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 Coronation Procession of Elizabeth I by an Unknown Artist, 1559. (College of Arms, London)
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!