Margins: Tudor weddings, Tudor funerals

July 5, 2012

I’m currently enjoying Thomas Penn’s Winter King, a history of Henry VII’s reign and the founding of the Tudor dynasty; a time of almost constant plotting and counter espionage.

I remember studying the era at A-level, but only wish I’d had a gripping narrative account such as this to bring the events to life: apart from vague familiarity with some of the names (Perkin Warbeck, anyone?) almost all of it feels entirely new to me.

Particularly vivid is Penn’s recreation – much from primary sources – of the wedding of Henry’s son Arthur to the pre-Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. Catherine processes from the Thames past incredible pageants, with costumed actors and vast mechanical models depicting mythical or astrological scenes chosen to illuminate the marriage as destiny fulfilled.

It’s impossible, in short, not to read without thinking of last year’s similarly bombastic royal wedding. The parallels abound. Here is renowned statesman and philosopher Thomas More, unable to contain his adoration for the bride-to-be, just as correspondents throughout the world swoon over Duchess Kate:

Take my word for it, she thrilled the hearts of everyone; she possesses all those qualities that make for beauty in a very charming young girl. Everywhere she receives the highest of praises, but even that is inadequate.

To complete the picture – eerily similar despite the centuries elapsed – More gives an acidly derogatory verdict on the rest of the bridal party: Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting look like ‘refugees from hell’.

I wonder, however, whether when the sad day comes when our current Queen departs this sceptred isle for good, her funeral procession will be able to hold a candle to that of her early 16th Century predecessor, Henry’s wife:

At Fenchurch Street and the top of Cheapside stood groups of thirty-seven virgins, one for each year of the late queen’s life, dressed in white, holding lighted tapers.

I mean after all trends in life expectancy, along with changing sexual norms would surely make this a pretty tricky act to follow.

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