24 September 1486 – The Christening of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales

Winchester CathedralOn 24th September 1486, four days after his birth, Arthur, Prince of Wales and son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, was christened at a lavish ceremony at Winchester Cathedral.

During Elizabeth of York’s pregnancy, Arthur’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, had written a set of ordinances for the birth of a prince or princess and the subsequent christening. The ordinances set out in detail the preparations to be made for the Queen’s confinement, down to minuscule details, how the church should be “arrayed” for the Christening service and what the child would need in his/her nursery. Her ordnances, which still survive today, give us an insight into Arthur’s christening.

Margaret Beaufort’s Instructions for the Christening of a Prince or Princess

According to Margaret, the church was to be hanged with rich arras or cloth of gold “in the best manner” and the altar to be arrayed in the same manner. The chancel was to be well carpeted throughout and large and long carpets were to be laid at the church door. The porch was to be hanged and sealed with rich cloth of gold or arras.

On one side of the church, leading up to the font, Margaret says “must be hanged a Traves”, which I think must be a gallery or deck (traverse?), furnished with carpets and cushions. There was to be a pan of coals burned before the service to perfume the church, and chafrons of water and basins of silver and gilt to wash the child if needs be. Margaret gave instructions for the font of silver from Canterbury to be sent for in advance or, if that was not possible, a new font to be made for the purpose and kept for future use. If the king wished, then a font of stone could be used instead. Whatever the font was made of, it was to be covered all over the bottom with soft “raines”, cloth of raynes*, in diverse folds and set at a great height so that the people in the church could see the christening. It was also to be hanged with cloth of gold and over it a great and large canopy of damask, satin or raynes, the border being cloth of gold, well-embroidered.

The infant was to be given a little taper to carry in his hands up to the altar after his christening, I assume with help!

At the service, the infant was to be carried by a duchess and another duchess was to bear the chrisom, the christening cloth, on her shoulder on top of a kerchief of small raynes. If the infant was a prince, as in the case of Arthur, an earl was to bear the train of the mantel, which was to be rich cloth of gold with a long train, furred throughout with ermine. If the infant was a princess then a countess was to the bear the train.

Two hundred torches were to be carried into the church before the infant, of which twenty-four were to be carried around the child by esquires. The christening party was then to gather at the font in order. The Sergeant of the King or Queen’s pantry was to be ready with a fair towel of “reynes” about his neck and a salt-cellar in his hand ready for the salt to be blessed. The Treasurer of the Household was to go before him and present the salt for blessing.

The sergeant of the ewery was to be ready in the church with basins, both covered and uncovered, for the bishops to wash in. The Sergeant of the Spicery and the Butler were to be ready with spice and wine for the christening party.
The prince or princess was to be received at the church porch by the bishop and when the solemnities were over a canopy was to be carried over the child by four knights or esquires as they processed to the traverse. There, fire and water were to be prepared so that the child could be changed and readied for christening. While this was going on, the font was to be hallowed by the Abbot of Westminster or someone in his stead before the child was brought forth.

After the christening, the torches and the infant’s taper were to be lit and the infant taken to the altar to make an offering of money and to be confirmed. The infant was then to be taken back to the traverse where spices and wine would be enjoyed. The infant and gifts would then be taken to the Queen’s chamber door. If the infant was a princess, the gifts would be carried to the Queen by the ladies, and if the infant was a prince then the gifts would be carried by the earls. The infant was to be processed to the Queen’s chamber with lit torches and a canopy carried over it. Once the gifts had been presented and the infant brought back from the church, the little prince or princess was to be carried to the nursery to be fed by the wet-nurse with the Lady Governess of the Nursery and a dry nurse in attendance.

Notes and Sources

  • *Cloth of raynes, or cloth of Rennes, was “a fine, plain weave, linen fabric produced during the Middle Ages. Originally made in France, in Rennes, Brittany, it derives its name from that town.”. It tended to be used for bedding and shirts – The Fairchild Books Dictionary of Textiles by Phyllis G. Tortora and Ingrid Johnson, Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Beaufort, Margaret, Ordinances by Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, as to what Preparation is to be made against the Deliverance of a Queen, as also for the Christening of the Child which she shall be delivered. These can be read in Joannis Lelandi antiquarii De rebus Britannicis collectanea at https://archive.org/stream/joannislelandia01heargoog#page/n238/mode/2up, p. 179-184.
  • Image – © Copyright Pam Brophy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence, http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/188467

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2 thoughts on “24 September 1486 – The Christening of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales”
  1. Claire,

    Re: Prince Arthur

    I just wanted to know we’re elaborate christenings the normal practice in Their times, or was it used by all royalty during the medieval days?

  2. Is there any way to access the entire Book of the Royal Household? I gleaned the book linked and I did see the part you’re referring to in this article, but I did not find any other excerpts. Could you direct me in the right direction?

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