Did Anne Boleyn wear ‘yellow for mourning’ after Katherine of Aragon’s death?

On 7 January 1536 Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, died at Kimbolton Castle.

In ‘The Tudors’ Anne Boleyn is wearing yellow dress and celebrates Katherine of Aragon’s death.

On 8 January 1536, Eustace Chapuys wrote that that day “the King was clad all over in yellow, from top to toe, except the white feather he had in his bonnet”[1].

While Chapuys did not mention Anne, chronicler Hall did – “Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournyng”[2]. Hall’s remark was hotly disputed by historians and authors; Alison Weir for instance stated that Henry and Anne donned yellow as a mark of respect for Katherine, because yellow was the colour of mourning in Spain (The Six Wives of Henry VIII, p. 299). The colour of royal mourning in Spain was black, and Weir corrected her error in The Lady in The Tower. Anne and Henry donned yellow that day but not for mourning and not to emphasize their joy after Katherine of Aragon’s death.

In 1536, Henry VIII forbade his subjects in Galway to wear saffron in their “shirts, smocks or any other garments”[3] because he saw this as a way of suppressing Anglo-Irish extravagance. During the 16th century saffron was widely associated with Ireland – it was imported from Spain or from the Middle East. Saffron imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to textiles, and it was perceived by the English people as an excessive luxury in Irish fashion – that is why Henry forbade wearing saffron-dyed textiles and he himself wore them emphasizing his exclusive right to do so. Therefore, Henry and Anne wore yellow on 8 January 1536 not to celebrate Katherine of Aragon’s death, as it is many times emphasized in history books – although the choice of garments in such vivid colour certainly outraged Katherine’s supporters who mourned after her.

 Further reading:

“The Daring Truth About Anne Boleyn: Cutting Through the Myth” by Sylwia S. Zupanec


[1] ‘Henry VIII: January 1536, 21–25′, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10: January–June 1536 (1887), pp. 47–64, note 141.

[2] Hall’s chronicle, p. 818.

[3 ]Ann Rosalind Jones, Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, p. 67.

38 Comments

  1. Amy J.
    Jan 7, 2013

    I didn’t know that! Thanks for posting.

  2. Natalie
    Jan 7, 2013

    I’m glad to find out that Anne Boleyn didn’t celebrate Katherine’s death. For years this little fact really bothered me; thanks for clearing this up!

  3. Sylwia
    Jan 8, 2013

    Thank you for your comments Amy and Natalie!

  4. Michael
    Jan 8, 2013

    Fascinating, I’m your follower from now on!

    • Sylwia
      Jan 11, 2013

      Thanks! :-)

  5. BanditQueen
    May 10, 2013

    That puts a new spin on this debate, but both Anne and Henry could have shown more sense and chosen darker clothes for a few days at least. Bright clothing would have made the Spanish angry and they would have seen it as an insult to the death and memory of Catherine of Aragon. I can see where the chronicles also get it all mixed up and I am glad to see the mourning nonsense from Spain being yellow being laid to rest.

    Cheers

    • Sylwia
      Sep 23, 2013

      Definitely! Katherine of Aragon’s death was not a cause for celebrations and if Henry wanted to repair his relations with Charles V, celebrating Katherine’s death was not a way to do it. Bright clothes, feast, dances – I can see why Imperial ambassador might have felt offended.

  6. BanditQueen
    May 11, 2013

    Sorry this comment is not in the correct place but could not get it to work under the article about Anne having a mole or wren under chin.

    I really admire your book Silvia, as it is very fresh to have someone look again at the rumours and who is not afraid to look closely at hostile sources like Nicholas Sanders. Although you conclude that Anne would not have a witch mark or a deep mole swelling as these could have been seen, she may have had something that could easily be concealed. Even if Sanders was a hostile source he does report things from other people such as Hall and Chaprys (excuse spelling if not correct) who are accepted as satisfactory sources.

    Also if you look at Anne: she wears a collar with a B on that legend said hid a mole or some birthmark that was not sightly. It is also may-be that she also only wore it as a fashion statement. I think it may not have been anything that could be seen as a witch mark, as the scholars on this subject excluded moles and swellings. But she may have had a swelling that was to do with cancer or some illness that we do not know if she had or not. A strawberry mark is a famous birth mark and would not look very attractive, so she may merely wished to hide it in public. Today people stare and point and are rude when they see someone who is a bit different: I suspect it must have been the same in the 16th century as times may change but people do not.

    I also think that as we are never going to be able to settle the dispute via medical or science that it will be a mystery and may-be that was what Anne intended: it to remain a mystery. Her portraits certainly do not reveal anything. If she did have something, well we may never know what it was. But then Anne was a mystery to some people.

    I also want to thank you for doing this book and not being afraid to use even hostile sources. I was always taught you consider all sources and then balance out, taking how reliable they are into consideration and their intention, and make a balanced interpretation based on weighing all of the evidence and texts we have. Sometimes we do not have anything and you have to make a judgement based on best guess. Your book is very interesting as it goes behind the myths and asks us to look at Anne afresh.

    Thank you.

    • Sylwia
      Sep 23, 2013

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Lyn-Marie. I believe that Anne Boleyn had some sort of “swelling” under her chin but it certainly wasn’t a “large wen”. Latin word “turgidum” used in this case is best translated as “swelling” and not “wen”. Nicolas Sander actually never wrote that Anne Boleyn had “a large wen”; he remarked that she had “something swollen under her chin but what, I do not know”. Word “large” manifestly does not appear in original Latin account, it was added by translator. I am really baffled that historians and researchers overlooked this thing!

    • Sylwia
      Sep 23, 2013

      Thank you so much BanditQueen!

  7. Jessica
    Sep 24, 2013

    I read some books that stated about Anne wearing yellow either in respect or in joy for Katherine’s death. But it’s true that only Henry was described. Then there’s always the question of “are the statements of contemporaries right?” because some were “pro” Anne Boleyn and others” anti” Anne.

    • Sylwia
      Sep 24, 2013

      Exactly, Jessica!

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