When we think of Henry VIII we often think of his sixth wives – the end of his first marriage was quite controversial and took many years to achieve…that’s the marriage we are looking at today. Katherine of Aragon and whether or not the marriage between Arthur, Prince of Wales and his bride was consummated. We’ll also look at what happened during her marriage with Henry and how she never allowed Henry to have the upper-hand. In her mind, she was his true wife and queen. I also created a podcast about this subject that I believe you will thoroughly enjoy. If you’d like to check it out please click the image below. This is from 2017:
Katherine – The Early Years
Katherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile and was named after her great-grandmother, Katherine of Lancaster who was the daughter of the well-know John of Gaunt and Constance of Castile. If you are not familiar with John of Gaunt, he was the son of King Edward III of England – the king with many sons who eventually caused the Wars of the Roses fiasco. But that’s another story!
During her upbringing Katherine was well-educated. She was an avid reader and was trained in needlework, dancing, lace-making and embroidery in the black-work style. This style of embroidery was made popular by Katherine in England.
Katherine loved and respected her mother Isabella. She grew up to be much like her – in looks and character. Isabella was able to turn a blind-eye to Ferdinand’s many infidelities, as did her daughter years later with her second husband, Henry VIII. Like her mother, Katherine also had a great sense for fashion.
When Katherine came to England in 1501, it was on the heels of the execution of Perkin Warbeck and Edward, Earl of Warwick. Her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella did not wish to send their beloved daughter to a country whose ruler could be removed and their daughter left empty-handed. That is what was going on in England at the time – Warbeck and Warwick were both threats to the throne of Henry VII. Some English subjects believed that either of those men deserved to wear the crown over Henry because of their Plantagenet or House of York lineage. Warbeck claimed to be the son of Edward IV (one of the princes in the Tower) and Warwick was the son of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to King Edward IV and Richard III. Now….when Richard III assumed the role of King of England after the disappearance of the princes in the Tower many suspected that he was responsible for their disappearance because he had the most to gain from it. Now, while I also agree with that statement, we honestly may never know what happened to Edward V & Richard, Duke of York during their stay in the Tower, BUT, the fact that Richard III had the marriage between his brother King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville declared unlawful and invalid because of a previous secret wedding Edward had with Eleanor Butler (which then by right made him next in line to the throne), one could see that this is something that he desired. While he never showed this desire while Edward IV (his brother) was on the throne, unlike his brother the Duke of Clarence, it is not unusual for him to wish to be king if he believed it was his right.
So…this is the mess (with an abbreviated back story) that was going on in England at the time of marriage negotiations with Henry VII and the parents of Katherine of Aragon.
I’ve often thought that Katherine, in her pious ways, may have felt guilty for the execution of Warbeck and Warwick, because it appears that they only occurred because otherwise Ferdinand and Isabella would not send their daughter to England. I’d be curious to hear what you think about that – did Katherine feel guilty or have remorse for the death of these young men? Especially Warwick since he was the first cousin to her new mother-in-law, Elizabeth of York, whom she was very close to.
When Katherine married Arthur, Prince of Wales their marriage was very short-lived. After being sent to Ludlow after their wedding, Arthur and Katherine both became ill but Arthur would not survive. Arthur had been ill or sickly for many years and some have suggested that their marriage was not consummated, even though the morning after their wedding night he boasted that he had “spent the night in Spain”.
Whether or not they did or didn’t is one of the main questions you hear — The question that always comes back into my head is why did Henry want to get the papal dispensation before marrying his brother’s wife? Surely there was more reason than the fact that she was his sister in law…was it because of the chance that the marriage was consummated?
Next we must consider how pious Katherine was — would she condemn her immortal soul just to ensure she was still queen or to prove Henry wrong? Probably not, but would she lie to keep her daughter, Princess Mary in favor? That is likely. As a parent I know a person will do anything to protect their child. Anything.
Plus, we don’t know if she confessed to a priest on her deathbed. Some can say that it was never reported that she did but honestly, if the priest was loyal to her and it was a confession then it was private and he could not repeat it. I was raised Catholic so I know that much.
The King’s Conscious
I recently posted this question on Facebook and Twitter pages and the results are in – we still don’t know. As usual the masses are torn. On the Facebook page Heather mentioned Margaret Beaufort being in charge of the court of Henry VII at the time and she would have made sure things were done properly. This is a very interesting point that you do not hear often and I question if that’s because Margaret died in 1509 after Katherine of Aragon married Henry VIII. She was not available to testify and had not left behind anything to indicate that her grandson Arthur had consummated his marriage with Katherine of Aragon. So…while the idea of Margaret Beaufort made sure the deed was done is just that, an idea. There is no evidence to suggest one way or another so we must set that idea aside.
