The Children of Westminster Abbey Part 7

They are separate chapels, narrower and smaller than the main one, but equally beautiful; with the same cobweb-like stone roof; the same cl.u.s.ters of pillars spreading out into fan traceries; and deep, embayed windows full of hundreds of diamond panes toned down by the grimy London air into a mellow amber color.


As we enter the north aisle we tread on a stone that bears the name of Addison. Famous men, poets, generals, statesmen, are all about us. But the great monument that stands in the centre of the chapel claims all our attention. Under a magnificent marble canopy, still and stern in death, lies the last of the Tudors--that splendid personage who, for more than fifty years, ruled over England and kept all Europe at bay; and who by word and deed encouraged those who laid the foundation of the great transatlantic England. Yes! there sleeps Queen Elizabeth--the old lioness. And in spite of vanities and weaknesses that we are apt nowadays to dwell on all too hardly, she was perhaps the greatest woman that England has ever seen. Her tomb, built by James the First, "of white marble and touchstone from the royal store at Whitehall," is not only a worthy memorial of her, but a token of the peace and goodwill that the great Abbey speaks of to all who will hear. For by her own desire, Elizabeth was buried in the same grave with her sister Mary, that sister whose very name seems only to bring to mind hatred and persecution, the stake and the Now she and Elizabeth are at peace. And on their monument James the First inscribed "two lines full of a far deeper feeling than we should naturally have ascribed to him":[48]

_Fellows in the kingdom, and in the tomb. Here we sleep; Mary and Elizabeth, the Sisters; in hope of the resurrection._

There is another effigy of Queen Elizabeth in the Abbey; and a very curious one it is. From the thirteenth century until the beginning of the eighteenth, it was the custom at royal funerals to carry a life-size, waxen image before the coffin, representing the dead in the clothes they wore. These effigies were left on the grave for about a month, and some of the Abbey officials gained their living by showing them to visitors. Most of the waxen figures have crumbled to dust. The writer believes that she was the last person to look at that of hapless Anne Boleyn. It had so fallen to pieces as to be a very hideous object, and it has since been locked up and shown to no one. But in an upper chamber over the Islip chapel, reached by a little dark stairway, eleven of these strange figures are still to be seen in wainscot cupboards with gla.s.s doors. Among them is Queen Elizabeth; not the original effigy--that was worn out in 1708, when a certain Tom Brown who wrote _A Walk through London and Westminster_, says that he saw the remains of it. This is a copy made in 1760; and we see the poor old queen, dressed in the long-waisted bodice and hooped skirt we know so well in pictures.

It is a piteous sight, however; for the effigy, battered and sorely the worse for wear, is leaning up against the side of the gla.s.s cupboard in a most undignified att.i.tude. One would rather think of her as she lies still and stately in the beautiful north aisle.

But we must linger no longer about Elizabeth's effigy or her tomb. We must pa.s.s on to the east end of the chapel, and there we shall find the monuments of her two little cousins.

On what used to be the altar step of the north aisle stands a baby's cradle--a cradle on real rockers. A gorgeous coverlet, all trimmed with rich guipure lace, falls from the corners of the cradle in splendid, rich folds. The arms of England, Scotland, and Ireland are carved on the back. And when you look under the head of the cradle you see that a baby lies sleeping in it. A darling tiny baby it is--its little wee face set in a close lace cap and lace ruff, under a kind of lace-trimmed hood that forms part of the pillow. You can almost fancy that if the cradle were set rocking the babe might open her eyes. But "baby and cradle, and all," are marble--marble, yellow with the dust and wear of nearly three hundred years.

"The Cradle Tomb" of Westminster, as it is called, has been far better described than by any words of mine. A card hangs close beside it, placed there by desire of Lady Augusta Stanley, on which is a poem "by an American lady." That lady is a well-known favorite of American readers; for she is none other than "Susan Coolidge." And the lovely verses--some of which I venture to transcribe--appeared in _Scribner's Monthly_ for 1875:

A little rudely sculptured bed, With shadowing folds of marble lace, And quilt of marble, primly spread, And folded round a baby face.

Smoothly the mimic coverlet, With royal blazonries bedight, Hangs, as by tender fingers set, And straightened for the last good-night.

And traced upon the pillowing stone A dent is seen, as if, to bless That quiet sleep, some grieving one Had leaned, and left a soft impress.

But dust upon the cradle lies, And those who prized the baby so, And decked her couch with heavy sighs, Were turned to dust long years ago.

