The first wife of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, was also the longest in that position. In the end they were married over two decades before Henry married his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn.
It was on the 21st of June 1529 that Katherine of Aragon “had her day in court” and made quite the scene. Katherine, the Queen, gave the speech of her life, on her knees, before Henry VIII and the rest of those present at the hearing. She has been quoted as saying:
Sir, I beseech you for all the loves that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion, I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel: I flee to you as to the head of justice within this realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I designed against your will and pleasure? Intending (as I perceive) to put me from you, I take God and all the world to witness, that I have been to you a true and humble wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein ye had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much, I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontentation. I loved all those whom ye loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no; and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years I have been your true wife or more, and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me.
And when ye had me at the first, I take God to be my judge, I was a true maid without touch of man; and whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart, to my great shame and dishonor; and if there be none, then here I most lowly beseech you let me remain in my former estate, and received justice at your princely hand. The king your father was in the time of his reign of such estimation through the world for his excellent wisdom, that he was accounted and called of all men the second Solomon; and my father Ferdinand, King of Spain, who was esteemed to be one of the wittiest princes that reigned in Spain many years before, were both wise and excellent kings in wisdom and princely behavior. It is not therefore to be doubted, but that they were elected and gathered as wise counsellors about them as to their high discretions was thought meet. Also, as me seemeth there was in those days as wise, as well-learned men, and men of good judgement as be present in both realms, who thought then the marriage between you and me good and lawful Therefore is it a wonder tome what new inventions are now invented against me, that never intended but honesty. And cause me to stand to the order and judgment of this new court, wherein ye may do me much wrong, if ye intend any cruelty; for ye may condemn me for lack of sufficient answer, having no indifferent counsel, but such as be assigned me, with whose wisdom and learning I am not acquainted. Ye must consider that they cannot be indifferent counsellors for my part which be your subjects, and taken out of your own council before, wherein they be made privy, and dare not, for your displeasure, disobey your will and intent, being once made privy thereto. Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity, and for the love of God, who is the just judge, to spare the extremity of this new court, until I may be advertised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much indifferent favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my case!”
22 June 1529:
Friday last the King’s cause was brought before the judges, who sat at the White Friars’. The Queen appeared in person, and the Dean of the Chapel for the King. The Queen refused the judges. The King desired them to determine the validity or nullity of his marriage, about which he had from the beginning felt a perpetual scruple. The Queen said that it was not the time to say this after so long silence. For which he excused himself by the great love he had and has for her. He desired, more than anything else, that the marriage should be declared valid, and remonstrated with the judges that the Queen’s request for the removal of the cause to Rome was unreasonable, considering the Emperor’s power there; whereas this country is perfectly secure for her, and she has had the choice of prelates and lawyers. Finally, she fell on her knees before him, begging him to consider her honor, her daughter’s, and his; that he should not be displeased at her defending it, and should consider the reputation of her nation and relatives, who will be seriously offended; in accordance with what he had said about his good will, she had throughout appealed to Rome, where it was reasonable that the affair should be determined, as the present place was subject to suspicion, and because the cause is already at Rome.
The judges summoned them to meet again on Friday. I think the Queen will take no notice of it. The judges can then proceed against her for contumacy; which I do not think they will do. Her statement that the cause is already at Rome refers to some signatura, of which she wishes to make use, and which the Pope probably winked at. I do not think it a matter of importance. The pleading was in open court, before whom the King did not spare to justify his intention. If the matter was to be decided by women, he would lose the battle; for they did not fail to encourage the Queen at her entrance and departure by their cries, telling her to care for nothing, and other such words; while she recommended herself to their good prayers, and used other Spanish tricks.²
After, two legates visited Katherine at Bridewell and Katherine had this to say to them:
Alas my lords, is it now a question whether I be the kings lawful wife or no? When I have been married to him almost twenty years and in the many season never question made before? Divers prelates yet being alive and lords also and privy councilors with the king at the time, then “adinged” our marriage lawful and honest, and now to say it is detestable and abominable, I think it great marvel: an in especially when I consider, what a wise prince the king’s father was, and also the love and natural affections, that King Fernando my father bare unto me: I think i myself that neither of our fathers, were so uncircumspect, so unwise and of so small imagination, but they foresaw what might follow of our marriage, and in especial the king, my father, sent to the court of Rome, and there, after long suit, with great cost and charge obtained a license and dispensation, that I being the one brother’s wife, and peradventure carnally known, might without scruple of conscience, marry with the other brother lawfully, which license under lead I have yet to show, which things make me to say and truly believe that our marriage was both lawful, good and Godly: But of this trouble I only may thank you my lord Cardinal of York, for because I have wondered at your high pride ad vain-glory, and abhor your voluptuous life, and abominable lechery and little regard your presumptuous power and tyranny, therefore of malice you have dealed this fire, and set this matter a broche, and in especial for the great malice, that you bare to my nephew the Emperor, whom I perfectly you hate worse than a scorpion, because he would not satisfy your ambition and make you Pope by force, and therefore you have said more than once, that you would trouble him and his friends, and you have kept him true promise, for all his wars and vexations, he only may thank you, and as for me his poor aunt and kinswoman, what trouble you put me to, by this new found doubt, God knoweth, to whom I commit my cause according to the truth.³
In Katherine of Aragon, both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had a formidable opponent. What did they expect to get from the daughter of Isabella I of Castile? Did they really think that she was just step aside from what she knew in her heart was rightfully hers? It was another four years before Henry and Anne married and three years later both Anne and Katherine were dead.
¹ Secondary Source: Abernethy, Susan, The Freelance History Writer; Catherine of Aragon’s Speech at Blackfriars – June 1529
² Primary Source: ‘Henry VIII: June 1529, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 2523-2531. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/pp2523-2531 [accessed 21 June 2017].
³ Primary Source: Hall, Edward; Hall’s Chronicle