Important update: Yellow was not the colour of Royal mourning in Spain

Catherine of Aragon

In a recent post discussing how Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII reacted to the news of Catherine of Aragon’s death I examined what contemporary evidence survives and also outlined the views of several prominent Tudor historians.

When outlining Alison Weir’s views I quoted from the 2007 edition of The Six Wives of Henry VIII where it is said that Anne and Henry wore yellow ‘as a mark of respect for the woman that Henry insisted had been his sister-in-law’ as yellow was the colour of royal mourning in Spain (Pg. 299).

As I was unable to find any examples of Spanish monarchs wearing yellow in mourning, I decided to email Alison Weir to see if she could point me in the right direction.

Alison very kindly responded by saying that this was in fact an error. She had, some years ago, located a source that stated that yellow was the official colour of Royal mourning in Spain but, after further research, found the claim to be unsubstantiated.

Alison Weir has corrected this error in The Lady in the Tower where she plainly states,

‘It is a misconception that yellow was the colour of Spanish Royal mourning: Anne’s choice of garb was no less than a calculated insult to the memory of the woman she had supplanted.’ (Pg. 18)

I have updated my original post to reflect this information and hope that this is one misconception that we can now put to rest.

Weir, A. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, 2009.
Weir, A. Weir, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2007.

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  1. Susan Bordo says:

    This is great, Natalie! Thanks so much for investigating further. Still, I’d like to know the research she unearthed. She’s a great writer, but I need hard facts, not just her word.

  2. SamanthaRegina says:

    I read “Lady in the Tower” recently and remember her mentioning this. I am currently at work and my copy at home, but I will be glad to look and see if Ms. Weir cited her sources on that… 🙂

  3. Liz Sinclair says:

    Speaking of colours…….I was at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday and was in the Tudor Gallery. This famous picture of Katharine of Aragon is in fact not a true likeness and was painted many years after her life and death. they discovered it by the analysis of the pigment used in her jewels and the background colour which contains ‘Prussian Blue’, not invented until the 1700’s!

  4. Liz Sinclair says:

    Thanks natalie and for all the great work on this blog. You do an amazing job and I love reading here. On the little sign next to her picture it also said they had dated the tree rings on the wooden panel it is painted on and that that dated back to the 18th century. I know many times this portarit has been held up as a reason why Henry rejected Katharine as it shows an older, somewhat starchy matron which I think is totally at odds with what we know of katharine as a passionate woman capable of acting as a general in battle on behalf of Henry and by defying her husband and the entire court over the validity of her marriage. The early paintings of Katharine show a lovely woman with red-gold hair and although I do believe her figure thickened with all the pregnancies I don’t think she was a hag. I don’t believe that age in women had much to do with it as even when she first came to Henry’s attention, it seems Anne was considered ‘mature’. I had another feeling when I was loking at Holbein’s Whitehall cartoon and looking at Henry’s face, I think he was a genuinely unhappy man grasping at whatever he thought would bring him some happiness. Being trapped in that huge body with suppurating abcesses must have been awful considering what a golden youth he had been. there was something about the eyes that reminded me of a bear lashing out in pain – perhaps that is why he hurt all his women so. What do others think?

    • Thank you so much for sharing this information Liz! I will have to look into Catherine’s portrait and share this information with my readers. As for Henry, one of my favourite quotes about him, one which I think perfectly describes him, is a quote by Thomas More where he says:
      ‘You often boast to me that you have the king’s ear and often have fun with him, freely and according to your whims. This is like having fun with tamed lions – often harmless, but just as often there is fear of harm. Often he roars for no known reason, and suddenly the fun becomes fatal.’
      Similar to your bear analogy.

  5. Nancy Bilyeau says:

    Thank you for exploring this question! It has always been a contradiction, did Henry celebrate by wearing yellow or did he weep? Then there was the theory that he wore yellow out of respect. But I think after those years of waiting and being angry with her opposition and fearing Charles V, he did not mourn her at all. I think Alison Weir handled this pretty nicely, trying to correct the yellow issue in a later book.

  6. During the renaissance yellow was the colour worn by Judas, and was associated with envy, duplicity and so forth. Was this the reason the Imperial ambassador made a big deal of Henry wearing yellow on the day he heard Katherine of Aragon had died? I asked David Starkey whether he thought Chapuys was indicating Henry VIII was wearing the colour of treachery – yellow – when he danced with Anne Boleyn on the day Katherine of Aragon died. He thinks not. ‘Henry’s tiltyard buddies all turned out in yellow and white for the Band of Brother’s banquet and torchlight procession in 1510 (Virtuous Prince, 357)’ he tells me. ‘Liturgically too yellow (=white) seems to be a colour of rejoicing. Which surely is the simple point of Chapuys remark: they were rejoicing when they should have been mourning’. I know this is a rather late post, but I only spotted your interest while reading Susan Bordo’s book on the Creation of Anne Boleyn – which I can’t comment on yet as I have been commissioned to review it.

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