At this point in 1533, the King's "Great Matter" had been a hotly debated topic for years, and his first wife Katherine of Aragon had already been sent away from court, cruelly dismissed and referred to as the Dowager Princess of Wales - the title she would have held if she had remained the single widow of her first husband and Henry's brother, Prince Arthur Tudor. While Katherine endured the dark and dank conditions of the series of countryside castles she was moved to and from, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were forging ahead in their mission to secure a future together. In fact, by this point (and possibly unbeknownst to Katherine), the two of them had secretly married, and Anne was already carrying the king's heir.
On this day in 1533, the new Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (and an obvious new favorite of the king) sat in judgment of the king's case at Dunstable Priory. It was there that he made the decision and announcement that Henry's marriage to Katherine of Aragon had been illegal, and was now declared null and void. In its place, Henry was deemed free to have married Anne Boleyn, and any children that would come from their union would be legitimate princes and princesses of the kingdom. This ruling was despite Katherine's prior protestations that she had never consummated her first marriage with Henry's brother. (If you'll remember correctly, Katherine and Arhur were only married for a few months before his tragic and untimely death). Now, the debate about whether or not Katherine was a virgin when she married Henry is something that I've written about and debated several times, and it was certainly the hot debate at court at the time. However, Henry was no longer interested in hearing about Katherine's first marriage. In his mind, he knew what had happened. He had decided once and for all that Katherine had slept with Arthur, and that had deemed their marriage invalid. Cue Anne Boleyn, who just happened to be beautiful, mysterious, and hard to get. Of course, these factors did not bode well for the Queen, and this fateful day in 1533 sealed that decision. Katherine would, from here on out, be referred to as the Dowager Princess - not the Queen of England. She would live out the rest of her days in the countryside, far away from court, and she would receive no communication from the court or her daughter, Mary (who was now to be called the Lady Mary, rather than the Princess Mary). Katherine would die at Kimbolton Castle in 1536, just months before her rival Anne would be beheaded and replaced by Jane Seymour. A cruel world the Henrican court was, wasn't it?
Apologies for the lateness of this post... As I've just started a new semester of school (and this one seems to be particularly tough) I'm already finding it hard to stay afloat AND keep up with my site! But never fear! Even if I'm quiet on here for a few days at a time, I haven't forgotten about you or the Tudors, and I will be back!!! Let's see if I can crank out an important and interesting blog post before I have to head off to class...
29 January 1536 was an incredibly important day for the Tudors. Not only was it the day that Henry VIII's first wife Katherine of Aragon was buried - (see my post about Katherine's death) -, but it was also the day that the final straw came in terms of Anne Boleyn and her marriage to Henry. I'll briefly discuss them both here. Let's start with Katherine...
Katherine had died on 7 January while suffering in exile after being cruelly tossed aside for Henry VIII's new love interest, Anne Boleyn. Despite her new title as 'Princess of Wales,' instead of 'Queen of England' - which she'd held for about twenty-four years - Katherine was stubborn and proud, and she refused to be demoted. However, she had no say in the way she would be celebrated or mourned after her death, and unfortunately, I don't think she would be pleased by how it was done.
Of course, her burial on 29 January was appropriate for a royal woman - and most women would be glad to be remembered in such a way! But for Katherine, who had been Queen of England for most of her life and had enjoyed the honors and titles that came along with her position at Henry's side, this was a cruel and inappropriate demotion. Her funeral service was fit for a Princess of Wales - which was her title at her death because of her previous marriage to Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales - which became, in Henry's mind, her only legal marriage.
Although it wasn't a fancy state funeral fit for an English Queen, we can smile at the fact that Katherine was finally at peace. After about ten years of fighting with Henry, being moved from run-down castle to run-down castle, and giving up her life and belongings to the new queen, Anne Boleyn, Katherine must have been ready to give up the fight at the end. Hers began as a life of promise, hope, and happiness - the perfect life for a European Princess - but it ended much differently.
Interestingly, another important event took place on 29 January, and it affected Anne Boleyn in an awful way. For at least the third time, Anne was pregnant with the king's child. After giving birth to Princess Elizabeth in 1533, and then having at least one miscarriage since then, her hopes were high and we can assume that she was praying extremely hard for the delivery of a healthy prince - one to secure her position as England's queen and Henry VIII's rightful wife.
However, all did not go according to plan. On this day, Anne Boleyn miscarried for the final time, much to the distress of both her and her husband. In a letter to the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Eustace Chapuys wrote:"On the day of the interment the Concubine had an abortion which seemed to be a male child which she had not borne 3½ months, at which the King has shown great distress."
There was some talk that Anne blamed her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, for the tragedy - insisting that he had frightened her with the news of her husband's serious fall while jousting just days earlier. But it's unlikely that that was the reason for the miscarriage, because great care was taken when informing Anne of her husband's injury - for the sake of the unborn child.
It is interesting to note that both Chapuys and Wriothesley made mention of the fetus being a male child. Anne Boleyn herself said that she "reckoned herself fifteen weeks gone with child" at the time of the miscarriage, but even in modern times it takes about seventeen to eighteen weeks to determine the sex of a baby, so is it even possible that the people around Anne Boleyn were able to tell?
