TBT: Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

I’ve never been able to track down a copy of Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972), the feature film that sort-of adapted the BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970). The costumes always looked good-ish, but I just assumed it was a shortened version of the BBC miniseries and called it good. Well, I recently found it available for streaming online (on a less than reputable site, so all I can say is do a Google video search for the title) and color me shocked at how frickin’ stunning the costumes are!

First, the two productions do need to be compared, as the same actor stars as Henry VIII (Keith Michell) and the same costume designer worked on both films (John Bloomfield — who also designed the original Poldark, some Doctor WhoConan the BarbarianRobin Hood: Prince of ThievesTo Kill a KingBeing Julia, and A Good Woman).

I’ve only watched two episodes of the Six Wives miniseries, but I can tell you the two big differences are focus and budget. Focus, in that the Six Wives miniseries focuses on telling the story from the wives’ perspective, while the change in title order is a tip off that Henry VIII and His Six Wives is much more focused on Henry’s perspective. The film is told in flashback, with Henry on his deathbed remembering his interactions with various wives in chronological order. That’s not to say you don’t get a feel for the wives, but Henry is a stronger connecting thread. The other difference is budget, and while the Six Wives had quite good costumes but some obvious “we had no budget” tells, Henry VIII and His Six Wives clearly had BUDGET, baby.

This budget shows most of all in the costumes (although also the locations). People, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this good of a look at pre-Elizabethan Tudor costumes in my life (although I’m not an expert, so please let me know if you have other recommendations). Sure, there were a few weirdnesses, and a decent amount of rewearing The Same Thing Over and Over — but what was on screen was RIGHT OUT OF A PORTRAIT. Sadly, the only press I can find with Bloomfield is about Six Wives and how little budget they had, and so all the shortcuts they had to take as a result … but clearly he did not have this same problem on the feature film.

Let’s work our way through the film in chronological wife order, and look at both Henry, the various wives, and the bits we also see of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

 

Catherine of Aragon (reigned 1509-1533)

First, menswear. Very early Tudor men’s dress isn’t the ginormous football linebacker look we’re used to. Yes, there’s still a lot of knee-length coats (“gowns”) and some puffy shoulders, but it’s much more streamlined.

early Tudor men's fashion

Early Tudor men’s fashion via A Gentlewoman’s Tudor Research: c. 1515-20, c. 1514, 16th century.

Here’s a very early image of Henry VIII, a few years after coming to the throne. Note the hair length, and the neckline of the (doublet?), as well as the loose overcoat/gown:

Henry VIII circa 1513, Denver Art Museum.

Henry VIII circa 1513, Denver Art Museum

Now, let’s look at Michell as Henry VIII in the film:

Keith Michell in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

The hair is blonder and a little too layered for my taste, but the length is great. The doublet is made of super interesting fabric — is it pieced? with slashes, and the fur-trimmed cloak is great.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Tons of slashing, puffed sleeves but not in the later linebacker style, and skirted doublets. Plus, HATS!!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

I thought this was particularly good in terms of silhouette and line — that high horizontal neckline is straight out of portraits, and I like that the sleeves have less volume.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Quintessential early Henry — jousting and being manly and chivalrous!

Early Tudor women’s dress. Note the soft hood, square neckline, soft natural bust curve, wide sleeves, and full A-line skirt:

Detail from Mary Tudor and Queen Louis XII of France, c. 1514, British Library.

Detail from Mary Tudor and Queen Louis XII of France, c. 1514, British Library.

This slightly later image (from the late 1520s or early 1530s) shows the torso stiffening, forming the classic cone-shape, as well as narrower undersleeves and folded-back (fur-lined) oversleeves:

Two Views of a Lady wearing an English Hood (1526–8 or about 1532–5), by Hans Holbein the Younger, Vellum on playing card 159 x 110 mm.

Two Views of a Lady wearing an English Hood (1526–8 or about 1532–5), by Hans Holbein the Younger, Vellum on playing card 159 x 110 mm.

Here’s a few images of the real Catherine of Aragon. She’s wearing English (“gable”) hoods with the sides pinned up (and a cap in that latest portrait), square necklines, wide sleeves, and a more cone-shaped torso than the image above.

