In July 1534, the first signs of illness appeared in Katherine. Both Eustace Chapuys and Katherine's great friend and lady, Maria de Salinas begged the king for permission to visit the ailing queen, but they were denied. As Katherine's condition continued to worsen by September, she was kept company by only a few trusted servants.
By 1 December 1535, Katherine was ill again. It seemed that she was facing the same thing as before, but it didn't last long. On 13 December, Chapuys wrote that Katherine "has recovered and is now well," but that didn't last long either. Unfortunately, only nine days after her fiftieth birthday, Katherine was forced to take to her bed again. It was clear that whatever illness was plaguing her body would not give up. At the very end of December - either the 29th or the 30th - Eustace Chapuys was given permissiong to visit the sickly queen, who still refused to be called the Dowager Princess of Wales. Although Mary was still not allowed to visit, this one friend by her side must have been a great comfort for Katherine - who had known so little kindness in her last few years. In fact, when he knelt by her bed on 2 January 1536 and kissed her hand, Katherine told him that she was relieved not to be abandoned in her final days. Maria de Salinas also forced herself into Kimbolton Castle to see Katherine, although she was technically forbidden from doing so. It seems that Katherine's deathbed brought about great courage from those who loved and sympathized with her most. On 6 January, contrary to protocol, Katherine made her will - though it was illegal for a woman to do so while her husband lived. In her will, Katherine asked for her debts to be paid and her servants rewarded for their good service to her. She also left trinkets and furs from Spain to her daughter. On this day, Chapuys left Kimbolton Castle - feeling more optimistic because Katherine seemed slightly stronger.
My most dear Lord, King, and Husband, The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, to advise you of your soul’s health, which you ought to prefer before all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever. For which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many troubles. But I forgive you all, and pray God to do so likewise. For the rest, I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her. I must entreat you also to look after my maids, and give them in marriage, which is not much, they being but three, and to all my other servants, a year’s pay besides their due, lest otherwise they should be unprovided for until they find new employment. Lastly, I want only one true thing, to make this vow: that, in this life, mine eyes desire you alone, May God protect you.
When Katherine awoke on 7 January, she felt nauseated and weak again, and her confessor was summoned. After receiving Holy Communion, she prayed aloud with her ladies for two hours before dying peacefully in her bed around two o'clock in the afternoon.
An autopsy revealed a blackened heart, and it was widely believed that she had been poisoned. Of course, Katherine's supporters blamed the Boleyn faction for her death, but nothing was ever proven. It is very possible that Katherine instead died of cancer, but we can never be absolutely certain.
I personally find the death of Katherine of Aragon one of the saddest deaths of the Tudor dynasty. I feel so terribly for her, because she seems to have been one of the most inspiring and good-hearted women of the time. Instead of dying peacefully with her husband at her side, she was virtually left alone in exile while Henry married and lived blissfully (at times) with one of her former ladies-in-waiting. Twenty-seven years after their wedding, Katherine was abandoned.
The only positive spin on Katherine of Aragon's death is the fact that, at long last, the pious and fiercely religious woman was free from the bonds of her difficult life. Though it wasn't always so challenging, the last several years of Katherine's life were not happy ones, and her greatest consolation was her unwavering faith in God. I am absolutely confident - and I know others were also - that on 7 January 1536, Katherine left the earth a Dowager Princess of Wales, and became a Queen in Heaven.
‘The most virtuous woman I have ever known and the highest hearted, but
too quick to trust that others were like herself, and too slow to do a little
ill that much good might come of it.’ - Eustace Chapuys