The 15th January 1559 was selected as the most propitious day for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I. Everything was carried out according to tradition, including the customary residence of the queen at the Tower of London in the preceding days, and the procession from the Tower to Westminster the day prior to the coronation itself. Preparations for the procession, scheduled to take place on 14th January 1559, began immediately after Christmas, with the construction of scaffolding, and the painting and refurbishment of the public conduits. On 12th January, the festivities began with the queen sailing down the Thames from Westminster to the Tower. Her royal barge was accompanied by that of the Lord Mayor and his Alderman and those of the leading citizens and guild members, emblazoned with the guild badges and banners. That year, the Lord Mayor was a member of the Mercers’ guild, so the Mercers’ barge was equipped with artillery to fire salutes, as well as a company of musicians who ‘played in most sweet and heavenly manner’.
The Queen disembarked not long after two o’clock and entered the Tower precincts, with the famous words ‘Some people have fallen from being Princes of this land, to be prisoners in this place. I am raised from a prisoner in this place to be a Prince of this land. That dejection was a work of God’s justice; this advancement is a work of his mercy. As they were to yield patience for the one, so I must bear myself to God thankful and to men merciful, for the other.’
Early on the 14th January, the Queen left the Tower in a chariot, accompanied by her retinue of lords and ladies of the court, all robed in crimson velvet. She was preceded by the trumpeters and the royal heralds, bearing the royal arms and symbols on their tabards. The procession passed slowly through the City, stopping at regular intervals to watch the tableaux, which had all been prepared collectively by the City authorities. This was unusual, as in most previous processions, the individual guilds and the companies of foreign merchants, such as the Hanseatic League, had taken responsibility for pageants. On this occasion, the City wanted a unified theme, to express their views on how Elizabeth should govern.
As she passed, the cheering crowds called out ‘God save Your Grace’, to which Elizabeth repeatedly responded, ‘God save you all’. The procession was slowed down by citizens offering flowers or requesting her to listen to petitions. She took the bouquets and listened carefully to requests. On reaching Fenchurch Street, the Queen stopped the procession again to listen to the first tableau, which was performed by a young boy, standing on a scaffold, declaiming verses in her honour. The oration was printed in both English and Latin, and displayed for all to see.
The second scene was at the end of Gracechurch Street, at the sign of the Eagle. and comprised a triumphal arch, under which was a tiered stage. At the foot, two people were sitting, hand in hand, dressed as the Queen’s grandparents, Henry VII of the House of Lancaster, and Elizabeth, representing the House of York. They were shown crowned, under a cloth of state. Leading away from each was a branch of roses, symbolising their royal houses, his red, hers white. The branches entwined to form a platform for the next couple, Elizabeth’s parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The topmost platform had a throne, with a single actor, representing Elizabeth herself, crowned and holding a sceptre. Banners with verses proclaiming unity, and red and white roses surrounded the whole. Again, the Queen quieted the crowd to hear another child explain the meaning of the tableau and recite more verses in her honour.
The next pageant was at Cornhill, and showed the Queen in the ‘Seat of Worthy Governance’, supported by four virtues – Pure Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice – which were trampling opposing vices under foot: Superstition and Ignorance, Rebellion and Insolence, Folly and Vainglory, and, finally, Adulation and Bribery. After listening to the accompanying verses and explanation of the pageant, the Queen thanked the City, and promised to promote the virtues and suppress the vices.
At the corner of Soper Lane, another stage was populated by eight children, each representing one of the virtues referred to in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5; that is, purity of heart, meekness, mercy and so forth, all of which the children’s verses proclaimed were present in the Queen.
After this, the procession reached the Little Conduit in Cheapside where the Aldermen were gathered. A speech was made by the Recorder of the City, Ranulph Cholmley, and a crimson satin purse, embroidered in gold and holding one thousand marks in gold, was presented to Elizabeth. She thanked the City dignitaries graciously.
‘I thank my Lord Mayor and his brethren, and you all. And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever queen was to her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall lack any power. And persuade yourselves, that for the safety and quietness of you all, I will not spare, if need be, to spend my blood. God thank you all.’
To emphasise the desire for good government, the next tableau showed two artificial hills with opposing landscape scenes, one showing a ‘Decayed Commonwealth’, with barren fields and withered trees, the other, ‘fair, fresh and beautiful’, representing a ‘Flourishing Commonwealth’. Between the hills was a cave, out of which emerged an old man with wings and a scythe, representing Time, who led forward his white-clad daughter, Truth. Truth, using a cord of lace, lowered the Queen a copy of an English bible. Elizabeth kissed the book, then held it up to the crowd, before pressing it to her heart with the declaration that she would often read it.
Passing on, the procession arrived at St Paul’s churchyard, where further Latin orations were recited by another boy, who then handed her the verses, which she graciously accepted, before moving along Fleet Street to the final tableau, which consisted of a huge platform, with tiers, and a tree decorated to resemble a date-palm. On the highest tier, sat an actor in Parliament robes, representing Deborah, one of the four Israelite judges in the Book of Judges. Below Deborah were six others representing the commonwealth – two nobles, two clergy, and two commons, and a banner reading ‘Deborah, with her estates, consulting for the good government of Israel’. This was intended to encourage the Queen to consult widely with her people, rather than rule tyrannically.
The procession continued along Fleet street, past the church of St Dunstan’s, which was a hospital for orphans. One of their number made a speech, reminding the Queen that the hospital had been patronised by her father, Henry VIII, and her brother, Edward VI, and hoping she would continue to support it. The Queen affirmed that she would.
The final flourish was at Temple Bar, which was flanked by two giants - Gotmagot the Albion and Corineus the Briton. Between them, they supported a scroll of verses, summarising the theme of the whole sequence of pageants: Elizabeth was born of unity, she was placed on the throne to promote virtue over vice, for which she would receive the blessings of heaven. As queen, she must do everything in her power to promote the flourishing of the land, which, having received the truth, in the form of the English bible, she could not fail to do.
When the final oration had been declaimed, Elizabeth announced ‘Be well assured, I will stand your good Queen.’ She then departed the City of London through Temple Bar, and made her way to Westminster, to the joyful acclaim of the crowds lining the Strand.