By Haydn Brown.
Every summer, Queen Elizabeth I would leave her great palaces, which were all in or around London, and embark on a tour of her country. These tours were called ‘Progresses’ and, apparently, the Queen enjoyed them very much – who wouldn’t when the hosts would feel ‘obliged’ to lavish small fortunes on providing, accommodation, banquets and entertainment. These ‘soirees’ were a kind of fun holiday for her, a refreshing change from all the tensions of court life, and were a wonderful way for her to meet her ordinary subjects. The official line at the time was that her people enjoyed these Progresses too, as it was a chance for them to see their beloved Queen. Over the course of her reign, Queen Elizabeth visited many cities, towns and villages in England.
A Royal Progress took a lot of preparation and money the Queen’s ministers, courtiers, and servants did not share her enthusiasm for them. In fact, all the work involved, and all the dangers public travel constituted for the Queen, caused them a lot of headaches! But for others. all the work entailed was worth it for they always felt that these Progresses were great successes. The Queen would leave in procession from one of her palaces, seated on a horse or in a litter or coach, and her courtiers would accompany her, followed by hundreds of carts carrying their goods. So it was when Queen Elizabeth I decreed that she wished to visit Norwich – but only after pursuing her Royal Progress to ‘various houses of standing throughout Suffolk’. This journey was termed her ‘Eastern Progress’. The following is just a brief glimpse of her final destination – Norwich:
On 16 August in the year of 1578, the Queen, having departed Suffolk, began her ‘Royal Progress’ in Norwich. Arrangements had been made in the City for Her Majesty and her London train of followers to stay for five days with the Queen lodging at the Bishop’s Palace. The Mayor of Norwich greeted the royal party at Hartford Bridge and escorted the Queen and her entourage into the City.
Preparations for this visit had started in June when St Stephen’s Gate was refurbished, streets were repaired and tidied, and the wall of St John’s Maddermarket churchyard was rebuilt (see above). Pageants, shows and feasts had been planned for her entertainment, principally allied to the trade and manufacturing of the City. In the Cathedral, a series of eleven large coats of arms were painted on the north wall of the cloister and a magnificent throne was prepared for her opposite the tomb of her great-grandfather, Sir William Boleyn. His tomb bears the Boleyn arms which could well have been a poignant reminder to the Queen – her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed on the orders of her father, Henry VIII!
After five exhausting days of being feted, entertained and lectured, Queen Elizabeth I departed the City on 22 August, 1578. It was said that:
‘the Norwich orators, unquestionably to the last, sought to inflict yet another endless oration – what one commentator called “grovelling rubbish” – on the Queen’, as her Norwich visit came to an end”.
Anxious to avoid another long speech, she instructed her Lord Chamberlain to tell the Mayor, politely but firmly, that Her Majesty would prefer to have the manuscript of the speech in order that she might enjoy it at her leisure! The manuscript was handed over and ‘was no doubt put to some laudable culinary, or other, use later in the day’.
Wherever she had gone, the streets had been packed so densely that the onlookers could barely move. On one occasion, a ‘comely bachelor’, dressed as King Gurguntius, the mythical founder of Norwich and builder of the earliest Norwich Castle, had addressed her for some considerable time. Then a boy in a silk turban, who stood on a platform along the route, delivered yet more orations which was followed by ‘delicate music’.
The following account of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Norwich in 1578 comes from Agnes Strickland’s 1844 Book titled ” Lives of Queens of England from the Norman Conquest…Volume 6″. It reads as follows:
“Her Majesty spent ten days at various seats in Suffolk, and having been received on the borders of Norfolk by the Cavaliers of the County of Norfolk, approached Norwich, as near as Braken Ash, on the 16th of August. At the western boundary of the City of Norwich, at Harford Bridge, the Mayor of Norwich welcomed the Queen with a long Latin speech, which he recited in a manner that did great credit to mayors in general. The purpose of it was to offer a cup of silver, with a cover, containing 100 pounds in gold. Lifting the cover, the Mayor said to Her Majesty, “Here is one hundred pounds of pure gold. It is said that as one of the Queen’s footmen advanced to take it, the Queen said to him, thinking he might not have understood the learned Mayor’s Latin, “Look to it, there is a hundred pound.”
When the Royal procession had advanced “within a flight-shot of the metropolis of the east of England, and in a spot commanding a good view of the Castle of Blancheflower (now Norwich Castle), which stands like a mural crown above the city of Norwich, a pageant arrested the attention of the Queen”. Here, a person representing King Gurgunt who, traditionally, was said to have built Norwich Castle and the founding of Cambridge University, explained in verse his ancient doings in Norwich. Then another Pageant met her at St. Stephen’s Gates, “from whence, says the annals of the City, “an enormous muck-hill had been recently removed for the occasion.”
There followed a series of “allegories which bestowed their tediousness on the Queen”, before the Queen arrived at the only Pageant of real interest to her – some elements of which are said to still be displayed at Norwich elections, and other grand occasions, to this day. This particular Pageant was called “The Stranger’s Pageant,” a show depicting Queen Philippa’s industrious Flemish Colony,- “ a separate and peculiar people in Norwich”. This was performed on a stage, where seven looms were actively at work with their separate weavers. Over the first loom was written the “Weaving of Worsted;” over the second, the “Weaving of Russels,” a sort of Norwich crape. Among the other looms were “the weaving of lace and of fringe, and several other manufactures which it would be vain to seek as Norwich produced”.