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?
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.
Around 1532, when Henry VIII requested Katherine of Aragon return her jewels to the crown she fell ill soon after. To be quite honest, Katherine was already ill. She had made a request to see her good friend the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Chapuys, wanting to following court rules, requested permission from the King to see Katherine of Aragon at Kimbolton. The chronicler reported Henry VIII saying, “Yes, Ambassador, you have my permission; I will send you word when you can go.” Henry did not send word. Chapuys requested leave many times and yet received no word from the King. Eventually Chapuys sent word to the King that he was leaving – he was tired of waiting. If, while on the road, he received word from the King of England he would surely obey it.
On his way out of London, Chapuys gathered as many Spanish merchants as he could that would accompany him to Kimbolton. There were nearly “a hundred horses” in his company. The spirit of the group was high and they were very happy and excited to visit Katherine, their queen.
Once King Henry received the message from the Imperial Ambassador he was determined to not allow him to see Katherine. He understood the danger of having a Spanish Ambassador speaking to the wife he had thrown aside. The King sent a man by the name of Thomas ahead of Chapuys to arrive at Kimbolton in advance to send the message that Chapuys was not to be permitted to visit the Queen. While Chapuys was slowly traveling to the castle he saw this man (Thomas) pass him on the road – Chapuys seemed to understand what the man’s mission was and had one of his servants follow him to confirm his suspicions.
Katherine was aware that her friend, the ambassador would soon arrive with such great company that when she received word that he could not enter it devastated her. I can only imagine how lonely she was for a familiar face, and a friendly one at that.
Chapuys was ordered to stay four miles from the castle. Why four miles? I assume that is where they were stopped from their forward progress.
That evening Katherine send food and wine to her Spanish friends and begged them to have good cheer. It was that night that the Spaniards told Chapuys that only HE was not allowed to see Katherine, not them. They informed him that they intended to continue to Kimbolton, which they did. The next morning about thirty men began their adventure to see the Queen. With them they brought what seems to have been the ambassador’s fool – or a fool nonetheless. This man was dressed as a fool and had a padlock hanging from his hood.
When the men arrived at Kimbolton they rested for a bit until they saw ladies in the window. That is when the fool decided he had to get to the ladies immediately. Being the fool he was , he started toward the moat (getting in the water) and there was great concern from the other men in the party that he would drown. When the men pulled the fool out of moat they removed his padlock and threw it at the window with the ladies; They yelled at the ladies that next time they would bring them the key. The padlock did not make it to the window but fell to the earth on the other side of the moat. Some of the castle servants saw where the padlock had fallen and immediately went to grab it. They assumed that it had a note within it for Katherine. They immediately sent it to the King to be examined, and no note or letter was found.
In the meantime, back at the castle, the Spaniards had approached the gate and were welcomed inside. Katherine’s ladies were sent to greet them and they were fed a great breakfast in the lower hall. While the men were having breakfast the fool decided to visit the castle barber for a problem he was having. He made signs to the barber that indicated that he may have a toothache. The barber took pity on the man and wanted to help him. He sat the fool down and attempted to stick his fingers in his mouth to see what the problem was, this must have caused pain to the fool because he clenched his teeth and screamed out in pain – at the same time the poor barber also screamed in pain for having his fingers bitten. The ruckus that ensued aroused the attention of others having breakfast that they came to see what the problem was. When they discovered it to be the fool they all had a good laugh. They then returned to finish their breakfast before leaving the castle.
When the men returned to Chapuys they told him the stories of what had happened and all had a great laugh about it – they then returned to London. Nothing more is mentioned by the chronicler of what had been discussed, or if the Queen was present.
After the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and a year after the birth of Princess Elizabeth. King Henry had demanded that Mary take the oath to the Act of Succession, which meant that her parents were never married and she was illegitimate. Mary had refused his request and was understandably fearful of someone trying to harm her because of it. Henry’s retribution was to not allow the person most important to her, her mother. In addition, he dismissed her household, and placed her in the care of Lady Anne Shelton, who was the aunt of her enemy, Anne Boleyn. Needing advice on what she should do, Mary reached out to her mother. This is the letter that Katherine wrote to her daughter. Katharine recommends to Mary to follow her own strategy: Obey Henry in all things except those which would offend God.
The mother and daughter team did not make things easy for Anne and Henry. They fought tooth and nail to keep what was rightfully theirs….
