Top 5 Ways The Spanish Princess Gets 16th C. Spanish Costume Wrong

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We have been all over the Starz TV miniseries adaptation of a Philippa Fucking Gregory book, The Spanish Princess. This production purports to tell the story of Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess who married first Arthur, Prince of Wales in 1501 and then Henry VIII, King of England in 1509 — the first decade of the 1500s. We previewed the costumes, did a deep analysis of Catherine’s wedding dress, recapped every episode, and discussed how much the production fucked up the actual history (hint: really, really badly). Well, now we need to turn to an in-depth analysis of the costumes. Today we’re going to look at the Spanish styles worn by Catherine, her sister Queen Juana of Castile (aka Juana la Loca), and her ladies-in-waiting. Stay tuned for another post where we’ll look at the English styles.

For an expert analysis, we turned once again to Kate Newton, Mestressa Beatriz Aluares de la Oya in the SCA, who has spent years studying late 15th/early 16th century Spanish costume, and who offered her expertise to our post about Queen Isabella of Castile’s wardrobe in 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Kate admits she hasn’t been watching The Spanish Princess, just watching in horror from afar, so I sent her a number of images of the Spanish characters and asked her to weigh in on what the show got right and wrong.

Kate writes:


I have one overarching problem with nearly all of the Spanish fashions in the show, and that is that none of it is really contemporaneous for Catherine of Aragon or her sister Juana of Castile. Catherine of Aragon was born in 1485 and was Queen of England from 1509 to 1533. Juana was born in 1479 and was Queen of Castile from 1504 and Aragon from 1516. The bulk of the Spanish-coded clothing in the show would have been more appropriate for their mother, Isabella of Castile, than for either girl to wear in their young womanhood.

Major problems include:

 

5. The Underwear

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Catherine’s undies are pretty easy to pick apart. It looks like she’s wearing some sort of Victorian-esque combinations or chemise under her corset and hoop, as well as a bum roll that’s more visible in the lower side shot. As far as costume historians are aware, the Spanish didn’t wear corsets until well out of the Renaissance [Kendra adds: nor were they some kind of woven ribbon craft project]. Also, while the Spanish wore hoops, aka farthingales in English or verdugados in Spanish, these boned skirts were meant to be seen. 

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Another complaint I have with this farthingale/verdugado is that it’s too conical — most of the Spanish imagery shows boned skirts that are more bell-shaped.

Detail from “The Birth of John the Baptist.” Pedro Garcia de Benabarre c. 1483

Detail from “The Birth of John the Baptist.” Pedro Garcia de Benabarre, c. 1483.

The above image shows the boned verdugado worn as an exterior garment, and demonstrates the narrow bell shape of the skirts. The roundness at the top of the skirt is probably formed by fabric tension rather than a bumroll or pad.

2019 The Spanish Princess

These images of Rosa show a couple of things that the show gets almost right. The enormous chemise and the stomacher with lacing can both be seen in period images like the following; however, the camisa sleeves were usually open at the wrist and would not have been gathered to a ruffle at the neck [Kendra adds: okay, I hated these chemises on screen, and ranted about them in my recaps; I stand corrected].

Detail of “The Marriage at Cana.” Master of the Altarpiece of the Catholic Kings. 1496-97.

Detail of “The Marriage at Cana.” Master of the Altarpiece of the Catholic Kings, 1496-97.

Detail of “Nativity of the Virgin.” From the workshop of Pedro Garcia de Benabarre. 1480.

Detail of “Nativity of the Virgin.” From the workshop of Pedro Garcia de Benabarre, 1480.

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Further, the stomacher would more likely have been laced under the over dress rather than to it, although there are exceptions to this.

Detail of the Altarpiece of Saint Peter. Pedro Berruguete, 1485.

Detail of “The Altarpiece of Saint Peter. Pedro Berruguete, 1485.

 

 

Detail of “The Marriage at Cana.” Fernando Gallego, 1480-1488.

Detail of “The Marriage at Cana.” Fernando Gallego, 1480-1488.

 

4. The Windmill Dress AKA Catherine’s Halloween Costume

2019 The Spanish Princess

sigh This dress makes me so mad because it’s such a fascinating style, and they’ve just completely stuffed it up. The skirts are most likely a misinterpretation, but I have no idea where they got the bodice. The whole thing looks angular and weird, and it’s too damn short. Ankles. We don’t have any.

My guess is that it’s based on this:

Detail of “The Temptation of St. Anthony Abbot.” Master of Girard c. 1500.

Detail of “The Temptation of St. Anthony Abbot.” Master of Girard, c. 1500.

The image is of a female demon (hence the duck feet) wearing a verdugado with a paned overskirt [Kendra adds: in other words, there is an overskirt cut in multiple wide strips, you can see two at the center front here, and one on the side, so this would probably have at least six panes or panels]. You can see all the typical features of Hispano-Flemish clothing: the boned skirt, separable sleeves, full camisa, paned overskirt, and soft fabric belt.

