Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year! What present did you get from the King?

As we usher in 2014, it is good to reflect on the tradition of New Year's Day gift giving at the court of King Henry VIII. Officially the calendar year began on Lady Day, March 25, which can lead to some confusion when matching dates to years in your research. However, the 1st of January was celebrated also celebrated as New Year's Day and was the traditional day for exchanging gifts.

King Henry VIII had a couple of notable January 1st. On January 1, 1511 Queen Katherine of Aragon gave birth to a healthy son who was named Henry and granted the title Duke of Cornwall. He was healthy enough for the King to be able to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks for the birth of his heir. A grand tournament was held in the second week of February in celebration of the birth. This tournament was preserved in an illustrated roll with the King wearing H's and K's jousting in front of the Queen and her ladies as Coeur Leon, Sir Loyal Heart. Sadly the baby died two weeks later on February 22. The cause of death is unknown. It is believed that the baby was given a state funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey near the Shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor.

The second famous January 1 for the King was in 1540 when he traveled to Rochester to meet his new bride, Anna of Cleves. He decided to arrive in disguise as a messenger knowing that his sweetheart would recognize her true love and embrace him. Unfortunately, Anna was unaware of this chivalric custom and ignored the messenger in favor of watching a bull baiting from her window. When the messenger embraced and kissed her she was appalled. The King was humiliated by her rejection. He left the room and returned to greet her as King. After he left he famously returned to London, telling Thomas Cromwell that he was not well handled and that he liked her not, claiming she was not as beautiful as had been reported. The most disastrous of Henry VIII's marriages (from his point of view) really got off on the wrong foot.

How does the Marchioness of Exeter and her husband tie in to the tradition of New Year's Day? As prominent members of the King's court they would be expected to give the King gifts appropriate to their station and to receive appropriate gifts from the King. Examining the list of New Year's gifts in 1532 the Marquis along with the Lord Chancellor (Thomas More), the Dukes of Richmond, Norfolk and Suffolk, the Lord Steward, and the Earls of Oxford, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Rutland, Wiltshire, Huntington, Sussex, Worcester, Darby and Exeter received gilt cups, cruses, goblets and bowls weighing between 21 oz. 1 1/2 q. to 41 1/2 oz.  The Lady Marquis (as Marchionesses are usually styled in the letters and papers) along with the old Duchess of Norfolk (Agnes Tilney), the young Duchess of Norfolk (Elizabeth Stafford), Lady Margett Angwisshe, the Lady Marquis of Dorset, Lady Salisbury (Margaret Pole), the Countesses of Rutland and Darby and many other ladies (it's a looong list) received gilt cruses, cups, jars, salts, a lee pot, goblets and casting bottles weighing between 8 5/8 oz. and 35 5/8 oz.  The higher your rank the heavier your gift from the King.

In return the Marquis of Exeter gave his cousin the King a bonnet trimmed with aglets and buttons and a gold brooch. The Lady Marquis gave the King a gilt cup with a cover.

A cruse is an earthenware jar or or pot, as it is listed as gilt, it is covered in gold.  A casting bottle is for sprinkling perfume.

For additional reading:
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 5, available online at
For the funeral of Henry, Duke of Cornwall a description is in Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox
For the Westminster Tournament Roll of February 1511 and other documents for the brief life of Henry, Duke of Cornwall - Vivat Rex!: An Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII by Arthur L. Schwarz
For the meeting of Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves and the tradition of meeting royal foreign brides in disguise - The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Tudor England by Retha M. Warnicke.

No comments:

Post a Comment