I’ve resisted watching season two of The Spanish Princess (2020), because season one was so exhausting (I wrote recaps AND research articles about the history, the Spanish costumes, and the English costumes) and, honestly, pissed me off so much. But then I interviewed Raïssa Hans and found out she was the costume supervisor for season two of this show, and I so liked her that I was hoping I could find a way to enjoy her work on this! AND, I found out that season 2 has a new costume designer (Pam Downe), so despite the maternity armor debacle, I was hopeful for less crazytown. And, I think we got it?!
First, a few thoughts on the story (SPOILERS potentially): I was surprised to find myself relatively happily engaged. Oh, Catherine of Aragon fighting at Flodden is ridiculous, and there’s many other bits and bobs to piss you off (she apparently miscarried as a result, she literally ignores the future Mary I for the first five-ish years of her life, Catherine randomly invites Charles V to the Field of Cloth of Gold and then literally introduces him to Henry as “Charles V” — and I may never get over watching Margaret Pole and Thomas More waggling eyebrows at each other).
But I did love that they started with how happy Henry and Catherine were — with baby Henry, Duke of Cornwall, who dies young (okay, NOT BECAUSE CATHERINE IGNORED HIM WHILE PRAYING, WTF). And, in particular, I found Henry’s emotional journey away from Catherine convincing. I feel like this IS probably how it went: all was glorious, then babies die/are miscarried, Henry starts to feel like god is punishing them, blames Catherine because it couldn’t possibly be him, and increasingly turns away from her to find his true inner manchild.
But on to the costumes, shall we? This season was designed by Pam Downe, who has also designed a number of productions including Lady Audley’s Secret (2000), Modigliani (2004), Lark Rise to Candleford seasons 2-4, The Night Watch (2011), and The English Game (2020). According to a Variety interview with Downe, “Bold prints, colors and embroidery are all behind designer’s Pam Downe’s looks for Queen Catherine. Her silhouette is sleeker now that she has ascended to power” (‘The Spanish Princess’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Dressing Queen Catherine in Season 2). Speaking to Latest magazine, Downe said,
“In season 2 we decided to show Catherine and Henry as more mature than in season 1, the costume shapes are more defined, and this is particularly apparent with Catherine and her ladies in waiting where there are less elements to their outfits which helps to create a sleeker, more confident look” (In conversation with costume designer Pam Downe).
First, let’s look at 1510s women’s fashions. As I wrote in one of last season’s reviews, this image of Mary Tudor (Henry VIII’s younger sister) is a good representation of women’s fashion: “her fitted yet naturally-curved bodice, wide skirt, and wide sleeves, plus draped and not-too-structured hood on the head touches on all the main stylistic points of 1500s English dress.”
We eventually start getting to that look, but first we meander through some others. To start, Catherine and most of the ladies are in a mash-up of late 15th-century Florentine with touches of later 16th-century Elizabethan:
Downe said of that dress above:
“The fabric was made from Indian sari fabric. In that era, your dresses were hand-embroidered, but that was impossible for time and money. I looked at Indian fabrics because a sari has masses of meter to it when you’re getting them made, but what was great about that particular fabric was that it had gold to it and it was already embroidered. We then sewed in pearl trim to the rest of it. We had twelve fittings on it, and it took a week from start to finish, but that’s one of my favorite dresses” (‘The Spanish Princess’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Dressing Queen Catherine in Season 2).
And yes, get ready for a LOT of Indian fabrics and trims.
Catherine wears a similar style as a maternity gown. There’s a LOT of maternity wear this season on Catherine, Lina, and other characters; the production opted for the “raised waistline” rather than the “loose gown” look, which makes sense because I’m sure they’re trying to keep things attractive to the modern viewer:
According to Downe:
“This was made from Indian fabric again, and I flipped it because the correct side was really shiny. I bought the braid from a haberdashery shop in London. I bought silks from a local merchant for the sleeves. The copper fabric in the skirt was a bit of experimentation and I wasn’t sure if it would work, but there was a lot of yellow, but it provided a lift to the outfit. What’s interesting was that I recycled it later in the series. The shape changes and I removed the sleeves, but recycling was something I did a lot throughout. She’s more entrenched in the English court and her shapes are slightly different this season. They have a simple silhouette and a lot of trim on them” (The Spanish Princess’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Dressing Queen Catherine in Season 2).
