Her Mother's Daughter
Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived
Above is a saying from England that describes the fates of the six wives of King Henry VIII. His six wives were a varied group, some the exact opposite of a previous wife. For instance, after Henry beheaded dark-haired and headstrong Anne Boleyn, he married a faired-haired and very docile woman named Jane Seymour. However, although they may have been different on the outside and in the inside, they were all alike in one way. They did what only a few women had done before them: they succeeded in marrying King Henry VIII, the king of a quickly growing and influential nation.
However, only one of them managed to be queen for more that four years, let only her own twenty-two years as queen. That one queen was his first wife, and the mother of his daughter Mary, later to become known as "Bloody Mary". But most know of Catherine's story after she married Henry VIII. What isn't well known is her life before him.
King Henry's first wife was Catherine, Princess of Aragon. Catherine was born the baby of her royal family on December 16, 1485 to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, a queen by both her own right and by her marriage (. Her mother spent most of her time being pregnant with Catherine fighting at the front against the Moors, only to withdraw from the battles after she had captured Ronda from her enemies. Then Isabella went to Cordoba and later northeast of Madrid to Alacala de Henares to give birth to her youngest and last daughter, Catherine.
Catherine was named after her English grandmother, the daughter of John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. She even took after her English ancestors in appearance with her blue eyes, fair skin, and reddish-gold hair. With her very English name and appearance (Starkley), it is of little surprise that she later became Queen of England.
As a young child, Catherine was raised to be her mother's daughter, as her mother took over her daughters' educations. She and her sisters received educations rival to those of a princes'. They learned reading, writing, Latin, and then the basic house-wifery skills her mother herself had been taught. Humanist scholars were employed as their teachers, and even the Dutch scholar Erasmus once said that Catherine "is astonishingly well read" (Starkley).
She and her sisters were kept with their mother even on campaign. In 1491, for example, at the siege of Granada, the Queen and all four Princesses were forced to flee into the night when the Queen's tent caught on fire.
However, for all of their warfare and scholarly knowledge, there were large gaps in her education. Catherine learned to play no instruments, had no singing training, and knew nothing of the poetry of Courtly Love (Starkley). All of these were skills that would be later needed as Catherine and her sisters were sent to marry foreign princes and bend them to do what would be to Spain's benefit, which appears to have been the plan of Ferdinand and Isabella. Had her education been more complete, it is possible she may have been more successful later in life when Henry VIII attempted, and succeeded, in divorcing Catherine and proclaiming their daughter Mary illegitimate, in convincing the King of England to do otherwise.
At age three, Catherine was promised to marry the heir to the English throne. However, at the time the heir was not Henry, but his older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Henry had not even been born yet at the time of the negotiations. The English wished that the very young Princess of Spain be sent to England at that time, but the Spanish waited. A decade later, Catherine was still in Spain with no known plans for her to be sent to England, and it appeared that the treaty between Spain and England had fallen through.
It is possible Ferdinand and Isabella hesitated to send over their daughter because Henry VII's hold onto the English throne was shaky at best. It's true that a man named Perkin Warbeck was rapidly gaining English support and challenging the King's right to the throne. But in 1496 a Spanish ambassador to England by the name of Dr. De Puebla, renewed the treaty between the two nations. Henry, strengthened by the treaty, led an army against King James IV of the neighboring country of Scotland to punish him for siding with the traitor, Percy Warbeck (Starkley).
Unfortunately, to fund this war Henry had to raise the taxes of his citizens. This caused a revolt by the English people on London (Starkley). The king and his troops hastened back towards London and quickly and successfully put down the revolt, but at a cost. Henry could no longer war on Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Spanish ambassador De Puebla had been working closely with the Spanish ambassador to Scotland. Together, they convinced King James IV to ship Percy Warbeck to the English King. On October 8, 1496, Warbeck surrendered himself to Henry VII, and Catherine's marriage to Arthur became certain.
