‘Our Rising Sun is Set’: the Death of Prince Henry

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The Hearse of Henry, Prince of Wales by William Hole, 1612 © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Hearse of Henry, Prince of Wales
by William Hole, 1612
© The Trustees of the British Museum

 

In the autumn of 1612, during the preparations for the marriage of his sister Princess Elizabeth, Prince Henry fell ill with a fever. Court doctors debated his treatment with increasing desperation, but finally, after much suffering, on the evening of 6 November, Prince Henry died. His family was distraught. It was reported months later of King James that ‘even in the midst of the most important discussions he will burst out with “Henry is dead, Henry is dead.”’ The grief was widespread and deeply felt, both by those who knew the prince and those for whom he had simply represented hope for the future.

The funeral at Westminster Abbey on 7 December was even more magnificent than that of Queen Elizabeth I, nine years earlier. The prince’s coffin, with an effigy laid on top, was carried in procession with 2,000 official mourners; the streets were lined with the grieving populace. There was an unprecedented outpouring of mourning poetry and music. Charles, Duke of York eventually became Prince of Wales and subsequently king, but for years, Henry remained in the collective memory as the ideal of princely virtue.