I've made my effort to debunk this myth once before, but since it is associated with this day in history, I'll touch on it again. Who here has heard of the description that Anne's miscarried fetus was deformed? Well forget that you ever heard that! While studying at Oxford this past semester, I wrote an entire paper about this miscarriage, and I poured over books by historians like Eric Ives and David Starkey, and I am now absolutely convinced that there was NO evidence of this child being deformed or in any way abnormal! For more detail, it would be worth having a look at my post about the myths surrounding Anne Boleyn, but to be brief, we should keep in mind that the first mention of a deformed fetus was made in the Elizabethan era - by a Catholic - that is, an enemy of both Elizabeth and Anne.
Even Chapuys, who would have had every reason in the world to disparage Anne Boleyn's name even further (considering he hated her), said NOTHING about the abnormality of the fetus - only that it was male. Please, please, please keep this in mind when reading about Anne Boleyn! There are so many myths surrounding her, and this is one of the most gruesome. Keep in mind that we have no reason to believe that this child was anything other than an unlucky, premature, still-born male.
With that being said, the miscarriage absolutely devastated Anne and Henry - and it may have sealed her fate. This is controversial, of course, and we probably cannot know how much of a direct effect it really had on Anne's fall, but the timing of it all is a little ominous, don't you think?
Let's just look at what else is going on by the end of January 1536. Already, Henry has had his eye on Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, probably since the previous Summer. At this point, Anne has given him a daughter and at least one other failed pregnancy - proving herself to be just as unsuccessful as Katherine of Aragon, in terms of delivering sons. However, where Katherine's personality did her credit, Anne's did not have the same effect. She was tempestuous, difficult, and sharp-tongued - and the novelty of that wore off quite quickly for Henry. Isn't there a a great possibility that the January miscarriage played a large part in Henry's decision to end the marriage? Maybe he didn't decide at that moment that she should die - in fact, he definitely did not! - but I personally believe that it contributed to his decision to be rid of her.
As we know, the enormity of Anne's fall came very quickly - which we'll cover from now until her last day on 19 May 1536. I feel terribly for her on this day, and it's easy to see how distressed she was at this event. As she said on that day, "I have miscarried of my savior." I do believe that, in part at least, to be true.
As discussed yesterday, the Humble & Loyal 'Queen of Hearts' Katherine of Aragon, passed away from either poisoning or cancer of the heart at Kimbolton Castle on 7 January 1536. For a brief recap, Katherine had been sent to Kimbolton after staying at several other run-down homes in the English countryside, after being cast aside for Henry VIII's new amour, Anne Boleyn. Believing that Katherine had never been truly married to him (after 18 years), he titled her the Dowager Princess of Wales, which she refused to be called, and went through quite an ordeal to annul the marriage that had once made him very happy. After three years of exile and struggle - knowing that the king's new wife (and her former lady-in-waiting) had birthed a daughter and been crowned Queen of England, Katherine suffered in solitude and died a broken and depressed woman, without the opportunity to see her daughter Mary one last time. It's certainly a sad day in history for us Katherine fans, but was it a sad day for Henry VIII? There are mixed reports about this, and I'd like to spend a bit of time today examining Henry's reaction, as well as Anne Boleyn's, to the former queen's death. Will we find that Henry was heartless and cruel about the whole situation? Or will we instead see that he was actually sad, and perhaps regretful, for the way Katherine died? I hope you'll weigh in after you've read this post!
The Initial Reaction
When a messenger arrived at Greenwich Palace to inform the king of Katherine's death, he apparently cried out, "God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war!" That's not exactly the reaction one would hope to hear about the death of an ex-spouse, but it shows just how complicated the situation was for Henry. Clearly, because of the annulment between them, Henry and England were at risk of Spanish retaliation (since that was Katherine's home country and her nephew Charles was the King of Spain). Of course it is only natural that Henry would have been concerned about the threat of war, and the fact that Katherine was now dead certainly lifted that weight off of his shoulders. With a dead ex-wife, Henry was truly a free man - though he had already married Anne Boleyn. He had no more quarrel with Charles V, and he could now consider an Anglo-Spanish alliance against the French. Whether or not this was really all Henry was thinking about at the time, we can see that Katherine's death was just as political as it was emotional (if not much more so). It is certainly possible that Henry was a bit more regretful than he let on, but I suppose we'll never know.
Yellow for Mourning?
On this day in 1536, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were reported to be decked out from head to toe in the color yellow. Nowadays, such a color choice would go unnoticed, but in the sixteenth century, symbolism was incredibly important and obvious. Unfortunately, to this day, we don't quite know what the yellow symbolized, but quite a few people have taken a stab at it. Anne Boleyn biographer, Eric Ives, described the color as "joyful yellow," saying that Henry and Anne were "triumphantly parading" their daughter Princess Elizabeth around court. From this description, it sounds as if the married couple was celebrating the death of Anne's rival, but is it that simple and harsh? Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador for Spain and a close friend of the late Katherine, wrote to Charles V saying, "The king was clad all over from top to toe, except the white feather he had in his bonnet, and the Little Bastard was conducted to mass with trumpets and other great triumphs." It is interesting that no mention was made of Anne or the way she dressed - especially considering Chapuys hated her and would have taken any opportunity to speak badly of her. However, Edward Hall did write, "Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournynge."
