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Was Henry Vll mean? His funeral – and other – Expenses.

IMG_3508.JPGEffigies of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York by Torrigiano 

Henry died on 21 April 1509.  Henry has come down through history as something of a miser, a tightwad.  Whether this is undeserved or otherwise , I do not know,  although his Privy Purse Expenses make very interesting reading.  He certainly enjoyed gambling, frequently incurring debts (1) as did Elizabeth,  his wife, whose debts often Henry paid (2),  although on one occasion £100  was given as a loan and to be repaid (3).  An astonishing £30 pounds was paid to a ‘young damoysell that daunceth’ (4)..really, Henry! although the ‘little feloo of Shaftesbury’ only received £1 (5),  presumably the poor little blighter was not  half as attractive as the damoysell.  But I digress,  because what I wanted to discuss here,  are the expenses incurred from Henry’s  funeral and tomb, an area in  which Henry clearly did not wish to rein in.

I am grateful for the following information which I have gleaned from The Royal Tombs of Medieval England by Mark Duffy – a marvellous book which I can thoroughly recommend.

‘The costs of building the new chapel at Westminster are estimated at around  £14,856.  The chapel was conceived as Henry’s personal chantry, and there was to be no room for any doubt.  Henry’s will instructed that ‘the Walles , Doores, Windows, Archies and Vaults, and Ymages of the same our chappel, wittin and without, be painted, garnished and adorned with our Armes, Bagies, Cognoissants, and other convenient painting, in as goodly and riche maner as suche a work requireth, and as to a Kings wek apperteigneth'(6).


The  pendant fan vaulted  roof of the Henry Vll chapel adorned with Beaufort portcullis and Tudor Rose ‘Bagies’.

‘The tomb commissioned by Henry itself,  featured gilt effigies of himself and Elizabeth,  plus figures of himself and 4 kneeling lords and a tomb chest of black and white marble housing 12 small images of saints to be crafted by a group of craftsmen.  The cost of this tomb was estimated at £1257.6s.8d of which the gilt metal amounted to £1050(7).’

‘The funeral expenses exceeded an unprecedented £7,000  including £ 1,000 pounds of black cloth supplied by 56 merchants and 3,606 lbs of candle wax (8)’

‘The bronze screen enclosing the tomb was supplied by a Thomas Ducheman who was paid £51.8s and housed 32 bronze statues of saints (of which only 6 survive).'(9)


Chantry screen of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

‘The tomb chest contains an epitaph in bronze recording the achievements of the couple, not least the procreation of Henry Vlll, suggesting his role in the detailing of the monument’ (10)


Tomb of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York

It is ironic that  Henry Vlll’s design for his and Jane Seymour’s tomb never came to fruition and only a slab covers the vault which he shares with Charles l.  But that is another story.


Slab covering the burial vault of Henry Vlll, St Georges Chapel, Windsor.

  1. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 88, 90, 102, 108, 120, 122, 126.
  2. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley pp 95, 907, 111, 132.
  3. Excerpta Historica  Edited by Samuel Bentley p 97
  4. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 94
  5. Excerpta Historica Edited by Samuel Bentley P 88
  6. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p 279
  7. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy P.281
  8. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.284
  9. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.287
  10. Royal Tombs of Medieval England Mark Duffy p.286

Did Richard enjoy a virelay with Anne . . . .?


In the fourteenth century (and perhaps still in the fifteenth) courtiers and their ladies desired more and more songs because they liked to dance to them. They either sang as they danced (called ‘carolling’) or danced to the song (a ‘conduit’) or joined in the refrain of the song they danced to (a ‘virelay’).

I had never given this thought before. It always seemed to me that they danced to music/singing, as we still do now. Mostly. But it puts a different complexion on the matter if one imagines them singing along as they danced.

These days, of course, the hokey-kokey springs to my mind as an example of carolling, although I hardly imagine there was a fourteenth-century court equivalent to this particular caper. Would such sumptuously-clad, highborn ladies and gentlemen really cavort in such a rowdy, decidedly inelegant manner? Who knows, I suppose. Things were very different then. Rowdy, inelegant dancing existed for the lower classes, as is amply illustrated – a riotous time seemed to have been had by all outside the confines of the court, but I just cannot, for the life of me, envisage a king like Richard II condoning anything like that.

But if carolling is akin to what we understand by singing a carol, does it mean that originally the songs that were sung at Christmas might also have been danced to?

Maybe dancing fashions had moved on by the time Richard III came to the throne, but perhaps carolling, conduits and virelays were still to be found at that 1483 Christmas at his court, when everything was so wonderful, dazzling and happy. Did they carol? Did they enjoy conduits? And might Richard himself have joined in the refrain as he enjoyed a virelay with Anne?

As you can no doubt tell from the foregoing, I am not au fait with the finer points of mediaeval dancing. It just interested me that dancing at court was not necessarily the rather sedate affair that we always see portrayed in films and drama. Please, if someone knows more, leave a comment, because I would love to learn.

This post was inspired by the book The Court of Richard II by Gervase Mathew.

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