The treaty between Spain and England stated that Catherine would marry Arthur in the September of his fourteenth year, September of 1500, at the very latest. It was expected and implied that she would arrive long before then. Then the Spanish monarchs sent word that their daughter would arrive in March. But when March had come and gone, Catherine remained in Spain. The monarchs' excuse was that her mother, Queen Isabella's, health was deteriorating, which was true. Then their excuse for not sending the princess to England was that their had been a revolt they needed to attend to. This also happened to be true.
Finally, on the twenty-first of May, Catherine was fit to leave Spain after a short illness, but then was back in Spain three weeks later because of a storm at sea. Then, on September 27, 1500, the Spanish princess again set sail, this time with one of Henry VII's best captains in charge of the voyage from Spain to England, Henry having heard of the storm and growing impatient.
On October 2, Catherine first set foot on the land of her new country, a country she would eventually become co-ruler of. A welcoming party of English nobles quickly assembled to greet their future Queen and her Spanish ladies. However, neither she nor her ladies spoke any English nor did any of the English nobles speak Spanish, so they likely spoke to each other in French or, though more unlikely, Latin. Together they all began their slow journey to London with stops every dozen miles or so to allow the future Queen of England time to meet the English nobles, and her future subjects.
One of the homes that she stopped at was Dogmersfield. At Dogmersfield, Catherine received a message from the King Henry VII of England, and her soon to be father-in-law, himself, stating that he was coming to see her. She responded, telling him that for him to see her before her wedding would be against her father's direct orders, who told her she was not "to have any meeting, nor use any matter of communication [with her husband's family] … unto the inception of the very day of solemnisation of marriage".
Henry, however, ignored this command, his advisors having told him that the King of Spain had no authority in England, and he rode out to see his future daughter-in-law, leaving behind his son Arthur. She tried once more to put him off by proclaiming herself tired by her journey and resting. The king, once again, ignored this and strode into her inner chamber after several minutes of allowing Catherine to get ready. They each spoke "the most goodly words" to each other in their respective languages. It is unlikely that the two royals even understood each other, but they spoke to each other nevertheless.
Later, Catherine's fiancé, Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, was brought to meet her as well. In this second meeting, Arthur and Catherine renewed their vows in person, with bishops from each country translating the words into Latin. Later that same day there was dinner and then a ball that was quickly put together. The next day the two groups went their separate ways, the King and Prince to Windsor and Richmond and Catherine slowly continuing on her way to London. (Starkley)
Eventually, Catherine arrived at Lambeth. She was to wait at Lambeth until her official entry into the English capital city of London. Meanwhile, the final wedding preparations were being put together. Henry spared no expense on the wedding celebrations, being much unlike his normal tight-fisted self. It was decided that Catherine would be married to Arthur in Old St. Paul's Cathedral in the City, which could hold more than ten thousand people at one time. When the wedding was being planned, the commissioners in charge had one thing in sight: a large audience. And a large audience the wedding most certainly had, being made up of over ten thousand monarchs, nobles, and common people.
On Friday, November 12, Catherine set out for London at 10 o'clock in the morning. At St. George's Fields, the English escort, sent to accompany her through the capital, met the Spanish Princess. Leading this escort was the ten-year-old younger brother of her fiancé, Henry, Duke of York. This was the first time Catherine and, unbeknownst to her, her future husband ever met. The rode through London with Henry at Catherine's right hand, as the Londoners watched and tried to make what they could of this Spanish Princess that would one day be their Queen.
Throughout London were small pageants to entertain Catherine, with captions in Latin to assist herself and her ladies in understanding what the pageants meant. These captions were very brief, and it is quite possible Henry explained to Catherine what was happening in the pageants in French or his ever-growing Latin. This, however, is only a speculation, as we cannot tell for sure all that was said that day. After the last pageant, Catherine was taken to Bishop's Palace, where she was to stay during her wedding and honeymoon.
