Death & Rebirth: The Celebration of Katherine’s Death

In the "Tudors" Anne and Henry joyfully celebrate, however it is only Anne that wears yellow, deviously showing off her smile and mirth for Katherine's death while Henry shows himself a bit sad. In reality it was the complete opposite. There is no record of how Anne felt. According to Hall and others she wore yellow, according to Chapuys she didn't.
In the “Tudors” Anne and Henry joyfully celebrate, however it is only Anne that wears yellow, deviously showing off her smile and mirth for Katherine’s death while Henry shows himself a bit sad. In reality it was the complete opposite. There is no record of how Anne felt. According to Hall and others she wore yellow, according to Chapuys she didn’t.

On the day of Katherine’s death, a letter was sent to her husband which expressed her true feelings regarding his reformation and his other actions which she stressed that he should repent, but furthermore she pleaded with him that he should look after their daughter and that in spite of his treatment of her, she still loved him and that she would always be in the eyes of God his true wife. She signed the letter ‘Katherine the Quene’. Some romanticists like Tudor chronicler and propagandist Polydore Vergil, attest that once Henry finished reading the letter, he went down on his knees and cried. In the “Tudors” this is exactly what happens while in another scene we see Anne flashing her cat-like smile, deviously concocting ways to celebrate her dreaded rival’s passing. As beautiful as this image sounds, it is largely fictional.

Edward Hall and Chapuys corroborate the story that Henry wore yellow and threw as many masquerades and jousts to celebrate his first wife’s death on the eighty or ninth of January (depending on the source). But it’s only Chapuys who lays the blame entirely at Henry’s doorstep . Even if Anne had worn yellow, she would have done so to please her husband. Henry had more reason to celebrate Katherine’s death than Anne.

He declared on one of the feasts that he was deeply overjoyed because Katherine’s death meant the threat of war was over. (This was wishful thinking on his part. Although some were encouraging the Emperor to invade on his aunt and cousin’s behalf, Katherine had no desire to see more blood spilled on her adoptive country in her name. She had said so to Chapuys two days before her death, on his last visit.)

“Thank God, we are now free from any fear of war, and the time has come for dealing with the French much more to our advantage than herefore, for if they once suspect my becoming the Emperor’s friend and ally now that the real cause of our enmity no longer exists I shall be able to do anything I like with them.” (Henry VIII)

The color yellow which has been commonly associated with Spanish mourning, was in fact a symbol of rebirth. Henry was making a statement. By showing off his wife and his daughter Elizabeth, he was emphasizing their positions and his: Anne as his true wife, Elizabeth as his heir apparent, the true Princess of England while his eldest daughter remained a product of incest, a bastard. And himself as the head of the Church and the unchallenged sovereign of the realm, its supreme ruler.

Sources:

  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Inside the Tudor Court by Lauren Mackay
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