Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by Arthur Hopkins, 19th century
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn by Arthur Hopkins, 19th century

According to Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, on Sunday 8th January, the day after Catherine of Aragon’s death, Henry VIII “was clad all over in yellow, from top to toe, except the white feather he had in his bonnet” and he paraded the two-year old Princess Elizabeth to mass “with trumpets and other great triumphs”.1 On hearing news of his first wife’s death, the King had cried out “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!”2 because he now had no quarrel with Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew, and could make an alliance with him if he wished to.

Chronicler Edward Hall puts Anne Boleyn in yellow, writing, “Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournyng”,3 so it is impossible to know who was wearing yellow – Anne? Henry? Both of them? The only other contemporary source to mention the wearing of yellow is The Spanish Chronicle, which is notoriously inaccurate but reports that “as soon as the King heard of it [Catherine’s death] he dressed himself in yellow, which in that country is a sign of rejoicing.”4
Other contemporary accounts make no mention of either the King or Queen wearing yellow.

You can read more about this in my article Yellow for Mourning – The Reaction of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Catherine of Aragon’s Death.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 141
  2. Ibid.
  3. Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p818
  4. Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England (The Spanish Chronicle), translated by Martin A. Sharp Hume, p52

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34 thoughts on “8 January 1536 – The King was clad all over in yellow”
  1. I can easily believe that Anne was happy at Catherine’s death — it solved, or seemed to solve, a lot of political problems — but I’m inclined to believe she didn’t wear yellow, as Chapuys says nothing about her in the letter describing Henry dressing in yellow and taking Elizabeth to church. (If I remember correctly, Chapuys also describes Thomas and George Boleyn saying that all that was needed now was for Mary to follow her mother, so it wasn’t like he was ignoring tasteless Boleyn behavior, either). Since Anne was about 12 weeks pregnant at that point, I’ve wondered if she was simply too ill to attend any festivities, hence Henry dressing in yellow and dancing with her ladies, but not with her.

    The Hall reference is intriguing, but considering that Anne was dead and disgraced before he wrote it, and the only other two contemporary sources (admittedly hostile) to reference yellow say that Henry wore it, I wonder if Hall was a doing a little damage control. “No, no, it wasn’t him, it was that terrible disgraced queen, surely you remember?”

    1. “No words can describe the joy and delight which this King and the promoters of his concubinate have felt at the demise of the good Queen, especially the Earl of Wiltshire and his son, who must have said to themselves, what a pity it was that the Princess had not kept her mother company.” (Spanish State Papers, Jan 21st)

      In other words this is what Chapuys imagined Thomas and George were thinking and saying to themselves. This is often misquoted by the likes of Weir, but it’s a long way from saying that ths is actually what either of them said.

      1. I wrote a longer reply to Claire below with the full quote, but I think it’s a source/translation issue, so for once I won’t knock Weir :). In L&P, entry 141 for Jan. 1536, there’s no qualifier, Chapuys simply states that Wiltshire and George Boleyn were saying openly that they hoped the Princess followed her mother.

        1. That’s the trouble with L&P, and particularly the online version of it, as opposed to looking at the original documents which make it up. Historian John Guy told me that although the British History Online site is a wonderful source it can lead to confusion because of the fact that it is abridged. On his recommendation I joined Memso and downloaded all of L&P, Calendar of State Papers and many other primary sources from there as they have them in full. Chapuys’ full report is given in the Calendar of State Papers, Spain, which Clare quotes from.
          In her Six Wives book, Weir says “Lord Rochford thought it a pity the Lady Mary did not keep company with her mother” which makes it sound like Rochford actually said that, i.e. pondered aloud, whereas Chapuys was simply saying that Rochford must have thought that and nobody knows what Rochford was actually thinking.

        2. Thanks! I didn’t know that — I mean, I knew that the documents were abridged but didn’t realize they were abridged to the point where meanings were changed. I’m guessing that Weir did what many others have and relied on the L&P summary — and in fairness, that is a really strange deletion to make. What is Memso, and how would I go about joining it? The more I can read, the better.

        3. I didn’t realise how abridged they were until John Guy told me and recommended Memso. See http://tannerritchie.com/memso.php. There are different levels of subscriptions and access periods (go to Quick Access) depending on how long you want to browse the site and how many “books” you want to download. It really is a brilliant service.

        4. Thank you very much, I had no idea that sort of online resource existed — plus I now know what I’m requesting for my next birthday.

    2. I have to agree with Clare, Chapuys is imagining what Thomas and George were thinking, he is not quoting them. I’m sure that they were relieved by Catherine’s death, but that is a long way from them openly saying that they wished Mary would die too.

      Yes, perhaps Hall was going into damage control mode, it’s hard to know, but it would make sense.

