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Thirteen "The Wonderfull Spectacle" the Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation
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"The Wonderfull Spectacle" the Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation

Richard C. McCoy

Henry VIII won his crown by force on Bosworth field, but when the time came to solemnize its acquisition, the founder of the Tudor line carefully emulated the coronation ordo of his vanquished predecessor. Indeed he simply made it his own. The manuscript of Henry's "little devise of the coronacion" was originally Richard III's, but the heralds crossed out the names of the old monarch and inserted those of the new.[1] The sense of ceremonial continuity was preserved and deepened through the more orderly succession of Henry VIII, whose own "device for the maner and order of the Coronation" closely followed his father's.[2]

Nevertheless, the stability of these rites and their sacramental force was inevitably shaken by the Tudor Reformation. Although the coronation rite could easily accommodate political conflicts and crises, religious controversy struck at its vital heart. Henry's new status as supreme head of the church prompted him to tamper with the coronation oath, making several corrections in his own hand in order to assert "his dygnite ryall and fredommes of the crowne of Englond in all maner hole w[i]t[h]out any maner of mynyshement."[3] Henry's autocratic version of the oath was never officially adopted by his successors, but his conflicted religious settlement and tangled succession dramatically altered the relationship between church and royal authority while disrupting the coronation's ceremonial continuity. At their accessions, his heirs faced grave liturgical problems, and their solutions varied widely. Edward's mentors sought to desacralize the event, by affirming a Protestant view of ceremony and kingship, whereas Mary tried to restore the coronation's sacramental status. Elizabeth I faced far more challenging ecclesiastical and liturgical difficulties than either of her predecessors, and yet, characteristically, her solution was more adroit and more oblique. Her considerable theatrical skills diverted attention from the prob-


lematic religious ritual to secular civic pageantry. By examining her somewhat confusing conduct during the coronation mass and comparing it with her skilled performance during the civic progress the day before, I hope to illuminate the increasingly theatrical and secular nature of Tudor power and its rites.

Henry's first successor, Edward VI, was handicapped by his youth and weakness, and, throughout his brief reign, Edward remained dependent on more powerful subjects to affirm and execute his authority. At his coronation, the task of asserting his supremacy over the church fell paradoxically to the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer took an essentially moderate but functional view of religious ceremonies, and, in his coronation sermon, he preached a thoroughly Protestant view of the liturgy and kingship:

The solemn rites of coronation have their ends and utility, yet neither direct force or necessity: they be good admonitions to put kings in mind of their duty to God, but no increasement of their dignity: for they be God's anointed, not in respect of the oil, which the bishop useth, but in consideration of their power, which is ordained, of the sword, which is authorized, of their persons, which are elected by God, and endued with gifts of his Spirit, for the better ruling and guiding of his people.

The oil, if added, is but a ceremony: if it be wanting, that king is yet a perfect monarch notwithstanding, and God's anointed, as well as if he was inoiled.[4]

For Cranmer, the monarch's supremacy was inherent and absolute, and the ceremony had only a weak, admonitory force.

Within a few years, Mary Tudor came to the throne determined to restore Rome's authority and to resacralize the coronation no less paradoxically by royal fiat. She assembled a large and properly outfitted clerical procession in order to bring her "from Westmyster hall with iij crosses with a gret qweer and many byshoppes with their myteres on their heddes and crose stavys in ther honddes."[5] Her coronation Mass was London's main liturgical event, requiring all the priests from St. Paul's "save only them that were maryd, that in so moch that the day was no servyss in Powlles, nother matins nor masse nor evensonge [nor] sermon at the crosse."[6] In addition to surrounding herself with as many bishops and priests as she could assemble, Mary also sought to restore the coronation's sacramental efficacy by sending to the emperor for newly consecrated oil. The pope was informed of this and was also assured that she had made her own changes in the coronation oath while promptly undertaking measures "for the re-establishment of all the due Ceremonies relating to the honourable dignity of that Order [of the Garter] which consist in the saying of certain masses, and confessing themselves at certain seasons, and celebrating the festival of St. George, according to the


original institution." In doing so she was trying to reverse changes made by Protestants under Edward VI designed to purge "the statutes of this fellowship" of its "many doubtefull, superstitious, and repugnant opinions" including the veneration of St. George and his images.[7] Mary wanted to restore Catholicism to the rites of the English monarchy as well as to the English church, but she was finally thwarted by her own fanaticism.

