Anne Boleyn’s reaction on Catherine of Aragon’s death

Catherine of Aragon in 1530s, artist unknown

On 7  January 1536 Katherine of Aragon – first wife of Henry VIII and former queen of England – died on Kimbolton Castle. Some historians claim that Katherine’s death was the beggining of the end of Anne Boleyn – since she became one and only Queen of England and couldn’t bear male heir. But professor Eric Ives states that ;

”She had (Katherine) suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly gone downhill at the end of December, and her death was greeted at court by an outburst of relief and enthusiasm for the Boleyn marriage, which gives the lie to later historians who suggest that Anne was already living on borrowed time.” / p. 295 /

As long as Katherine of Aragon lived, Henry and Anne couldn’t enjoy their marriage in a proper way. There was still a reminder of the fact, that Henry had to sacrifice his kingdom for Anne Boleyn. With Katherine death new hopes arrived and both Henry and Anne were aware of it.

So how did Anne Boleyn react on her rival’s death? She received the news at Greenwich and she gave the messenger a ‘handsome present’. And what about Henry VIII? He said :

‘God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!’

He called Katherine ‘a cause of our enmity’ (in his relations with Katherine’s nephew, Charles V) and was relieved that she died. If Henry had any feelings left for his late ex-wife he did not showed them in public.

The next  day Henry and Anne ”appeared in joyful yellow from top to toe, and Elizabeth was triumphantly paraded to church. After dinner Henry went down into the Great Hall, where the ladies of the court were dancing, with his sixteen-month-old daughter in his arms, showing her off to one and another”.  /p. 295/

Scene from 'The Tudors' ; only Anne appeared in 'joyfull yellow' , Henry appeared in black - the official color of mourning

The ‘joyfull yellow’ was for many years a subject of speculations – some historians claimed that yellow was a Spanish mourning colour. Thus Henry and Anne appeared in Spanish mouring colour to show respect for Katherine. However this is not the case – yellow was not the mouring colour in Spain. It is rather a colour that indicates Henry and Anne’s real feelings towards Katherine’s death – they were actually overjoyed! In her book ‘The Lady in the Tower’ Alison Weir states that :

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.’ / p. 18/

David Starkey described ‘the carnival-like celebration of Catherine’s death’ / p. 549/ pointing out on Henry’s flamboyant dress. So was 8 of January 1536 really a celebration of Catherine’s death? It appears to look so, yes. We should not forget that at the time of Catherine’s death Anne Boleyn was pregnant and thus she hopefully looked what future holds for her. Henry was overjoyed because of the political aspect of this death – now he could built a better relationship with Charles V.

And how did Eustace Chapuys react on Catherine of Aragon’s death? He was the Imperial Ambassador (1525-1549) and staunch supporter of Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Lady Mary Tudor. His reports states (please note – Chapuys reffers to Catherine of Aragon as ‘Queen’, Anne Boleyn is a ‘Concubine’ and Elizabeth ‘a Little Bastard’) ;

”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. The King, on the Saturday he heard the news, exclaimed “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war”; and that the time had come that he would manage the French better than he had done hitherto, because they would do now whatever he wanted from a fear lest he should ally himself again with your Majesty, seeing that the cause which disturbed your friendship was gone. 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 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. At last he sent for his Little Bastard, and carrying her in his arms he showed her first to one and then to another. He has done the like on other days since, and has run some courses (couru quelques lances) at Greenwich. ”

In his later dispatch Chapuys wrote also that Anne Boleyn wept and feared that Henry would have no scruples to dispose of her as he did with Catherine of Aragon. Chapuys is definitely a source of many informations about life at court and Anne Boleyn herself however we must remember that he was Catherine of Aragon’s staunch supporter and thus he was hostile to Anne Boleyn.  There must be some truth in Chapuys’ dispatches but many of them could be exagerated or even come from courtly gossips.

And what about other sources? Chronicler Edward Hall, a contemporary to Anne Boleyn wrote that ;

“And the viii. day of January folowyng dyed the princes dowager at Kymbalton and was buried at Peterborough. Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournyng.”

Hall mentiones Anne wearing ‘yellow for mourning’ and does not mention about Henry VIII’s dress. Perhaps Hall did not wanted to comment on the subject so he diplomatically wrote about Anne’s yellow dress. Retha M. Warnicke states that ;

‘This intriguing statement may have been a reference to her pregnancy, for the chamber at Eltham, which had been prepared for her confinement in 1534, had been redecorated in yellow ochre.’ (p. 294)

Another source is Nicolas Sander (author of rumours that Anne Boleyn had 6 fingers, many moles and projecting tooth, etc.) wrote that ;

‘‘The King could not refrain from tears when he read the letter; but Anne Boleyn instead of putting on mourning on the day of Catherine’s funeral put on a yellow dress; and on being congratulated on the removal of her rival, replied, “No, I am sorry, not indeed because she is dead, but because her death has been so honourable.” (131)

The phrase ‘being congratulated on removal of her rival’ may indicate that Sander wanted his readers to believe that Anne had something to do with Catherine’s death.

Sander wanted also to portray Henry stricken by grief after death of his ex-wife and Anne appeared (again) as a villain. Whatever Henry felt for Catherine – in the public eye he appeared as overjoyed king standing on the edge of the new world.

Sources :

Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

David Starkey, 6 wives of Henry VIII

Alison Weir ‘The Lady in the Tower’

Nicolas Sander ‘The Rise and Growth of Anglican Schism’

Letters and Papers

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One Response
  1. Areti says:

    Even if I am an Anne fan to the bone,I think that it could be hidden some ‘bad’ truth about the color that Anne selected to wear on that day!I find it a quite disrespectful act towards QCOA,she did not hurt Anne in any ways and she just wanted to retain her place next to Henry as Anne wanted when she became queen.Some talked too many times about karma following Boleyn ,she was cast away like the former queen but yet she paid the ultimate price -her life-!What I want to say is that Anne was human and yes she may have felt happy after Catherine’s death.She could see a brighter future for her,she was pregnant and full of hope that she was caring a boy.I heartily believe that she loved Henry to the end.She was no homewrecker,she just wanted an honourable marriage and was too brave to demand it!She stood for herself ,admirable woman,but not diabolic.Just human with weaknesses!

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