A Funeral or a Triumph? The Crowds Who Watched the Coronation Ceremonies

Contributed by: Natalie Sweet

In the last letter we viewed from Chapuys, he noted that, “all the people showed themselves as sorry as though [the coronation procession] had been a funeral” (Letters and Papers, HVIII). He would not be the only person to note the hostility of the crowds that week. From this anonymous description pulled from the Letters and Papers of Brussels, a very disturbing image of Anne’s coronation emerges:

“Though it was customary to kneel, uncover, and cry O God save the King, God save the Queen whenever they appeared in public, no one in London or the suburbs, not even women and children, did so on this occasion.  One of the Queen’s servants told the mayor to command the people to make the customary shouts, and was answered that he could not command people’s hearts, and that even the King could not make them do so. [The Queen’s] dress was covered with tongues pierced with nails, to show the treatment which those who spoke against her might expect. Her car was so low that the ears of the last mule appeared to those who stood behind her to belong to her. The letters H.A. were painted in several places, for Henry and Anne, but were laughed at by many.  The crown became her very ill, and a wart disfigured her very much. She wore a violet velvet mantle, with a high ruff of gold thread and pearls, which concealed a swelling she has, resembling goiter. (Letters and Papers, from a catalogue of papers at Brussels, now lost.)

Could it be that such a hostile crowd greeted Anne? By the accounts, thousands watched Anne’s journey. Undoubtedly, there were many present who disliked the idea of Anne becoming Queen. Katherine had been much beloved, and Anne had been treated with hostility before, in public and in the form of malicious gossip and fanciful tales. The idea that no one paid her honor, however, is a little hard to believe. For one, we have already viewed letters of merchants and artisans asking for the privilege of serving the new Queen. If the people of 16th century England were anything, they were wary of their monarch’s changing moods and opinions, and they were also on the lookout for new ways to rise from their own stations. Recognizing the new Queen was one way to move upward and replace the old order.

Secondly, there are always those within every society in every time period who just accept the turning of the tides. Would they have taken time out of their day to go greet the new Queen? Perhaps not. However, Henry, like monarchs before and after him, considered this fact. As such, food and drink was made available to the crowds to celebrate the monumental occasion of a coronation, just as it was during births and weddings.

Finally, we must take the time and step back to examine the full blast of this anonymous person’s complaint. Besides reporting about the hostile crowds, care was taken to deride Anne’s physical appearance. Her dress is clearly a complete fabrication, as we know of no embroidered design of “tongues pierced with nails.” The existence of an ugly wart was discussed, and Anne’s pregnancy was portrayed as a goiter. Complaints of Anne’s physical appearance was a common crutch used by her enemies, even long after her death. It contributes to the difficulty we face in understanding what Anne truly looked like.

Considering all of this, I am led to believe that portions of the crowd were surly, and didn’t respond enthusiastically to Anne’s arrival. However, I’m sure that there were others who responded cheerily to the event, if only because the red wine flowing from the fountain was plentiful!

What of your thoughts, however? Should we take these accounts as an insightful look at the majority of the crowd, some of the crowd, or none of the crowd?

Plans for Coronation

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