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Funerals and Burials

Our way of life in today's society is drastically different than the lives of citizens in the Elizabethan Era, 1550-1650. This period of time was named for Queen Elizabeth I. Although she wasn't alive through these years, these were the years that were affected by her ruling. Even the deceased Elizabethans had certain customs that were followed for their funerals and burials. These certain customs became tradition throughout the Elizabethan Era. These customs included the mourning tokens, what happened during the funerals, and what happened after the burials.

During the Funeral
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Funeral Procession

A death of close family and friends is hard to take, but a grand funeral allowed the importance of the particular person to shine. Funeral processions were very elaborate and expensive, especially of someone with high status (Grendler 6). The procession of the body through the streets of the town was tradition. The larger the procession and the more people involved, the more important the person was (Andrews 87). Some of the poor were often hired as mourners to make the procession seem impressive (88). The coaches, saddles, bridles, and mourners were all in black. The family of the departed always led the procession, for they were the ones feeling the greatest loss (Emerson 68). Before the burial took place and after the procession, a wake was held. A wake is a watch kept over the deceased before the body is buried. A typical wake was an enormous feast that could last several days. Finally, the burial of the body took place. However, where a person was buried was a big deal. If the family could afford it, the beloved was buried in a coffin in the church graveyard. Since coffins were expensive, most of the dead were covered in a shroud or a sheet and buried by the church (Picard 219). Those killed by a disease were buried quickly at night (Andrews 88), and those that committed suicide were buried on the side of a public road late at night, after a stake had been driven through the body (Emerson 69). Compared to the preparation of the funeral, the final burial of the body was simple. A minister read from the bible as the gravediggers lowered the corpse to the grave (Andrews 88). The deceased was officially buried.

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Feast after Funeral
After the Burial

After the funeral, food and drinks were often served to the guests, sometimes even a feast for the rich (Secara). Many presents were given to friends and relatives of the deceased. Other mourners were given gifts of money as thanks for attending (Emerson 69). There were also special rituals held in some religions that prevented the return of the departed. These rituals involved candle flame, salt, fire, and chanting of the people (69-70). Other religious rituals included singing to the body of the journey to the afterlife after the body has been placed in the ground (70). For the very rich families, monuments and headstones were set up alongside the graves to mark the importance of the certain person or family. For the ordinary, or less wealthy folk, their graves were dug and their bodies were placed in the ground, and they were buried with no signal as to where the bodies were. Later, their bones would be dug up and removed to make room for more burials (Emerson 69).

Symbols and Tokens of Mourning
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Mourning Dress
To symbolize the memory of a passed family member or friend, Elizabethans used different mementos. These mementos ranged from their clothes, to lockets containing locks of hair of the deceased. The decorations at the time of the funeral were black, black, and more black. The clothes of family and friends for the funeral procession were black, dressy clothes. It was also said that if a spouse dies, then the surviving spouse wore black until remarriage or death (Emerson 70). If a child dies, then a typical mourning period of a parent was 3-4 years (70). If the family could afford a coffin, it was draped in black with black velvet on the inside (67). In some cases, the outside of the coffins were decorated with evergreen branches. This reminded the attendees that the soul never dies (Andrews 48). However, the exception to this rule was for children and unmarried girls who were buried in a coffin. The coffin for these particular deaths was white. The mourners leading the procession, who were often family and close friends, wore white (Emerson 68). As a reminder of the departed, lockets, brooches, and rings were designed as containers for a lock of hair ( 70). This gave some Elizabethans the strength to move on, but to never forget.


In conclusion, Elizabethans were very serious about the arrangement of their death. Many wanted grand processions, leading into the streets. This symbolized the importance of the family. Others also wanted to get the best burial spot, which was by the church. They believe that the closer you were to the church, the better afterlife you had. After the funerals, feasts were held in thanks to those for attending. Presents were given to the family of the deceased, and money was given to the mourners. If an Elizabethan had the money, monuments and headstones were set up beside one's burial spot in the hopes to be rememberd. However, if you were an ordinary citizen, then the resting place was only temporary, for the bones would havve to be dug up to make room for more burials. Although, these citizens will be remembered because of the mourning tokens some families carried around. These tokens included lockets and rings designed to hold a lock of hair of the departed. Wearing black was also a symbol of one in mouring. These representations were signs to the other citizens of the death of a family. Queen Elizabeth's reign contributed to making these customs of funerals and burials a tradition throughout the Elizabethan Era.

By: Maddison Stewart