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Catherine of Aragon - always a Queen
Catherine of Aragon
Arthur, Prince of Wales (1501-1502)
Henry VIII of England (1509-1533)
Mary I of England (only living child)
Henry, Duke of Cornwall (died a few weeks after birth)
Catherine of Aragon 1485-1536
Catherine of Aragon, always the queen, was described by her husband, Henry VIII to always have been dignified, elegant, and eloquent. Although he annulled their marriage, he always respected Catherine and the place she had held in his heart and his kingdom. It was his crazed quest for a male heir that destroyed the life of Catherine of Aragon, who always believed she was the true Queen of England.
Catherine of Aragon was born in Alcala de Henares near Madrid on December 16, 1485 in the palace of the Archbishop of Toledo. This was the same year that Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty in England. Her life was destined to be intertwined with the Tudors for the rest of her life.
Catherine was the youngest living daughter of Queen Isabella of Castilla and King Ferdinand of Aragon, los Reyes Catolicos, (the Catholic monarchs) who unified Spain in 1492 when they pushed the Moors out of Granada and back to northern Africa.
At three years of age, Catherine was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and English King Henry VII's eldest son.
During her childhood, Catherine was highly educated and tutored in religion and the classics and was a pious and devout Catholic all her life. Because of her education she was always described as quite intelligent.
Infanta Catherine's early life promised a bright future of splendor and success.
In 1501, Catherine arrived in England for her marriage to Prince Arthur. She was sixteen years old. Catherine and Arthur were married in old St. Paul's Cathedral. They then moved to and lived in Ludlow Castle, seat of the Prince of Wales, on the Welsh border.
Unfortunately, Arthur died within six months of the marriage from the sweating sickness, but Catherine remained in England and returned to London and Henry VII then betrothed Catherine to Arthur's younger brother, Henry.
Henry, born on June 28, 1491, was six years younger than Catherine and, ironically, had been destined and educated for a life in the Roman Catholic Church. With the death of Arthur, his brother, Henry was now destined to become king.
Catherine and Henry were not immediately married because Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon were in conflict over the marriage contract and Catherine's dowry. Henry VII didn't want to loose Catherine's dowry, half of which she brought when she married Arthur. If Catherine was to return to Spain, the marriage contract stated that the half dowry would return to Spain with her. Also, her inheritance as dowager Princess of Wales, which was substantial, would go with her back to Spain. So Henry VII sought to betroth her to his other son.
Catherine spent the next seven years of her life in a state of political limbo. She was not permitted to leave England, but on the other hand, Henry VII allowed her to live in poverty, despite her royal position. Catherine was treated shabbily and the Spanish ambassador was forced to buy her necessities and she was unable to pay her maids and ladies in waiting.
In April 1509, Henry VII died and young Henry VIII, at the age of 18, assumed the throne. His first official royal business was to marry Catherine, age 24 and at this time he was handsome, proud and romantic. Henry VIII obtained a dispensation from the pope that Catherine's short marriage to Arthur was annulled on the grounds it was never consummated.
Catherine of Aragon was crowned Queen of England alongside Henry in a magnificent joint coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The first years of their marriage were a true love match and Catherine proved a competent regent Queen when Henry was campaigning in France (1512-1514). They were a loving and affectionate couple. They displayed public affection toward one another and both made declarations of love and respect for one another. For a long while, Catherine was a close political adviser to Henry.
When Henry was in France trying to claim control of the French throne, Catherine served as regent queen. Two months later, the Scots invaded England and Catherine heralded the troops at the 1513 Battle of Flodden. England defeated the Scots, killing James IV, and Catherine sent the king's banner and bloodied coat to her husband in France. She told Henry the Scottish defeat was really more important than conquering France, and so Henry came home to England.
This would be the last time Catherine would have such influence over Henry. Cardinal Wolsey saw that Catherine was relegated to the domestic life of child bearing. This would prove to be a heartbreaking challenge for Catherine, Queen of England
"The bond between them is now so strict that all their interests are common and the love he bears to Catherine is such, that if he were still free, he would choose her in preference to all others."— written in a letter from Henry VIII to Catherine's father, Ferdinand of Aragon
"If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing...they shall be childless" (Leviticus, XX. 21)
~the Bible passage Henry VIII said should give him an annulment from Catherine.