Again, according to Downe:
“The dress fabric is velvet [although it looks like silk], but it’s a furnishing velvet because it has more sheen to it and it doesn’t have the density that regular velvet has. It gives this illusion of density and I used that fabric a lot later on in the season, but with elaborate prints. She wears that green dress earlier when the army is going to war. Henry is also in green and they’re very much together, still dressing very much alike. Later on, after her father has betrayed them, she’s wearing that dress and he’s in something very different [and] you start to see their unity split because her father had betrayed them so he’s wearing something different. This dress has no print and it’s very simple because of the emotion of the scene when she’s wearing it in the chapel and she’s with the baby. I thought a red or gold dress would be too glaring for that, and green silk had a much softer feel to it. It’s a tragic scene. I have to say, it was difficult to marry this idea that we see in the episode because there’s a lot of brightness and joy throughout, and then we get to this penultimate scene with the baby and everything that’s happening. I thought green had a much cooler temperature to it for color and that felt ideal for everything that was going on” (The Spanish Princess’ Costume Designer Breaks Down Dressing Queen Catherine in Season 2).
Catherine’s dress here was very pretty, even if the fabric motifs screamed India:
A similar look:
Yet more India:
According to Downe:
“There are only so many silhouettes you can create for this period whereas the way you can decorate these shapes is endless! The fabric I most used was velvet, in all its many forms be it cotton, silk, viscose or a combination of each. Velvet was worn heavily in the 16th century and was particularly prominent in the English court, it is also a good surface to print on. My textile printer Sarah came up with this ingenious way to puff out the inks to give the prints a 3D look that gave the impression that the fabrics had been embroidered (for a fraction of the price that any embroidery would have cost!). Another way I increased the embellishments of the prints was to sew in individual beads and pearls, this was only done to the centre section of the dresses, those areas the camera were more likely to see as it is a very time consuming” (In conversation with costume designer Pam Downe).
When things start going wrong for Catherine, her wardrobe starts changing — more somber colors, for one, but also more of a 16th-century Elizabethan look. Compare this look:
At first I was scoffing at the fabric because it looked like shisha mirror embroidery, but this detail shows they are actually gold spangles:
This look reminded me of 1530s-40s Florentine fashion:
Finally, at the Field of Cloth of Gold (1520, for reference), we get some Actual Tudor Dress:
On to other characters! “Maggie” Pole tended to get more Actual Tudor Dress, although I’ll never be a fan of the sewn-in stomacher look (see this review of Maria Theresa for an explanation of why; yes, that is 18th-century dress instead of 16th, but the concept still applies).
In addition to HIGHLY overacting, Margaret Tudor gets sort of Cranach-y (early 16th-century German) looks:
This dress too:
She then advances into the mid-16th century look:
On to Princess Mary/Mary Queen of France! Mostly I want to point out how this dress has the weird bodice/forepart in matching fabric thing seen on a lot of secondary characters, which I think is supposed to reference the matching STOMACHER and forepart look from the period, but just looks wrong to my eye:
Mary gets a special hood base that’s all her own, which looks to me like a sticky-uppy French hood worn backwards.
Lina spends a lot of time in maternity wear too, and only occasionally rocks the head necklace:
Princess Mary (future Queen Mary I) underwhelmed me at her big presentation moment during the Field of Cloth of Gold:
The men looked more recognizably Tudor; according to Downe, “With Henry, I made a conscious effort to create a wider, squarer silhouette than before, so he takes up more space which helps give him the appearance that he is better able to command the room” (In conversation with costume designer Pam Downe).
And a final few unfair extras nitpicks:
Have you been watching The Spanish Princess season 2? Share your thoughts in the comments!