So I’ve gotten pretty obsessed with the musical Six lately, which is based on the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII. It’s set up as a girl group pop concert, in which the six women each sing the stories of their lives.
I’ve been dying for more information about the costumes in the show and haven’t been able to find a ton of information. The costume designer, Gabriella Slade, was nominated for an Olivier award for her work. In one article, she said:
“It was an amazing brief. There needed to be an echo of Tudor fashion, but obviously the contemporary influence of the pop industry. It’s an amazing thing to be able to infuse period costume with contemporary style. Lucy [Moss, writer] had ideas about which pop stars related to which queens. Catherine of Aragon is Beyoncé, Jane Seymour is Adele, Catherine Parr is Alicia Keys, Catherine Howard is Ariana Grande, Anne Boleyn is Lily Allen and Anne of Cleves is Nicki Minaj meets Rihanna.”
Other than that though, I haven’t been able to find a lot about her process or inspiration in designing these costumes. So I decided to look into the costumes myself. I’ll be directly comparing them to their historical counterparts and their modern pop artist inspirations.
These are all just educated guesses (based on lots and lots of reading and photo/portrait examining), but I am by no means a fashion or a pop music expert! If you have any contributions or comments, please send them my way - via the comments here, Twitter, or email at Rachael.Dickzen@gmail.com. I’d love to hear what you have to say!
This will be the first of three posts on the costumes in Six. Second post will be Wives 4-6 and the Third will take a look at the alternates’ costumes! I hope to get those both out within the next week or two.
Historical Note: Spelling wasn’t standardized in Tudor times, so you’ll see these Queens’ names spelled a number of different ways.
Catherine of Aragon was a Spanish princess, the youngest child of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same ones who sent Christopher Columbus out on his fun genocidal adventure, but THAT’S another blog post). She was Queen of England from June 1509 - May 1533.
She was betrothed to Henry’s older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, when she was three years old and married him when they were both 16. However, he died in 1502, only a few months after they married.
What movies/TV shows don’t often tell you about Catherine of Aragon was that she had a HELL of a hard time after Arthur died (The Spanish Princess on Starz got a /bit/ into this, but didn’t fully explore the length of this time in her life. Henry was TEN when she married his brother). By the terms of her marriage contract, if she returned home to Spain, King Henry VII had to return her 200,000 ducat dowry (half of which he hadn’t even received yet). King Henry was broke and totally couldn’t afford this. He briefly considered marrying her himself (after his wife Elizabeth of York died in 1503 after trying to give him another son to replace Arthur), but eventually it was decided that she would marry Henry, Duke of York. However, he was five years younger than her, so they had to wait for him to grow up. His father also continually delayed their marriage. For the next seven years, Catherine lived in near-poverty in London, trapped between her father and her father-in-law. She had to sell many of her goods to survive and was not often seen at court due to the shabbiness of her clothes.
She finally married Henry after his father’s death and his ascension to the throne in 1509. They were married for the next 24 years and for many years, they appeared to be quite in love. Catherine got pregnant seven times but most of her children either miscarried or stillborn; only three survived the birth, and only one, Princess Mary, survived past two months of life. Catherine was always known as a highly intelligent and religious woman, but as more and more of her children died, she became increasingly devout and more interested in academic matters, particularly in ensuring the education of her daughter.
After Henry became obsessed with Anne Boleyn and his all-consuming desire to have a son, he attempted to get his marriage to Catherine annulled on the basis that she was his brother’s wife first. He also asked Catherine to retire to a nunnery. She steadfastly refused all efforts to put her aside and maintained until her death that she was Henry’s rightful queen and wife. Because of her stubbornness, Henry moved her out of his household and into increasingly shabbier and more isolated homes. He also refused to let her see her daughter, Mary. By the time she died in 1535 (probably of cancer), she likely had not seen her daughter for three or so years.
Catherine’s daughter Mary eventually became England’s first queen regnant and ruled the country for five years.
Historical Influences: The costume has some pretty direct homages to Catherine of Aragon’s portrait as a young woman. You can see that in the gold chains and gold grommeting around the collar, the square neckline, and the overall color scheme of the costume. In addition, Catherine somewhat famously had auburn hair, which is clearly shown in at least this actress’s hair. There are fewer similarities to her second portrait, but I’ve included it anyway. This portrait too, though, features a dark dress with a square neckline and touches of gold. The gold throughout the Six costume could also be referencing the wealth of Spain and her royal credentials.
Pop Culture Influences: The character of Catherine is supposed to be inspired by Beyonce, which comes across pretty clearly in her song “No Way.” Stylistically, it fits with Beyonce’s more melodic songs (like “Irreplaceable,” below), and content-wise, the righteous anger throughout reminds me a lot of some of the songs on the brilliant “Lemonade” album (see “Sorry”).