"In this world I will confess myself to be the king's true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted."
~Catherine of Aragon, 1532
Henry's quest for a son
Catherine had no problem getting pregnant. She bore Henry six children in nine years. Her first child, a stillborn, born January 10, 1510, began Catherine's misfortune. In 1511, a second child was born, Prince Henry, but he died within weeks of his birth. She bore him a third son, who died in childbirth. The only child of Catherine and Henry to survive was a girl, Mary, born in 1516 who would go on to become Mary I of England.
Because Catherine could not bear Henry a living son, Catherine's marriage to Henry began to crumble. Eighteen years into their marriage, Catherine was forty-two and overweight. She was beyond child bearing years, according to the times, and so Henry began to look elsewhere for a wife.
Henry did not have to look far. Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine's ladies in waiting, had captured the interest and imagination of Henry. He had first had a tryst with Anne's sister, Mary, the other Boleyn girl, and now turned his interest to Anne. She was lively, witty, and seductive, and Henry, desperate for a son he thought Anne could give him, turned to Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.
During his marriage to Catherine, Henry had once strayed with an affair with Elizabeth Blount who bore him a son out of wedlock named Henry Fitzroy. Henry was convinced he could have sons, but Catherine could not.
Henry justified his request for an annulment from Catherine centered on the Bible passage, Leviticus, XX, 21. He believed his incestuous marriage had been doomed from the start because he had married his brother's widow which went against biblical teaching. He needed to convince Pope Clement VII that Catherine's original dispensation was inadequate and it directly contradicted the Bible and had no merit.
Pope Clement VII was in a quandary. Catherine's nephew was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and he had no intention of seeing his aunt's marriage thrown aside. After the 1527 sack of Rome, Charles controlled the pope.
Henry's request for an annulment dragged on despite extensive work and pleading from Cardinal Wolsey. During this time, Catherine was aware of Anne and her romance with Henry. Henry avoided Catherine's company, but still attended official functions with Catherine because Catherine was very popular with the realm and the kingdom considered Catherine their right queen.
Henry always respected Catherine and her dignity and eloquence and he did not want to fight Catherine. He desperately wanted an amicable end to their union and he was prepared to be generous. Anne Boleyn was not popular and Catherine was England's respected and loved queen. Henry soon came under popular scorn for his plans.
Catherine, in the meantime, fought back and refused to go along with Henry's wishes for an amicable annulment. She publicly testified that her first marriage was never consummated and that she came to Henry a true and honest maid. Catherine also encouraged her daughter, Mary, to protect her rights as a princess. This enraged Henry and Mary lost her father's favor and subsequently was forbidden to visit her mother.
Catherine gained popular sympathy as she fought for her rights under marriage to Henry and those of her daughter, Mary.
Henry, during all this time, did his homework and debated this annulment issue with prominent theologians with hearings at European universities. Both the king and the pope realized there was a valid basis for an annulment, and Pope Clement VII had no wish to antagonize loyal and devoted Henry, but at the same time he realized Henry could not be helped at the expense of the Holy Roman Emperor.
During the seven years that Henry and the pope went back and forth on this issue, Henry was growing older and Anne was growing impatient and believed her youth was being wasted.
Henry and Anne wed in secret in 1533 and it is believed Anne was pregnant at this time.
Henry's desire to annul his marriage to Catherine brought about the English Reformation.
By 1533, the only thing Henry could do to end his marriage with Catherine was break with Rome and declare himself Supreme Head of the new Church of England. With this, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer issued the long awaited annulment that proclaimed Henry's marriage to Catherine null and void.
Catherine was no longer Queen of England, but now titled, Princess Dowager of Wales, a title she refused to accept. This annulment also made their daughter Mary illegitimate. By this time there were rumors among the court that Anne was pregnant.
Catherine was exiled from court and her last years were lonely and sad. She refused to be called anything but Queen of England in her exile and refused to respond when anyone called her Princess Dowager. She was moved from one damp and musty castle to another and she was often ill. She died at Kimbolton Castle, January 7, 1536, three weeks after her fiftieth birthday.
Her lingering illness and psychological effects of her exile are said to be the reasons for her death. She was buried at Peterborough Abbey. Henry did not attend her funeral.
Four months after Catherine's death, Henry would execute his second wife, Anne Boleyn.