Henry VIII turns on Katherine of Aragon


When Henry VIII believed that Katherine of Aragon would no longer be able to give him a male heir he began to look for ways out of the marriage. Whether he truly believed his own statements, or if he was just looking for a way out, only he and his closest advisers would know. Henry’s biggest concern was that Katherine’s marriage to his older brother Arthur must have been consummated and that is why he had not been able to conceive a surviving son and male heir with her.

While reading Sarah Gristwood’s newest book, “Game of Queens” she discusses two different debates regarding Henry’s concern with his first marriage.

In the book of Leviticus, the Bible says, “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. Thy shall be childless.”

In Henry’s mind this meant not without child, but without male heir. Clearly he interpreted things the way that would benefit himself. However, in the book of Deuteronomy it contradicts Leviticus saying that a man has a duty to marry his deceased brother’s widow and to ‘raise up seed for his brother’. So…which was it? Was Henry supposed to marry his brother’s widow or was he not?

The ultimate question was whether or not Katherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales had consummated their marriage. When the papal legates (Campeggio and Wolsey) visited Katherine and tried to convince her to join a nunnery she refused. They told the Pope, ‘Although she is very religious and extremely patient, she will not accede in the least.”  Katherine swore on her conscience that she and Prince Arthur had never consummated their marriage, and declared that ‘she intended to live and die in the estate of matrimony to which God had called her.’

Cardinal Campeggio attempted to sway the queen but she would not listen. Wolsey warned her to yield to the King’s displeasure – she snapped at him saying:

Of this trouble, I thank only you, my lord of York! Of malice you have kindled this fire, especially for the great grudge you bear to my nephew the Emperor, because he would not gratify your ambition by making you Pope by force!

Wolsey then went on to excuse himself. He stated that it had been ‘sore against his will that ever the marriage should be in question’ and he promised, as legate for the Pope to be impartial. Katherine did not believe him as she knew Wolsey to be the closest adviser to the King.

On the 26th of October 1528, by her request, Campeggio heard Katherine’s confession. She declared, upon the salvation of her soul, that she had never been carnally known by Prince Arthur. Campeggio believed she was speaking the truth but continued to push for her to go to a nunnery.

In 1531, Katherine was still declaring herself Henry’s true wife. Henry was attempting to force Katherine to sign his Act of Supremacy. She refused, stating that the Pope was ‘the only true sovereign and vicar of God…’ She went on to say:

I love and have loved my lord the King as much as any woman can love a man, but I would not have borne him company as his wife for one moment against the voice of my conscience. I am his true wife.

From all that we have read and learned about the relationship of Arthur, Prince of Wales and Katherine of Aragon it appears that they had not consummated their marriage. Most believe it is because Arthur was in such poor health at the time. I believe that Katherine would never have lied in confession.

What do YOU believe?


Gristwood, Sarah; Game of Queens; page 129

Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII, pages 177, 190, 191, 227



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Anne Boleyn: The Rise

Guest Article By P. Deegan

Part 1: The Rise – Mainly Katherine vs Anne

anneboleyn3 (1)This article was going to be about the downfall of Anne Boleyn. However I believe her downfall must be seen within the context of their whole relationship so this article now covers her rise as well as her fall. There is a certain amount of personal speculation within this but it is written as an internet article so I feel I can have a little leeway in the composition. Part One covers the first 7-8 years of the relationship between Henry and Anne: from his initial interest to the brink of her triumph. Part Two will cover the three married years and include the basics of her fall. A potential Part three will discuss the fall in depth (if I can produce something worthwhile – if not write your own…).

Historians do not seem to agree on the starting date of Henry’s interest in Anne, with David Starkey suggesting Henry’s infatuation with Anne was detectable at the start of 1525 whilst Eric Ives suggests his attraction began in the first part of 1526. Ives tentatively charts the likely development of that romantic interest, over a year, from a courtly love relationship into an agreement to marry her by the summer of 1527 – even though he was already married at that time to Katherine of Aragon.