Catherine of Aragon, 16th century, Lambeth Palace

Catherine of Aragon, 16th century, Lambeth Palace

Katherine of Aragon, unknown author, after a work attributed to Joannes Corvus, early 18th century, National Portrait Gallery

Katherine of Aragon, unknown author, after a work attributed to Joannes Corvus, early 18th century, National Portrait Gallery

Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Horenbout, 1525-26, via Wikimedia Commons

Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Horenbout, 1525-26, via Wikimedia Commons

Frances Cuka plays Catherine of Aragon. She’s got the necessary red hair, she’s a touch too middle-aged to play younger Catherine but I’m going with it, I’m loving the hoods and necklines although confused about the round padded headdress (she wears a smaller version of this in Six Wives). (Side note, I am however traumatized to discover Cuka is the grandmother from Friday Night Dinner, the recent and hilarious British comedy show).

1972 Henry-VIII-and-His-Six-Wives

(You can see more of this dress in one of the Henry images above) I pinged our resident guest Tudor expert, Kimiko Small, and we both agreed this headdress looks like a 1520s-30s Italian balzo, but she also noted it’s somewhat similar to:

David and Bathsheba - French tapestry c. 1515

… these rounded, padded headdresses in a French tapestry (David and Bathsheba) c. 1515.

1972 Henry-VIII-and-His-Six-Wives

This gable hood is great, although it’s missing that crossed striped bit that usually covers most of the hairline, and the pinned-up side flappy bits.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Beautifully done: TONS of embellishment, fabric woven with silver, wide sleeves, cone-shaped yet flat silhouette with a hint of cleavage but nothing more — just like in the portraits.

 

Anne Boleyn (reigned 1533-36, but important from about 1522)

Here we get into Super Classic Henrician Costume. There’s a lot of similar lines, but things are getting bulky, particularly shoulders. Henry’s hair also gets shorter.

Pay particular attention to this portrait:

King Henry VIII, c.1535. Joos van Cleve. The Royal Collection.

King Henry VIII, c.1535. Joos van Cleve. The Royal Collection

Because they made an amazing copy of it for the film!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

SO MANY GREAT DETAILS: again, the horizontal neckline, the slashing, the gridded trim placement, the pearls, the jeweling on the shirt … Don’t worry, we’ll get to Anne in a moment.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Same doublet, less gown. Henry has cropped his hair. That tied sash!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

I thought the detailing on the sleeves was really nicely done.

Now, Anne Boleyn. Fashions haven’t changed that much since Catherine of Aragon’s heyday, although Anne’s era saw the introduction of the French hood. Nonetheless, Anne did sometimes wear the English/gable hood:

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of a Lady, called Anne Boleyn. c. 1532-35. British Museum.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of a Lady, called Anne Boleyn. c. 1532-35. British Museum

This is a later copy, but a good view of a French hood that Anne may have introduced, but even if not, popularized:

Anne Boleyn, late 16th-century copy of a lost original of c. 1533-1536. National Portrait Gallery

Anne Boleyn, late 16th-century copy of a lost original of c. 1533-1536. National Portrait Gallery

This image (of Jane Seymour) is slightly later, but I wanted to show how the skirt is widening over (small) cone-shaped hoops.

Jane Seymour, Whitehall Dynasty Mural of Henry VIII by Remigius van Leemput circa 17th century after Hans Holbein circa 1536-37

Jane Seymour, Whitehall Dynasty Mural of Henry VIII by Remigius van Leemput circa 17th century after Hans Holbein circa 1536-37, via Wikimedia Commons

Anne is played by Charlotte Rampling, and overall I thought she was an excellent choice. She really brought Anne’s teasing nature to life, although I didn’t love that they went with the (probably false) “fact” that she had a vestigial sixth finger.

Anne’s first ensemble has her with hair down (groan), although I think she’s at her country home of Hever Castle. From afar, I liked this dress a lot:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Good silhouette, lots of fabric in that skirt — which I think is parti-colored orange and red? The upside-down crown (see a better image above with Henry) is weird.

