The Reformation of Tradition: The Coronations of Mary and Elizabeth

  • Alice Hunt
Part of the Queenship and Power book series (QAP)


In 1838, amid preparations for Victoria’s coronation, Earl Fitzwilliam complained that “coronations were fit only for barbarous, or semi-barbarous, ages; for periods when crowns were won and lost by unruly violence and ferocious contests.”1 In other words, before the theory of divine right established and safeguarded a successor, the act of coronation was needed to legitimize the new monarch. The purpose of a coronation ceremony in sixteenth-century England was complex: technically, of course, the heir became monarch at the moment of the reigning king’s, or queen’s, death, by virtue of divine right. But the long-standing tradition and the sacramental logic of the inauguration ritual held fast and the coronation remained for the Tudor monarchs one of the most important ceremonies of their reign. Parliament could resume (with the monarch wearing their specially made crimson coronation robes) only after the heir had been anointed and crowned, and a monarch’s effigy would bear a set of his coronation regalia. Only French monarchs equaled the English in their claims for the sacred body of the king; all the Tudors, apart from possibly Edward VI, continued to touch for scrofula—their miraculous, priestly healing powers attributed to the gift of grace bestowed at the moment of their anointing in Westminster Abbey.2


Henry VIII Roman Mass Private Belief Prayer Book Sacred Body 
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  1. 1.
    Quoted inDavid Sturdy, “ ‘Continuity’ versus ‘Change’: Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods” in Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual, ed. János M. Bák (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press, 1990), 243–4.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Adamson, “The Tudor and Stuart Courts 1509–1714” in The Princely Courts of Europe: Ritual, Politics and Culture under the Ancien Régime 1500–1750, ed. John Adamson (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999), 102. The “King’s evil” was another name for scrofula which, it was claimed, could be cured if touched by the monarch—evidence of the monarch’s sacred nature.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Dale Hoak argues that Edward VI’s coronation was rendered an “empty form” and that the supremacy, and a specifically Protestant supremacy, “forever diminished the meaning of a royal coronation.” See Dale Hoak, “The Coronations of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I, and the Transformation of the Tudor Monarchy” in Westminster Abbey Reformed 1540–1640, ed. C. S. Knighton and Richard Mortimer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 146, 147. Of Elizabeth’s coronation, Richard McCoy has argued that, in comparison to her celebrated pre-coronation procession, the religious rite was an “obscure side-show” whose capacity to affirm royal power was no longer believed in: “‘The Wonderful Spectacle’: The Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation” in Coronations, ed. Bák, 218.Google Scholar
  4. In a similar vein, Albert Rolls has described the “Elizabethan disregard” for a coronation and has claimed that “the English, at least those with Protestant leanings, had accepted the dele-gitimization of the coronation enacted as Elizabeth assumed the throne”: Albert Rolls, The Theory of the King’s Two Bodies in the Age of Shakespeare (Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: Edwin Meilen Press, 2000), 101. This essay is not going to discuss Mary and Elizabeth’s coronation processions. See my The Drama of Coronation: Medieval Ceremony in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), and also see Paulina Kewes, “Godly Queens: The Royal Iconographies of Mary and Elizabeth” in this volume.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Alice Hunt, “The Monarchical Republic of Mary I,” HJ 52 (2009): 557–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 12.
    The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary …, ed. J. G. Nichols (London: Camden Society, 1850), 31.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Society of Antiquaries MS 123, fol. 8V. Mary is likely to have only touched the spurs, on account of her gender. See Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), 196.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    J. R. Planché, Regal Records: Or, A Chronicle of the Coronations of the Queens Regnant of England (London: Chapman and Hall, 1838), 6.Google Scholar
  9. 29.
    Janet Arnold, “The ‘Coronation’ Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I,” Burlington Magazine 120 (1978): 735–41. Arnold transcribes the manuscripts that document the lists of clothing itemized for Elizabeth’s coronation. See also Maria Hayward’s “Dressed to Impress” in this volume.Google Scholar
  10. 34.
    The debate began in EHR with C. G. Bayne’s “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth,” EHR 22 (1907): 650–73, and continued in this journal until 1910.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  12. 35.
    George Carew, formerly Elizabeth’s chaplain, replaced the papist Thomas Thirlby within a week of Elizabeth’s accession. See Roger Bowers, “The Chapel Royal, The First Edwardian Prayer Book, and Elizabeth’s Settlement of Religion, 1559,” HJ 43 (2000): 322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 38.
    A curtained pew, positioned near the high altar. As William Haugaard points out, closet and traverse could denote, in the sixteenth century, “any kind of area within a church equipped with a faldstool or cushions and cross-wise curtains to provide privacy for some eminent person at prayer”: Haugaard, “The Coronation of Elizabeth I”: 168. Nevertheless, the signification and whereabouts of this “clossett” or “traverse” have caused some heated debate, leading A. L. Rowse, for example, to claim that it must be situated in St Edward’s Chapel, which is itself also referred to as a “traverse,” behind the sanctuary and accessed via a door to the left or right of the high altar. Elizabeth’s withdrawal from mass, therefore, would have been a bold, defiant and unprecedented gesture: A. L. Rowse, An Elizabethan Garland (London: Macmillan, 1953), 27. Bayne also locates the closet or traverse “with certainty” in St Edward’s Chapel: Bayne, “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth”: 661.Google Scholar
  14. 44.
    Quoted in Richard McCoy, ‘“Thou Idol Ceremony’: Elizabeth I, The Henriad, and the Rites of the English Monarchy” in Urban Life in the Renaissance, ed. Susan Zimmerman and Ronald F. E. Weissman (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989), 241.Google Scholar
  15. 48.
    CSPVen, VII: 17, translates the Italian as follows: “the bishops not having chosen to say Mass without elevating the Host or consecrating it, as that worthy individual did; the Epistle and Gospel being recited in English.” However, this translation omits the fact that the Epistle and Gospel were also sung in Latin, before they were said in English. II Schifanoya’s account is transcribed in G. Lockhart Ross, “II Schifanoya’s Account of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth,” EHR 23 (1908): 533–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 50.
    Bowers, “The Chapel Royal,” argues for Elizabeth’s conservatism relative to her Council’s radicalism. On the inconsistency and unfath-omability of Elizabeth’s private beliefs, particularly her relationship with ceremony, see Patrick Collinson, “Windows in a Woman’s Soul: Questions about the Religion of Queen Elizabeth I” in Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Essays (London and Rio Grande: Hambledon Press, 1994), 87–118.Google Scholar

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© Anna Whitelock and Alice Hunt 2010

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  • Alice Hunt

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