Today's Story by John Saul

This afternoon I saw the funeral procession of Elizabeth I.

Prickly with flags she lies

This afternoon I saw the funeral procession of Elizabeth I. My gratitude goes to Camden for organizing it so splendidly: so many dignitaries, so many pages per­forming such services. Such pageantry despite so much black. Clearly she was loved. Along Whitehall came people representing the Laundrie, Confectionarie, the Waferie, the Comptinghouse and Kitchin and all other kinds of work. Then, as was reported, ‘poore women to the number of 266’. Yet it was a sight of anything but rags or drudgery. I mention but a few of the sumptuous banners: a grey dog on turquoise; a standard proud of its lion; one with three stalks of corn. Ireland’s banner had a colossal harp yearning to be plucked but not on this day. Certainly there was much color with the black, on a day when all the shadows brushing at feet and cloaks seemed rose-colored, some would say England’s colour, a red only the most expert artist could explain. Next, sounding their thin trumpets, four trumpeters walked at a pace as close to a stop as their steps allowed. Behind them were secretaries of the Latin and French tongues (never was a monarch so learned), earls and countesses.

It was half an hour before there appeared the chariot, also referred to as the canopy, drawn by four horses draped in black velvet, stepping regimentally, their leading forelocks in the air. Above her majesty there flew stiffly with their thick materi­al twelve flags in blue, gold, red and grey. Six knights bore the lead-cased coffin, clad in a timeless pink and blue floral design. On this was spread white ermine on purple velvet, on which lay an effigy of the Queen. Attired in gold and adorned by a red and gold crown, this Elizabeth was open-eyed, staring upwards. Looking perhaps toward her father Henry Tudor and mother Anne Boleyn, watching for the ends of her mother’s hair, hair in life so long she could sit on it; now, after seventy more years … her mother Anne, no longer the mirror of fashion but playing cards and dice in the clouds somewhere. Her mother Anne, Elizabeth may have been puzzling over (for she never ceased thinking), her mother Anne loved shrimps, but since there was no mention of shrimps in the Biblical texts it would be most unlikely there would be shrimps in heaven.

Behind the chariot the air of formality cracked, as three footmen, not properly in step, distraught, scarcely knowing how to conduct themselves amid the gentlemen with their down-pointing halberds and tightly-held fans – just three footmen – weeping, one wringing hands, one with a hand to his heart. There came maids of honor and maids of the privy chamber. Walter Raleigh, his protection much diminished by the death of her majesty, but unafraid, heading the guard. Finally there came more pages still, pages and pages to follow the pages before them, said to have been drawn in pen and ink by William Camden, who had shaded all in these magnificent strokes of red before presenting the coffin laid in the Abbey with its green and white tiled floor, the scene prickly with flags and with coats of arms all round.


John Saul has had three collections of short fiction published by Salt Publishing (Cambridge, UK). The first, Call It Tender, was well received in The Times.  He lives in Suffolk in England.  His website is

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