Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Christening of Edward VI: Featuring the Marquis and Marchioness of Exeter

"By the provision of God, Our Lady S. Mary, and the glorious martyr S. George, on the 12 day of October, the feast of St. Wilfrid, the vigil of St. Edward, which was on the Friday, about two o'clock in the morning, was born at Hampton Court Edward son to King Henry VIIIth," year 1537 Dominical letter Gl, 29 Henry VIII, "which was not christened till the Monday next following."

Henry VIII and his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour were the parents of the long awaited male heir to the Tudor dynasty.  Te Deums were sung at St. Paul's cathedral and in churches all over London, bonfires were lit, lots of merriment ensued.  Three days after his birth, Prince Edward was christened in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace.  It was a grand affair and Gertrude Blount Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter and her husband, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter and the King's first cousin would play prominent roles.

This would be the second christening in which the Exeters were prominent. On September 10, 1533 Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the king and Queen Anne Boleyn was christened  at Greenwich. The Marquis of Exeter carried a taper of virgin wax and the Marchioness served as godmother at the confirmation ceremony that immediately followed the baptism.

At Edward's christening, the Marchioness received the honor of carrying the baby prince and was supported by her husband and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.  "The order of going to the christening was: First, certain gentlemen two and two bearing torches not lighted until the prince be Christened. Then the children and ministers of the King's chapel, with the dean, 'not singing going outward.' Gentlemen esquires and knights two and two. Chaplains of dignity two and two. Abbots and bishops. The King's councilors. Lords two and two. The comptroller and treasurer of the household. The ambassadors. The three lords chamberlains and the lord Chamberlain of England in the midst. The lord Cromwell, being lord Privy Seal, and the lord Chancellor. The duke of Norfolk (Thomas Howard) and abp. of Canterbury (Thomas Cranmer). A pair of covered basins borne by the earl of Sussex (Robert Radcliffe), supported by the lord Montague (Henry Pole). A 'taper of virgin wax borne by the earl of Wiltshire (Thomas Boleyn) in a towel about his neck.' A salt of gold similarly borne by the earl of Essex (Henry Bourchier the 2nd earl). 'Then the crysome richly garnished borne by the lady Elizabeth, the King's daughter: the same lady for her tender age was borne by the viscount Beauchamp(Edward Seymour) with the assistance of the lord.' Then the Prince borne under the canopy by the lady marquis of Exeter (Gertrude Blount Courtenay), assisted by the duke of Suffolk (Charles Brandon) and the marquis her husband (Henry Courtenay. The lady mistress went between the prince and the supporter. The train of the Prince's robe borne by the earl of Arundel (William Fitzalan) and sustained by the lord William Howard.' The nurse to go equally with the supporter of the train, and with her the midwife.' The canopy over the Prince borne by Sir Edw. Nevyll, Sir John Wallop, Ric. Long, Thomas Semere (Thomas SeymourO, Henry Knyvet, and Mr. Ratclif, of the Privy Chamber. The "tortayes' of virgin wax borne about the canopy by Sir. Humph. Foster, Robt. Turwytt, George Harper, and Ric. Souwthwell (Richard Southwell). Next after the canopy my lady Mary, being lady godmother, her train borne by lady Kingston (Mary Scrope). All the other ladies of honour in their degrees."

Following the ceremony, the procession returned the young Prince to his parents, where he received their blessing.  A fascinating detail in the record is the role played by the four-year-old Lady Elizabeth. Not only did she carry the chrisom-cloth, which was placed on the child's head during the baptism to keep the oil from rubbing off, she also was given the honor of receiving wine, spices and wafers along with her sister, the Lady Mary. Mary's cupbearer was Lord Hastings, Lord Delaware bore Elizabeth's cup and the Lord Dacres of the South presented the spice plates, Lord Cobham the wafers and Lord Montague the honor of uncovering the spice plate. Quite a grand responsibility for a young girl.  Following the ceremony she walked with Mary and Lady Herbert of Troy bearing Prince Edward's train.

It was a moment of great joy for the King and Queen and the royal court. Unfortunately less than two weeks later on October 24, 1537 the court would be plunged into mourning as the Queen would take ill and die. King Henry had his son, but lost his wife. The kingdom was heading for turmoil as the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, begun on October 2, 1537 would provide the greatest threat to Henry VIII's rule. In the aftermath, the monasteries would close and the King's closest royal blood cousins, the Marquis of Exeter and the Pole family would soon find themselves under threat as the Exeter Conspiracy doomed them the following year.

Sources: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6 1533 and Volume 12 Part 2  June-December 1537.

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