This is where it gets a little tricky. Some historians have concluded that the color yellow was in fact a color of mourning in Katherine's home country, Spain. However, other sources say this is not the case, and it is instead a color of hope and renewal. Upon my own research, I have found that yellow was the color of mourning in Egypt and Burma, and that executioners in Spain wore yellow at one time, but I have seen no solid evidence that it was an official color of Spanish mourning. Interestingly, I also found that actors in the Middle Ages wore the color yellow when portraying a dead character in a play. Perhaps yellow was simply connected to the theme of death, and Henry and Anne were making a somewhat ambiguous statement by wearing it. It is certainly possible that they were celebrating Katherine's death by wearing the happy English color, but the side of me that wants to redeem Henry's character forces me to dig for another explanation. Unfortunately, the details and facts about what yellow really meant makes that hard.
Hard-Hearted or Remorseful?
It is so hard to know what Henry VIII could have possibly been thinking when he was told of his first wife's death. I suppose, in order to understand, we would have to decide whether or not his public reasons for annuling that marriage were really his reasons. If he truly believed that Katherine had never been his lawful wife, then perhaps he didn't feel any regret for annuling the marriage. However, if casting Katherine off was simply done in an effort to be rid of an older, barren queen so that he could marry a young and beautiful lady, then perhaps by now he was rethinking that decision. We have to remember that by January 1536, Anne Boleyn had proved herself to be somewhat of a disappointment. Not only had she only birthed one healthy daughter, but she had miscarried a child at least once by this time. Of course, we know that she would also miscarry a son in late January, which would be the final straw. Not only were her child-bearing skills unsatisfactory for Henry, but she was also quite a difficult woman to get along with. As David Starkey once wrote, the appeal of Anne's hot and passionate personality quickly wore off. By 1536, after three challenging years of marriage - constant fighting followed by passionate make-ups - Henry was getting a little tired, and it's possible that he was wondering why he'd gone through all the effort to marry her in the first place. If this was the case, we can assume that he may have been a little more sad about Katherine's death than he let on. In 'The Tudors,' the writers chose to show Henry VIII crying over Katherine's last letter (which I discussed yesterday). In this emotional scene, we watch Henry reading Katherine's final words to him and crumpling in tears against the wall - clearly remorseful. But did that really happen, or was it simply the work of the show's writers to add some extra emotion to the episode? Interestingly, an Elizabethan man named Nicholas Sander wrote, "the king could not refrain from tears when he read the letter." He also takes a stab at Anne, saying that instead of putting on mourning the next day, she put on a yellow dress. So perhaps there is a bit of truth to the idea that Henry shed some tears for his late wife, but one report can certainly not make us know for sure.
I want so badly to redeem Henry and believe that he was truly troubled by Katherine's death - even just a little bit - but I really don't know what to think. None of the evidence really points towards that, although 'The Tudors' made a good decision, I think, by making it appear that Henry was very sad about it. One important thing to remember is that Anne was pregnant at the time that Katherine passed away, so it's possible that Henry was too preoccupied, not only by the political benefits of Katherine's death, but also by the fact that he was waiting to greet a newborn son, to really pay any attention to the fact that Katherine had died. I hate the idea that Henry really wanted to parade around in joyful celebration after his wife of 18 years died, but unfortunately, that may just be the case. To delve any deeper into the situation, we would have to take a good long look at the personalities and levels of compassion for both Henry and Anne - and well, that could take a long time. In any case, it is a terribly sad scenario and I know there were many people at court who were mourning Katherine - even if Henry and Anne were not among them.
Portrait of Katherine from around 1530.
This is a sad day in Tudor history, especially for people who sympathize with King Henry VIII's first (and in many people's opinion, his rightful) wife and queen. After a terribly difficult ten (or so) years, Queen Katherine of Aragon died on this day - 7 January 1536 - at Kimbolton Castle. She was 50 years old when she died - a good and respectable age for the period - but her last years were anything but happy for her. She had moved to Kimbolton Castle in mid May 1534, after living at (at least) The More, Ampthill and Buckden by the king's orders. When she'd first left court at the order of her husband, she was still very much a married woman - and every inch a queen. However, Henry's allegiance and affections had shifted to Anne Boleyn - 'the usurping whore' - who was very quickly taking Katherine's place in the king's heart and bed. After a few years of being obstinate and sticking by her husband's side - even when he clearly didn't want her to - Katherine had lost the game and had to face the harsh reality of leaving her husband and her royal life behind. Now, in 1536, after living away from court for almost five years, and not having seen her daughter Mary for about four years, Katherine was facing her final days - and that was probably a bittersweet feeling, considering the hardships she had faced for so long.
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.
Katherine's pomegranate badge.
Meanwhile, Chapuys and Charles V of Spain were attempting to plan an escape for Katherine and her daughter. At one point, the plan was to smuggle the two women out of England in the cover of night, but they abandoned the plan in May 1535, knowing that the penalty would be execution for all of them if they were discovered.
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.
Katherine from 'The Tudors.'
