I’ve written about this subject before but I received so many questions about it yesterday that I thought I’d write another article on the wearing of yellow after Catherine of Aragon’s death and ‘who wore what when’.
As I mentioned yesterday, on 7th January 1536 Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, died at Kimbolton Castle. On hearing the news from a messenger, Henry VIII cried out “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!”1. We might find his joy distasteful and cold-hearted today, but Henry VIII was relieved that the woman who had been a thorn in his side for the past few years was finally gone and that he no longer had any quarrel with Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, and could ally himself with the Empire against France if he needed to.
According to Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, on Sunday 8th January 1536, “the King was clad all over in yellow, from top to toe, except the white feather he had in his bonnet, and the Little Bastard [Elizabeth] was conducted to mass with trumpets and other great triumphs.”2. The Spanish Chronicle, which generally has to be taken with a pinch of salt due to its numermous inaccuracies, corroborates Chapuys’ account: “Couriers were at once sent off to the King informing him of her death; and as soon as the King heard of it he dressed himself in yellow, which in that country is a sign of rejoicing, and ordered all his grandees to go thither, and that she should be buried very sumptuously.”3 Neither of these sources make any mention of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s queen consort at the time, dressing in yellow, but chronicler Edward Hall writes “Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournyng.”4 Nicholas Sander also puts Anne in yellow but was writing decades later and appears to have been using Edward Hall as a reference.5 It is impossible to know who wore yellow that day, and for what reason, but it appears that Henry VIII saw Catherine’s death as an event to be celebrated.
Some historians and authors have justified the wearing of yellow on this day as a mark of respect, yellow allegedly being the colour of mourning in Spain, but this does not appear to be true.6 I have found nothing in my research to suggest that yellow was the traditional colour of royal mourning in Spain, only white and black are associated with death and mourning. As Carlyn Beccia pointed out in an online discussion “The color of mourning in Spain was black not yellow. When Juana the Mad’s husband died she ordered all her ladies to wear black. When she herself died, Charles V wore black. And when Philip II died, a proclamation ordered by Philip III sent the country into mourning. In Seville, so much black fabric was sold that it created a black market on black clothes” and I agree with her.7
Another theory regarding Henry VIII’s alleged wearing of yellow on that day has been put forward by author Sylwia Zupanec. Zupanec explains that Henry VIII “forbade wearing saffron-dyed textiles and he himself wore them emphasizing his exclusive right to do so”. She goes on to explain that “In 1536, Henry VIII forbade his subjects in Galway to wear saffron in their ‘shirts, smocks or any other garments’ because he saw this as a way of suppressing Anglo-Irish extravagance.”8 It is an interesting idea and yellow may well have been a colour associated with wealth, extravagance and status, although Henry’s instructions regarding the wearing of the colour saffron were not issued until the end of April 1536.9
As I have mentioned in a previous post, in early Christian art, yellow symbolized renewal, hope, light and purity, so perhaps Henry, and/or Anne, were simply expressing their hope for a new start now that Catherine was gone, war was averted and Anne was carrying a child.10
Of course, the wearing of yellow could have no meaning or symbolism and we might be reading far too much into the choice of clothing that day, if, in fact, yellow was worn at all. I’m sure that Henry VIII would find it quite amusing that we’re debating his choice of clothes on one day in 1536 in 2015!
Notes and Sources
- LP x.141
- Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (The Spanish Chronicle), ed. Martin A. Sharp Hume, p52.
- Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p818
- Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, Nicholas Sander, p132. Sander writes “The king could not refrain from tears when he read the letter [Catherine’s last letter to him], but Anne Boleyn, instead of putting on mourning on the day of Catherine’s funeral, put on a yellow dress.”
- For example, Alison Weir states this in her book “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” but corrects this in her later book “The Lady in the Tower” and states that it is a “misconception”.
- From a discussion on TudorHistory.org at http://queryblog.tudorhistory.org/2008/11/question-from-deb-yellow-mourning.html
- Did Anne Boleyn wear yellow for mourning after Katherine of Aragon’s death, Sylwia Zupanec, 7 January 2013.
- A Few Arguments on the Subject of Saffron and LP x. 743, Henry VIII to the Town of Galway, 28 April 1536: “No saffron to be worn in shirts or smocks, and no more cloth than five standard ells.”
- Meaning of Colors in Christian Art.
Picture: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Arthur Hopkins (1848-1930)