The inscription on her cradle tells us that this dear baby,

Sophia, a royal rosebud, plucked by premature fate, and s.n.a.t.c.hed away from her parents--James, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, and Queen Anne--that she might flourish again in the rosary of Christ, was placed here on the twenty-third of June, in the fourth year of the reign of King James, 1606.

The little creature was born on the twenty-first of June at Greenwich--a favorite palace of the English sovereigns. Great preparations had been made for her christening, and for the tourneys which were to be held at the same time in honor of her grandfather the King of Denmark's visit.

But the baby only lived two days, and was hastily baptized "Sophia,"

after the Queen of Denmark. James the First gave orders that she should be buried "as cheaply as possible, without any solemnity or funeral."[49] Nevertheless he made a contract with Nicholas Poutrain, the royal sculptor, for her monument, the cost of which was not to exceed one hundred and forty pounds. And we find that her coffin was very solemnly conveyed up the river by barge, covered with black velvet, accompanied by three other barges covered with black cloth and bearing many n.o.bles, lords, ladies, and the officers-of-arms, to the Parliament stairs at Westminster. Thence the procession went to the south-east door of the Abbey, where it was met by the great lords of the Council, the Heralds, and chief officers of the court, the

Dean and Prebends with the choir; and so they pa.s.sed to King Henry the Seventh's chapel where there was an Antiphon sung with the organ; in the meantime the Body was interred in a Vault at the end of the Tomb then erecting for Queen Elizabeth.[50]

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE CRADLE TOMB.]

The chief mourner was that unhappy Lady Arabella Stuart, king James'

cousin, who, years after, ended her troubled life in the Tower, and was brought like little baby Sophia "by the dark river," and laid in the same grave as Mary, Queen of Scots, her kinswoman.

Upon the same altar step there is another monument to a little princess--Sophia's sister Mary. She was the third daughter of James the First: but the first princess of the new dynasty who was born in England, and the first royal child baptized in the Reformed Church. As "three quarters of a century had elapsed since a child was born to the Sovereign of England," great were the rejoicings on little Mary's birth upon the eighth of April, 1605. Bonfires were lighted, church bells were rung all day long, and there were scrambles for money in the streets.

There is a curious account of the clothes provided for this first princess of Great Britain, which shows us how royal babies were dressed then. She had

a carnation velvet cradle, fringed with silver fringe, and lined with carnation satin; a double scarlet cloth to lay upon the cradle in the night; a cradle cloth of carnation velvet with a train, laid with silver, and lined with taffety to lay upon the cradle; two small mantles of unshorn velvet, lined with the same velvet; one large bearing cloth of carnation velvet, to be used when the child is brought forth of the chamber, lined with taffety; one great head sheet of cambric for the cradle, containing two breadths, and three yards long, wrought all over with gold and colored silks, and fringed with gold; six large handkerchiefs of fine cambric, whereof one to be edged with fair cut work, to lay over the child's face; six veils of lawn, edged with fair bone lace, to pin with the mantles; six gathered bibs of fine lawn with ruffles edged with bone lace; two bibs to wear under them, wrought with gold and colored silks, etc.[51]

The total value of these fineries and of all the lace and cambric required for the baby's trousseau was estimated at three hundred pounds.

Her christening upon the fifth of May, was conducted on the most gorgeous scale that had ever been seen in England. Many peers were raised to higher rank, and numbers of knights were created barons in honor of the occasion. The chapel at Greenwich palace was hung with green velvet and cloth of gold. "A very rich and stately font of silver and gilt, most curiously wrought with figures of beasts, serpents, and other antique works,"[52] stood under a canopy of cloth of gold twelve feet square. The child was carried from the queen's lodgings by the countess of Derby, under a canopy borne by eight barons. Dukes and bishops, earls and barons went before the Earl of Northumberland, who bore a gilt basin; and the Countess of Worcester came after him, "bearing a cushen covered with Lawne, which had thereon many jewels of inestimable price."[53] The Lady Derby's train was borne by the greatest countesses in the land; and the baby's "train of the mantle of purple velvet, embroidered round about with gold, and furred with ermines,"[54]

was borne by n.o.blemen. The Archbishop of Canterbury christened the little princess. Her G.o.dparents were the Duke of Holstein, brother to the queen, the Lady Arabella Stuart, and the Countess of Northumberland.

