September 30 – Mary I’s coronation procession in London

On this day in Tudor history, Saturday 30th September 1553, Queen Mary I’s coronation procession took place in London.

Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, processed through the city streets from the Tower of London to Westminster.

The procession was a mile and a half long and must have been such a spectacle for the city’s citizens. There were also pageants, wine flowing in the conduits, streets hung with tapestries, and a new queen to see.

Let me share details of that day…


On this day in Tudor history, Saturday 30th September 1553, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Queen Mary I left the Tower of London to the sound of guns firing and church bells ringing. This was her coronation procession which would see her processing from the Tower to Westminster, where she would spend the night at Whitehall before her coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey the following day.

The procession leaving the Tower consisted of the Queen’s messengers, trumpeters, Esquires of the Body, the Knights of the Bath, heralds, bannerets, the council, the clergy, the Garter Knights, the nobility, foreign ambassadors, merchants, soldiers, Knights and then the Queen’s entourage. In Mary’s personal entourage were the Earl of Sussex, acting as Mary’s Chief Server; two knights with powdered heads and old-fashioned hats, representing the dukes of Normandy and Guienne; Stephen Gardiner and William Paulet carrying the seal and mace; the Lord Mayor of London carrying the gold sceptre; the Sergeant at Arms and the Earl of Arundel carrying the Queen’s sword, and Sir Edward Hastings leading her horse.

Then came Mary herself. Contemporary John Stow describes the queen that day, describing how she was “sitting in a chariot of cloth of tissue drawn by six horses, all trapped with the like cloth of tissue. She sat in a gown of purple velvet furred with powdered ermine, having on her head a caul of cloth of tinsel, beset with pearl and stone, and above the same upon her head, a round circlet of gold beset so richly with precious stones, that the value thereof was inestimable, the same caul and circlet being so masste and ponderous, that she was fain to bear up her head with her hand, and the canopy was borne over her chariot.”

Behind Mary, according to Stow, was “another chariot, having a covering all of cloth of silver all white, and six horses trapped with the like”. In this chariot was Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, and her former stepmother, Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife. After them, came ladies and gentlewomen “riding on horses trapped with red velvet, and their gowns and kirtles likewise of red velvet”, then more gentlewomen in crimson satin, and then royal henchmen robed in green and white, the Tudor colours. This mile and a half procession must have been quite an exciting spectacle for the people of London.

Ambassador Simon Renard recorded in a letter to Philip of Spain how “The streets were hung with tapestries and strewn with grass and flowers; and many triumphal arches were erected along her way.” The pageants and displays on Mary’s route from the Tower to Whitehall did include a triumphal arch decorated with verses praising her accession, created by the Genoese merchants; but there was also an image of Judith, the Israelite heroine, at Cornhill, created by the Florentines; conduits running with wine at Cornhill and Cheap, and the singing of verses in praise of the Queen at Cornhill and Cheap. At St Paul’s, the Queen was addressed by the Recorder of London and presented with a purse containing 1000 marks of gold by the Chamberlain. John Heywood, the playwright, delivered an oration in Latin and English at the school in St Paul’s Churchyard, and then at St Paul’s Gate choristers held burning perfumed tapers.

Finally, Mary I reached Whitehall, “where she took her leave of the lord mayor, giving him great thanks for his pains, and the City for their cost” and then she retired for the day to prepare herself for her coronation.

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One thought on “September 30 – Mary I’s coronation procession in London”
  1. I am glad poor Mary had this happy day!

    The Florentine’s choice of Judith as the person for the queen to emulate is interesting.

    I have often thought someone had a good business renting all the tapestries and decorations for this sort of occasion. The royal trappings probably came from somewhere like the Wardrobe, but I suspect the private decorations were rented, as tuxedos are nowadays rented for weddings.

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