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Book Review: “The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor” by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs with R. A. Griffiths.

Based upon articles originally appearing in The Ricardian from 1997-1999, Royal Funerals is probably one of the most comprehensive treatments of Yorkist burials at Windsor, and an excellent companion piece to Sutton/Visser-Fuchs’ The Reburial of Richard Duke of York: 21-30 July 1476. Together, these texts offer not only detailed analyses of royal English funerals from the late 15th century, but also exemplify the Yorkist use of pomp and ceremony to assert a hereditary position at the top of the ruling hierarchy.

Royal Funerals describes the interments of Edward IV (April 1483), his two-year old son Prince George (March 1479), fifteen-year old Princess Mary (May 1482), and widowed Queen Elizabeth (June 1492), all of which occurred at St. George’s Chapel at the royal residence of Windsor Castle. Some information about Henry VI’s reinterment in 1484 is also provided. Helpful illustrations show the routes taken from the places of death to entombment, construction of hearses, assembled processions, and schematics of the chantry intended by Edward IV to be his mausoleum. The authors provide text from primary sources narrating the funerals, mostly taken from Royal College of Arms manuscripts and Great Wardrobe accounts, and a collection of Laments penned in honor of the king. A chapter on the subsequent renovation work at St. George’s Chapel explains modifications made to his tomb and there is a detailed account of the discovery and exhumation of Edward IV’s body in 1789, including the rather bizarre trade in hair samples collected from his corpse.

The book is a study in contrasts. Edward IV died at age 42, unexpectedly and during the zenith of his reign, and his obsequies reflect that. Because more narratives exist, a reconstruction of the day-to-day ritual is possible; such is not the case for his predeceased children who received dignified burials befitting their station. Yet, it is hard not to be impressed with the sheer magnificence of the king’s ceremonies, the “veritable forest of banners carried” during them, the splendor of his hearse which abounded with rich gilt-worked pillars holding the finest candles, sumptuous silks, and hundreds of sculptures depicting angels and Yorkist heraldry. The reader is treated to the spectacle of Sir William Parr — bareheaded but in full armor, riding the king’s charger trapped in his coat of arms, carrying a battle-axe in his hand, pommel held downwards — as he rode up the nave, dismounted at the choir door, and offered Edward IV’s knightly achievements. There are moments of less sobriety too; for example, the tussle between Lord Maltravers and William Berkeley over who took precedence, and the exasperation of the reporting herald who finally gave up on detailing the ceremonial offering of cloths to the casket because the frenzy and press of people were too great for him to note the individuals involved.

The 1492 funeral of dowager Queen Elizabeth, by comparison, was almost stark in its austerity. On her deathbed at Bermondsey Abbey, she wrote in her will that she desired to be buried next to her husband “without pompes entring or costlie expensis donne thereabought”. Thus, her body was taken to Windsor by the River Thames with no cortege, tolling bells, or religious services en route. It was accompanied by five companions of modest station, including Edward IV’s illegitimate daughter Grace. She had a “low” hearse of four wooden candlesticks, candles of no great weight, and recycled torch “ends”. The authors speculate her funeral obsequies were not planned by the royal heralds, as the reporting herald’s narrative makes repeated mention of the irregularities and lack of ceremony demonstrated. Perhaps this underscores the political realities of the day. Victors were compelled to give “lip-service” to the former dynasty, but the demands of perpetuating a new one required a vastly different, and extravagant, outlay. The next dynasty, the Tudor one, would reflect this in the incredibly over-the-top tomb of Henry VII in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, or in Elizabeth I’s frugal “restoration” of St. Mary and All Saint’s Church at Fotheringhay.

Royal Funerals has much to offer readers interested in the critical time period of April, 1483 and the weeks following the Edward IV’s death. There are mysteries that still exist, such as who acted as chief mourner. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had yet to arrive in London from Middleham. It is almost eerily prophetic when, at the climax of the royal obsequies on April 19, the officers of Edward IV’s household threw their staves of office into his tomb with the body, indicating they were now “men without a master and without office”. The heralds threw in their coats of arms, and then were presented with new ones with the cry “The King lives!” Such a simple declaration at the time, yet in only two short months, the question of the king’s identity would transfix a nation.