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1520
by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1520
by Unknown artist, oil on oak panel, circa 1520s
by Unknown artist, oil on oak panel, circa 1520s

Henry had married his brother’s widow in 1509 and had needed a dispensation from the pope to do so. As his brother’s widow, she was deemed to be a “sister” to Henry in church eyes and therefore technically forbidden to marry him. However papal dispensations were given quite easily at this time for politically advantageous marriages, even for genuinely closely related blood relatives, so it was no problem obtaining that dispensation. However Henry, who had a genuine interest in theology and who was a devout man in his own way, had come to believe that the deaths of all his sons with Katherine (one after 6 or 7 weeks of life, one after a few hours of life after birth and one was stillborn) were because God was displeased. He took to heart the instruction written in Leviticus 20:21: “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing… he shall be without children”. The fact he had a live child in his daughter Mary did not discount this verse to Henry as she was female so didn’t really count in his world view. The fact there is also another verse in the bible instructing a man to marry his brother’s widow (Deuteronomy 25:5) was also ignored.

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales
Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales
Portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Michael Sittow, c1502
Portrait of Katharine of Aragon by Michael Sittow, c1502

In May 1527 Wolsey (presumably on the King’s instructions) called on Henry to answer the charge that he was living in sin with his brother’s widow though Katherine was not notified of this and lawyers “shrank from deciding without advice from senior bishops”[1]. However also in this month, May 1527, an international event happened that would decrease the prospect of an annulment being granted: the troops of Katherine’s nephew, the Emperor Charles V, sacked the city of Rome leaving the Pope their effective prisoner. In Western Europe at this time the Pope was still the deemed the head of all of Christendom and his approval, and dispensation, would be expected in order to validate any annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine. Henry even wrote directly to the Pope in August 1527 for his dispensation, possibly hoping the he would be looking for support and friends at this difficult time in Rome and that he might be more open to a quick dispensation. However the Pope was never going to risk angering the most powerful sovereign in Europe by dishonouring his aunt. If he had granted Henry’s request, this would have meant that Katherine, a pious woman, had been living in sin with Henry for nearly 20 years.

These attempts in 1527 by Henry were the start of a protracted series of attempts to obtain an annulment of his first marriage. This continued for years and Katherine defended her and her daughter’s, rights during all these attempts. It was known at the time as “the King’s Great Matter”. At the beginning of these manoeuvres, Anne was briefly sent back to Hever castle, her family home, because Henry needed it to appear that he wanted an annulment of his marriage only because it was wrong. Henry probably hoped for a reasonably quick decision as, in his mind, it was clear that the dispensation that had allowed him to marry Katherine in the first place was wrong.

Public Domain
Hever Castle – Public Domain

But Anne was back at court by July 1528 though Henry continued living with Katherine in public, formally treating her as queen at court and communicating with her every three days. However Henry was openly entranced by Anne: “kissing her and treating her in public as though she were his wife” according to the papal legate, Cardinal Campeggio. In 1529 the Emperor’s ambassador, Chapuys, wrote “The king’s affection for La Bolaing increases daily. It is so great just now that it can hardly be greater; such is the intimacy in which they live at present.” Yet aside from powerful relations, Katherine had the support of powerful people at court too and the love of the common people in England. But Henry’s obsession with Anne continued and in 1530 he gave her splendid riding equipment, saddles and harnesses in black and gold, for her travels with him. In 1530 there was also a development that did not immediately change this situation but which held the seeds of his final breakthrough in his efforts to get his annulment. More importantly it would affect the way the Christian church in England would develop. It was a set of papers called the Collectiana satis copiosa. This was the results of a team of researchers working on the King’s problem and contained various arguments, including scriptural and historical ones, and it stated that “there was no warrant for the centuries-old assumption that the pope was supreme in spiritual matters”[2].

Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII

In 1531 Henry and Anne’s relationship continued and it was rumoured that, after a quarrel with Anne, Henry had begged her relatives to mediate “with tears in his eyes”. Henry and Anne had a notably volatile relationship partly because it was so passionate. Henry started to do extensions to York Place. This was the palace that he had obtained from Cardinal Wolsey and which would become known as Whitehall. There was no place for Katherine there and it was a favourite project of Henry and Anne. It was also during 1531 that things slowly started to change for this uncomfortable ménage a trois after a Papal demand was made.

At the end of May Henry was threatened with having to appear before the Pope in Rome, according to Ives, so, on May 31st a delegation of 30 courtiers and clerics were sent to Katherine to beg her to consent to the appeal being held in England to save Henry from this undignified step. She was unmoved and sent them away without agreeing to any concessions. Henry then spent some time going on hunting trips with just Anne and a few attendants. Then early in July the whole court moved to Windsor for the start of the summer progress and on 14th July Henry left for Chertsey Abbey with Anne whilst sending a message to Katherine to stay where she was. This triggered a series of messages between Henry and Katherine where the bitterness between them finally led to a break. Katherine sent a message, which hasn’t survived that I’m aware of, but which obviously conveyed her hurt at his message which had been sent not too long after their wedding anniversary. Henry exploded at Katherine’s message and sent back an angry message that she had brought this on herself with her as she had brought the indignity of the demand to go to Rome on him and then ignored the advice of his wisest councillors. He firmly stated that he wanted no more messages from her but there was one final exchange and Henry ended by formally instructing her to tend to her own business.

Both Henry and Katherine continued to attend state events, as king and queen, until November although they did not meet at these events. By Christmas however, Katherine and her ladies were separated from the court and absent from the festivities held during the 1531 Christmas season. Henry and Anne exchanged rich gifts with each other this year but sent none to Katherine or her ladies. Henry also instructed his court not to send the queen or her ladies gifts either. Apparently this gift giving could be used to acknowledge relationships between people. However he hadn’t specifically forbidden Katherine to send a gift to him so she took the opportunity to send a beautiful gold cup to Henry. This greatly angered him, and he initially immediately sent it straight back but then realised that if it was presented later during a public event he couldn’t refuse it, due to the conventions of the time, and that this action would mean acknowledging a relationship with Katherine – so he quickly recalled it and told his privy chamber to hang onto the cup and only return it to Katherine in the evening when a formal presentation couldn’t take place.

In 1532 there were manoeuvres in parliament which led to “the submission of the clergy” to Henry. This was a process by which the Church of England gave up their power to formulate church laws without the King’s licence and assent. Anne’s standing continued to rise throughout this year. Bishop Gardiner surrendered a fine manor house in Hanworth to Anne, in an effort to atone for his initially standing against the measures put to Parliament, and Henry furnished it for her and also paid a lot of money out for fine clothing for her. Henry also secretly arranged for a grand meeting with a fellow monarch, to gain recognition for Anne, in France. Henry requested Katherine’s jewels from her in a polite courtly way. An angry Katherine reminded Henry she was now forbidden to give him anything and declared that it would be a sin to let the jewels adorn “the scandal of Christendom”. So Henry sent a direct order to her to surrender them which she did.

Katherine of Aragon
Katherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn

Also in 1532 Archbishop Warham died.  He had been a conservative cleric who supported Katherine and he would be replaced, in due course, by Thomas Cranmer who was a religious reformer and far more sympathetic to an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Katherine. In September Anne was ennobled in her own right, as marquis of Pembroke, in a grand ceremony at Windsor and was granted valuable lands at the same time. The following month, with around 2000 nobles, knights and attendants, Henry and Anne went across the English channel to Calais  (then technically English land) and met with Francis I and members of his court. Due to the reluctance of notable French women to meet with Anne, the bulk of the meetings were between the men of the court. But Francis sent Anne a wonderful diamond and she made a dramatic entrance into the celebrations after a magnificent banquet on the second last day of the visit. She, and some of her ladies, paraded in dressed in fabulous clothing and masks to lead the dancing after the feast. The French King and his court returned home but, due to some terrible weather, the King’s return to England was delayed.  Many historians believe it is likely Henry and Anne finally slept together for the first time during this period. In December 1532 Henry transferred over three hundredweight of gilt and partly gilt plate to Anne.


Read Part 2: Anne Boleyn: Triumph to Failure



  1. Ives, Eric., 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, pg 95, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
  2. Ives, Eric., 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, pg 136, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing



Ives, Eric., 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, pg 95, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

http://www.historyonthenet.com/tudors/catherine_aragon_timeline.htm (Accessed 2015)

http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2011/01/07/the-death-of-catherine-of-aragon/ (Accessed 2015)

Wikipedia (yeah – sorry)