10 September 1533 – Elizabeth I’s Christening at the Church of Observant Friars, Greenwich

Baptismal FontOn Wednesday 10th September 1533, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was christened at the Church of Observant Friars in Greenwich.

The future Queen Elizabeth I was just three days old, having been born on the 7th September, when she was processed along a carpet of green rushes from the Great Hall at Greenwich Palace to the church.

Letters and Papers contains a record of Elizabeth’s christening:

“The mayor, Sir Stephen Pecock, with his brethren and 40 of the chief citizens, were ordered to be at the christening on the Wednesday following; on which day the mayor and council, in scarlet, with their collars, rowed to Greenwich, and the citizens went in another barge.

All the walls between the King’s place and the Friars were hanged with arras, and the way strewed with rushes. The Friars’ church was also hanged with arras. The font, of silver, stood in the midst of the church three steps high, covered with a fine cloth, and surrounded by gentlewomen with aprons and towels about their necks, that no filth should come into it. Over it hung a crimson satin canopy fringed with gold, and round it was a rail covered with red say.

Between the choir and the body of the church was a close place with a pan of fire, to make the child ready in. When the child was brought to the hall, every man set forward. The citizens of London, two and two ; then gentlemen, squires, and chaplains, the aldermen, the mayor alone, the King’s council, his chapel, in copes ; barons, bishops, earls ; the earl of Essex bearing the covered gilt basons ; the marquis of Exeter with a taper of virgin wax. The marquis of Dorset bare the salt. The lady Mary of Norfolk bare the chrisom, of pearl and stone. The officers of arms. The old duchess of Norfolk bare the child in a mantle of purple velvet, with a long train held by the earl of Wiltshire, the countess of Kent, and the earl of Derby. The dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk were on each side of the Duchess. A canopy was borne over the child by lord Rochford, lord Hussy, lord William Howard, and lord Thomas Howard the elder. Then ladies and gentlewomen.

The bishop of London and other bishops and abbots met the child at the church door, and christened it. The archbishop of Canterbury was godfather, and the old duchess of Norfolk and the old marchioness of Dorset godmothers. This done, Garter, with a loud voice, bid God send her long life. The archbishop of Canterbury then confirmed her, the marchioness of Exeter being godmother. Then the trumpets blew, and the gifts were given ; after which wafers, comfits, and hypocras were brought in. In going out the gifts were borne before the child, to the Queen’s chamber, by Sir John Dudley, lord Thos. Howard, the younger, lord Fitzwater, and the earl of Worcester. One side was full of the Guard and King’s servants holding 500 staff torches, and many other torches were borne beside the child by gentlemen. The mayor and aldermen were thanked in the King’s name by the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, and after drinking in the cellar went to their barge.”

In his Chronicle, Charles Wriothesley writes that “and the morrowe after their was fiers[bonfires] made in London, and at everie fire a vessell of wyne[wine] for people to drinke for the said solempnitie.” Elizabeth may not have been the son Henry VIII had hoped for, but her birth had shown that his new wife was fertile and could carry a healthy baby to term, so there was hope for the future.

Notes and Sources

  • L&P vi. 1111
  • Wriothesley, Charles. A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, p23

Related Post

12 thoughts on “10 September 1533 – Elizabeth I’s Christening at the Church of Observant Friars, Greenwich”
  1. Beautiful article about a beautifu; ceremony! Do you think that Cromwell was asking how much it cost? If Henry had have been disappointed at Elizabeth not being a girl then he had certainly gotten over it and her baptism was a fantastic affair not a small one. It sounds almost like he had the same baptism that he would had she been a Prince. Only the tornament was cancelled.

  2. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  3. I suspect that Henry’s “disappointment” over the birth of Elizabeth has been somewhat exaggerated over the years by people with knowledge of events that happened many years after her birth. However, I think that it is not unreasonable to think that, at the time of her birth, Henry was not too disappointed at all. Yes, he had other celebrations planned that were cancelled because Elizabeth was a girl and not a boy. That was not unusual for the time period though, and the same thing had happened when Mary I was born years before.
    Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon for 6 years before Mary was born. 6 years married without any healthy children born that lived past the two month mark. On the other hand, most historians believe that Anne Boleyn conceived very soon after her and Henry began sharing a bed, and it seems to me that Henry must have been delighted with his healthy daughter. He surely expected sons to follow, but at the time he had no reason to believe that he would not be married to Anne for 50 years with a dozen children. Terrible how things worked out.
    On another note, the Spanish ambassador had written about her christening: “The water was hot, but not hot enough”. Amusing, considering that 26 years later the King of Spain proposed to Elizabeth, and she could have been the Queen of Spain. She may have been the mother of a King of Spain too, had the marriage born fruit. The ambassador certainly caused a lot of trouble in the 1530’s, beyond what was expected of him.

  4. As said at least it showed Anne could bear healthy children so both parents must have been certain that one day she would have a son, such high hopes for the future and how tragic that it wasn’t to be.

    1. Yes, it says in the primary source account above “The archbishop of Canterbury was godfather, and the old duchess of Norfolk and the old marchioness of Dorset godmothers”, so Thomas Cranmer was her godfather, and her godmothers were Agnes Howard (nee Tylney), Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and Margaret Grey (nee Wotton), Marchioness of Dorset.

  5. Interestingly enough, the Imperial ambassador mentioned that shortly before the christening, there were plans to name Elizabeth ‘Mary’ – as a slight to her older sister, to show that it was now the King’s younger daughter who was the legitimate one. But the idea, the envoy said, was abandoned.

    So Elizabeth I could have been ‘Mary II’!

    1. Yes, I wrote about that in my post about Elizabeth’s birth. I haven’t seen it mentioned in any other sources so I wonder where Chapuys heard that.