When Elizabeth Tudor ascended to the throne not long afterward, she displayed none of her half-sister's reverence toward the clergy or their solemnities. When greeted by the abbot of Westminster who was "robed pontifically, with all his monks carrying lighted torches," she brusquely dismissed them, saying "Away with those torches, for we see very well."[8] As for the bishops, their ranks were already depleted at Mary's death by the death of ten of their number, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Pole, who had obligingly died shortly after Elizabeth I's accession. Elizabeth I diminished the number attending on her even further by excluding the staunchly Catholic primates such as Heath and Bonner from the coronation service. There were also several distinctly Protestant changes in the ceremony held on the eve of her coronation, the creation of the Knights of the Bath: the all-night vigil was eliminated, prayers were said in English, and, during the Mass, the Queen's chaplain "heavyd not up the osty"—that is, the host was not elevated.[9] To confirmed Protestants, the elevation of the host was the essence of popish idolatry. In a "Sermon concerning the Right Use of the Lordes Supper," the Marian exile, John Ponet, had preached that "it is an unreverente and ungodly opinion and voyd of all Godlye religion to saye or thynke, that we muste eate and chawe with our corporal teeth, or that we must swallow with our corporal throte, Christes blessed fleshe and bones"; those who believe in such a literal communion "woulde feed of Christe, as ye woulde feed of a pece of motton." In Ponet's view, such absurdities should be rejected along with the liturgical practices that accompany them: the host should not "be holden up in the handes of the priest over his hed" or "hanged up in ye church to be worshipped."[10] Contemporary hostility to this gesture is graphically illustrated in the frontispiece of Foxe's Booke of Martyrs in which a priest raises a host to Lucifer and all the devils in hell hovering above the altar.

Elizabeth I's position on this controversy was thoroughly enigmatic. Having excluded the higher-ranking primates from her coronation, Elizabeth I still demanded that a Catholic bishop anoint her, and she settled on Owen Oglethorpe, bishop of Carlisle and suffragan of the archbishop of York, requiring Bishop Bonner of London to lend this subordinate his own splendid vestments for the occasion. Yet Oglethorpe proved intractable on the matter of the elevation. A few weeks before the coronation, "on Christmas day, the Bishop of Carlisle sang high mass, and her majesty sent to tell him not to elevate the host; to which the good Bishop replied that thus had he learnt the


mass, and that she must pardon him as he could not do otherwise."[11] Offended by this intransigence, Elizabeth I walked out after the reading of the gospel. At the next day's service Bishop Oglethorpe was replaced by a more pliant royal chaplain. Elizabeth's extraordinary reaction to the elevation would seem to confirm her strong Protestant sympathies, and yet her irritation at this affront to her stated preferences may have been as important as any deeply held convictions on the transubstantiation. Indeed, she reacted similarly to a Protestant attack on Catholic doctrine a few years later. A group of Cambridge scholars tried to entertain her with a farce in which one actor masqueraded as the hated Bonner gnawing on a lamb while another portrayed a dog with a host in his mouth: such was the folly of believing, in Ponet's words, "that we must eate and chawe with our corporall teeth- . . . Christes blessed fleshe and bones" as we would a "pece of motton." Unfortunately for the actors, Elizabeth I was so offended by these antics, that she stalked out again, this time taking her torchbearers and leaving the performers in the dark.[12]