      1. Hmm, it looks like we may have a translation issue — the quote I was thinking of is from L&P, entry 141 for January 1536 (link: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=75412) in which the translation reads “You could not conceive the joy that the King and those who favor this concubinage have shown at the death of the good Queen, especially the earl of Wiltshire and his son, who said it was a pity the Princess did not keep company with her.”

        I can easily imagine Chapuys watching Thomas and George Boleyn talk and imagining the worst, but I do wonder why he didn’t include Anne among the people who “must be” hoping for Mary’s death.

  2. Ah, there it is again – Anne being just plain mean.

    Most of the time I have such admiration for her individuality and strength and then she just goes all maliciously petty.

    A truly multi-faceted person, our NanBullen.

    1. As the article says, other than Hall, all other sources put the King in yellow, not Anne. If Anne was being mean and maliciously petty, which is debatable, then she wasn’t the only one.

      1. Point well taken about this particular
        occasion; but I suppose the reason
        I tend to believe it is that there were
        so many strongly evidenced occasions
        when she seemed so just plain angry at Catalina. And poor little Mary.

        Maybe it was because she still felt
        that Catalina could be a threat, or
        she was a little (secretly) overawed
        by her rival’s qualities; or of course
        maybe it was her incipient maternity.

        Incidentally, is it just me or does sometimes Chapuys seems to have
        a secret tendresse for Anne?


      1. Yes — I think Chapuys is really the dog that didn’t bark here. Considering how quick he was to jump on anything else Anne did, forgetting to mention that she had danced in yellow at Catherine’s death is hard to imagine. To be fair though, most historians generalize as well — even Ives describes Henry and Anne taking Elizabeth to church while dressed in yellow.

  3. Such poor, poor taste!!!! Apparently neither of them cared what opinions of them both would be made by the people. And so very sad. To celebrate someone’s death. And especially the death of a much-loved Queen. That is the one thing about Anne Boleyn that I did not like. I never cared anything about Henry, & this was not much of a surprise, but it brought Anne down a couple of notches in my liking her & feeling sorry for her.

  4. Anne should of taken notice how happy Henry was for the death of his wife of 20 yrs, and been a a little afraid of her future, I bet she was or maybe not a little nervous about her pregnancy.

    1. Anne probably didn’t realize what Catherine’s death could mean to her immediately upon hearing about it — she was pregnant at the time, and knew that if she had a boy, her position would be unassailable. That doesn’t mean she was celebrating, though, as Chapuys doesn’t mention her. Unsure if she realized the extra risk before she miscarried … but even if she didn’t I doubt that Henry’s celebrating Catherine’s death would make Anne feel safe.

  5. If the accounts are factual and there seems little evidence otherwise. It is hard (or maybe not given the times) that a man who was obviously happy in marriage (20 years) and in fact in love for most of that time could show such disrespect to his wife on her death. People do fall out of love, but to show publicly such distain by wearing yellow to rejoice is hard to contemplate.

    Respect in death has always be acknowledged throughout history by most people even if the person is disliked or even hated.

    It is so difficult to understand this man no matter how hard you try

  6. Whether Henry or Anne was in yellow or both of them; surely this is poor taste and not very respectful. Anne I can understand; she had cause to rejoice in her rivals death or demise but Henry had spent many years married to her; she was the mother of his eldest daughter and of his other lost children. Yes, they had gone through a bitter divorce and that makes people angry and frustrated and love turns to hatred. Anne is also carrying a male heir at this time and she must now feel that she has no further challenge. Did she wear yellow to celebrate her new status as unchallenged Queen or out of spite that her rival had died?

    Chapyrs has Henry wearing yellow and showing Elizabeth around as her proud father would and he is normally anti Anne, so it is not usual that he does not say she had on yellow. If only Anne had worn yellow then surely the ambassador would have taken delight to point out her lack of good taste in this matter!

    Hall has Henry and there are others who have both and historians seem divided on the matter as well. Novels go even further with one that I read recently having Anne demanding all of her ladies wear yellow and threating them with punishment if they did not. Only one: Madge Wyatt refused out of respect for Katherine. The other ladies are too afraid not to obey the Queen. I know it is only a novel and not to be taken too seriously but it does illustrate that a lot of dispute and debate and interpretation of this incident and may-be this is another mystery that will never really be solved. As to whether or not it is a symbol of the Spanish mourning; I do not think this is true; I believe it was worn as a joyful colour. On the other hand in France the colour for mourning was white: so anything is possible.

    In any event it was seen as disrespectful by those who knew Katherine and Henry/Anne should have had more sense and been more sensitively aware of how it would look.

    1. Giles Tremlett mentions in his biography of Catherine that the Spanish Court went into black for mourning at the death of her brother Juan in 1497. The story that “yellow was the colour of mourning in Spain / France / some country or other” seems to have been around for a while (it turns up in Mrs. Thomson’s 1826 history) but as far as I know it wasn’t true of either country. White, yes, yellow, no.

