It was party time in England’s capital in the days leading up to 1 October 1553. A huge crowd of people, many of whom were likely to be feeling the effects of those previous few days, gathered to try and catch a glimpse of their new queen. 37-year-old Mary was the first woman to ascend to the throne of England to rule in her own right and the significance of this was not lost on many of those present.
Mary’s coronation procession arrived at Westminster Abbey at about eleven in the morning and the new monarch walked gracefully beneath a canopy held aloft by the barons of the Cinque Ports as was tradition and one which was identical to the one her father, Henry VIII observed when he was crowned in 1509. Her chief magistrates carried her symbols of office, the orb, the crown and the sceptre. However, in Mary’s case, during the coronation, she would hold two sceptres. One was the symbol of the king and the other with a dove on the top, the symbol of the queen consort. The holding of both sceptres by the new monarch symbolised the fact that she would be reigning as a woman over the whole of England in her own right, not as her mother Catherine of Aragon had done, as queen consort at the side of Henry.
The words spoken to start the ceremony began, “Sirs. Here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man to the crown and royal dignity of this realm of England, France and Ireland.” They were spoken, not by the Archbishop of Canterbury as was tradition, but by the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner. This was because Gardiner was an ally of Mary’s and was to be trusted, whereas the Archbishop of Canterbury was Thomas Cranmer, a sworn enemy of Mary’s and who was currently residing in the Tower of London, accused of treason. Following the words spoken by Gardiner, the crowd all cried out as one, “God save Queen Mary!”.
It was clear to Mary, that she was not in the strongest of positions. The country had been in the middle of a transition under her father, rejecting the Catholic faith in favour of Protestantism, but here she was the new queen of England and a Catholic one at that. Every symbol of the coronation had to be scrutinised to ensure it did not send out the wrong message, even down to the holy oils with which she was to be anointed. Special, ‘untainted’ oils were commissioned by Mary from the Bishop of Arras in Brussels, who in supplying three sets of oils, apologised for the plain vessels he had to send them in, given that the three weeks notice he had been given, was not enough to have special vessels made for the occasion.
The day of the coronation went off without a hitch. Even when the queen’s champion, Sir Edmond Dymoke rode forward on horseback during the coronation banquet in order to challenge any man to fight him who dared to challenge Mary’s right to reign as sovereign, not a murmer of descent would be heard. Instead, the new queen showed her gratitude by presenting Sir Edmond with her gold cup full of wine.
7112 dishes were served at the banquet, with over 312 of these being served to Mary herself. Records show though that 4900 of these dishes went to waste, although this did not mean that the food was simply thrown away, it was distributed to people all around London.