On the morning of November 14, Catherine left Bishop's Palace with her soon to be brother-in-law, Henry, escorting her to her wedding. She was dressed, much like modern brides, completely in white. The skirt of her dress flared out over her hips with a hoop, and she had a veil made of white silk with a jeweled border that reached her waist.
First the lawyers read out the Papal dispensations authorizing the marriage of Prince Arthur of England and Princess Catherine of Aragon. Next came the reciting of the terms of the marriage contract. With that came Henry VII and Arthur publicly sealing the deeds of the dowry. Then the Spaniards present at the wedding gave the King and the Prince the first part of Catherine's dowry: £20,000 (Starkley).
Finally came the actual wedding ceremony. It lasted close to three hours. After the ceremony, hand-in-hand Arthur and Catherine started to leave, but turned to allow the congregation in the church to fully see the newly wedded royal couple. This small gesture sent the crowds wild, many crying the praises of King Henry and Prince Arthur. There are no recorded accounts of anyone crying out, "Princess Catherine!" (Starkley)
The newlyweds then went to another ceremony, as the Mass of the Trinity was sung. Refreshments of wine and spices were served after the mass had ended. Arthur quickly left to prepare "to receive the Princess at her chamber door" when she was back at Bishop's Palace. After Arthur went to prepare, Catherine was left the center of attention during the wedding feast, where she and her guests dined on rare meats and drank fine wines, all at the expense of the King, until five o'clock in the evening. At that time the Lord Great Chamberlain gathered a select group of people to prepare the wedding bed.
Two to three hours later, the bed was ready after a long, elaborate process. The new English Princess was undressed by her Spanish ladies and "reverently laid and disposed" in the bed (Starkley). Then a large group of nobles, gentlemen, and clergy led Arthur to the bedroom where the fifteen-year-old lay down beside his new sixteen-year-old wife, and the bishops said a prayer over them. Then the Prince and Princess were left alone.
What happened that night while they were alone still sparks controversy today. It would later be important whether or not the marriage was consummated when Arthur's brother tried to divorce Catherine over it. The only two people who could truthfully answer this question for us died five hundred years ago. This next morning, it appeared to those close to Arthur that the marriage had, indeed, been consummated, as Arthur boasted to his friends about his night with Catherine.
Whatever did, or did not, happen that night, the next day Catherine was officially a Princess of England. The same day at dinner, she was served as an English Princess and not as a Spanish Infanta. She was a Princess of Spain no more.
Next, the entire royal family went in a large river procession to Winchester (Starkley). There they had four days of jousts, masques, banquets, dances, and occasional days of rest. It is unknown how much Catherine enjoyed these constant activities, or if she found they did not suit her fancy at all.
But even with all of these activities in honor of her wedding, it appears that Catherine became homesick for Spain. To console her, her father-in-law allowed her and a mix of both English and Spanish ladies to inspect his Richmond library, which was very large as the King had many scholarly interests, especially history. He also had a jeweler present Catherine and her ladies a pick of many beautiful pieces of jewelry, giving Catherine herself have the first pick (Starkley).
Then there was the problem of what to do with Catherine's numerous Spanish servants. Should they send them back to Spain as most monarchs of the time did? Or should she keep them for a time? After several fights with Catherine's governess, or her duenna in Spain, Doña Elvira, some of Catherine's servants were demoted and others were sent back to live in Spain.
Another problem came up. The problem of whether or not Catherine was to return to Wales and live with her husband. Had she arrived in September of 1500, as was planned, the answer would have been no. At that time, an agreement had been made that Catherine was to live separate from her husband at court for the first year of their marriage.
But then the plans were pushed back when the Princess arrived a year later than expected. Henry himself was divided. He tried to learn of Catherine's opinion on the matter, but at the time she remained indifferent. Even Catherine's own household was divided over the issue. One side, led by De Puebla, believed she should live with her husband in hopes she would quickly bear a child to be the future heir of England. The opposing side was led by a man named De Ayala and Catherine's duenna, Dona Elvira. (Starkley) They both of wished for Catherine to stay a child a bit longer. It is possible that Dona Elvira thought that the longer her charge stayed a child, the longer she would have a strong influence over Catherine.