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Edward IV’s Will of 1475: “Bury Me Low in the Ground, with the Figure of Death”

In 1475, before embarking for his campaign to (re)conquer French lands for England, Edward IV wrote a will stating that, in the event of his death, he desired to be buried at the Royal Chapel of St. George’s at Windsor Castle. He wanted to be placed under the ground with an effigy of a corpse on top. The book by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor” (Richard III Society, 2005), provides the actual text from Edward IV’s will. After naming Richard Beauchamp, bishop of Salisbury (Sarum) his executor, the king goes on to address what to do with his body:

“… and oure body to bee buried in the Church of the Collage of Saint George within oure Castell of Wyndesore by us begonnne of newe to bee buylded, in the place of the same Church by us limited and appointed and declared to the Reverende Fader in God oure trusty and welbeloved the Bisshop of Sarum, where we will oure body be buried lowe in the grownde, and upon the same a stone to bee laied and wrought with the figure of Dethe with scochyne of oure Armer and writings convenient aboute the bordures of the same remembring the day and yere of oure decease, and that in the same place or nere to it an Autre bee made metely for the rome as herafter we shall devise and declare.”

Such tombs were common in the 15th century, and were called “memento mori” tombs: designed to remind the living that, no matter one’s station in life, we all become food for worms. Yes, a little morbid, but for a King to communicate this message was a profound spiritual statement. We are all equal in death.

The photo below is of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel – showing a slightly different arrangement – with an effigy of the living man on top, with the effigy of his corpse below. Credit: “Arundel4” by Lampman – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arundel4.JPG…

Arundel4

The effigy of the deceased “in death” could get rather visceral, showing rats gnawing at the flesh or the sad, but nonetheless, inevitability of the corruption of the body, as depicted in this gruesomely accurate depiction from 16th century Belgium:

corpse

Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, photographer.

It does raise a question about why Richard III’s will has never been located, either as Duke of Gloucester or King. Would he have followed his brother’s example and have ordered a “momento mori” for his tomb?

Pies and fireplaces….

wildboarpielarge
What connects St. George’s Hall, Windsor, to a wild boar pie??? No, not a feast at the castle, but a fireplace.

I wanted to know how many fireplaces there are/were in the hall, and so Googled pictures of it. Lots and lots of pictures, some new, some old, but no sign of a fireplace at all. Did they freeze in there in winter? Granted, the 1658 bird’s eye view of the castle by Wenceslas Hollar shows what might be chimneys all the inner side of the hall, but then again, they might belong to some adjacent part of the building. Hard to tell.

So on and on I went, examining pictures and photographs, when suddenly . . . wait a tick! What’s this? A wild boar pie? Yes, indeed, a very splendid wild boar pie, with intricate pastry-work and gold leaf. Magnificent. You can see the webpage for him at http://www.historicfood.com/Eat,Drink%20and%20be%20Merry.htm

I wonder if Richard III enjoyed such a pie? It’s certainly worthy of a king.

Well, the number of fireplaces there might once have been, or still are, at St. George’s Hall remains a mystery to me, but it was a real bonus to happen upon a delicacy like this, complete with a boar’s head for Richard’s delectation.

Research is so rewarding. Look for one thing, and something else turns up.

Never mind where to rebury him, where exactly was Richard III born?

We all know when Richard was born – 2 October 1452 (10 by the new calendar) and we thought this was at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire. Now page 37 of Ashdown-Hill’s “The Third Plantagenet” suggests that it might have been Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire.

We all know when he died – 22 (30) August 1485 at Bosworth near Leicester – and his remains, with battlefield finds have underlined this, although Jones moved it to Merevale (and Coventry) for a while.

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