, of which much remained attached to the wood, and it had covered not only the sides and ends, but also the ornamented oak cover, as though the bare wood had not been thought rich enough without the velvet.
The sight of this secluded and narrow tomb, thus compressing in the closest grasp the two Tudor sisters, ' partners of the same throne 'and grave, sleeping in the hope of resurrection '—the solemn majesty of the great Queen thus reposing, as can hardly be doubted by her own desire, on her sister's coffin—was the more impressive from the contrast of its quiet calm with the confused and multitudinous decay of the Stuart vault, and of the fulness of its tragic interest with the vacancy of the deserted spaces which had been hitherto explored in the other parts of the Chapel. The vault was immediately closed.

"May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage under these restless skies."

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