Between the 6th and 7th of January, it is thought that Katherine penned a rather famous last letter to her ex-husband - who at this point was facing his own problems with his wife of three years, Anne Boleyn. Though Katherine's biographer Giles Tremlett says the letter is almost certainly fictitious, it is interesting to read, and it is more than likely that Katherine was at least thinking these things, whether or not she wrote them down. The letter says:
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.
Katherine's tomb in Peterborough Abbey.
Sadly, Katherine was not given a proper queen's funeral, which I believe wholeheartedly she deserved. Instead, she was given a grand state funeral as befitting a Dowager Princess of Wales - the wife of the Prince of Wales, Arthur Tudor, her first husband. Certainly, her supporters were not in favor of this, but it must have been a little consolation that Katherine was now out of harm's way and in peace after so much misery had plagued her life for so long. Henry and Anne did not attend the funeral, and Princess Mary - now known just as 'Lady Mary' - was not permitted to attend either. Katherine was buried at Peterborough Abbey in an understated tomb.
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
First of all I'd like to thank everyone who took part in my first Tudor Enthusiast poll - "Which of Henry VIII's Wives would you like to learn more about?" Because of a tie between Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn yesterday, I had to extend the deadline until last night - when Katherine won by five votes. The results were, in order: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, a tie between Anne of Cleves & Catherine Parr, and lastly, Catherine Howard. I have to wonder a bit why the final three were not voted for more, because they are the three that I talk the least about on my website. Personally, I would think those three are the least talked about wives of all, and therefore would be the ones people would want to learn more about! In any case, I'm very pleased about the results and I'm glad to blog about Katherine of Aragon - one of my favorite wives. It's true that she has one of the most unfortunate lives of any Tudor woman, and her final years are certainly tragic. But it's interesting to look at her life as a whole - before she came to England to marry Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, as well as her happy years of queenship alongside King Henry VIII. Many believed, at the time (and some still do today), that Katherine was the "rightful" Tudor queen of Henry VIII's reign, and she was certainly more beloved by the people than Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. So let's take a look at Katherine's life - her happiness and her struggles - and celebrate one of the most famous and lovable figures in Tudor history.
Katherine was born near Madrid, Spain on 16 December 1485. During her upbringing in Spain, she would not have been known as "Katherine," of course - she would have either been referred to as the Castilian "Catalina" or the Aragonese "Catarina." She was the youngest surviving child of two of Europe's most powerful monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. She was apparently a very pretty child - short for her age with reddish hair and blue eyes. She was also, interestingly, a descendant of the English House of Lancaster, on her mother's side - making her a third cousin of King Henry VII.
Katherine was intelligent and studied every subject a 16th-century European girl would be expected to learn - the classics, languages, history, civil law, heraldry, etc. She excelled in languages - her mother tongue being Spanish, of course - but also spoke French and Greek.
As a child, Katherine was considered to be a suitable match to Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, who was one year younger than her. Actually, technically, Katherine had a better claim to the English throne through her mother's ancestry - but of course Henry VII was King at the time and therefore Arthur was next in line. In 1499, Arthur and Katherine were married by proxy and only corresponded by letters to each other written in Latin until Arthur reached age fifteen and it was deemed appropriate that they were truly married.
The two met for the first time on 4 November 1501, and although neither of them could understand each other in their respective languages, Arthur did write to his mother Elizabeth of York and declare himself "immensely happy to behold the face of his lovely bride." On 14 November, they were married at Old St. Paul's Cathedral and soon after, they were sent to Ludlow Castle to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches. In only a few months, they both became ill with what is believed to have been the sweating sickness. Katherine recovered relatively easily, but Arthur unfortunately died. Seventeen-year-old Katherine was now a widow in a foreign country.
King Henry VII then had to make the decision whether or not to return Katherine's dowry to King Ferdinand, or to find a way to keep the young woman in England so that her dowry could be useful to him. Therefore, it was decided that Katherine would marry Arthur's younger brother, Henry Tudor - who was now next in line to the throne of England. Unfortunately, because of indecision on Henry VII's part, as well as Prince Henry's minority, the marriage was delayed and at times it was questioned whether or not it would happen at all. During this period of indecision, Katherine was held as a relative prisoner at Durham House, London - where she frequently wrote to her father and complained about her treatment.
In 1507, Katherine served as the Spanish Ambassador for England - making her the first female ambassador in European history. Another reason why the impending marriage to Prince Henry was delayed, was because the couple had to receive a papal dispensation from Rome in order for Katherine to wed Henry, who was technically her brother-in-law. Katherine testified that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, and she was therefore not his true wife. This, of course, is a matter which has been hotly debated ever since the 16th-century, and it is one that I have written a lengthy post about as well.
Whether or not Katherine and Arthur consummated their marriage, a dispensation was granted and Katherine married Henry, who was five years younger than her, on 11 June 1509. This was also the year that Henry took the throne of England, and Katherine's own coronation as Queen Consort at Westminster Abbey took place on 23 June.
