The Funeral of Mary Tudor, Queen of France

I recently wrote a blog post about the death of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, which you can read here. This post however will be all about Mary’s impressive, but understated funeral.

img_6755
A stained glass depiction of the funeral of Mary Tudor

When Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk died at her home at Westhorpe, Suffolk, she was just 37 years old. She had often been ill sporadically throughout her life, regularly complaining of agues and intense pains in her sides that historians have attributed to a range of ailments, from kidney disease, to gynaecological problems, to cancer (Watkins, The Tudor Brandons). Mary’s health was in decline as early as January 1533, and so it was probably no surprise when she finally passed away just months later, in the early hours of the morning of the 25th June, 1533.

As mentioned in my previous post, Mary’s death went largely unnoticed at court. Nevertheless, her elder brother, Henry VIII had still ordered a requiem mass in honour of his sister, which occurred on the 10th July at Westminster Abbey (Watkins, The Tudor Brandons). Mary’s funeral in Suffolk would not occur until the 20th July, after her body had laid in state for around three weeks. She had been embalmed and placed into a heavy lead coffin, which had been covered by a dark blue velvet cloth pall and topped with a wooden effigy representing Mary as the Queen of France (Bryson, La Reine Blanche).

cropped-bethan-logo-2.png

Hundreds turned up to watch the funeral procession, as Mary had been greatly “beloved in the country and by the common people” (Loades, Mary Rose). Her coffin had been carried by a horse-drawn carriage, which had been shrouded in black velvet, embroidered with French lilies and Tudor roses. Her motto, ‘la volente de dieu me suffit‘ (“the will of God is sufficient for me”) had also been embroidered upon the velvet pall.

The funeral procession must have been vast – numerous knights, guards, nobles and countrymen alike followed the hearse to the Benedictine Abbey at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. A hundred yeoman walked before the coffin, each holding a lit taper. Standard bearers carrying the the arms of the Duke of Suffolk also walked alongside the hearse – it must have been a spectacular, but sombre sight.

cropped-bethan-logo-2.png

Mary’s chief mourners were her children – Henry Brandon, who was still just a teenager, and Frances Brandon, who had recently married Sir Henry Grey. More nobles followed, including Mary’s step-daughters, who each placed a pall of cloth of gold upon their beloved step-mother’s coffin (Watkins, The Tudor Brandons). As custom dictated, Mary’s husband, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, did not attend, and nor did her brother King Henry.

A number of people, from noblewomen to clergymen, were appointed to watch over Mary’s coffin throughout the night. The following morning, after the clergy had sung their prayers and members of her household had broken their staffs over her coffin, Mary was lowered into her grave. After the ceremony, alms, meat and wine had been distributed to the people of Bury St Edmunds, who had loved and remembered Mary Tudor for her generosity and charity. An alabaster effigy of Mary was commissioned to rest atop Mary’s elaborate tomb, yet it unfortunately no longer exists.

img_6753
Mary Tudor’s grave

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Mary’s coffin was carefully removed from her tomb and re-interred at St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds to avoid damage. Unfortunately, nothing of her original tomb survives, and her burial place is now commemorated by a simple inscribed slab.

Centuries after her death, Mary’s coffin was opened and souvenirs of her incredibly well-preserved hair was taken. I will write in detail about this in another blog post, so keep an eye out if you are interested!

 

 

Sources

Bryson, Sarah, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters (Amberley, 2018).

Loades, David, Mary Rose: Tudor princess, Queen of France, the extraordinary life of Henry VIII’s sister (Amberley, 2012).

Riches, Tony, DNA Testing Mary Tudor, Queen of France (tonyriches.blogspot.com).

Watkins, Sarah-Beth, The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles – Henry VIII’s Nearest & Dearest (Chronos Books, 2016).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s