Close up, I had a few problems … She wears it again with a SUPER sticky-uppy French hood that would be great if it just laid BACK instead of UP. I don’t love the obviously sewn-on ties at the bodice center front. I can see why this would work well for film, because it doesn’t need adjusting, but this IS such an era of tied-on, pinned-on, adjustable clothes that it felt too theatrical. (Interestingly, Anne Boleyn wears a version of this with real ties in Six Wives). It also makes me think the gown unnecessarily closes in back (back-closing is totally period for this era, but not if you already have a front opening!). I thought the puffy sleeves were beautiful…

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Sticky-uppy French hood, fake ties, puffed sleeves. Note again the dress fabric is red AND orange.

But I questioned their accuracy, so I again pinged Kimiko, and she pointed me to two Flemish images with similar undersleeves. Was this a style worn in England? We don’t know!

Concert of Women, by Master of Female Half-length, Dutch painter (active 1530-1540), 1530-40, Oil on panel, 53 x 37 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Concert of Women, by Master of Female Half-length, Dutch painter (active 1530-1540), 1530-40, Oil on panel, 53 x 37 cm, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Master of the Half Length Portraits, Antwerp, c 1530. Mary Magdelene Reading, Christie's.

Master of the Half Length Portraits, Antwerp, c 1530. Mary Magdelene Reading, Christie’s.

Later, Anne gets a red velvet dress that has over/under sleeves that are SO spot on:

charlotte_rampling-anne-boleyn

The black embroidery on the shift! The neckline and the jeweling! That hood would be gorgeous if it again didn’t stick straight up.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Those full undersleeves with gold trim, and the turned-back fur oversleeves, are right out of a portrait.

Finally, there’s a masque (costumed/themed dance performance) led by Anne as the “queen of Ethiope and her train.” The scene takes place as Anne and Henry’s relationship is breaking down, and the point is to show Anne’s love of display and being the center of attention, and not realizing how to handle Henry, who is pushing away.

The scene is interesting dramatically, and such masques — especially with “ooo weird foreign!” references is totally of the period — but there is blackface. Yes, they absolutely would have done blackface in the period without batting an eyelash, and given the film was made in 1971-72 there is zero interrogation of the idea of Othering or the literal blackface, which is super problematic. I’m not sure what the solution would have been — probably just not to do it, since the point of the film wasn’t to explore issues of racial/ethnic/national difference/identity in the Tudor period?

Six Wives of Henry VIII (1972)

Anne (right) as the “Queen of Ethiope.” Her dress isn’t all that far off from Tudor dress, although the different fabrics for bodice and skirt/sleeves makes it louder/more costumey, and the loose overgown (while fashionable) had Turkish references, as does the round padded headdress.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

A bit more of the headdress, which is quite beautiful, as is the intricate trim/jeweling on the overrobe facings. But, yes, balls out blackface.

This costume went on exhibit in 2016, and Julia of “Julia Renaissance Costumes” has a great blog post with details:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

This can’t be the same overgown, but the undergown and headdress are the same. (C) Julia Renaissance Costumes

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Details of the jeweling on the bodice (and the ginormous hook-and-eye closure). (C) Julia Renaissance Costumes

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

The headdress is a cap plus that padded portion at the front. Proof that in 16th century costuming, Add More Metallics is always a good maxim! (C) Julia Renaissance Costumes

 

Jane Seymour (reigned 1536-37)

Men’s costume just keeps getting bigger:

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533, The National Gallery

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533, The National Gallery

Note the loose overgown — three-quarter length, huge puffed oversleeves, fur revers. The doublet is the slashed piece — over that is a “jacquette” with a U-shaped line that goes over the shoulders and then down to the waist, with an attached skirting. There’s that white sash we saw above. The hat shape is changing, too, to a flatter but upturned brim.

Portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, after 1537, Walker Art Gallery

Portrait of Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, after 1537, Walker Art Gallery

In the film, Henry is still in the same doublet, but with a new hat style, that U-shaped/skirted jacquette, and a new fur-lined overcoat/gown:

Keith Michell in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)

The hat jeweling and curled feathers are great.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Also note the classic, squared off shaped men’s shoes.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Full Henry!

