I'm writing a screenplay about Mary I, and have a question about Jane Grey serving as chief mourner for Catherine Parr. What does a chief mourner do exactly? This is the first time we see Jane in the script and I want to make sure I get this right. Thank you.
My understanding of the role of chief mourner at a sixteenth-century royal funeral is that it was an entirely symbolic role with no real duties, as such. That is, the chief mourner was not involved in any way in the planning of the funeral or any of the associated observances. All the chief mourner actually did was follow first behind the coffin in any processional and assume a position or seat closest to the coffin during services.
Think of it this way: During most royal occasions such as weddings, coronations, and the state opening of Parliament, there is usually some kind of order of precedence in place that determines who walks, stands or sits closest to the center of the action. The higher one's position in the royal family or in the ranks of the nobility, the closer one is to the center of action. At a modern royal wedding, the bride and groom are the center of action. The Queen sits closest to the couple, and everyone else fans out from there according to court precedence.
But in the instance of a sixteenth-century funeral for a female royal, it was not customary for the surviving spouse to attend, especially if that spouse was a second and non-royal husband like Thomas Seymour. Instead, a chief mourner took on that role, essentially standing in for the absent closest relative. And at royal funerals, the chief mourner was typically the senior royal of the same gender as the deceased. In Parr's case, the senior royal actually at hand was Jane Grey. Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Frances, Duchess of Suffolk were elsewhere. Parr was buried in Gloucestershire, but had she been buried in London, the chief mourner would almost certainly have been Mary Tudor.
The description of Katherine Parr's funeral can be found in ‘Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence’ edited by Janel Mueller.
A Breviate of the Internment of the lady Katherine Parr, Queen Dowager, late wife to King Henry VIII, and after, wife to Sir Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley, and High Admiral of England.
Item – On Wednesday, the fifth of September, between two and three of the clock in the morning, died the aforesaid lady, late Queen Dowager, at the castle of Sudeley in Gloucestershire, 1548, and lieth buried in the chapel of the said castle.
Item – She was cered and chested in lead accordingly, and so remained in her privy chamber until things were in a readiness.
Hereafter followeth the provision in the chapel.
Item – It was hanged with black cloth garnished with escutcheons of marriages viz. King Henry VIII and her in pale, under the crown; her own in lozenge, under the crown; also the arms of the Lord Admiral and hers in pale, without crown.
Items – Rails covered with black cloth for the mourners to sit in, with stools and cushions accordingly, without either hearse, majesty’s valence, or tapers – saving two tapers whereon were two escutcheons, which stood upon the corpse during the service.
The order in proceeding to the chapel.
First, two conductors in black, with black staves.
Then, gentlemen and esquires.
Then, officers of houshold, with their white staves.
Then, the gentlemen ushers.
Then, Somerset Herald in the King’s coat.
Then, the corpse borne by six gentlemen in black gowns, with their hoods on their heads.
Then, eleven staff torches borne on each side by yeomen about the corpse, and at each corner a knight for assistance – four, with their hoods on their heads.
Then, the Lady Jane, daughter to the lord Marquis Dorset, chief mourner, led by a estate, her train borne up by a young lady.
Then, six other lady mourners, two and two.
Then, all ladies and gentlewomen, two and two.
Then yeomen, three and three in a rank.
Then, all other following.
The manner of the service in the church.
Item – When the corpse was set within the rails, and the mourners placed, the whole choir began, and sung certain Psalms in English, and read three lessons. And after the third lesson the mourners, according to their degrees and as it is accustomed, offered into the alms-box. And when they had all done, all other, as gentlemen or gentlewomen, that would.
The offering done, Doctor Coverdale, the Queen’s almoner, began his sermon, which was very good and godly. And in one place thereof, he took a occasion to declare unto the people how that there should none there think, say, nor spread abroad that the offering which was there done, was done anything to profit the dead, but for the poor only. And also the lights which were carried and stood about the corpse were for the honor of the person, and for none other intent nor purpose. And so went through with his sermon, and made a godly prayer. And the whole church answered, and prayed the same with him in the end. The sermon done, the corpse was buried, during which time the choir sung Te Deum in English.
And this done, after dinner the mourners and the rest that would, returned homeward again. All which aforesaid was done in a morning.’
(p.180-182, ‘Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence’ edited by Janel Mueller.)
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