I also think you can see hints of Beyonce in the costume - particularly in the gold “crown” in her hair. The character’s hair (which appears to be a wig, from videos and photos I’ve seen) is very similar to Beyonce’s, albeit shorter (it does appear that the character’s hair started out a lot longer and then was cut down in both volume and length over time). In addition, the overall cut and strong silhouette of the outfit really seems influenced by Beyonce’s style.
I did find a video in which one of the Aragon actresses said she considered Shakira an inspiration for the character as well, but I’m not really finding any Shakira outfits that are similar to this costume at all. I’m guessing that’s really more of a musical inspiration, as there is a definite Latin beat to Aragon’s song, which represents her Spanish heritage.
Accessories Note: Only two queens in the musical have crown-like spikes in their hair, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves. This may be because their historical counterparts were royal /before/ marrying Henry VIII.
I’m that Boleyn girl
And I’m up next, see
I broke England from the Church
Yeah, I’m that sexy
Why did I lose my head?
Well, my sleeves may be green
But my lipstick’s red.
Anne Boleyn - Henry’s second wife (who was queen from May 1533- May 1536) is probably the most well-known and notorious, as she was the victim of a vicious propaganda campaign that has lasted for so long that even well-educated people these days will refer to her as a whore. And honestly, I think you can see a lot of that propaganda even in her song from Six, which characterizes Anne as “just tryin’ to have some fun,” which is in my opinion, tremendously unfair to the brilliant woman she really was. I will write a FULL TED TALK LECTURE worth of opinions for a blog post later, but I should probably give you a brief overview so we can talk about the costumes now, yeah?
Anne Boleyn was Henry’s first English wife, the daughter of a highly respected diplomat and a noble lady from the Howard family (the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk). She was by no means a “commoner,” but she certainly wasn’t a princess like Catherine of Aragon. Anne was considered so precocious and talented that at age 12 (or possibly younger!), she was invited to join the court of Margaret of Austria. In her youth, she also was a maid of honor to Mary Tudor, the new Queen of France, and Queen Claude, the even newer Queen of France (Maids of Honor were young, unmarried noblewomen who attended on women of higher rank). Here, Anne was almost certainly exposed to the ideas of both Renaissance humanism and courtly love (which I’ll explain more in a later post, but didn’t actually involve any physical love), which influenced a lot of her later actions and words.
Anne was recalled to England to marry a cousin to settle a land dispute, but this plan fell through. She went on to the English court to serve Catherine of Aragon and became known as a tremendously charming, intelligent, and quick-witted woman. Henry VIII began pursuing Anne in 1526, but we know from his love letters to her throughout their seven-year courtship that their affair remained unconsummated for a very long time. Both Henry and Anne assumed that his marriage could be annulled fairly easily, as the Pope had granted annulments to several Kings in the past without much fuss. However, Catherine’s connections to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles (her nephew) ensured that this did not happen, and Henry would eventually have to break with the Catholic Church and form the Church of England to get his longed-for annulment. By the that time, most of England and Europe hated Anne and called her a whore. A mob of Londoners actually attacked her during dinner once; she barely got away.
Henry and Anne did eventually get married, after she was already pregnant with the future Princess Elizabeth. By all accounts, she was a doting mother and frequently visited her daughter (and thus, I’m pretty annoyed that Anne’s song in Six literally doesn’t even mention Elizabeth, even though Aragon’s and Seymour’s songs mention their kids). Anne was paranoid for her safety and the safety of her child, and when Henry began pursuing other women at court, she lost her temper at the king publicly several times. Her anger at seeing Henry with Jane Seymour may have led to her final miscarriage.
It’s a bit unclear who actually orchestrated Anne’s downfall - it may have been Henry’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell (although there were numerous sloppy mistakes in the falsified evidence, which seems too careless for Cromwell, IMO). But in the end, Anne would be tried and convicted of high treason due to adultery with five men, including her own brother. All six of the accused were arrested and executed in late April- mid-May 1536. There’s really no evidence supporting any of the charges and historians widely believe that the charges were completely manufactured.
In a final fuck you from the grave though, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth I would ultimately become one of England’s greatest monarchs. She reigned for over 40 years in a golden age of progress and led England to becoming a great world power.
Historical Inspiration: The historical inspiration for this costume is more subtle, but you can still see a few touches. The beading in Anne’s dress is reflected in the silver grommets in the modern costume. The actress also has Anne’s famous dark hair and eyes. Her blush even looks like it might be applied to match Anne’s? And of course, there’s the giant “B” necklace. The green of the costume appears to be tied to the legend that Henry VIII wrote “Greensleeves” about Anne, which is referenced several times in the musical’s soundtrack.
Pop Culture Inspirations: Anne is supposed to be inspired by Lily Allen, Avril Lavigne, and Kate Nash (per Millie O’Connell, an early originator of the role). The Lily Allen influence is most obvious in Anne’s song “Don’t Lose Ur Head,” which has the same sort of sassy wit and obvious non-posh British accent usually found in Lily Allen’s work. I’m guessing the use of this accent in the song is meant to refer to Anne’s “commoner” status; although she was from a good family, she wasn’t a Spanish princess! (And yes, that could just be the actress’s natural accent, but I’m sure they would have had her sing with a less emphasized accent if they didn’t want it in the story).