The interpretation pisses me off because this is probably my favorite outfit. Even with the duck feet, which probably would have improved the TV version considerably.

 

3. Juana the Unfashionably High-Waisted

2019 The Spanish Princess

These super short bodices are atrocious. They’re much better suited to Romeo and Juliet than to anything that came out of Spain. I have one wild guess — the costumer may have looked at a painting of Spanish people painted by someone who was not Spanish, like the following:

Detail of “Aeneas Piccolomini Introduces Eleonora of Portugal to Frederick III.” Pintoricchio (Bernardino di Betto) 1502-7.

Detail of “Aeneas Piccolomini Introduces Eleonora of Portugal to Frederick III.” Pintoricchio (Bernardino di Betto), 1502-7.

This image represents an event that occurred in 1492. As you can see, the waistline of the dress is actually a little above the natural waist and not up under the bust. So yeah, creative license. 

All of Juana’s dresses hurt my head. And would someone please cover these ladies’ heads? Good lord.

 

2. These Skirts Are a Pane in the Butt

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I do not understand these splits. The Spanish had paned skirts, as seen in previous examples, but these are so wide, and I’ve never seen only two splits. Usually there are four to eight panes or just a front split. I’ve also never seen a gown like the one on the right — it looks like the front and back are cut identically, and that’s just not a thing. Either that or her head is on backwards [Kendra adds: note that THE BODICE IS ALSO CUT WITH A V OPENING, OVER A BACK STOMACHER, WHICH IS FUCKING RIDICULOUS].

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IT’S CROOKED WHY ARE THE STRIPES SO LOPSIDED?? They should be straight, because bands like that cover the reeds that give the verdugado its shape. In these examples, there’s some sort of understructure that is letting the underskirt float freely, and that combined with the weird split in the back is causing the underskirt to crumple and collapse. Stupid, sloppy, and lazy.

 

1. The Fabric Choices

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Boy, they really cleaned out the home decor section of Jo-Ann’s with this show, didn’t they? I don’t think I’ve seen so much Moroccan print since the last time I searched Pinterest. It lends a nice, exotic touch to the clothing and definitely codes these ladies as “foreign,” but there’s not much basis in history.

And, Before You Think We’re Too Judgy…

A couple of things that I do like:

  • A diverse cast. Spain was not a monolith of whiteness; its history as a meeting ground for Moors, Christians, and Jews as well as a varied ethnic background meant that medieval and Renaissance Spain was much more diverse than most modern people think. It would not have been terribly unusual to see people of African descent, Arabic descent, and a wide range of hair and eye colors throughout the population.
  • Most depictions of Catherine and Juana, as well as some contemporary writings, note that the girls were both auburn-haired with fair skin and light eyes. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone cast a redhead as Katherine before, and I wish they had carried that through to Juana as well.

 

Watch for an analysis of the English costumes coming soon! Massive thanks to Kate for her expertise and time.

26 Responses

  1. NuitsdeYoung

    “It would not have been terribly unusual to see people of African descent, Arabic descent” – but perhaps not so close to the royal family, given Fernando and Isabel’s ethnic/religious policies… They expelled the Jews and forced conversions on the Moriscos (eventually expelled in early 1600s). ‘Diverse casting’ is an attempt to make deeply intolerant characters look better to modern audiences.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      As a descendant of Maranos I personally find the fantasy inclusive Spain offensive given said ancestors were eventually forced to flee their native land to escape persecution.

      Reply
      • Kendra

        Yeah, it was hard to watch the scene where Catherine tells Arthur about how the Moors are heathens and yet she respects their culture as it’s a part of her culture. Because, actually, what she’s saying is in some ways true but only on a subconscious level — no 16th c. Spanish Catholic would be caught dead saying what she said!

        Reply
      • Lady Hermina De Pagan

        The ironic part is that I teach classes on female pirates in this time period and one of my favorites, Sayyida al Hurra, was forced to flee from Spain during the siege of Grenada in 1492. The Spanish culture was very Eurocentric and looked the Jewish and Moorish people as “Christ killing heratics.” In the zeal to rid Spain from the non-Christian threats, they destroyed valuable libraries which set back medical research by centuries.

        Reply
  2. Roxana

    Spain was certainly multi racial but not egalitarian. Moors and Jews were persona non grata and dark skin was not admired. There were no Moorish or African nobles. Those included in Catherine’s retinue were relatively menial.