Arthur himself pleaded that Catherine be allowed to return to Wales with him and that they may live together and husband and wife. Only then did Catherine seem to have an opinion. She stated that she wished to go with her new husband. Henry agreed. The young couple left for Wales on December 21.
Once in Wales they retired to Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. There, Arthur continued to run Wales, training for when he would later be the ruler of all of England. Catherine most likely settled into her life as a wife and an English Princess. She probably also amused herself with her ladies and those that she met in Wales. She even made a new friend. Margaret Plantagenet, who was royal in her own right, was the sister of the Earl of Warwick, whom had been executed to secure Henry VII's crown and to make way for Catherine. Despite this, they quickly became friends (Starkley).
This easy life was shattered on Easter Day, March 27, 1502, when Arthur became seriously ill. What caused this illness is unknown. Some modern experts say it could have been pneumonia, tuberculosis, or the sweating sickness, which is now thought to be a virulent type of influenza. But at the time, the sickness could not be cured. Catherine became a widow on April 2, 1502, several months after she had married Arthur.
Catherine herself became ill, and she was slowly brought back to London in one of the Queen's own litters, decorated in black for mourning. The slow pace was only partly because of her illness. The other reason was that the English suspected that she might be carrying Arthur's child, in which case if the was a boy he would become the heir of England, and Catherine's position as the mother to the future King of England would be secured. However, she was not pregnant with Arthur's child, as soon became obvious to the English.
But what was to become of Catherine? This was unclear at the time. The King certainly did not wish to return her dowry, and negotiations for a marriage between Catherine and her former brother-in-law, Henry, started between Spain and England. Then on June 5, 1503, Henry and Catherine became officially engaged, and Catherine's position in England was once again assured.
But then her life became full of problems and uncertainties again. King Henry had cut off her income, and her mother, Isabella, died. Because of this, the alliance between Aragon and Castile brought upon by the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile had ended, and Henry no longer considered that an alliance between Spain and England was in his best interest without the wealthy Castile in an alliance with him as well as Aragon. The engagement between his youngest son and Catherine of Aragon was ended, but Catherine remained in England with hardly any money to her name.
The next three years was a time of high uncertainty for Catherine. Over those few years, she struggled to meet ends and couldn't pay her servants. Her position in England was that of a widow and nothing more. Neither her father nor Henry VII would give her enough money to pay her household expenses. No marriage proposals came her way.
But, in the April of 1509, fifty-two-year-old King Henry VII passed away from tuberculosis. Then in June of that same year, things started to look better for Arthur's widow. Her past brother-in-law, now King Henry VIII of England, proposed to Catherine, and she accepted. They were married June 11, 1509 (Timeline).
Most people have heard the rest of Catherine's story. She gave Henry only one living child, a daughter, before becoming too old to bear children. That started Henry VIII's mad obsession with marrying young wives to bear him a male heir. He later petitioned the Pope for an annulment to their marriage. When the Pope hesitated, Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and formed the Protestant Church of England.
He then divorced Catherine and proclaimed their daughter Mary illegitimate. Catherine's title of Queen was stripped away from her, but she refused to acknowledge this. Until her dying breath, Catherine fought against Henry, proclaiming that she would die both a queen and a married woman. And in her mind, she did. She died on January 8, 1536, and an autopsy later discovered she had a black growth on her heart (Starkley).
Catherine died fighting for her loyalty to her husband, believing that Anne Boleyn had bewitched him. She, a mere woman in a time where men prominently ruled, died defying one of the most powerful monarchs in all of Europe. She truly was her mother's daughter.
Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
New York: HarperCollins, 2003
"Catherine of Aragon Timeline." History on the Net.November 2000.
18 May 2009
The Six Wives of Henry VIII" Tudor History. May 2009
.org/wives/ 18 May 2009