Though this was thought to be a marriage greeted with happiness on both sides, this began the many difficult years of childbearing and stillborn babies for the couple. Almost immediately, Katherine became pregnant and delivered a stillborn daughter in 1510. In 1511, the couple's son Henry was born, but died only months later. Katherine lost at least one more child within the following year, and in 1514 another son (also Henry) was born and died soon after birth. On 18 February 1516, the couple's only healthy and surviving child was born - a daughter named Mary, who became precious to her parents, although she was not the hoped-for son and heir. Katherine became pregnant at least one more time following Mary's birth, and gave birth to a daughter who soon died.
Despite the couple's difficult experiences with parenthood, Katherine remained very much beloved by her husband, who was at this time in his prime and thought to be extremely handsome. By all accounts, it seems that the couple was a very attractive match - Katherine being fair and pretty, and Henry being athletic, thin and tall. Katherine's influence in England was also great - In 1513, she was appointed regent of England while Henry was in France on a military campaign. During this time, the Battle of Flodden Field between England and Scotland took place. Katherine, being the leader of the country's army at the time, dressed in full armor and addressed the troops, and was luckily able to send her husband the bloodied coat of King James IV of Scotland after the Scottish defeat. This was just one way that Katherine proved her capability as an English Queen - she was clearly a very successful regent.
Katherine was influential in other ways also - She successfully convinced Henry to sign a treaty with her nephew, Charles V of Spain, instead of Francis I of France. She was entirely beloved by the people of England, who admired her for her religious devotion and acts of charity - she frequently donated to charitable causes and the poor. She was popularly known as "The Queen of Hearts."
Unfortunately, her influence was coming to an end after a long, successful marriage to Henry. Sometime around 1525, Henry became infatuated with Anne Boleyn, one of Katherine's ladies. Of course, Henry had had other mistresses before - including Bessie Blount, who had given birth to the King's son Henry FitzRoy, and who had been paraded around court and given impressive titles. These affairs surely hurt Katherine - and certainly rubbed it in her face that she couldn't provide Henry with a male heir - but she knew that her proper place as Henry's wife was to endure his liaisons with other women. This was, of course, until the beautiful and exotic Anne Boleyn came around and ensnared Henry with her flirtatious and hard-to-get attitude. This was the beginning of the end for Katherine, who recognized Anne's desire to displace her and become Henry's wife and queen, but she certainly would not back down without a fight. This period of Tudor history, when Henry became consumed with the prospect of annulment and remarriage, is commonly known as the King's "Great Matter." It was then that Henry began questioning the legitimacy of his marriage to Katherine after so many years. Whether he truly believed that Katherine may have in fact consummated her marriage to Arthur and was therefore not his own true wife before God, we don't know. In any case, he certainly saw this as an excuse to push an annulment, and Rome refused to grant it. Because of this, as we know already, Henry made that fateful decision to cut ties with Rome and the Pope, and to establish himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Now he had no need for Papal permission - he could and would divorce Katherine and remarry.
In 1531, Katherine was sent away from court and her rooms were given to Anne Boleyn, who was very quickly rising to power. During her final years, Katherine spent her time at either the More or Kimbolton Castle - rejecting the title "Dowager Princess of Wales" and always referring to herself as the rightful Queen of England. In her mind, Henry may remarry Anne Boleyn, but she would never be his true wife and the proper Queen. The people of England were behind her in that opinion as well. Anne was certainly unpopular, and most people sympathized with Katherine, the displaced queen. Henry's popularity fell as a result, but it didn't help Katherine. During these years, Katherine was forbidden access to see her daughter, Mary, and they were even forbidden from writing to each other - though sympathizers discreetly passed along their notes and letters. In 1535, the ill Katherine sensed her death was near and she penned her will and a final letter to Henry, shown here:
My most dear lord, King and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I ouge [owe] thou forceth me, my case being such, to commend myselv to thou, and to put thou in remembrance with a few words of the healthe and safeguard of thine allm [soul] which thou ougte to preferce before all worldley matters, and before the care and pampering of thy body, for the which thoust have cast me into many calamities and thineselv into many troubles. For my part, I pardon thou everything, and I desire to devoutly pray God that He will pardon thou also. For the rest, I commend unto thou our doughtere Mary, beseeching thou to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat thou also, on behalve of my maides, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all mine other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I makest this vouge [vow], that mine eyes desire thou aboufe all things.
Katharine the Quene.
Katherine died at Kimbolton Castle on 7 January 1536. Rumors arose that she had been poisoned, though it is also possible that she was suffering from an illness such as cancer. Following her death, once news reached the English court, Henry VIII dressed in yellow, which can be interpreted two ways. On one hand, yellow was the color of happiness and celebration in England - which may have been a cruel way of celebrating Katherine's death and the legitimacy of his marriage to Anne and their daughter Elizabeth. On the other hand, yellow was also the color of mourning in Spain, so it may be looked at as a way of mourning Katherine and acknowledging her birth country. It was recorded that on the day the news of her death reached Henry, he wept privately.
Katherine was buried at Peterborough Cathedral in a ceremony appropriate for a Dowager Princess, not a Queen. Henry did not attend and he forbade Mary from attending also.