  6. Anne was an unusually attentive mother for a Queen, insisting that Baby Elizabeth on a cushion next to her while she gave an audience, even when an Ambassador came. She played with her little daughter and she wanted to breast feed her but the King forbade it as a Queen didn’t do that, especially not for a girl. Breastfeeding of course would also have delayed another conception, something Henry would not wish as time marched on and sons were required post haste. Anne and Henry visited Elizabeth in her own establishment as often as possible on progress or sent for her for special occasions. After Katherine died Elizabeth was paraded about the Court and taken in procession to Mass. Mary was sent to attend Elizabeth at her separate household, sent in order to bring her to heal and to force her to obey her father, but Mary refused to wait on her infant replacement and refused to accept Anne as Queen. However, as time passed Mary grew fond of little Elizabeth, playing with her and caring for her as a sister, not as a servant. Mary sang to Elizabeth and during the next fourteen years the sisters had a good relationship. Mary still refused to accept Anne but after her execution, Henry via Thomas Cromwell and via various commissions made his daughter accept his will, that the marriage to her mother was not lawful and that she was illegitimate. Henry was reconciled to his oldest daughter and his younger daughter, Elizabeth enjoyed a more fruitful relationship with her father. During the last nine years of Henry’s life both Elizabeth and Mary thrived, received the best education from renowned scholars, translated theological works for three step mothers, were integrated fully into Court life and found a father. Both were legally restored to the succession and both spent much time at Court. Mary was the only child Henry would have a relationship with as an adult.

    Letters attest to a deep affection between Elizabeth and her father and Henry was proud of her achievements. A letter translated from Italian gives a false reading of the events of her life in 1544 because she writes to Queen Katherine Parr that she desires her favour and it is too long since she was in her presence. We are led to believe that Elizabeth has been exiled from Court, but the sources tell us she was with her stepmother only a few days earlier and was with her later that month. Her father was away in France and Katherine has been left as Regent and all three of Henry’s children are at Greenwich. The letter is merely to practice her Italian but also Elizabeth is showing how much affection she has for Katherine Parr. Separated from her for even a short time appears to be traumatic for Elizabeth, maybe because she lost her own beloved mother in such violent circumstances when only three years old and now her father has gone to war and Elizabeth may lose him too.

    While Henry Viii may never win father of the year awards and there are times his qualities as a father are questionable and harsh, enough evidence exists to show that when he wanted to be, he really was a good family man. He was genuinely overcome with emotion when he met Mary again for the first time in four years and he declared his affection and that she was precious to him before the Court. Henry may have been caught emotionally between anger when Mary refused to submit to him and he saw her as a disobedient child and wanting to see her and treat her as a good daughter, his pearl again. To modern eyes Henry is cruel in his dismissal of Mary until she accepted his laws and his Supremacy and that he was not legally married to her mother. Anne is partly blamed for her mistreatment and afterwards Mary is threatened by his gentlemen until she does accept because her life may be in danger. Henry is not entirely insensitive during this time and he does respond with medical care if she needs it, with money for her needs, with the odd show of affection and even removed her from Elizabeth’s household. He did the latter for security and he kept her away from her mother during these years. However, from his point of view, all Mary has to do is accept his new laws and that her parents marriage was not valid and she will have the world as she did before. Mary is an angry young woman as Henry sees it, who won’t accept her stepmother. How could she? Her mother is the rightful Queen and Anne her father’s concubine. How can she say she is not the heir to the throne? She was until recently. Now a baby has usurped her legal position. Mary thinks her father doesn’t get it and he is being influenced by evil counsel. She can’t believe her beloved father is behind her poor treatment. When she sees he really has sanctioned everything it comes as a shock. Mary is afraid, upset, she has trouble breathing, she is ill with anxiety and despair. Eustace Chapuys who has been a surrogate father to her these last four years persuaded Mary to sign because he is afraid for her. When she did her relationship with Henry was instantly transformed. Yet there is something about Henry that tells me he deeply regretted being estranged from his beloved oldest daughter for so long and he was deeply relieved once it was over.

    Anne gives us one last glimpse into her love for her daughter and her concern as a mother in her final days. She asked her chaplain to care for her daughter or to keep an eye on her. She took Elizabeth with her in her arms to beg Henry to see she is innocent and to not give up on their marriage. She commended her daughter to the people she knew might protect Elizabeth as best they could, knowing Henry would control what became of her daughter. She tried to make certain someone watched over her daughter as a last act of love. Anne was pulled from her little daughter in her formative years and never got the chance to raise and educate her. She was denied an input into her possible marriage, denied seeing her grow and she was denied what we know, seeing how talented a woman and ruler Elizabeth would become. Anne may or may not have had more children, we don’t know, a son would mean Elizabeth may not be Queen, but even so she would have been a Queen Consort and probably had a leading role in forming a political and powerful Dynasty of her own. Anne was denied the basic right of every mother, seeing her child grow up. How would she have influenced her, I wonder. Katherine of Aragon made Mary strong and defiant and gave her a powerful sense of her own self and her birth right. She made her well educated and a fighter, devout and perfectly able to hold her own against all the odds. She made her musical and a good dancer and she made her gracious and prepared her to rule. Elizabeth from Anne surely would have learned self reliance, the love of life, music and dance, to appreciate everything French, to seize the day and a love of scripture. Maybe Henry saw this and he ensured she learned these things anyway as Elizabeth had a number of her mother’s qualities, good and bad as a ruler. Seeing her mother lose her head, however, and her later realities with her father’s marital adventures and some alleged poor example from Tom Seymour are blamed for her decision not to marry, making Elizabeth rely on none but herself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *