Whenever I think of unrequited love, I think of the intractable Catherine of Aragon who refused to be pushed aside for Henry VIII's mistress, Anne Boleyn. Catherine even went to her deathbed with only forgiveness in her heart for the king who had caused her so much pain. Her death fits into the Raucous Rumor of the month...
Rumor: Anne and Henry wore yellow to mourn the death of Catherine of Aragon because it was the color of mourning in Spain. Some accounts report both Anne and Henry wearing yellow to show their respect. Some accounts report just one wearing yellow.
Possible Source: This rumor has been floating around the internet for some time. Its origins are not completely unfounded. Edward Hall, the chronicler, reported that Anne wore yellow for mourning.
After Catherine's death, the Spanish Ambassador, Chapuys, wrote a letter to Emperor Charles V stating:
“On the following day, Sunday, 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. After dinner the King entered the room in which the ladies danced, and there did several things like one transported with joy.” (1) Parenthesis added by me
Chapuys was well aware that yellow was the color of jubilation. In the inventory for the Accounts of the Revels, there are numerous examples of yellow velvet and yellow satin being ordered for the ladies’ dresses to celebrate the royal festivities. Interesting, Anne was pregnant at the time of Catherine’s death and had decorated her confinement room in yellow ochre. Hall's reference to Anne wearing yellow to mourn may have been merely a sarcastic jab at Anne's lack of grief for Catherine’s death. (2)
Either way, the color of mourning in Spain was black, not yellow. When Juana the Mad’s husband died (shown above), 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 his son, Philip III sent the country into mourning. In Seville, so much black fabric was sold that it created a black market on black clothes. (no pun intended) In fact, when Chapuys was invited to attend Catherine’s funeral, he was offered black cloth to mourn his beloved queen, not yellow.
Sorrowful Tears or Dancing on the Grave?
We can only guess as to why Anne and Henry were callous enough to wear yellow. Henry was certainly relieved at the death of his ex-queen for it meant that he no longer had to fear any meddling from her nephew, Charles. Catherine’s death signified a brief respite from the fear of Spanish invasion. For Anne, it signified the death of her greatest rival.
There seems to be this trend lately amongst Annophiles to raise the tragic queen up to sainthood as a woman incapable of any blame. I personally don’t see any figure who usurps another women’s position as a feminist role model. Whether you choose to see the controversial Anne Boleyn as harlet or heroine, neither Henry nor Anne were feeling twangs of compassion over Catherine's death. The two lovers were as joyous as their yellow attire.
Stay tuned for next week when we snoop into the love letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn....
(1) SP January 1536, 21-25, 141. Chapuys to Charles V, 21 Jan.Vienna Archives.
(2) Warnicke, p. 188
Sources and Further Reading:
Warnicke, Retha M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (July 26, 1991).
Starkey, David. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2004
State Papers Online