Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Question from Lesley - Clothing on bodies lying in state

What clothing would have been worn by the wives of Henry VIII and in particular Katherine Parr when she lay in state prior to burial. Would this be her normal and elaborate clothing or would it have been night/ shroud type clothing?


Marilyn R said...

It's a good question.

I'm not sure that the body as such was viewed in Tudor times. At the funeral of royalty a wax effigy of the deceased, or sometimes a wooden one, dressed in their usual rich clothing was placed on the hearse. After the burial the Abbey authorities kept the effigies which they exhibited in a sort of museum. A few survive and are still exhibited, the finest of which, in my own opinion, is that of Henry VII, believed to be a good likeness. The later one of Charles II is also very lifelike.
If you Google Westminster Abbey & go to the history section there is a section on funerals and recommendations for further reading.

As far as Katherine Parr goes, I should think any original information would be at Sudeley Castle or the Gloucester Records Office. In her biography of Katherine, Linda Porter (page 323) says her body was carefully wrapped in layers of cere cloth, a waxed cloth used to help prevent decay, and encased in a lead envelope in her coffin.

Lesley Edwards said...

Thank you for your helful comments Marilyn R. However, Royalty did were viewed laying in state in Tudor times. e.g. Mary Tudor wore a Nun's Habit for her laying in state. Katherine Parr's amaingly preserved body was exhumed in the 18th century and I would very much like to know if a contemporary eyewitness described what she was wearing. Can anyone help?

Foose said...

Parr was buried fairly rapidly - dying on September 7 and the funeral held the next day, according to Alison Weir. (Janel Muller puts the death on September 5, the funeral on September 7.) Queen Jane Seymour, by contrast, lay in state for a week ("in gold tissue, crowned and bejewelled" from Chris Skidmore's Edward VI) before being buried. I couldn't find evidence that Katherine Parr had the "lying in state" period.

Both of them died of complications relating to childbirth. I wonder if Katherine Parr's apparent lack of a period of "lying in state" could be attributed to (1) possible fear of infection or rapid decay of the body (perhaps gangrene or some other noisome process, but this could be disputed based on the very good condition of the body when the coffin was opened a couple of centuries later) or (2) the political situation - Queen Jane was the mother of Henry's living heir and wife of the reigning monarch, so perhaps both court ceremonial and Henry's preferences called for the week-long "lying in state." There is also the consideration that the Council might have insisted that Parr not lie in state, because it would have further aggrandized the pretentions of the Admiral. However, the timeframe is possibly too short for them to have issued such an order.

Or (3), the lack of the "lying in state" ceremonial might have reflected the new Protestant norms, whereas Queen Jane died in a much more Catholic environment. ("Not for Katherine the processions and funeral masses that saw her third husband to the grave" - Linda Porter). I know that extreme Protestants had an issue with funeral effigies ("idols," etc.) and the practice of burning candles around the body/effigy, but I'm not sure how they regarded actual bodies lying in state.

Foose said...

Regarding what Parr was wearing when she was exhumed, unfortunately there doesn't appear to be an account detailing her grave-clothes. The gentleman who opened up her coffin in 1782 apparently observed "six or seven layers of cere-cloth," but apparently did not note her apparel beneath. Strickland has a friend-of-a-friend type of source who claimed to be an eyewitness of the exhumation, and who said there was no shroud, just a dress, on the corpse.

It was opened several times subsequently and each time no one seems to have written down what the queen was wearing. Weir says she was buried in "rich clothes," but I think that's just a logical guess. Cunnington's Costume for Births, Marriages and Deaths , an older source, claims the grave-clothes were "very simple," but since I can only see a snippet view on Google Books I can't tell what the source is.

Possibly you could conjecture that her grave-clothes were indeed of rich and expensive materials, but perhaps simple in cut and subdued in color, reflecting the Protestant influence. If there had been royal insignia buried with her, you would think it would have been mentioned, either by contemporary accounts or by those who opened her coffin later.

Foose said...

Actually, having rooted around some more, I would say it's not improbable that Parr was buried essentially naked. The sources I looked at on Tudor burials apepar to indicate that bodies were simply wrapped in shrouds or cere-cloth heavily treated with tar and gum and molded to the body - there's no mention of clothes underneath the wrappings. From a Tudor point of view, burying the clothes would have been a waste, perhaps; also, there seem to have been religious beliefs that nudity defined the dead, as clothes defined the living, and shrouds are the only appropriate grave-clothes. And the man who opened Parr's coffin noticed her white arm right away after digging through the "six or seven layers of cerecloth" - a dress, even decayed, might have obstructed this. Henry's mother Elizabeth of York was buried in some "40 ells of Holland linen," which also implies a shroud. On the other hand, Strickland's anonymous eyewitness denies the existence of Parr's shroud, insisting that the corpse wore a "costly dress," but perhaps that is her cultural atmosphere operating on her perceptions.

Lesley Edwards said...

Thank you all for your helpful and pertinent comments. I wonder if the burial occured so rapidly after death as the weather in early September may have been warm and if the burial in waxed cloth was to preserve the body then the sooner the body was interred the fresher it would have been? Perhaps in a freezing mid winter a cold room would keep a body viewable longer than in warmer months?

Foose said...

I don't know whether the weather played a role in the relatively speedy interment. Reading about Queen Jane's body being displayed in November, presumably with the "torches and tapers" considered appropriate for the ritual, with lady-watchers in attendance, and courtiers paying their respects - all raising the temperature of the chamber - well, you can't help but think Jane would have niffed quite a bit by the end of the week despite the November weather. Even with the aromatics and scents and fresh rushes presumably laid on for the occasion, and even to Tudor noses inured to an odor-rich daily environment. But I read that bodies might be exposed as long as a month; Cardinal Pole apparently lay in state for 40 days.

Susan Higginbotham said...

There's a contemporary account of Katherine's burial and funeral in Janel Mueller's "Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence." It says, "She was cered and chested in lead accordingly, and so remained in her privy chamber until things were in a readiness." No mention of clothing.

I wonder if dressing the deceased in his or her usual elaborate clothing would have interfered with the preservative effect of the cere cloth.

kathleen said...

when anne bolyn was beheaded what did they do with her head, as far as burial?

Laura said...

Kathleen...Anne Boleyn's body was wrapped in a sheet, and it and her head were place in an arrow chest as no coffin was provided for her burial.

tudor princess said...

Little Miss Sunnydale has a picture of the fragment of Katherine Parr's burial dress which is at Sudeley Castle on her Flickr site.

I also heard that she was buried in a dress but cannot remember where I read that detail.

It was not unknown for women to be buried in a dress eg Eleanor de Toledo but her clothing was preserved due to the way she was buried. This meant that the stockings, garters, corset and gown survived in good condition.

Perhaps since linen was tougher as a fabric, it tended to survive over
something like silk which disintegrates easily.

They are celebrating Katherine Parr next year at Sudeley Castle with a special festival so perhaps further light will be shed on the topic then!