Here’s the same doublet/sleeves again, but with a different overcoat/gown:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Huge codpiece, natch.

Then this outfit, which is just gold up the wazoo:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Gold coat/gown, gold doublet — same jacquette? We’ll come back to Jane in a moment!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

So many metallic fabrics, so much trim!

Fashions of Jane Seymour‘s era aren’t that much different than Anne’s — the two overlap, and Jane isn’t around very long. Note the pinned-up hoods, jeweling, turn-back oversleeves, and decorated undersleeves matching the forepart on the skirt:

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, 1536-37, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, 1536-37, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Jane Seymour, painted by the Cast Shadow Workshop, 1536

Jane Seymour, painted by the Cast Shadow Workshop, 1536

Posthumous depiction of Jane Seymour from Henry VIII's family painting, Formerly attributed to Hans Holbein, c. 1545, Hampton Court Palace

Posthumous depiction of Jane Seymour from Henry VIII’s family painting, Formerly attributed to Hans Holbein, c. 1545, Hampton Court Palace

Jane (Jane Asher) starts off in a very squared-off English hood that again needs pinned-up side flaps and the striped bit covering the hairline:

Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

She’s very washed-out, color-wise, which works well for the character.

Her first, still unmarried, dress is WEIRD:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Why is the waist so short? The bodice and skirt different colors? The oversleeves connected to the partlet?

At court, she’s still beige but jeweled UP THE WAZOO:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

As is Henry. Note how much they are in the same color scheme. This movie totally embraces the weird late 1960s/early 1970s thing that your ears should never show.

This next outfit, however, while still in Beige Jane color land, is SO beautiful:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

The metallic fabrics on the forepart and undersleeves! The line of the undersleeves and placement of the puffs! The jeweling around the neckline! And I think we’ve finally got our first hoop?

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

More of the over/undersleeves, plus we’ve finally got a proper hood — note the black part hanging down in back…

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Finally, side flaps pinned up, and the striped fabric cross/over bit that hides most of the hairline! Also, let us enjoy how the neckline jeweling matches the necklace and matches the hood jeweling…

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Even more Hot English Hood Action. THAT is how you do it right!

1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Sorry, I’m reveling in that hood!

A key moment in Jane’s reign was when she convinced Henry to bring Princess Mary (the future Queen Mary I) back to court. Here’s an image of Mary from a decade later:

Portrait of Mary I (1516-1558) by Master John, 1544, National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of Mary I (1516-1558) by Master John, 1544, National Portrait Gallery

And another, less well-known image of a young Mary:

Princess Mary (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

Princess Mary (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

I love that they got that Mary (like her mother AND father) was a redhead! Her ensemble is well done, from the velvet overgown to the damask undersleeves and forepart. Her French hood doesn’t stick up TOO much, so it’s comparatively better to Anne Boleyn’s!

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

 

Anne of Cleves (reigned 1540)

The only image I can find of Henry from this bit of the film is from the wedding night, where he’s in a ha-UGE dressing gown:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Anne of Cleves was famously painted in her regional German dress, which has some similarities to English dress but some key differences. Note the higher waistline, sleeve puffs, and of course the amazing headdress:

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein, c. 1539, Louvre Museum

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein, c. 1539, Louvre Museum

This painting shows a similar headdress, but large puffed sleeves:

1540s, portrait of Anne of Cleves by Bartholomaus Bruyn

1540s, portrait of Anne of Cleves by Bartholomaus Bruyn

They DEFINITELY went with the “Anne of Cleves was unattractive” interpretation. Actress Jenny Bos is given acne scars, and plays Anne with a country bumpkin-ness. Unlike Six Wives, the filmmakers chose NOT to recreate the classic Holbein portrait. The gown definitely looks Cleves-ish, but the headdress is very different:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Note the neckline/bodice front trim placement and big puffed upper sleeves.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

I have no idea on the headdress. I’m not saying it doesn’t look 16th c. German, but it doesn’t look like the classic “Anne of Cleves” style.

