This early 17th-century manuscript contains unique coloured drawings of the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth I, who died at the age of 69 on 24th March 1603, and was buried at Westminster Abbey on 28th April. As the first ever visual record of the funeral of an English monarch, it gives us a rare insight into this ceremonial display of public mourning.

The five images shown here are:

1. f. 31v [left hand of drawing]: the horse trapped with velvet, led by two attendants; the Sergeant of the Vestry and Children of the Chapel Royal.
2. f. 35: royal servants including the Principal Secretary, Sir Robert Cecil.
3. f. 37v [whole drawing]: the chariot drawn by four horses, carrying the coffin covered in purple velvet. On this lies an effigy (a lifelike painted carving) of the Queen. The canopy is carried by six knights, with Gentlemen Pensioners (the Queen’s ceremonial bodyguard).
4. f. 38: Countesses Assistants; Countesses and Viscountesses; the daughters of Earls and Baronesses; Maids of Honour and of the Privy Chamber.
5. f. 38v [whole drawing]: Sir Walter Ralegh, Captain of the Guard, and the Guard.

These images are perhaps by William Camden (1551–1623), best known for his History of Elizabeth (begun in 1608). They are part of a collection of drawings, mostly in Indian ink, all showing funeral processions (1557–1603) including those of Mary Queen of Scots and Anne of Cleves.

The ‘Aery of Children’ in Hamlet

One particularly interesting page (f. 31v) shows some of the Children of the Chapel who had been acting at the Second Blackfriars Theatre since 29th September 1600. The boys’ company was so successful in London that it forced some adult players to tour in search of audiences. This is clearly described in Hamlet (2.2.39) with the reference to the ‘aery of children’ and it has been one crucial means of dating the play.

Hamlet and mourning

From his first appearance ‘dressed in black’, Hamlet is defined by the notion of mourning – both as a theatrical display and a private expression of grief. Alone in wearing an ‘inky cloak’ (1.2.77) at the court of Elsinore, he refuses his uncle’s request ‘to cast [his] nighted color off’ (1.2.68) and rise above his ‘unmanly grief’ for his father (1.2.94). But Hamlet also insists that his sorrow transcends mere performance, saying ‘I have that within which passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe’ (1.2.85–86).

Hamlet and the succession crisis

Although Hamlet was written (around c. 1600) before the death of Queen Elizabeth I, some critics have argued that it anticipates this event, reflecting the uncertainty over the royal succession at the end of the 16th century. As the reign of the ageing Virgin Queen drew to a close, there was renewed unease about the rule of a female sovereign (who had not produced a male heir). Many felt joy at the prospect of a male king, but there was lingering doubt over whether the Protestant James would claim the throne.

This is perhaps conveyed in the angst that surrounds Queen Gertrude, ‘the imperial jointress to this warlike state (1.2.9), and in Hamlet’s questions over the legitimacy of Claudius’s rule. There is also a paradoxical sense that ‘mirth’ and ‘dirge’ (1.2.12) are linked, just as they would be at the death of Elizabeth. Reportedly, on the evening of the Queen’s death, there were festive bonfires in London and people shouted ‘We have a king!’