How then did Elizabeth conduct herself at her coronation, and what solution did she devise for these fierce liturgical controversies? We finally cannot say, for although there are tantalizing hints in the records of scandalous irregularities, the records' inconsistencies only compound the confusion surrounding the event. Elizabeth I's coronation is one of those events that recede from view as one learns more about it. The written records consist of an usually cryptic and fragmentary heraldic proclamation, the only official account, plus a letter from the Mantuan resident, Il Schifanoya, and finally a report by an anonymous English eyewitness.[13] The first two accounts indicate that, while Bishop Oglethorpe crowned and anointed the Queen, the Mass was celebrated by the dean of the Chapel Royal, George Carew, a man who could be trusted to refrain from elevating the host or any other unseemly displays of clerical independence. The Spanish ambassador was so horrified by the prospect of such a sacrilege that he refused to attend the mass as did several other Catholic residents, including, apparently, Il Schifanoya; his description of events certainly gives the impression of being secondhand, for it is filled with mistakes.[14] The anonymous English report suggests an even more scandalous possibility. This version says that a bishop celebrated mass, and, during its course, "her Grace retorned unto her Clossett hearing the Consecration of the Mass."[15] The heralds' proclamation also attributes some rather unusual movements to the Queen, recording her withdrawal after the Collect "to her traverse," a curtained pew or closet; afterward, "the masse proceeds and ended the Queene went into Saint Edwards Chapelle to shift her."[16]

All these clues and enigmas have inspired, in David Sturdy's words, "much ingenious detective work," but scholars have had difficulty estab-


lishing the facts.[17] C. G. Bayne was the first to conclude that Oglethorpe said the mass and repeated his offense of elevating the host, thus prompting Elizabeth I to walk out again, this time withdrawing from her throne before the high altar to a curtained closet or traverse in St. Edward's Chapel.[18] There, completely hidden from view for the duration of the mass, she abstained from receiving communion. After carefully reviewing the evidence available, Bayne charged the queen with committing "a striking breach of the ritual of centuries."[19] Bayne later changed his mind on the basis of a Spanish Jesuit's claim that the elevation was omitted and the other records' ambiguity concerning the location of the traverse, but A. F. Pollard pressed the case for her withdrawal by citing Elizabeth I's remark to the French ambassador, Fénelon, in 1571 that "she had been crowned and anointed according to the ceremonies of the Catholic church, and by Catholic bishops without, however, attending the mass."[20] Pollard also points out the inaccuracy of the Spanish ambassador's initial apprehensions, an inacuracy Feria admitted: "By last post I wrote your Majesty that I had been told that the Queen took the holy sacrament sub utraque specie on the day of the coronation, but it was all nonsense. She did not take it at all."[21] A. L. Rowse's discovery of a heraldic illustration used for planning the event seemed to clinch the case for her withdrawal.[22] It clearly shows that "the Queen's Travers" was behind the high altar and sanctuary wall, and the note says that the traverse was intended "to make her reydy in after the ceremonyes and Service [were] doon," but if this is the same traverse mentioned in the Heralds' report, she went there midway throught the Mass.[23]

Nevertheless, those conclusions have been disputed by scholars emphasizing the cryptic ambiguity of the records, the possibility of a second traverse, and the implausibility of such behaviour exciting so little remark. H. A. Wilson raises several of these objections, pointing out that both the anonymous account and the heralds' proclamation imply some sort of distinction between the "closett" or "traverse" to which Elizabeth I withdrew during the mass and the place she went to "behind the high Aulter" in "Saint Edwards Chapelle" after its conclusion.[24] A memorandum on religious policy written before the coronation anticipates Elizabeth I hearing the mass from her traverse and the omission of the elevation. After asserting that the English litany of Henry's time could be used, the document affirms that "her Ma[jes] tie in her closett may use the Masse without lyfting up above the Host according to the Ancient customs and may have also at every masse some communicants with the Ministers to be usyd in both kynds."[25] Thus, her withdrawal to the traverse during the consecration could have been planned rather than resulting from offended impulse. In his review of the evidence, William Haugaard concludes that Elizabeth I's chaplain probably celebrated a "moderately Protestant" Mass after Bishop Oglethorpe presided


over the traditionally Catholic coronation. The service thus represented a liturgical compromise, "in which allowance had been made for conflicting consciences," in Haugaard's view, "Elizabeth was crowned according to the rites of the Latin liturgy . . . but the minor changes on which she insisted gave warning of her intention to reassert the independence of the English Church."[26]

Elizabeth I's coronation was indeed a compromise of sorts, but her intentions were hardly clear, and her subjects conflicting consciences were, in many cases, more alarmed than reassured by the service's ambiguities. Catholics were distressed by her omission of the elevation and reports of her irreverence toward the clergy and their ceremonies. Nicholas Sanders recounted her brusque treatment of Bishop Oglethorpe during the Christmas mass and claimed that, although she was anointed, "she disliked the ceremony and ridiculed it; for when she withdrew, according to the custom, to put on the royal garments, it is reported that she said to the noble ladies in attendance upon her. 'Away with you, the oil is stinking.'"[27] At the same time, the Genevan exile were so shocked by her adherence to traditional Latin rites that some resolved to stay away "until directed by Calvin himself to return."[28] The coronation was a typical Elizabethan compromise with something to confuse and offend everyone. It anticipated the inconsistencies of her early religious settlement, which was less often a Via media than an erratic "mingle-mangle": the elevation of the host continued to be omitted, but the use of communion wafers, "eucharistic vestments," and kneeling during communion was prescribed despite strenuous Protestant opposition.[29] During the first year of her reign, even as rood-lofts, crucifixes, and altars were being destroyed or dismantled, Elizabeth I retained a small silver crucifix and two burning candles "standing altar-wise" in her own Chapel Royal. By February of 1560 some of her newly appointed bishops were threatening to resign over this "offendicle," and the ambassador to France, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, wrote with alarm that the Guise "made their advantage of the cross and candles in your chapel, saying you were not yet resolved of what religion you should be."[30] Her coronation presented the same confusing inconsistencies, but their disturbing implications were finally muted by the event's essential obscurity. It was a rite muddled by liturgical controversy, witnessed by a small number, and inadequately recorded.

By contrast, the civic progress the day before was a far more harmonious, popular, and better-documented event. Elizabeth I's dazzling performance in the pageants staged by the city guilds was seen by all of London, and the prompt publication of the tract, The Quenes Maiesties Passage through the Citie of London to Westminster the Day before her Coronacion , expanded the audience and perpetuated the memory of the glorious events, overshadowing the coronation and its difficulties. According to this tract, the queen


was of the people received merveylous entierly, as appeared by thassemblie, prayers, wishes, welcomminges, cryes, tender woordes, and all other signes, which argue a wonderfull earnest love of most obedient subiects towarde theyr soveraygne. And on thother syde her grace by holding up her handes, and merie countenaunce to such as stoode farre of, and most tender and gentle language to those that stode nigh to her grace, did declare her selfe no lesse thankefullye to receive her people's good wille, than they loveingly offred it unto her.[31]

The progress enacted a drama of stylized reciprocity and affection. As Jonathan Goldberg has noted, the illusion of "intimate give-and-take" and "the air of spontaneity" were partly factitious, but no less convincing for all that.[32] Elizabeth helped to subsidize these spectacles by loaning costumes from the Revels Office to the city guilds, as David Bergeron has shown, and she undoubtedly saw the pageants' scripts beforehand.[33] She was an inspired actress who knew from the beginning of her reign that "We princes . . . are set on stages, in the sight and view of all the world duly observed."[34] Her progress transformed the entire city of London, according to the tract, into "a stage wherin was shewed the wonderful spectacle, of a noble hearted princes toward her most loving people, and the peoples excading comfort in beholding so worthy a soveraign."[35]

Significantly there are several pictures of Elizabeth's civic progress, and these also project an image of hierarchy and harmony. These heraldic drawings include one set that is fairly crude and which was probably used as a planning device. The archbishops of Canterbury and York are included in the procession, despite the death of the first and the exclusion of the second, but there are x s and lines beneath them that probably indicate their absence as well as indicating that their places should be taken by the Norroy and Clarenceux Kings of Arms. Elizabeth's problems with her bishops are simply ignored in the other two drawings. In these, the two primates assume their proper places, arrayed in the respectably academic square cap of Protestant bishops.[36] By contrast, in the drawing of the church procession, they had been described as "bishops in their pontificalibus," and shown with their miters and crosiers. These two drawings are more elaborate and visually detailed. In the original sketch, the queen's litter is indicated by a rectangle and the words "the Queens most excellent majesty," but in these the queen is shown in her litter preceded by her throng of noble and courtly attendants. More attention is paid to ornaments and clothing and the effect is one of sumptuous display. Their function was partly prescriptive since a similar order of precedence was to be observed, according to a note, at "procydyng to ye parlement or coronation," but the drawings were also commemorative and celebratory, serving the same purposes as the tract, The Quenes Maiesties Passage .