    Reply
    • Charity

      Roxana, do you have any sources I can check on this statement? I’ve seen conflicting reports on whether Moor noblewomen existed in Katharine of Aragon’s household; some sources (mostly online articles, I can’t afford the $150 book on the topic) state that Catalina Cordones was a Moor noblewoman, others believe she was a slave.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        Catalina Cordones and Catalina the bed maker were two different women, the former a blue blooded noblewoman the latter an Ethiopian slave. I googled the name

        Reply
  3. Stella

    To be completely honest, as hilarious as the windmill dress is, I thought it could have been meant as a kind of avant garde design choice… but in that case it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the costumes. I like that the windmill look is a bit more structured and feels less nightgowny than many of the other dresses, but that also makes it stand out a lot more than if all the women had been wearing oddly ornamental dresses. Also funny, I knew a girl in high school whose last name was the Dutch word for farthingale (‘verdegaal’), we always assumed it was some sort of bird but it turned out to be 500 year old fashion!
    Lastly, what’s up with the White Queeniverse and interpreting late medieval hair as ‘loose with two messy Leia buns over the ears’?

    Reply
    • Aleko

      I was told by a Dutch friend that before Napoleon conquered the Netherlands and incorporated them into his empire in 1811 the Dutch had no regular system of family surnames, so one son might tag the home town on to his name for identification purposes, another use a patronymic, a third use a nickname, and so on. Napoleon, who liked tidying things up, ordered everyone in the Netherlands to adopt a permanent, inheritable family name; the Dutch assumed the French occupation wouldn’t last long (which in fact it didn’t) and many of them picked silly names as a form of civil resistance – and were dismayed to find, when Napoleon was finally packed off to St Helena, that they were stuck with them.

      Reply
  4. Abigail Tyrrell

    Windmill dress? I call it the Queen of Hearts cause it straight out a drug filled wonderland!

    Reply
  5. Lillian

    On the topic of underwear, what about that weird “hippy smock” in Kendra’s words that Lina wears under her dress in that one episode? It looked like a modern camisole.

    Reply
  6. Susan Pola Staples

    First of all, I would like to thank her ladyship for the insightful review of the clothes worn Spanish ladies of Princess Catalina’s retinue, and those worn by Her Highness.

    I have a question, if Spain’s noblewoman didn’t wear corsets, what did they wear instead?

    I have a theory that the seamstresses who made the verdugado had their glasses taken away to sew such wavy stripes.

    What I wouldn’t mind seeing is an adaptation of Alison Weir’s historical novels on the Six Wives. Catherine has red strawberry blonde hair on cover and Prince Henry is a boy not a weirdly infatuated almost paedophilic relationship PFG writes. But that’s not a costume problem, so I won’t dwell on it.

    My second question has to do with Juana Duchess of Burgundy’s wardrobe? What would have been something that the Burgundian court would have worn? Definitely not a copy of either Danilo Donati’s Romeo and Juliet costumes, but how close would they have been to Gabriella Pescucci’s The Borgias? Holy Roman Emperor Maxmillian invaded Lombardy as he too had a claim on the Duchy. Emperor Max was Duke Philip’s father and Juana’s father-in-law.

    Reply
  7. Working Mom Having It All

    My guess is that the reason they wouldn’t have cast another redhead as Juana is that you then run the risk of audiences confusing the two characters. I feel like casting directors like to have the main ensemble of a show look fairly different from each other so that viewers aren’t like “wait so this redhaired princess and that other redhaired princess.. they’re two different princesses? confusingggggggg” and then change the channel.

    If you watch any show, you’ll notice that they tend to aim for relative diversity in at least hair color and often overall look, among the leads. Especially if there are multiple featured characters the audience is supposed to be paying close attention to. For example the daughters on Downton Abbey are two brunettes and a redhead, Gentleman Jack has Anne Lister and Ann Walker with brown vs. blond hair (and Anne L’s sister also has notably light brown vs. dark brown hair and looks physically pretty different from Anne L), Killing Eve has the Asian-Canadian dark haired Eve and the white blond Villanelle. Etc. etc. etc. If they’re open to the cast looking pretty samey, they’re not very worried about whether the audience can tell them apart.

    Reply
  8. Brandy Loutherback

    Good Lord the Hat Choices! You do see pudding caps for small children in the 18th century, but not in the early 1500’s! PS: I would like to see them adapt Alison FUCK YEAH Weir’s six Tudor Queens series instead of PFG’s Shitorical books!

    Reply
  9. North country girl

    Didn’t Annette Crosbie in the Six Wives of Henry VIII have reddish hair? Looked so to me

    Reply
  10. Lillian

    About the Moroccan prints: I don’t think these people are aware that Morocco isn’t part of Spain.

    Reply
  11. Aleko

    I don’t suppose there is any chance that Mestressa Beatriz has made a reproduction of her favourite paned hooped gown (with or without duck feet) for SCA wear? And if so, could she be persuaded to favour us with a picture of it? Please?

    Reply
  12. misat0

    Portugal and Spain were (and are) two independant countries at the time, in fact, historical rivals. Fashions could eventually be similar, but definitely not the same, you can see it in a lot of period paintings. Although neighbouring countries, the culture evolved independantly. Stop treating Portugal as a Spanish province, which happened only for a very short period, when there was a crisis in the Royal succession. And that was after this.

    Reply

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