  7. Dose any one know for sure if yellow was the couler of mourning or celebration. Like someone said Anne being pregnant at the time of Catherine of death probably never enter her head she would be in any danger as so many things were happing all at once she was most likely concentrating on the pregnancy and the king and her duties and someone. Tell me if am wrong but I thought Anne suffered a miscarriage on the day Catherine was buried so short lived happiness I think

    1. Yellow was never the coour of mourning in Spain, although there is a widespread myth that it was.

      As Bandit Queen said, black was worn in Spain to mourn a death in Tudor times, although white had been worn for funerals prior to Prince John’s death. The funerary garments prior to 1497 were often made of unbleached wool, so they would probably have had a yellowish tinge – this may be the original of the myth of yellow mourning clothes.

      However, there seems little doubt that Henry’s choice of a yellow outfit was a demonstration of his pleasure and relief at Catherine’s death – pretty tasteless, as others have said. He seems to have realised this, as he wore dark clothes on the following day. Or perhaps he just looked in the mirror – I don’t think that yellow would have been a flattering colour for the stout, pink-cheeked, ginger haired king!

      1. Thank you, Jillian for the infromation about the material used; very interesting. I don’t think that Henry bouncing about in yellow sounds quite right somehow; especially as I have also read, cannot recall were, that he went to Mass to pray for his wife’s soul and that he was upset over her last letter. May-be he had a variety of emotions: joy at not having to cope with Spain and France anymore, although they were more likely to attack each other than England; mourning for a woman that had been his Queen and to whom he had strong emotional ties and a child with; mourning for an important Spanish Princess as the widow of his late brother; which he would be obliged to show as a head of state; and genuine renewed pride in his daughter Elizabeth, whom he showed about the court. The days of mourning would have gone on for several days or weeks or even months; but obviously he did not want to mourn for a long time. Perhaps he wore different things at different stages and here the stories and myths have merged into one. If teh material left a hint of yellow; I can see how the myth developed. I am also looking at the picture from the Victorians above and cannot help but feel that Henry’s briefs are a little too short, especially as at this time of life he was 45. Our Victorian friends really did have some odd romantic notions.

        Thanks again for the information.

        1. I don’t think that there is much doubt that Henry did wear yellow to celebrate when he heard of Catherine’s death – the description Chapuys gives, down to the white feather in his hat, is very precise, and is supported by other sources.

          There are no contemporary sources which indicate that Henry showed any grief or remorse -David Starkey dismisses stories of Henry weeping or attending mass as ‘pious nonsense’. He points out that Henry’s main aims were to ‘exploit her funeral to drive home…that she had never been his wife nor Queen of England and the second was to get his hands of what was left of her property’. The latter aim, in which he succeeded with the help of Richard Rich, was perhaps even more callous than his choice of clothing.

  8. could it be as mentioned on claires introduction on this ,that henry was indeed “celebrating”the fact that he was now free from war from spain,i don’t know about anne wearing yellow but then again maybe she did!,also could someone enlighten me here why did henry not have yet another wedding to anne since he was now a widow with Katherine deceased to fully make sure he was legally married to anne ,since im sure still a lot of people did not accept his two previous marriages to anne while queen Katherine was alive ,so here was his chance to make sure,i also believe that the Boleyn faction probably did make some nasty remarks about mary ect.

  9. I say as much in my upcoming book on Chapuys, it has been misconstrued but he is clearly not quoting them. Unfortunately Chapuys has been maligned over the years and this mis-quote is but one in a long line.

    1. I had someone having a go at Chapuys (and me!) on Facebook. She said that as my article started with “According to Chapuys” she knew that it would be inaccurate. She said that depending on Chapuys was like watching TMZ – is that Celebrity news or something? She stated that Chapuys should be completely discounted, which is ridiculous. Yes, he repeated gossip and made mistakes, but his job was to make reports for Emperor Charles V so he had to be as accurate as he could.

        1. I know! It’s crazy to rule out a source just because some of it has been shown to be inaccurate. Anyone with any sense looks at a variety of sources to compare what they say and to corroborate.

  10. His dislike of Anne has also damaged his reputation but why we expect absolute impartiality is beyond me.

    1. His dislike of Anne is completely understandable but that does not mean that anyone should discount his reports – mad!
      Let me know if you want to do a guest article on Chapuys to tie in with your book release. Perhaps something about how valuable he is as a source?

  11. Hi All

    I have been reading these comment with interest by please accept My apologies on being a bit nieve on this but where would you be able to view Chapuys writings. Thanks

    1. Chapuys’ dispatches can mainly be found in “Letters & Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII” and the “Calendar of State Papers, Spain”. Abridged versions of these can be found online at British History Online – see http://www.british-history.ac.uk/period.aspx?tme=8 – or you can subscribe to Memso (Tanner and Ritchie) to download fuller versions. Of course, you can also go to the archives themselves, e.g. National Archives, to view the actual documents.

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