Elizabeth I keenly appreciated the theatrical power of secular pageantry and shrewdly exploited its more flexible and popular features. The great historian of English coronation rites, Percy Schramm, deplored these same features because they threatened the exalted status of the sacred ritual. In fact, the coronation was jeopardized by its privileged sacramental character since "only an illustrious and select circle could get near it, and so it became a question whether it would not lose its central position and become a mere episode in a long sequence of festivities."[37] The civic progress had always been more of a crowd-pleaser, and it included "manifestations of royal power that could be abandoned, changed, or devised anew. After the close of the Middle Ages the danger threatening the coronation was precisely that it might be degraded into a pageant of this sort."[38] These dangers hardly bothered Elizabeth I, for she used secular pageantry to eclipse sacred ritual. In his introduction to To Quenes Maiesties Passage , J. E. Neale says that the Tudor civic progress "became increasingly important until with Queen Elizabeth, it was finally transformed from an introit to the coronation into an occasion in its own right—a popular and secular companion for the subsequent solemn sacrament worthy of commemoration, as commemorated it was, in print."[39] Yet even this understates the impact of the progress and the publication because they were more than mere companions. The progress became the main event, reducing the vexatious coronation to an obscure side-show whose troublesome irregularities have faded from sight and mind.

The civic progress and the commemorative pamphlet were the opening scenes of an enormously successful and long-running stageshow with Elizabeth I as its star. The "cult of Elizabeth" could be nearly idolatrous, but it was almost always artfully so: it was an essentially theatrical enterprise in which secular ceremony and the printed word affirmed royal authority more effectively than sacred ritual. There were, of course, problems with such techniques. The "divinity [that] doth hedge a king" was inevitably diminished by the desacralization of royal ceremony.[40] Nevertheless, the trend was irreversible as the eventual failure of the Stuart monarchy indicated.

After James I's accession, an outbreak of the plague made it necessary to postpone the civic progress. James I would have happily dispensed with it completely, given his aversion to the populace. For him, the ecclesiastical, sacred rite was the critical event, and the secular progress superfluous. The royal proclamation affirmed that "we have thought it best to forbeare of that Solemnitie, whatsoever is not Essentiall to it, and to deferre all shewe of State and Pompe accustomed by our Progenitors, which is not necessitie to be done within the Church at the time of our Coronation."[41] The king eventually submitted to the progress, but grudgingly enough, "for naturally he did not love to be looked on; and those Formalities of State, which set a Lustre upon Princes in the Peoples Eyes, were but so many Burthens to him." Unlike


Elizabeth I, he remained silent and detached throughout, grimly enduring the civic speeches

wherein he must give his Ears leave to suck in their gilded Oratory, though never so nauceous to the Stomach. He was not like his Predecessor, the late Queen, of famous Memory, that with a well-pleased Affection, met her People's Acclamation, thinking most highly of her self when she was born upon the Wings of their humble Supplications. He endured this Day's Brunt with Patience, being assured he should never have such another.[42]

The Stuarts' contempt for popular pageantry, along with their ecclesiastical conservatism and ideas of rule by divine right, eroded rather than enhanced their authority during the course of the seventeenth century. The last Stuart king, James II, also canceled the civic progress, spending the money on the queen's jewels instead. In criticizing this folly, Macaulay wrote "If pageantry is to be of any use in politics, it is of use as a means of striking the imagination of the multitude."[43] The Stuarts never grasped this essential principle of modern politics, but their successor did: William III set out to dazzle the citizens of London with a magnificent and carefully planned progress in order to enhance his shaky claims to the throne.[44] yet few of her successors displayed the same assured personal skill and understanding of pageantry's impact on "the imagination of the multitude" as Elizabeth I.

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Thirteen "The Wonderfull Spectacle" the Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation
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