Katherine was and is remembered for being incredibly passionate about her Catholic faith. Through her difficult life, it seemed to have been her main comfort, and she instilled a devotion to Rome in her daughter Mary, who would honor the memory of her mother for her entire life. Katherine was beloved by England, and by her husband for roughly twenty-four years. She was devoted, intelligent, and kind - and she paid dearly for her stubbornness in remaining by the king's side. Her memory mustn't be brushed over or forgotten, because she was in fact an incredibly important part of the Tudor dynasty and King Henry VIII's life.
I hope you've enjoyed this special blog post in honor of my first poll! I personally find Katherine of Aragon a very interesting figure in history, and I'm glad you all agree!
The topic I’ll write about today is one that has been on my mind for a while now, and I’ve been doing a bit of research and contemplation, trying to find the perfect occasion to tackle this post – and I think I’ve found it! The topic I’d like to consider is that of Katherine of Aragon’s first marriage to Arthur Tudor, and whether or not it was consummated, which would become a huge controversy by the end of her marriage to King Henry VIII.
Just for a little background information (for those who might not be as familiar with Katherine’s story), she had been arranged to marry the English heir apparent, Prince Arthur Tudor of Wales, pretty much since infancy. Although she was born and raised in Spain – daughter to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile – she knew that one day her proper place would be in England. She would marry into the royal family and become the Princess of Wales, and eventually the Queen of England. When she was fifteen, she married Arthur Tudor, who was the same age, and they enjoyed only five months of married life before Arthur suddenly died – (the cause of death being somewhat ambiguous). Seven years later, after much debate about whether or not to send Katherine back to Spain, or even for the recent widower King Henry VII to marry her himself, she married Arthur’s younger brother Prince Harry (soon to be known as King Henry VIII). Although this was very much a political marriage in an effort to keep her generous dowry in England, many say that Henry was actually very interested in her, and may have even been in love with her while she was Arthur’s wife.
Whatever the reasons for the marriage, the two were married for about twenty-four years, producing only one living child – a daughter named Mary. At the time that Henry VIII was seeking an annulment from Katherine, he claimed that he had been sinful in taking his brother’s widow, and that he believed she had in fact, consummated the marriage with Arthur, although she denied it vehemently. Of course, we know how this story ends – Katherine does eventually get cast aside in favor of Henry’s new love, Anne Boleyn, but what is the truth about Katherine’s first marriage? As we can see, such a small detail of consummation (one that we would see as an …(ahem)… private matter) was definitely not private or small in the Tudor court. The question of consummation changed everything for Henry and Katherine – so what really happened? Did Katherine actually consummate her marriage with her first husband of only five months? Did she lie about it later to protect herself and her precious daughter? Or was Arthur really too frail and sickly to perform his husbandly duties? I’d like to take some time to address these questions and give my own opinions, and I’d love to know your opinions also!
One thing that I’ve heard many people say about this topic is that Katherine of Aragon would never have told such a great lie – being the devout and extremely religious woman that she was. People will argue that “she was too good a Catholic” or “she would have felt tremendous guilt” for telling such a lie, and that her conscience simply wouldn’t allow it. While I agree (and I think everyone can) that Katherine was an admirably pious and Catholic woman, we have to remember that people in the sixteenth-century saw things a bit differently than we do now – and that even matters of religion can be a little fuzzy. In many cases, royals and nobles considered themselves ‘destined for the throne’ by God’s will, and they would do whatever they had to do in order to fulfill God’s command to them. As we see later on, once Katherine’s marriage to Henry VIII is in shambles, she fiercely refuses to be known as anything other than “Queen of England.” When the King’s men refer to her as her proper new title, Dowager Princess, she continues to correct them, saying that she will die as the rightful and God-anointed Queen! Based on her opinion and behavior in these matters, I think it’s safe to say that she felt quite passionate about her place on the English throne. Think about it: From the time she was a baby, she was told and treated like she was going to be a Queen. She grew up thinking it and learning it – this was her duty! Why, then, wouldn’t a woman do everything she could in order to fulfill that duty – even if it meant telling a great lie? By telling a lie like this from the time Arthur died, she must have known she would be considered as Prince Henry’s bride – thus becoming the Queen she had always prepared to be! Later, of course this lie would serve as an attempt to keep her on the throne and as Henry’s wife. As long as it was in favor of God’s will (as she must have believed it was), then it may have been okay in her eyes.
As for the question of Katherine’s guilt, there is evidence later in her life of that! Interestingly enough, it has been recorded that near the end of her second marriage and within the last few years of her life, she had begun wearing hair shirts – which was a form of penitence for sins in the Catholic faith. These shirts were worn underneath other clothes, and brushed against the body in a painful way, reminding you of your sins and unworthiness of God’s forgiveness. Another known wearer of hair shirts was the extremely devoted Thomas More, who would die for his beliefs in the Catholic faith and his refusal to accept King Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church. Of course, it is possible that Katherine, being the pious woman that she was, wanted to wear the hair shirts simply because it was part of her beliefs, but the timing of it is a bit ironic, isn’t it? Although I have not found the exact dates that she is recorded to have been wearing them, the fact that they were “in her later years” tells me that it was around the time that she was vehemently arguing her case to the King and the bishops, cardinals, and even the Pope himself! Perhaps telling all of these people that she had not consummated her marriage to Arthur (when maybe she really had), was cause for a guilty conscience, and this was her form of penance.