And when the christening was over, "the heralds put on their coats, the trumpets sounded."

King at arms, "making low reverence unto the King's Majesty,"[55]

proclaimed the little girl's name aloud in the chapel.

Times have happily changed since those days. Contrast all this fuss and cold formality with a simple christening that took place only a week ago in England. A little royal duke, in whose veins the blood of the Stuarts still flows, was brought to the font of the quiet village church of Esher in Surrey. Very peaceful and unpretentious was the baby Duke of Albany's christening--poor little fatherless boy. But there were none present who did not truly love and honor the widowed grandmother who held him in her arms and the young widowed mother who stood by, or mourn for the accomplished, studious father, who died but a few months ago.

Which is likely to have the happiest childhood--the little Guelph wrapped in the pure white Honiton-lace robe in which all the children and grandchildren of Queen Victoria have been christened; or the little Stuart in her purple velvet train, among the cloth-of-gold, and heralds, and grandees of James the First's heartless, luxurious, extravagant court?

Babies were differently treated in those days. Now, be they children of a queen, or of the humblest commoner, they stay safe at home in their nice, warm nurseries, under their mother's eye. But the royal children of that date were sent off to be cared for "by trusty persons of quality." Little Princess Mary was given into the charge of Lady Knyvett. And on the first of June, when she was not two months old, she was taken down to Stanwell where Sir Thomas Knyvett lived.

He was allowed twenty pounds per week for the diet of the princess and of her suite, consisting of six rockers, and several inferior attendants; but the king took upon himself the payment of their wages, the expenses of her removals from house to house, of her apparel, coach and horses, etc.[56]


Lady Knyvett took the greatest care of her little charge. But children were badly understood in those times. Badly nursed, and fed, and clothed, two thirds of the babies that were born in England died. It was only the very strong ones who could survive their bringing-up. Think only of that stuffy cradle of "carnation velvet," and the "mantles of unshorn velvet," and the bibs "wrought with gold and colored silks."

Hot, uncomfortable, unhealthy things--one shudders to think of a little tender baby in such garments. Then think of the utter ignorance of most of the physicians of those days; and of the appalling disregard of ventilation, baths, and proper food. What wonder, then, that little Princess Mary did not live long. When she was scarcely more than two years old she caught a violent cold, which settled on her lungs with burning fever. The queen came constantly to see her little girl. But no tenderness or skill availed; and after a month's illness the little creature sank on the sixth of September, 1607. For fourteen hours

there was no sound of any word heard breaking from her lips; yet when it sensibly appeared that she would soon make a peaceable end of a troublesome life, she sighed out these words, "I go, I go!"[57]

And again when some stimulant was given her she looked up and said, "Away, I go." And yet once more she repeated faintly "I go;" and so went home.

Thus another "royal rosebud" was laid beside the baby Sophia at Queen Elizabeth's feet.

On her monument Princess Mary is represented lying on her side, half-raised on one elbow which rests upon an embroidered pillow, with one chubby little hand uplifted and clenched. She wears a straight-waisted bodice which looks as stiff as armor; an immensely full skirt that stands out all round her waist; a close lace cap; and a great square collar--the first representation in the Abbey, as far as I recollect, of those square collars that were soon to take the place of the beautiful Elizabethan ruff. At the corners of her tomb sit four fat weeping cherubs, one of whom has his hands raised in a perfect agony of grief. And a nice fierce little lion lies at the child's feet, looking very alert, and on the watch to guard his young mistress from harm.

It is a beautiful place to rest in--this quiet chapel, with its walls all covered with traceries, and great stone bosses suspended aloft in the blue mist of the roof. Over the stalls in the central chapel hang the old banners of the Knights of the Bath with famous names written upon them in letters of gold--names of warriors, explorers, statesmen, lawyers, men of science. Glints of deep red, blue and amber from

Storied windows richly dight,

flash through the dusky air. And above the tombs of the two young princesses is the urn containing the bones of Edward the Fifth and Richard Duke of York; making this chapel, as Dean Stanley aptly says, "The Innocents' Corner."


[48] Memorials of Westminster Abbey. p. 181.

[49] Fuller's Worthies.

[50] Sandford. Kings and Queens of England. Book VII. p. 577.

[51] "Princesses of England." M. A. E. Green. Vol. VI. p. 91.

[52] Nichols. Vol. I. p. 572.

[53] Stow's Chronicle, p. 862.

[54] Green's Princesses, p. 92.

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