When a messenger arrived at Greenwich Palace to inform the king of Katherine's death, he apparently cried out, "God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!" That's not exactly the reaction one would hope to hear about the death of an ex-spouse, but it shows just how complicated the situation was for Henry. Clearly, because of the annulment between them, Henry and England were at risk of Spanish retaliation (since that was Katherine's home country and her nephew Charles was the King of Spain). Of course it is only natural that Henry would have been concerned about the threat of war, and the fact that Katherine was now dead certainly lifted that weight off of his shoulders. With a dead ex-wife, Henry was truly a free man - though he had already married Anne Boleyn. He had no more quarrel with Charles V, and he could now consider an Anglo-Spanish alliance against the French. Whether or not this was really all Henry was thinking about at the time, we can see that Katherine's death was just as political as it was emotional (if not much more so). It is certainly possible that Henry was a bit more regretful than he let on, but I suppose we'll never know.
On this day in 1536, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were reported to be decked out from head to toe in the color yellow. Nowadays, such a color choice would go unnoticed, but in the sixteenth century, symbolism was incredibly important and obvious. Unfortunately, to this day, we don't quite know what the yellow symbolized, but quite a few people have taken a stab at it. Anne Boleyn biographer, Eric Ives, described the color as "joyful yellow," saying that Henry and Anne were "triumphantly parading" their daughter Princess Elizabeth around court. From this description, it sounds as if the married couple was celebrating the death of Anne's rival, but is it that simple and harsh? Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador for Spain and a close friend of the late Katherine, wrote to Charles V saying, "The king was clad all over 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." It is interesting that no mention was made of Anne or the way she dressed - especially considering Chapuys hated her and would have taken any opportunity to speak badly of her. However, Edward Hall did write, "Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournynge."
This is where it gets a little tricky. Some historians have concluded that the color yellow was in fact a color of mourning in Katherine's home country, Spain. However, other sources say this is not the case, and it is instead a color of hope and renewal. Upon my own research, I have found that yellow was the color of mourning in Egypt and Burma, and that executioners in Spain wore yellow at one time, but I have seen no solid evidence that it was an official color of Spanish mourning. Interestingly, I also found that actors in the Middle Ages wore the color yellow when portraying a dead character in a play. Perhaps yellow was simply connected to the theme of death, and Henry and Anne were making a somewhat ambiguous statement by wearing it. It is certainly possible that they were celebrating Katherine's death by wearing the happy English color, but the side of me that wants to redeem Henry's character forces me to dig for another explanation. Unfortunately, the details and facts about what yellow really meant makes that hard.
It is so hard to know what Henry VIII could have possibly been thinking when he was told of his first wife's death. I suppose, in order to understand, we would have to decide whether or not his public reasons for annuling that marriage were really his reasons. If he truly believed that Katherine had never been his lawful wife, then perhaps he didn't feel any regret for annuling the marriage. However, if casting Katherine off was simply done in an effort to be rid of an older, barren queen so that he could marry a young and beautiful lady, then perhaps by now he was rethinking that decision. We have to remember that by January 1536, Anne Boleyn had proved herself to be somewhat of a disappointment. Not only had she only birthed one healthy daughter, but she had miscarried a child at least once by this time. Of course, we know that she would also miscarry a son in late January, which would be the final straw. Not only were her child-bearing skills unsatisfactory for Henry, but she was also quite a difficult woman to get along with. As David Starkey once wrote, the appeal of Anne's hot and passionate personality quickly wore off. By 1536, after three challenging years of marriage - constant fighting followed by passionate make-ups - Henry was getting a little tired, and it's possible that he was wondering why he'd gone through all the effort to marry her in the first place. If this was the case, we can assume that he may have been a little more sad about Katherine's death than he let on. In 'The Tudors,' the writers chose to show Henry VIII crying over Katherine's last letter (which I discussed yesterday). In this emotional scene, we watch Henry reading Katherine's final words to him and crumpling in tears against the wall - clearly remorseful. But did that really happen, or was it simply the work of the show's writers to add some extra emotion to the episode? Interestingly, an Elizabethan man named Nicholas Sander wrote, "the king could not refrain from tears when he read the letter." He also takes a stab at Anne, saying that instead of putting on mourning the next day, she put on a yellow dress. So perhaps there is a bit of truth to the idea that Henry shed some tears for his late wife, but one report can certainly not make us know for sure.
I want so badly to redeem Henry and believe that he was truly troubled by Katherine's death - even just a little bit - but I really don't know what to think. None of the evidence really points towards that, although 'The Tudors' made a good decision, I think, by making it appear that Henry was very sad about it. One important thing to remember is that Anne was pregnant at the time that Katherine passed away, so it's possible that Henry was too preoccupied, not only by the political benefits of Katherine's death, but also by the fact that he was waiting to greet a newborn son, to really pay any attention to the fact that Katherine had died. I hate the idea that Henry really wanted to parade around in joyful celebration after his wife of 18 years died, but unfortunately, that may just be the case. To delve any deeper into the situation, we would have to take a good long look at the personalities and levels of compassion for both Henry and Anne - and well, that could take a long time. In any case, it is a terribly sad scenario and I know there were many people at court who were mourning Katherine - even if Henry and Anne were not among them.