Now I’d like to take things over to Arthur Tudor, since there are some very interesting pieces of evidence that we can look at. First of all, it has been said that he was always a weak and unhealthy child, and this may have been reason enough for him not to consummate the marriage with Katherine. However, there is actually no evidence of this, and never was there any mention of his frailty when describing him. In fact, the Marquess of Dorset reported that Arthur was “of good and sanguine complexion” – hardly what you would call sickly! Also, prior to his marriage, Arthur is reported to have said that he found his bride very pleasing and that he was feeling “lusty and amorous!” It is unlikely that a sickly and weak boy would be saying or feeling such a thing, and his words did not seem to baffle people or cause any suspicions at the time. If he were indeed a sickly Prince, people would very likely have questioned such a statement. Another important point is that this marriage was political. It was made in the effort to form a strong alliance between England and Spain – two of the superpowers in Europe. Would King Ferdinand really have agreed to and held up to the promise of marriage for his daughter to a weak and sickly Prince? Such a thing would be very unlikely, and considering the betrothal had lasted all throughout Katherine’s childhood, there would have been plenty of time for the Spanish King and Queen to call off the arrangement, seeking a healthier match for their daughter. The fact that no mention was ever made of this makes the question of Arthur’s bad health extremely unlikely in the eyes of many historians. It is also worth mentioning that, for the majority of Katherine and Arthur’s marriage, they lived at Ludlow Castle – a dark, drafty, secluded, and cold castle - certainly not the place for a sickly and wildly valuable Prince.
The reports of Katherine and Arthur’s wedding night would also give every indication that their marriage was consummated. Although they were both only fifteen years old, this was considered the perfect age for marriage and child-bearing at this time, and certainly there had been cases of much younger women becoming pregnant (such as Lady Margaret Beaufort, who gave birth to Henry VII when she was twelve)! In his book Six Wives, David Starkey describes how the newly-married couple was put to be on their wedding night:
"What happened then, only God knows. The herald, a strictly contemporary witness, assumed that nature had taken its course. ‘And thus these worthy persons concluded and consummated the effect and complement of matrimony.’”
Katherine and Arthur would have been put to bed in a very public ceremony, as newly-married royals were. There would have been people to help Arthur prepare for bed and see that he was properly situated with his new wife. Even the Marquess of Dorset reported recalling that Arthur had gotten into bed beside Katherine, who was “lying underneath the coverlet.” So, the two certainly went to bed together! Of that, there is plenty of evidence. What could have stopped them from consummating the marriage at that point?
Interestingly, Arthur made some significant comments the morning after his wedding night with Katherine, asking one of his servants to fetch him a cup of ale and saying, “for I have been this night in the midst of Spain!” Later, the Prince also openly said, “Masters, it is good pastime to have a wife.” Some people have read these statements and believed that Arthur was simply covering up the fact that he was not consummating his marriage – perhaps telling lies and acting overly-excited about his new bed-mate. However, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. It was common in the sixteenth-century for men to brag about their wives and the excitements of the bedchamber. Why should Arthur be any different? As a self-professed “lusty and amorous” teenager, I don’t think it’s at all odd that he would say such things, and these are certainly comments that stuck in men’s minds once Katherine began insisting that her marriage had not been consummated years later!
Overall, it’s important to remember the reasons for a political marriage in Tudor times. With Arthur being a Prince and Katherine being a Princess, they had obligations to the crown of England – namely, creating an heir for the throne. Remember, at the time they married, Arthur was the future King, so an heir would have been something that everyone at court (especially his grandmother Margaret Beaufort) would have been pushing him for. It was very common and desirable for a bride to become pregnant very quickly after her marriage. This proved that she was fertile and that the marriage would prove to be a success. With that in mind, why wouldn’t Arthur and Katherine have consummated the marriage like they would have been expected to do? This was completely normal, and unless there was some impediment that had never been recorded, there should have been nothing stopping them. Of course, the fact that Katherine did not get pregnant in those five months leaves some people inferring that the couple had never tried – however, as we can see in Katherine’s later years, she did not have the best luck with becoming (and remaining) pregnant, so perhaps this was simply the work of nature. In any case, this would have been a very normal royal marriage from the start, and Katherine and Arthur would have virtually been pushed into bed together!
One piece of information that causes some historians to question everything, though, is that of Katherine’s duenna, Doña Elvira, who insisted that the Princess had never consummated the marriage. Interestingly enough, the duenna and Katherine were never close, and Doña Elvira would even end up betraying Katherine in another matter later on – yet she would never go back on her insistence that Katherine had not consummated her marriage with Arthur. David Starkey says in his book:
“She, Donna Elvira, and all the matrons of her lady's household would swear, of their personal knowledge, that Princess Katherine was virgo intacta..., and examination by qualified persons would prove as much.”
If the duenna had been lying, and if an examination on Katherine had truly taken place, the consequences of such a lie would be great, and Doña Elvira would have never been able to face Queen Isabella of Castile again. Why, then would she tell such a risky lie? Unless Katherine had lied to her about the lack of consummation, it might be unlikely that the duenna would have taken such a risk for a Princess she didn’t even get along well with. Why risk the wrath of the rulers of two European powers?
