Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Question from Joyce - Elizabeth and her mother's grave

Did Elizabeth the 1st ever visit her mothers grave in the tower or ask about it?

5 comments:

kb said...

This is a really interesting question. I am sorry to say I don't know the answer. Of course, Elizabeth's constant whereabouts are not documented either so - if no documentation exists saying she visited her mother's grave, this does not mean that she never did.

Additionally, visiting family graves was not something elite Elizabethans did. There were very different feelings and customs about death and funerals 450 years ago than we have now. I am interested to read what others have to say on this.

PhD Historian said...

I am not aware of any documented special visit made by Elizabeth to the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula within the Tower for the sole purpose of visiting her mother's burial site, but it seems to me unlikely in the extreme that Elizabeth ruled for 40 years without ever entering that particular chapel. Surely she must have gone in it at least once, if not many times, during her long reign, since the Tower was still a royal residence at that time. There is also the possibility that she visited the chapel during her stays in the Tower during Mary's reign, especially in 1554. And although I am not an expert on Tudor mourning customs, I do not have the impression that visiting graves was something that people did in the early modern period, except in the case of visiting a shrine erected over the burial site of a saint or other holy person. Yes, they erected sometimes elaborate monuments over the burial sites of deceased family members, but I believe that act was seen as a final gesture. In light of early Protestant attitudes toward the dead, I'd be very surprised if the living made regular commemorative visits to the graves of the dead in the way that modern Americans and some Europeans do. Does anyone else have some specific information about Tudor-era mourning customs?

Elizabeth M. said...

I agree with phd historian. The Towwer was still a royal residence in Elizabeth's time, as well as a prison, and during her life, Elizabeth was in the tower in both capacities. It is very likely she was in the Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula on more than one occasion. As to her mother's grave, I am not sure it was actually marked at the time of Anne's death. She was buried in an old arrow chest. Since no provision was made for a proper coffin, it is doubtful there was any thought given to marking her grave. It was not until the renovations of the chapel in the 1870s that Anne's bones were supposedly found--it not being a positive ID--but based merely on the smallness of the neck bones. So it seems likely that Elizabeth knew her mother was buried in a general area of the chapel. She may have had some curiosity about it, but we will never know. Bear in mind that Elizabeth during her reign never made an attempt to have her mother reburied in a style fitting for a woman who had been Queen of England. Because as has been noted before, to rehabilitate her mother's reputation would have served to bring attention to Elizabeth's tenuous claim to the throne--she had been bastardized after her mother's disgrace, and there were other claimants with no stigma of bastardy to tarnish their right to occupy the throne if they chose to try and wrest it from Elizabeth, notably the Grey sisters, Mary and Catherine, as well as Mary, Queen of Scots. Thus it was probably prudent to leave Anne rest in anonymity.

Foose said...

Anne died at a very interesting moment, the point where pre-Reformation beliefs were being aggressively challenged by Reformers.

The grave -- for the Tudor elite, usually marked by a tomb or some sort of monumental memorial -- served as a focal point for asking visitors to offer intercessory prayers for the soul in Purgatory. Typically, when someone important died, they received a splendid funeral, then a "month's mind" (a similar ceremony a month later), then a yearly obit ceremony where family and others, particularly the poor, would gather at the tomb, offering prayers to shorten the deceased's time in Purgatory. In 1536, when Anne died, the "Ten Articles" were issued by the English government, essentially attacking the whole concept of Purgatory. Ultimately, while Reformers did not get entirely what they wanted from Henry, the regime redacted the word "Purgatory" from church ritual and condemned the "abuses" associated with it (indulgences, etc.) but continued to endorse prayers for the dead.

Hence, Henry ordered 1,200 masses for Jane Seymour after she died. Anne, as a convicted traitor and adulteress, received no such consideration. Nor would she be honored by the month's mind or obit, the yearly memorial service at the decedent's grave or tomb, where the poor would receive gifts of money, clothes and food. I'm not aware that any one in her family or outside it paid for or bequeathed money for masses for her soul.

I don't know whether Elizabeth might have offered prayers for the Boleyns while growing up. Jasper Ridley suggested that as Tudor regimes were extremely didactic and anxious to inculcate the concept of obedience to the king, it would probably have been impressed upon her early and often that her mother had been executed for treason. In these circumstances, to offer prayers might have been seen as a criticism of the king. Her tutors and attendants, who seem mostly to be of the Reform party, would not have encouraged this activity either.

According to Peter Marshall's "Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England," the whole fraught issue of Purgatory and the exact duties owed by the living to the dead remained very sensitive well into the Elizabethan regime and even the Stuarts. Extreme Protestants smashed a lot of tombs and gravestones under Edward and in the early days of Elizabeth's reign, until the government took steps to restrain them. In one incident, the clergy refused to bury the dead in one parish, citing the Biblical injunction, "Let the dead bury the dead." Generally, the Reformist view was that the dead were owed a memorable funeral sermon and the prompt execution of their last testaments. Any other memorial ceremonies or activities might be perceived as "papist."

This might have suited Elizabeth very well from a political standpoint. Unlike her sister, who may have felt obligated by her religious beliefs to bring her mother's body from Peterborough and re-inter it suitably with ceremonial (although this was never carried out), Elizabeth had a sound doctrinal position for not engaging in a showy program of rehabilitation for Anne -- including visiting her grave, exhuming the bones, building a tomb, etc.

According to Marshall, "At the start of Elizabeth's reign, in Veron's Huntyng of Purgatory to Death, a Catholic character ... poses the question, how can we do good unto the dead ... if prayers are taken away? ... Veron has his answer ready. Scripture teaches only two ways: decent burial, and the succouring of children, friends and kin." While Elizabeth probably could not politically afford to give Anne "decent burial" without implicitly criticizing her father, she did modestly succour her Boleyn relations.

kb said...

Elizabeth had very sound political reasons to avoid rehabilitation of Anne's reputation. There was no valid political reason to remind anyone that Elizabeth might be considered illegitimate by anyone of any religious position.

She also had sound political reasons to promote, or succor, her Boleyn relatives. As non-royal relatives, their ambitions could not take them all the way to the throne. They could be counted on to provide loyal service without over-reaching - unlike her royal relatives.