Monday, November 04, 2013

Question from Bron - 'Godmother at the bishop'

What does 'godmother at the Bishop' mean, please?

'In 1516, Princess Mary was baptised at the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich. Cardinal Wolsey was her Godfather, Katherine of Devon and the Duchess of Norfolk were her Godmothers at the font, and the Countess of Salisbury was her Godmother at the bishop'.

Thank you!


Foose said...

The "bishop" probably refers to the infant being presented to the bishop for confirmation immediately after baptism. The contemporary chronicler Hall describes this practice in reference to Mary's sister Elizabeth. After her baptism (at which the Duchess of Norfolk and the Marchioness of Dorset served as godmothers),

"...and then the trumpettes blewe, then the childe was brought up to the Aultar, and the Gospell saied over it; and after that immediatly the Archebishop of Cantorbury confirmed it, the Marchioness of Excester [Exeter] beyng godmother."

I don't know what the rule was for choosing separate godmothers for baptism and the confirmation - possibly the intent was to allow more participation by the highest noble families with blood relationships to the princess. I would also hazard that the confirmation godparent role was somewhat more prestigious than that of the baptism sponsors, as it carries personal responsibility for the child's religious education and the noblewoman chosen, Margaret Plantagenet, was more closely related to the king than the other ladies.

With regard to the doubling up of ceremonies - "Up until that time [i.e., the Council of Trent, in the latter half of the 16th century], though rare in practice, it was possible for infants to be confirmed and admitted to communion. Well-known examples include Prince Arthur and Princess Elizabeth in England." (From Continuing the Reformation: Re-Visioning Baptism in the Episcopal Church, by Ruth A. Meyers)

Why was it rare? Nicholas Orme, author of Medieval Children notes that it was apparently an obligation, where a bishop was readily to hand, to have infants baptized and confirmed at the same time (an important pastoral duty of bishops was to administer confirmation) - and a royal household is of course the place most likely to have ready access to bishops.

Foose said...

Actually, Katharine of Devon would be more closely related to the king (and perhaps be considered the highest ranking of the ladies, as a king's daughter) than Margaret Plantagenet, but I still think that the latter's selection as confirmation godparent might argue for that role being more prestigious. Margaret was Countess of Salisbury in her own right and she seems to have been a favorite of the queen.

Numabiena said...

Thank you very much!