Overall, the evidence speaks volumes in my opinion, although of course we will never know for certain what happened during those five short months of marriage. Since virtually no written reports of Katherine or Arthur’s wedded happiness remains, we can’t even be certain of their feelings for each other. All we have to go off of is speculation, and by carefully analyzing the customs, traditions, and ways of life in the Tudor era, we can make more knowledgeable claims and guesses as to what really happened. If you couldn’t tell from my writing, I absolutely believe that Katherine and Arthur consummated their marriage, but in an effort to become and remain King Henry VIII’s wife and keep her daughter Mary in the line of succession, she told the lie so that her marriage would be considered valid. Remember what I said earlier about lying in the name of God and His will? I think Katherine fits that mold perfectly.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this! But that is the fun part about not knowing for sure. I’ve really enjoyed researching, reading, and contemplating this topic, and I hope some of the things I’ve said will stick out to you and make you think a little harder about one of the Tudor Dynasty’s greatest controversies.
Starkey, David. “Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII” 2004.
Well, Katherine of Aragon fans, I'm sorry to say that today is a sad day for you. On this day in 1533, the marriage between King Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine was annulled by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer - a man I mentioned a few posts ago. Although I have to say, I'm a big Anne Boleyn fan, I am definitely sympathetic to Katherine and the way her marriage ended - paving the way for the King's second marriage (and third, and fourth, etc).
This really is a huge event in Tudor history, as it affected so many different aspects of Henry's reign - from the amount of wives he had, to the religion that England ultimately recognized during his time as King. When examining Katherine's role in Henry's life, she is truly seen as a woman of her time - and that is unfortunate for her, because women really didn't have much of a voice in their own lives. Katherine was moved around between countries (and men), and told exactly where to be and who to listen to. Despite her ultimately difficult and tragic life, she remained extremely devout and loyal to her Catholic faith, which may have been the only peace in her life.
Katherine was born in 1485 in Spain, where her mother and father, Ferdinand and Isabella were joint rulers. As was normal for princes and princesses, Katherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur Tudor of England when she was only a toddler - a match that both countries wanted to forge to create a strong alliance. When Katherine was almost 16, she married Arthur in England, and only 6 months later became a widow - possibly because of the sweating sickness. In an effort to keep her dowry, King Henry VII forged another betrothal between Katherine and his second son, Henry - who was now heir to the throne. In 1509, Henry VII died and Henry VIII took the throne, marrying his widowed Spanish Princess and making her Queen of England. It is widely believed that Henry and Katherine were quite happy for the first years of their marriage. Although Katherine never had very much luck bringing children into the world (repeatedly having miscarriages and delivering stillborns), her husband stood by her and remained convinced that they would succeed in providing heirs to the throne. Although Katherine was several years older than Henry, this did not seem to concern him until later in their marriage.
By about 1518, Henry was beginning to get frustrated by the lack of sons - they had one daughter, Mary Tudor. He had at least two mistresses during this time - Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, and possibly Elizabeth Carew, who would have preceded Bessie. Although he remained a loving husband to Katherine, the birth of his son Henry Fitzroy by Bessie made the King think it was Katherine's fault that she was not having sons. By 1526, he had already begun to fall in love with one of Katherine's ladies, Anne Boleyn. Between that, and his newfound realization that Katherine "must be" incapable of bearing sons, he was forced to look into a divorce, which proved to be tricky!
This is the point where Henry broke from the Catholic church - completely destroying the alliance with Spain (a very Catholic country, led by Katherine's nephew, Charles, the Holy Roman Emperor). Katherine absolutely refused to accept the divorce - being completely outraged and horrified that he should want to break a bond that was made before God. She refused to return the Crown Jewels, and abhorred the idea of being known as the "Princess Dowager." Perhaps the most troubling part of the divorce for Katherine was the knowledge that her daughter, Mary, would be booted out of the line of succession, and would no longer be known as "princess."
Although this political and legal debate continued for six years, Katherine was ultimately sent away from court to a series of dark, gloomy castles in the English countryside. She ended up dying at Kimbolton Castle at the age of 51 in 1536 - having been separated from her daughter ever since she left court.
Henry had seen his marriage as "cursed" - because he had taken his brother's wife for himself. Because of this, he felt God would never have blessed them with sons, as every King needed. However, the English people adored Katherine, and she was known as the "Queen of Hearts." This is her official seal - a pomegranate and a crown. Because it is so clear that Henry and Katherine enjoyed a happy marriage for a while, it makes it especially sad to see their relationship crumble - epecially when we know the fate of the wife Henry replaced Katherine with.
All in all, this was a sad day in England, but it made the Tudor Dynasty what it ultimately became!
RIP, marriage of Katherine and Henry!
"The Lady Katherine is a proud, stubborn woman of very high courage. If she took it into her head to take her daughter's part, she could quite easily take the field, muster a great array, and wage against me a war as fierce as any her mother Isabella ever waged in Spain" -- King Henry VIII
I'm the Tudor Enthusiast... Offering information and opinions, answering your questions and asking some of my own! Thanks for reading!