Upon the stage stood, at one end, “eight small women-children” spinning worsted yarn; at the other end, as many knitting of worsted hose; – and in the midst a ‘pretty boy’ stood forth, and stayed Her Majesty’s Progress with an address in verse, declaring, that in this small show, the city’s wealth was seen.”
“From combed wool we draw this slender thread,
(Showing the spinners.)
From thence the looms have dealing with the same;
(Showing the weaving in progress.)
And thence again, in order do proceed
These several works, which skilful art doth frame;
And all to drive dame Need into her cave,
Our heads and hands together laboured have.
We bought before, the things that now we sell,
These slender imps, their work doth pass the waves.
(Showing the women-children, spinners, and knitters.)
God’s peace and thine we hold, and prosper well,
Of every mouth, the hands, the charges saves.
Thus, through thy help and aid of power Divine,
Doth Norwich live, whose hearts and goods are thine.”
Elizabeth had the good sense to be particularly pleased with this Pageant; “she desired to examine the knitting and yarn of the ‘small women-children’. “She perused the looms attentively and returned great thanks for this show.
A grand pageant thwarted the entrance of the marketplace from St Stephen’s-street.” Here the Queen was addressed by seven female worthies, among which were Debora, Judith, Esther, the City of Norwich and Queen Martia who described herself thus:
“I am that Martia bright, who sometime ruled this land,
As queen, for thirty-three years space, gat licence at the hand
Of that Gurguntius king, my husband’s father dear,
Who built this town and castle, both, to make our homage here;
Which homage, mighty queen, accept,—the realm and right are thine;
The crown, the sceptre, and the sword, to thee we do resign.”
Thus Elizabeth was welcomed at various stations in Norwich till she reached the Cathedral, where she attended ‘Te Deum’ and, finally, arrived at the Bishop’s Palace; where she sojourned during her stay at Norwich.
On the Monday morning, “a very excellent boy,” representing Mercury, was driven at full speed through the city in a fantastic car, painted with birds and clouds, the horses being dressed out with wings; and Mercury himself appeared in an azure satin jerkin, and a mantle of gold cloth. He was driven into the “preaching green,” on the north side of the Bishop’s Palace, where the queen, looking out of her bed-chamber window, beheld him jump off his car and approach the window in such a sort, that Her Majesty “was seen to smile at the boldness of the boy.” He looked at the Queen with courage and audacity, then bowed down his head, “shaked his rod,” and commenced an unmercifully long string of verses; but the gist of his message was, “that if Her Highness pleased to take the air that day, there were shows and devices to be seen abroad.” Unfortunately, it rained hard, and the Queen did not venture out.
The next day, Her Majesty was engaged to hunt in Sir Henry Jerningham’s park at Costessey. As she passed out of St. Bennet’s Gates, master Mercury and all the heathen deities were stationed there with speeches, and presents of small value. Among others, Jupiter gave her a riding rod made of whale’s fin. Venus presented her with a white dove. The little creature was so tame, that, when cast off, it made directly to the Queen, and sat before her all the time as quietly as if it listened to the speeches.
The Queen, and the French ambassadors who were in her train, dined on Wednesday with the young Earl of Surrey, heir of her victim the beheaded Duke of Norfolk. His residence was not at the famous Duke’s Palace, in Norwich (now utterly destroyed), but at a conventual structure by the water-side, at present in good preservation; not very large, but suitable to the altered fortunes of the young Heir of Howard.
The queen left Norwich on the Friday, and as she bade an affectionate farewell to Norwich; she Knighted the Mayor, and told him “she would never forget his city.” When on her departure, she looked back, and with water in her eyes and shaking her riding whip, said, “Farewell, Norwich!”
All that said, two days later, on 24 August, the joy and festivity of the Queen’s visit to the City of Norwich was succeeded by the most severe of afflictions. Her Majesty’s London train of followers had brought disease with them. The Norwich Roll recorded ‘her majesty’s carriage being many of then infected, left the plague behind them, which afterwards so increased and continued, as it raged above a year and three-quarters after’ Some 2,335 natives, including ten Aldermen and ‘alien strangers’, died of it between the August and February of the following year.
“During the infection, it was ordered that anyone coming from an infected house should carry, in his hand, a small white wand, 2 feet in length: no such person should appear at any Court, or public place, or be present at any Sermon. The following inscription should be put over the door of every infected house: ‘Lord Have Mercy on Us’ and there it must remain until the house has been clear of the infection for one month at least. No person who had been afflicted should appear abroad until it had been entirely healed for the space of twenty days”.
Duty, W.A., Norfolk, Methuen, 1902.
Lane, R., The Plains of Norwich, Lanceni Press, 1999.
Day, J.W., Norwich Through the Ages, The East Anglian Magazine Ltd, 1976.
The History of the City and County of Norwich from the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time, printed by John Crouse, 1768.
Twinch, C., Norwich Book of Days, The History Press, 2012.
Photos: Google Images and George Plunkett – by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.
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