Daughter, I heard such tidings today that I do perceive if it be true, the time is come that Almighty God will prove you; and I am very glad of it, for I trust He doth handle you with a good love. I beseech you agree of His pleasure with a merry heart; and be sure that, without fail, He will not suffer you to perish if you beware to offend Him. I pray you, good daughter, to offer yourself to Him. If any pangs come to you, shrive yourself; first make you clean; take heed of His commandments, and keep them as near as He will give you grace to do, for then you are sure armed. And if this lady [Anne Shelton] do come to you as it is spoken, if she do bring you a letter from the King, I am sure in the self same letter you shall be commanded what you shall do. Answer with few words, obeying the King, your father, in everything, save only that you will not offend God and lose your own soul; and go no further with learning and disputation in the matter. And wheresoever, and in whatsoever company you shall come, observe the King’s commandments. Speak you few words and meddle nothing. I will send you two books in Latin; the one shall be De Vita Christi with a declaration of the Gospels, and the other the Epistles of St Jerome that he did write to Paul and Eustochium, and in them I trust you shall see good things. And sometimes for your recreation use your virginals or lute if you have any.
But one thing I especially desire you, for the love that you do owe unto God and unto me, to keep your heart with a chaste mind, and your body from all ill and wanton company, not thinking or desiring any husband for Christ’s passion; neither determine yourself to any manner of living till this troublesome time be past. For I dare make sure that you shall see a very good end, and better than you can desire. I would God, good daughter, that you did know with how good a heart I do write this letter unto you. I never did one with a better, for I perceive very well that God loveth you. I beseech Him of His goodness to continue it; and if it fortune that you shall have nobody with you of your acquaintance, I think it best you keep your keys yourself, for howsoever it is, so shall be done as shall please them.
And now you shall begin, and by likelihood I shall follow. I set not a rush by it; for when they have done the uttermost they can, than I am sure of the amendment. I pray you, recommend me unto my good lady of Salisbury, and pray her to have a good heart, for we never come to the kingdom of Heaven but by troubles.
Daughter, whatsoever you come, take no pain to send unto me, for if I may, I will send to you.
Your loving mother,
Katharine the Queen.
End of 1535 and January 1536
About eight or nine months later the King informed the Imperial Ambassador that Katherine was very ill and soon to die. He gave him permission to see her. Chapuys arrived at Kimbolton on New Years Eve 1535. Katherine was very pleased to see her great friend that she did not want him to leave – every time he attempted to leave she would ask him to stay. Katherine’s spirits seemed to improve. The chronicler also suggested that the fool had also accompanied Chapuys on this trip and was there to amuse Katherine. It is noted that she enjoyed his company.
It appears that Chapuys left after Katherine’s doctor assured him that she was better and he need not fear to leave her. She died (7 January 1536) shortly after and it is believed that Chapuys was in London at the time of her death.
Maria de Salines was one of Katherine of Aragon’s most important ladies-in-waiting; She came with her from Spain in 1501 when Katherine married Arthur and stayed with her until Henry VIII no longer allowed her to service the “disobedient” queen.
In December 1535, Maria heard her dear friend Katherine was near death. She desperately wanted to be her but it was impossible to see her without permission from the king. Maria wrote to Secretary Cromwell to plead her case and appeal to him for permission to see Katherine.
In as lowly manner as I can, heartily I recommend me unto you. And thus it is I have forborne you all this same while, for my servant brought me word, when I sent him to you, that you were in such importune business that you could neither dispatch me nor no other body. And now, Mr. Secretary, need driveth me to put you to pain for I heard say that my mistress is very sore sick again; wherefore, good Mr. Secretary, I pray you remember me of your goodness, for you did promise me to labour the king’s grace to get me license to go to her grace afore God send for her: for, as I am informed, there is no other likelihood but it shall be shortly. An if so be that the king’s grace of his goodness be content that I shall go thither, without I have a letter of his grace, or else of you, to shew the officers of my mistress’s house that his grace is content with my going, else my license shall stand to none effect. And as touching that, there is nobody can help me so well as you. Mr. Secretary, under God and the king, all my trust is in you: I pray you remember me now at this time. And so Jesus have you in his keeping.
From the Barbican, the 30th day of December (1535).
By your beadwoman,
It appears her access to Katherine was denied, however she went to Kimbolton anyway. She had no license from the king for entrance but was somehow able to convince them to admit her to the queen anyway. The next day Katherine of Aragon died with her dear life-long friend by her side on 7 January 1536.
So here we are, at the end of her story, but it’s not really the end because we are still talking about her nearly 500 years later. In the Katherine vs. Anne story there is no clear winner. Both women died without the love of their husband and both women had daughters who became queens of England.