Between 3 and 4pm on the afternoon of Sunday 7 September 1533 in the 25th year of King Henry VIII’s reign Queen Anne Boleyn was delivered of a ‘fair lady’ ie daughter at the King’s Manor at Greenwich. Even though Eustace Chapuys the Spanish Ambassador was soon writing to his master Charles V that the child was to be called Mary, she was in fact named Elizabeth, probably after both Grandmothers and her paternal Great Grandmother.
The formal announcement by the Queen had been prepared in advance of the birth and so confident were the parents, the royal physicians and the astrologers that the child would be a boy the word prince had to be amended with two ss before it could be released.
The christening of the new princess three days later was a majestic affair. It took place on Wednesday 10th of September and all the walls between the Palace of Plancentia and the Church of the Observant Friars itself were hung with arras. These were expensive tapestries of complex stitching which only royalty or the very wealthy could afford.
Baby Elizabeth was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk in a mantel of purple velvet, a material reserved by law for the King’s immediate family. This garment also had a huge train, which was carried by her Grandfather, the Earl of Wiltshire, the Countess of Kent and the Earl of Derby. Also in attendance were the two foremost nobles in the land; the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk. The Dukes were accompanied by the Mayor of London and 40 of the city’s chief citizens.
As befitting a Princess she made her away to her christening under a canopy which was borne over her by her Uncle, Lord Rochford, Lord Hussy, Lord William Howard, and Lord Thomas Howard. No risks were taken with the child’s health and there was even a specific private place with a pan fire where Elizabeth could be prepared for her Christening.
A fine cloth protected the raised silver font and as a further safety measure the gentlemen surrounding it had to wear aprons and towels around their necks to preserve the cleanliness of the water within. To confirm the baby’s status as Princess and Henry’s heir the font sat below a crimson satin canopy of estate which was fringed with gold. Another significant material used around the rail of the canopy was red say. Red say was used in Tudor times, often in bed curtains as a religious talisman to protect the health of those it surrounded.
The Bishop of London, together with other bishops and abbots were charged with actually performing the act of baptising the child. She had one Godfather in Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and two Godmothers in the Duchess of Norfolk and the Marchioness of Dorset.
As with any celebration gifts were given and the guests were served with hippocrats (wine), wafers and comfits. Once the refreshments had been taken in the cellar, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk thanked the Mayor and his companions on behalf of the King for their attendance and they departed back to the city.
Elizabeth’s procession back to her mother’s chambers was just as grand as her arrival. As the party made its way back the gifts that were given were carried at the front of the procession by Sir John Dudley, Lord Thomas Howard, Lord Fitzwater, and the Earl of Worcester. Her route was lined with the King’s guard and various members of the King’s household who were carrying over 500 torches either side of the infant Princess.
Once the formalities were over Elizabeth would return to her Mother’s apartments and into the female world of her Mother and her Mother’s ladies.
Anne would no doubt have been pleased to have her newly christened baby back beside her on the cushion she used for that purpose.