The Lily Allen fashion influence seems to come across in the dress silhouette. The punky checks are reminiscent of outfits commonly worn by both Kate Nash and Avril Lavigne (and also can honestly be seen worn by many female artists with a “punk” style, like Gwen Stefani or Pink). The wrist covers are a common punk fashion element as well.
The hair is more confusing though; I couldn’t find any photographs of the stated influences for Anne wearing double buns. However, double buns are pretty popular among young stars that go to Coachella; the real life Anne had a reputation for being very fashionable, so it’s possible this is a reference to that.
Apparently the green hair accessories shown in this photo have been replaced with leather and spikes. Anne’s costume is the only one that exposes the shoulders and a significant amount of arm.
Accessories Note: It appears from photos that the only two queens in the show with choker necklaces/choker style necklines are Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, who were both beheaded. They were also cousins and are the only queens to sport their initials on their necklaces.
Jane Seymour, the only one he truly loved
When my son was newly born
I died, but I’m not what I seem?
Or am I?
Stick around and you’ll
Suddenly see more
Jane Seymour was Henry VIII’s third wife and Queen of England from 1536-1537. She was his second English born spouse and the daughter of a courtier who was knighted by Henry VII. She had a much more traditional woman’s education than either Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn and though she could read and write, she was better at household management and needlework. She was from a large family, which may have contributed to Henry’s interest in her, as presumably, she was as fertile as her mother.
Jane was definitely a maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon as of 1532, but may had been serving her for several years before that. She then went on to serve Anne Boleyn. The first reports of Henry courting Jane are from February 1536, about three months before Anne’s execution and indicate that Jane had rejected a gift from Henry. In March, he sent her another gift; she responded by saying that she had “nothing in the world but her honour, which she would not wound for a thousand deaths.” Jane eventually did accept a small portrait of the king, which she wore on a necklace. Henry had given a similar present to Anne during their courtship; it’s reported that Anne snatched the necklace from Jane’s throat when she saw it.
in April 1536, Jane’s brother and sister-in-law moved into Thomas Cromwell’s former chambers in Greenwich, which were connected to Henry’s apartments by a secret passage. Henry visited her there with her family as chaperones. Jane was kept away from court during Anne’s trial, but was betrothed to Henry only a day after Anne was executed. They were married within two weeks.
She had well-publicized sympathies with Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary and took efforts to reunite Henry with both of his daughters. She was praised by various ambassadors and courtiers as being very gentle, peaceful, and meek (basically the polar opposite of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn).
Jane Seymour became pregnant in early spring 1537 and gave birth to Prince Edward on October 12. Later that day, she reportedly was sitting up in bed writing letters and received guests on the day of Edward’s Christening. However, she fell ill and passed away on October 24. It’s believed she died of puerperal fever, an infection that can occur after childbirth.
Henry wore black for months after Jane’s death and did not remarry until 1540. Years later, when a family portrait was painted for Henry VIII, the painting included Jane Seymour, her son Edward, and his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. When he died in 1547, he was buried next to Jane’s grave on his request.
Historical Influences: I’m not seeing much of an homage to Seymour’s portrait here, aside from slight similarities in the neckline and necklace line. Jane’s character is depicted with the longest skirt by far, which may be a reference to her meek reputation. She also has the heavy grommets seen in the other costumes, but in silver, rather than in gold. The white in the costume appears to refer to her peace-making efforts. Jane’s dress also has strong armor vibes, although I’m a bit unclear on what that could refer to.
Pop Culture Influences: Adele, Sia, and Lady Gaga have been listed as inspiration for Jane Seymour in Six. Jane’s power ballad “Heart of Stone” has a definite Adele power ballad feel to it. The piano background is reminiscent of numerous Adele and Lady Gaga songs. The high whistle notes part at the end is a bit more Mariah Carey than any of these singers though, IMO; Gaga and Sia are both known for high /belting/ at the end of songs, but that’s not quite the same.
Adele is known for wearing a LOT of black (in one interview, she said she sometimes goes out wearing color and people don’t recognize her) and she often goes for long sleeves and classic silhouettes that emphasize her hourglass figure, just like Jane’s costume. Sia uses black and white in her wigs and costumes on a pretty regular basis.
I initially thought I’d have trouble finding Lady Gaga inspirations, but the prison dress outfit from the Telephone music video definitely seems similar to Jane’s strong black and white stripes ensemble, plus they both share that trademark light blonde hair. Jane’s pulled back hair with volume seems like a pretty clear Adele reference as well.
Accessories Note: Earlier photos of Jane show that her costume used to incorporate a black leather hair piece with little silver spikes, but that appears to have been removed at this point.