Katherine of Aragon was born on December 16, 1485 in Castile. Her parents had ruled Castile and Aragon and were generally well liked amongst their pupils. Young Katherine, at only age 3 was betrothed to Arthur Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the English throne. In November 1401 Katherine and Arthur were married. Arthur could not speak Spanish, and Katherine could not speak English, they could both speak Latin, but unfortunately, they had learned different pronunciations and could not understand each other. Arthur had written how happy he was to be married to Katherine, she was beautiful and charming. Soon after their marriage, Arthur had to attend a council at Ludlow Castle and Katherine traveled their with him. Unfortunately they both became ill with the English Sweating Sickness, an epidemic that is still little understood today. On April 2, 1502 Arthur Prince of Wales had died. Katherine finally did recover but when she did had found herself to be a widow.
This was an awful state for Katherine to be in, King Henry VII did not want to return Katherine back to Aragon, as he wanted the remainder of the money that King Ferdinand II owed him. In February of 1503 Queen Elizabeth had died, and King Henry VII seriously considered marriage to young Katherine to ensure he got the reminder of the money he so desperately wanted. King Ferdinand II was outraged at such an idea and refused to allow it to happen. Finally, King Henry VII decided that Katherine would marry his second son, Henry, Duke of York. As he was 5 years younger than Katherine, the marriage would have to wait. Katherine’s mother had passed away during this time and that meant that Katherine herself, was not as highly valued as she had once been. Katherine’s mentally unstable sister, Joanna, had taken control of Castile. Ferdinand II was not going to pay Henry VII the rest of the money until his daughter was officially married. During the time waiting for Henry to become of age for marriage, Katherine was treated like a prisoner. She was confided to Durham House and was given very little. She had to pay the bills for herself and all of her ladies in waiting. She had wrote letters to her family proclaiming of the poor treatment she had received. She was a strong woman though and took her misfortunes with grace. In 1507 she made history as the Spanish Ambassador to England. She was the first female ambassador in all of European history, pretty damn cool. Before Katherine could marry Henry, she had to testify that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated and the pope had to approve the dispensation of her first marriage.
June 11, 1509, seven years after Arthur’s death, Henry and Katherine were married. Henry was now King Henry VIII, his coronation taking place on June 24, 1509. During this time Katherine had won over the English people with her charm and was very well received.
Two months after her wedding, it was announced that Queen Katherine was pregnant. On January 21, 1510 Katherine miscarried a baby girl. 4 months later, in May of 1510, it was announced that Katherine was pregnant again. This time she gave birth to a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall was born on January 1, 1511. Sadly on February 22, just 52 days after his birth, the young Prince had suddenly died. In early 1513 Katherine was pregnant again, Henry was fighting in France, leaving Katherine as regent. It is still unsure if this son was born stillborn or died just after being born. In the summer of 1514 she announced her fourth pregnancy, however in winter of 1515 she had given birth to a stillborn baby boy. In the summer of 1515, another pregnancy was announced, however hope amongst the people was slim. However, at 4 a.m. on February 18, 1516 Katherine gave birth to Princess Mary, a healthy baby girl. (She would grow up to become Queen Mary I of England). Henry VIII was disappointed at having a daughter but now that he finally had a healthy offspring, he was sure that the next child would be a son. Another miscarriage occurred in 1517. Katherine had announced her seventh pregnancy in February of 1518, and although she prayed constantly for a healthy baby boy, on November 10, 1518 she gave birth to a weak baby girl who only lived a few hours.
In 1513, while Henry VIII was in France on a military campaign, Katherine was regent and also pregnant. The Scots used this time to attack an invasion and Katherine jumped in to power. She rallied troops, and fully clothed in armor rode north to deliver a powerful and inspiring speech to the troops before the battle. King James IV of Scotland had died in this battle and when Katherine wrote a letter to Henry VIII she also sent along a piece of his bloodied coat for the troops to use as a banner in the siege of Tournai. She was one tough cookie.
Although their marriage was never perfect and far from picturesque, the real trouble started in 1525. Anne Boleyn, a cheap piece of trash if ever one existed, started to capture Henry VIII’s attention. Although she would be the second of Henry’s six wives, I still maintain that she deserved more punishment. Henry VIII began searching for legal ways to annul the marriage to Katherine. He maintained that the bible stated clearly that a man can not marry his brother’s wife, even if it was consummated. Getting the Pope to agree to such a thing would never happen. During this time, Henry had advisors suggest to Katherine that she should quietly retire to a nunnery. Her response to this was well documented, “God never called me to a nunnery. I am the King’s true and legitimate wife”. Henry’s frustration on the support from court members as well as clergy for Katherine led him to banish her from court in 1531. Anne Boleyn was given Katherine’s rooms and finally in 1533, Boleyn was married to Henry and Katherine was striped of her title.
In 1535 Katherine was moved to Kimbolton Castle as her prison. She would stay locked in a single room, only leaving to attend mass. She wore a hair shirt and would fast. She was forbidden to write letters or have any communicate with her daughter, Mary. Although, she was a beloved queen so her sympathizers did deliver messages between the two. Weather it was public opinion against Anne Boleyn or Henry’s conscience, he agreed to move both Katherine and Mary to better living quarters and to see each other if they would just recognize Anne Boleyn as the Queen of England. Both Katherine and Mary refused. In late December of 1535 Katherine knew she was unwell and that she would soon die. She wrote to her nephew, Emperor Charles the fifth, begging for him to watch over and take care of Mary. Katherine knew that Mary was Henry VIII’s first legitimate child and was terrified of the ways Henry and Anne would torture or possible kill her. Katherine also penned a letter to Henry VIII:
My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.
January 7, 1536, Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England had died of cancer at the age of 50. Until her very last breath she referred to herself as the Queen of England, and I think rightfully so. Although she was not born in England, she had devoted her life to the prosperity of the country, even though she was treated poorly many times, she stayed strong in her devotion. It is said that upon hearing of Katherine’s death, Anne Boleyn & Henry VIII decked themselves out in yellow attire. Although Yellow is the mourning colour of Spain, with Katherine’s passing, Henry & Anne no longer had a legitimate queen to hide and fight over. Katherine was buried at Peterborough Cathedral with a ceremony fitting of a dowager, not a queen. Henry did not attend and he forbade Mary from attending her mother’s funeral. Henry VIII was a real asshole. Now at Peterborough Cathedral, above Katherine’s tomb it reads: “KATHARINE QVEEN OF ENGLAND”
It has been 483 years, today since Katherine passed away. Although Henry VIII is often thought of as the king with 6 wives, Katherine is always my first thought when he is brought up. She was treated so poorly, but was never defeated. God Save the Queen!
p.s. You might notice I spell Katharine’s name with a K throughout. She herself spelled her name many different ways when she was alive, and I prefer to use the K when I write about her.