On September 10, 1533, three days after her birth, Princess Elizabeth Tudor was christened at Greenwich Palace.
The ceremony was a suitably grand occasion for a princess of England, whom her father was insisting was his only legitimate offspring. The description of the event states that men with towels around their necks stood outside the church to make sure no filth was dragged inside.
As was traditional, her parents did not attend. Instead, the baby was carried in by the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, the highest-ranked lady in the land. She would also serves as one of the child’s godmothers. The baby wore a christening gown, though probably not the one which supposedly still survives at Sudeley Castle. (The embroidery is incorrect for the period, and so is the lace.) Anne is known to have made one for the baby, however. She had first asked Katharine of Aragon to send her the robe in which Princess Mary was christened, apparently in the belief it was “the” royal christening robe of the Tudor family, but was informed it was Katharine’s personal property
Over the gown, the baby wore a purple velvet mantle trimmed in ermine. The Countess of Kent carried the train. Four lords carried a canopy over the baby’s head as she was brought in. In the quire, a little room was prepared with a fire in a brazier, lest the baby be chilled by the baptism waters.
Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador had informed the emperor the child was going to be named Mary in an attempt to eclipse Henry’s other daughter, but the baby was christened Elizabeth, in honor of her grandmother, Elizabeth of York, and possibly Anne’s mother, too, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn.
Archbishop Cramner himself was one of Elizabeth’s godfathers, and the highest ladies of the land served as her godmothers. One of those chosen was Getrude Blount, Marchioness of Exeter. Some histories insist this was Anne’s decision, but it could just as well have been Henry’s. Gertrude had been a close friend of Katharine of Aragon, and if Chapuys is to be believed, Gertrude met with him several times begging him to raise an invasion force to topple Henry VIII and put Princess Mary on the throne before the king executed her. Gertrude – to put it mildly – was not best pleased at being godmother to this infant she viewed as a bastard.
Eric Ives regards this as nasty jab on Anne’s part, spitefully forcing Gertrude to stand in ceremonial honor for the child and to fork over a suitably hefty gift for the occasion. But if it was Anne who chose Gertrude, perhaps she was simply trying to pick the most wealthy and powerful people who could protect her infant daughter. She may have thought Gertrude would feel compelled to honor her vows before God and support Elizabeth if she ever had a time of need. Instead, Gertrude would be one of the key players in the conspiracy to topple Anne Boleyn.
The baby was baptized and anointed. A bit of salt was placed in her mouth from the cellar carried by the Marquess of Dorset. The godparents recited the responses for her, the confession of faith that joined little Elizabeth to the church. Once it was all finished, a herald called out “God of his infinite goodness send prosperous life and long to the high and mighty Princess of England Elizabeth.”
The procession headed back to the palace, led by nobles who carried the rich gifts the godparents had given, so everyone would have a chance to see and admire them. Five hundred servants carrying torches accompanied them. The procession entered the palace and delivered the baby to the Queen’s door. Inside, Anne lay in her grand bed of estate, wearing a nightgown (more like an elaborate bathrobe than a sleeping garment.) She thanked the officiants and offered them refreshment. Anne was still in seclusion – she wouldn’t leave her chamber for forty days after the birth when she was “churched,” or ritually blessed, and able to re-enter court life.
It was said by the French ambassador to be a lovely ceremony with nothing lacking…. Except the fact the baby was a girl. Though Anne did not yet know it, a fatal blow had been delivered to her husband’s faith in their marriage, and the sand was running out of her hourglass. She had only two years and eight months left to live.