Sunday, May 23, 2010

Question from Nikki - More on Anne wearing red at her execution

I asked the question before about Anne Boleyn wearing red to her execution. I actually found it written on this site first! (I am sure Lara can find the post.)

Here it is suggested again in these two articles. Are these false?

[And yes, I did find the previous thread. :) - Lara]


Alia said...

Hi, Nikki. For sure, she wore a dark gray damask robe trimmed in fur with an ermine mantle. Underneath, I have heard two different stories: one, a red petticoat, and two, a white petticoat. I am inclined to think that red is correct because I have seen it more times than white and there were a few quotes from anonymous ambassadors and the like who stoutly said red.
Hope this helps :)

Foose said...

I think I have tracked down the source for this. Martin Hume is the first historian to cite the scarlet kirtle, in his 1905 The Wives of Henry VIII and the Parts They Played in History: "Anne was dressed in grey damask trimmed with fur, over a crimson petticoat, and cut low at the neck, so as to offer no impediment to the executioner's steel ..."

Hume was also the first English translator of "The Spanish Chronicle," a source that was believed to be the work of one "Antonio de Guaras," a Spanish merchant resident in London during the mid-16th century and therefore possibly an eyewitness to events. In his latest book G.W. Bernard, however, characterizes it as probably the work of Catholics "hostile to Queen Elizabeth much later than the events it describes" and a "somewhat colorful source." Which would explain its bizarre inconsistencies -- on the one hand, it's full of colorful gossipy anecdotes that suggest insider knowledge, on the other hand it makes a lot of howlers -- the order of Henry VIII's fourth and fifth marriages is reversed, Anne Boleyn's brother is a "Duke," Catherine Parr's brother is "Lord Rochford," etc.

However, it is in this source that there appears to be the first mention of the crimson petticoat. A lot of popular historians (and Tudor fiction writers) are unable to resist the stories of the Spanish Chronicle, so they turn up regularly in their narratives. Note that Dr. Ives stayed away from any mention of the crimson petticoat in his exhaustive Anne Boleyn, and stuck to the French eyewitnesses who described the grey damask but no scarlet kirtle. If Catholics late in Elizabeth's or even in James' reign composed the Chronicle, perhaps they drew on their knowledge of the details of Mary Queen of Scots' execution (where the crimson underskirt is amply attested to) to describe Anne. On the other hand, Mary was regarded as a Catholic martyr and Anne considered heresy incarnate, so it's curious they would apparel the Boleyn queen in the color of martyrdom.

The Spanish Chronicle says:

"When she arrived at the scaffold she was dressed in a night-robe of damask, with a red damask skirt, and a netted coif over her hair ..."

Hume was a respected historian in his day and I think he's still well thought of, if dated. I expect he was so excited about finding and translating a new source on the events of Henry's reign that perhaps he did not properly sift the Chronicle for inaccuracies, and incorporated its content into his book on Henry's wives.

This doesn't prove that Anne did not wear the scarlet petticoat at her execution, however. As I said, the Spanish Chronicle gets some things right, and other things very wrong.

Bearded Lady said...

Hi Nikki,
Foose already answered your questioned, but I just wanted to add that petticoats and kirtles were very hard to see under a gown. Often they would be just poking out from the bodice. You also have to keep in mind that red was one of the most common colors for petticoats because it was believed to transfer good health to the wearer. (Red was a very significant color with the prevailing theory of four humours and doctors often advised their patients to wear certain colors to correct an imbalance of humours. ) So wearing a red kirtle is very similar to how we equate white underwear to be cleaner. In other words, trying to attach significance to a red petticoat would be similar to saying someone today was saintly because they died wearing white socks.

It is very possible that the Spanish Chroniclers were right and the reason why they noticed Anne’s red kirtle was because the bodice of her gown was cut low. But if she did wear a red kirtle, no one would have attached any significance to it.