Research is getting underway on the Queen’s visit to Cambridge – not the one this May, which involved a guided bus ride and a visit to Addenbrooke’s, but the visit of Queen Elizabeth I in August 1564.
This image shows Elizabeth’s coronation procession, not her trip to Cambridge, but it gives a sense of the pomp surrounding a royal visit. Cambridge scholars and townspeople were ordered to line the streets, shouting “Vivat Regina” and kneeling before her.
The “canapie” over her litter is particularly relevant to her later visit to Cambridge. Elizabeth’s grandfather, King Henry VII, left a richly embroidered hearse cloth in the church of Great St Mary’s to be used in the memorial mass for his soul which was celebrated each year. This cloth is unusual, as it survives (it is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum) while most richly ornamented church furnishings were lost in the Reformation. One theory is that the hearse cloth was reused as a canopy for Henry’s granddaughter in 1564, thanks to its Tudor rose embroidery, and that this royal association is what kept it safe.
Great St Mary’s didn’t have a great start to the royal visit – the churchwardens were fined for failing to ring the bells when the Queen arrived! But there seem to have been no hard feelings, as Elizabeth came to the church on 7 August to hear a debate over whether “monarchy is the best condition for the body politic”.
Next year is the 450th anniversary of Elizabeth’s visit, so we will be planning some exciting Elizabethan events over the summer – watch this space!
Great St Mary’s houses many memorials, but one of the most poignant is Anne Scot’s. After giving birth to nine children, she died in childbirth on 10 November 1617, leaving four surviving children: John, Anne, Millicent and Elizabeth.
UNDER THIS MARBLE STONE A MATRON LYES
WHO TO GIVE LYFE HER OWN DID SACRIFICE.
THE HAPPY WOMB THAT GAVE SO MANY BREATH
BECAME HER INFANT’S TOMB, HER INFANT’S DEATH
AND BEING DEAD WHAT HOPE OF LYFE IN HER
IN WHOME WAS DEATH IN WHOME A SEPULCHER[?]
FAREWELL SWEET BABE FAREWELL THY MOTHER TO[O]
HAPPY Y [the] SOULES THAT WEND Y SHADES WITH YOU
Great St Mary’s gained an elaborate new set of stained glass windows in 1519 but, by the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, the glass had all been destroyed in the Reformation rejection of painted glass as Popish superstition. Thankfully the stained glass at King’s College Chapel, just across the road from Great St Mary’s, survived intact.
It’s interesting to read about post-Reformation debates about the reintroduction of glass, in this article from Vidimus magazine.
George Herbert (1593–1633), a Cambridge scholar who became the rector of Fugglestone and Bemberton in Wiltshire in 1630, wrote devotional works comparing preaching to stained glass:
Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.
Margaret Beaufort’s own Book of Hours is housed in the Old Library at St John’s College – you can read more about it and view the first page in this short article by YiWen Hon. Aside from the beautiful illustrations, including a lovely historiated initial showing John the Evangelist seemingly taking dictation from his eagle, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is Margaret’s inscription. When she gave it to her friend, Lady Anne Shirley, she signed herself “modyr to the kynge”:
my good lady Shyrley pray for
me that gevythe yow thys booke
y hertely pray yow | Margaret |
modyr to the kynge.
While looking for the boar on the coat of arms of the de Vere family in the south gallery, I went up the wrong flight of stairs and ended up in the GSM tower. Having got half way up, I carried on to the top for a peek out over the market square.
The 123 steps definitely gave me an appetite for lunch! And it seems that graffiti is nothing new…
The tower offers amazing views over Cambridge, and is still open for visitors most days, despite the current building work.
“In 1638 Messrs. Buck and Daniel, the university printers, having printed a complete Bible, posted a notice on the door of Great St Mary’s church challenging scholars to find any mistake in it, and offering a free copy to anyone who would do so. Printers’ mistakes had been too frequent in those days. Thus the so-called Wicked Bible, omitting the negative, had printed: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery'”
– W.D. Bushell, The Church of St Mary the Great, 1948, p. 69