 

Katherine Howard (reigned 1540-41)

By this point, we’ve definitely gotten to Huge and Kind of Scary Henry land. He did get very big in his old age (a leg injury meant he couldn’t really exercise, and he always had a huge appetite). Portraits from this era show him wearing loose gowns:

Portrait of Henry VIII of England, Workshop of Hans Holbein, 1542, Castle Howard (Yorkshire)/Sotheby's

Portrait of Henry VIII of England, Workshop of Hans Holbein, 1542, Castle Howard (Yorkshire)/Sotheby’s

On screen, Michell as Henry is WELL PADDED and wearing layers of ginormous coats/gowns:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Am I a man or am I a couch?

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

The jewels down the front of the doublet!

Once again, dress hasn’t change very much, but here are some images of Katherine Howard (or people once thought to be her) for a visual reference:

1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard

1540 miniature by Hans Holbein thought to be Catherine Howard

1535-40, portrait by Hans Holbein of a lady, formerly said to be Catherine Howard, but probably from the Cromwell family

1535-40, portrait by Hans Holbein of a lady, formerly said to be Catherine Howard, but probably from the Cromwell family

Poor Katherine (Lynne Frederick) is VERY young and VERY naive. She also gets a gorgeous wardrobe:

Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)

Sticky-uppy hood but again not as bad as Anne Boleyn; beautiful gown fabric, beautiful jeweling.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Her hair is UP under that sheer veil, and note the blackwork? embroidery on her shift.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

This hood is beautiful (minus the silhouette), and I love the colors used in the dress, plus all that bodice detailing.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

A clearer shot of the hood materials (plus Henry’s hat).   

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

More of this ensemble. 

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Also, SHE HAS A PUPPEH! Who looks terrified.

Going to her execution, there’s a lot to like about her grey kirtle, pintucked sleeves on her shift, and hair up in a nice (non-unfortunate biggins) cap:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Catherine Parr (reigned 1543-47)

We’re now in huge AND old Henry land:

Henry VIII, roi d'Angleterre by Corneille Metsys, 1544, via Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII, roi d’Angleterre by Corneille Metsys, 1544, via Wikimedia Commons

Basically, Henry sticks with the loose robes:

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

That’s teenage Mary, in what appears to be the same dress as above, and the future Edward VI.

Not too much has changed in women’s dress in the few years that have passed, although hoops are slightly bigger. This first image of Catherine Parr shows an interesting new woman’s style, the loose gown, which is belted to create shape:

Katherine Parr, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery

Katherine Parr, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery

Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, c. 1545, National Portrait Gallery

Katherine Parr, attributed to Master John, c. 1545, National Portrait Gallery

Catherine Parr is played by NONE OTHER THAN LADY CATHERINE DE BOURGH!!! WHO WAS ONCE YOUNG!!!!! AND NOT LADY CATHERINE DE BOURGH!!!!! Aka Barbara Leigh-Hunt. They REALLY don’t get much into Catherine’s experience – she’s just there to reluctantly marry the king and then mother him.

1972 Henry VIII and His Six Wives

Nicely done, Lady Catherine! Again we’ve got the striped fabric filling in the hood and the pinned up sides. Interesting that they added the “mystery white straps” at the shoulders, whose purpose no one is clear on.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Less clear image, but more of the dress. These ties also look sewn on.

1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives

Although the colors are different, this hat/cap and gown seem to reference that first portrait of Parr above. That’s a young future Queen Elizabeth I. I’m not sold on the headdress…

Here’s the real Princess Elizabeth from this era for comparison:

Princess Elizabeth (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

Princess Elizabeth (detail from a larger painting showing Henry VIII, his jester Will Somers, his son Edward, daughter Mary and daughter Elizabeth), 1650-80 (copy after original, early 1550s), Boughton House

And from a few years later:

1547, portrait of Elizabeth I when she was princess, attributed to William Scrots, Royal Collection.

Elizabeth I when a Princess (1533-1603), Attributed to William Scrots, 1546-47, Royal Collection

If you haven’t already seen Henry VIII and His Six Wives, and you like Tudor costume, make sure you do — it’s totally worth it!

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