Aspects of the English royal succession, 1066-1199: the death of the king

Aspects of the English royal succession, 1066-1199: the death of the king

Stephen D. Church

Anglo-Norman Studies, 29 (2007), 17-34


In an article published in 1982, Elizabeth Hallam argued that royal burials in England (and in France, though I do not examine the evidence for France in this article) in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries were ‘relatively unceremonial, low-key affairs’. Hallam compared the funeral of William the Conqueror (1035/1066–1087), for example, with that of Philip V of France (1316–22). His burial at Saint-Denis in 1322 was the subject of detailed planning by the dying king and his advisors. Philip had given ‘directions for the burial of his body. His obsequies were elaborate and sumptuous, and lasted for four days … his corpse was clothed in royal apparel, while his family and his successor, Charles IV (1322–8), were in deep mourning.’ There was a grand funeral procession which employed symbolism remi- niscent of royal entries into towns. Hallam went further than simply drawing out the comparison between the funerals of Philip V and the Conqueror, to argue that the burial of these earlier kings, like William Rufus (1087–1100) and (from the French perspective) Philip I (1060–1108), were ‘primarily ecclesiastical affairs’ and so the ceremonies made ‘no clear attempt to demonstrate the power and authority of kingship’ during the process of consigning the royal body to its sepulchre.

This, she argued, was in contrast to the practice in Germany and Sicily, where sophisticated kings took full advantage that death accorded to show off their symbols of royalty. Only in the 1130s did English and French kings decide to exploit royal funerals by imbuing them with regal imagery. Following Erlande-Brandenburg, Hallam further contended that by the last third of the twelfth century, burials were becoming ‘more ceremonial and more public’, but even then it was not until the end of the thirteenth century that royal funerals in England took on the flavour of ‘important ceremonial occasions’. Though admitting that even Rufus’s funeral was ‘an occasion fitting to his rank’, Hallam took the view that there was no ‘clear attempt to demonstrate the power and authority of kingship’ on these solemn occasions. But was Hallam right to be so dismissive of eleventh- and early twelfth-century royal funeral ceremonies?

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