The Tudor Society

January 5 – The Christening of Henry, Duke of Cornwall, son of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Michel Sittow's painting of the Madonna and child.On this day in Tudor history, Sunday 5th January 1511, the lavish christening of Henry, Duke of Cornwall, took place in the Chapel of Observant Friars at Richmond, in Surrey.

The little duke had been born on New Year's Day at Richmond Palace. He was the son of King Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and news of the prince's birth had been met with bonfires, wine being given out to the citizens of London, and processions.

A record in Letters and Papers states that for the prince’s christening, a 24 foot wide way between the hall and chapel was “new gravelled”, then strewn with rushes, and barriers and rails were erected. The south side of the way was hung with cloth of arras, and then, approaching the chapel, both sides were hung with arras. Inside the chapel, arras had been hanged everywhere. It must have looked so sumptuous and colourful.

The record goes on to list the godparents and gifts:

“Godfathers were the French King Louis de Valois and the Archbishop. of Canterbury, Warham. Godmother Margaret duchess of Savoy. At the confirmation the Earl of Arundel.
My lord of Winchester was deputy for the French King and the Countess of Surrey for the Duchess. The French King gave a salt, 51 oz., and a cup 48½ oz., of fine gold; and to the Lady Mistress a chain worth 30 pounds and to the midwife 10 pounds.”

There were more celebrations for Henry, Duke of Cornwall’s birth in February 1511. On 12th and 13th February a spectacular tournament took place – the Westminster Tournament. The king as Coeur Loyal (Loyal Heart), accompanied by three knights as Bon Voloire, Bon Espoir, and Valiant Desire, were to run the tilt against all commoners. The king and his knights, playing the same parts, with other knights and ladies too, took part in a court pageant. Chronicler Edward Hall describes how a wheeled pageant was brought into the great hall. It was beautifully decorated with every post and pillar being covered with gold and with trees, vines, flowers and herbs made of satin, damask, silver and gold silk. Plus everyone involved was dressed in lavish costumes. Unfortunately, things went wrong when the pageant was moved out of the way for the dancing. Hall describes how “the rude people” ran over to the pageant and broke it up. Also, when the King and his companions danced and said that the ladies, gentlewomen and ambassadors could take letters of gold off their garments as tokens, the common people saw what was happening and stripped the king and his companions down to their hose and doublets. The King's guard had to come in and put a stop to it, and it was soon forgotten. Hall writes of how “all these hurtes were turned to laughyng and game” and that it ended “with myrth and gladnes”. However, he also writes that a shipman of London, who got hold of some of the gold letters, sold them to a goldsmith for 3 pounds, 14 shillings and 8 pence!

Sadly, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, died on 22nd February 1511, when he was just 52 days old. We don’t know what happened, but Henry VIII had to wait until October 1537 for the birth of a legitimate living son.


Image: Michel Sittow's painting of the Madonna and Child. Some believe that the Madonna is, in fact, Catherine of Aragon.

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January 5 – The Christening of Henry, Duke of Cornwall, son of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon