Bermondsey

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8 June 1492 | The death of Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville

From Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin:

Elizabeth died at Bermondsey Abbey nearly two months after making her will, on Friday 8 June 1492. Her body was conveyed by boat to Windsor on Whit Sunday, 10 June… accompanied by Prior Ingilby, Dr Brent, Edward Haute, her second cousin, and two gentlewomen, one of them her husband’s illegitimate daughter, Grace. The wooden coffin was taken ‘prevely’ (privately or secretly) from the Thames to the Castle and was received there at eleven at night by a single priest and a clerk. There was no ringing of bells nor formal reception by the dean and canons of St George’s Chapel, and she seems to have been interred almost immediately without any form of ceremony. The Marquess of Dorset, his half-sisters Anne, Catherine and Bridget, Edmund de la Pole (the slain Earl of Lincoln’s brother) and other relatives reached Windsor on Tuesday, and that evening the Bishop of Rochester conducted the services of dirige and requiem mass. The Queen was prevented from attending by her impending confinement; but the King, and other senior peers and churchmen were all conspicuous by their absence, and one of the heralds present was shocked by the general modesty of the proceedings. His comment that ‘ther was nothyng doon solemply for her savyng a low herse suche as they use for the comyn people with iiij wooden candilstikks abowte hit’ and that there was ‘ther never a new torche, but old torches, nor poure man in blacke gowne nor hoods, but upon a dozeyn dyvers olde men holdyng old torches, and torches ends’ requires no elaboration, and it is unclear why the Dean of Windsor, who was present, played no part in the services himself. It is sometimes suggested that Elizabeth had requested a simple and inexpensive funeral out of a deep sense of piety and that was accordingly what she was given: but she would have been aware that a deceased’s estate normally bore these expenses, and that queenly obsequies were beyond her means. Elizabeth may have thought of piety in terms of poverty, although few great noblewomen would have chosen austerity or thought money and their faith incompatible. Margaret Beaufort, who was as pious as she was powerful, used her great wealth to found chantries and university colleges and to support numerous religious ‘good causes’, and when she died in June 1509 her total assets, in plate, jewels and rich materials still amounted to £14,724. Her elaborate funeral, which cost £1,021, was a far cry from Elizabeth’s impoverished burial when, it seems, Dorset paid the 40s in alms which was distributed after mass out of his own pocket. Requests for a modest funeral were a mark of humility, largely ignored by contemporaries who felt that the deceased should be buried in accordance with his or her rank in society, and it is difficult to believe that she who had once been Queen of England had insisted upon this dismal and unqueenly ending. Be that as it may, in the course of her life Elizabeth had mourned the deaths of all five of her brothers, all but one of her seven sisters, four of her five sons and two of her daughters, and she may have felt that there was little to detain her in this world when her own time came.

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Elizabeth died at Bermondsey on 8 June [1492]. On the tenth, the twenty-seventh anniversary of her coronation, her body was transported by boat to Windsor, accompanied by her friends Dr Brent and Prior Ingilby, the executors of her will. Also in attendance were two ‘gentlewomen’, one of whom was Grace, the illegitimate daughter of Edward IV. Only one priest and a clerk waited to receive the coffin. Two days later, Dorset, princesses Anne, Katherine and Bridget and Edmund de la Pole arrived to hear a funeral service conducted by the bishop of Rochester. A clerk who witnessed the ceremony left a concerned account.

There was nothing done solemnly for her saving a low hearse such as they use for the common people with wooden candlesticks about it … never a new torch, but old torches, nor poor men in black gowns nor hoods but upon a dozen old men holding torches and torches ends.’ 

It was not customary for the King to attend funerals, and the Queen was about to give birth, but neither were the senior magnates represented and the dean of Windsor, though in attendance, took no part in the service. No one even bothered to ring the bells for the Dowager Queen. – Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens