The Death of Queen Katherine of Aragon

"Humble and Loyal" The Spanish Infanta and Princess of the Pomegranate died on January 7th, 1536, abandoned by the chivalrous knight who once rescued her from penury and swore his everlasting love for her when he declared himself her 'Sir Loyal Heart'.
“Humble and Loyal” The Spanish Infanta and Princess of the Pomegranate died on January 7th, 1536, abandoned by the chivalrous knight who once rescued her from penury and swore his everlasting love for her when he declared himself her ‘Sir Loyal Heart’.

Katherine of Aragon died on the 7th of January, 1536 at Kimbolton. *“Her final crusade was over”. But in reality, it was only beginning. Katherine made arrangements days before, writing to Chapuys a list to give to the King. In it, she asked that her servants wages be paid and she be buried somewhere according to her station. None of these demands were met, and neither were her last when she wrote on that morning, hours before her death the following letter:

KOA in all mine things

“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 command 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 miseries 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.”

There is some speculation that she could not have written the entire letter given that she was too weak, and given her ailments this seems entirely plausible. In fact the original letter has been lost and only one copy remains which first appears in Polydore Vergil’s, acclaimed Tudor chronicler, Anglica Historia (History of England dating from the pre-Norman times to the present Tudor era). The other arguments supporting this, is in the way he wrote about Queen Katherine. She is the “worthy queen” and deserving of all “sympathy” and the “object of such pure and earnest benevolence.” Given Katherine of Aragon’s eloquence however, it is possible that both schools of thought, that she wrote it or dictated it to her chaplain and confessor, and Vergil adding elements of his own to make the queen’s passing sound more tragic, are both true.

This does not diminish Katherine’s last words. On the contrary. It speaks volumeS of her as a person and the fame Katherine had accumulated over the years, how she had made herself loved, feared and respected -not only by her husband’s adoptive family (his sister Mary and her children), but by all the English people -who still saw her as their Queen of Hearts. Katherine had come to England with great expectations and big shoes to fill, but when she lost her husband, everyone expected her to crumble and to accept the settlement that King Henry VII proposed to her or return to her parents’ home country, awaiting another marriage. But Katherine made her own destiny, aided by her parents and using all her cunning and wit, she made herself a desirable bride to Henry Tudor. And it wasn’t just her looks that charmed him but her regal manner and her sweet wit.

Katherine was buried weeks later with the full honors corresponding to a Princess Dowager, not a Queen as she’d hoped to. Mary was not allowed to attend the funeral, in her stead, her cousins Eleanor and Frances went, the eldest (Frances) acting as her chief mourner. She rests in St. Petersborough Cathedral.

Many forget that Katherine was not only Henry VIII’s first wife but also his Regent and the one whom he was married to the longest and who in spite of what Hollywood continues to say of her and many historical fiction, a progressive thinker for her age. As the rest of the wives, she was very much the product of her times, but she was nonetheless one of the best educated women of her times. Her mother who did not have the benefit of being as educated as she would have wished to (learning Latin later in life, something she always regretted), made sure her daughters didn’t lack anything and indeed, they were educated as princes.

"She was not only taught the traditional feminine accomplishments of embroidery and dancing, but studied similar topics to Arthur, including religion, canon and civic law." -Licence. And she was not a prude as popular literature suggests, but in fact, given the texts that she and Henry had at their disposal and the number of time they conceived, including when she was supposed to be waiting for her period of churching to be over, says a lot about their relationship that it was passionate and amorous and she and other historians add, that she and the King would engage in many masquerades with Katherine acting surprised when Henry and his men burst into her chambers dressed as Robin Hood and his band of merry men.  As she got older and she lost her looks and her figure due to the string of miscarriages and the stress she was in, she and Henry continued to be close, and he continued to share her bed, moving his personal chambers closer to hers. Katherine, unlike her younger attractive self had grown wiser and more pious. Like her predecessor and mother in law, the late Queen Elizabeth of York, she had taken refuge in her faith and her fearless personality and conviction helped her when Henry began his 'Great Matter' to divorce her. Throughout her life, Katherine proved to be a worthy opponent and she was praised by many, including her younger nephew, the King of the Romans, Ferdinand (Charles V' brother) and empress Isabel saying she had lived and died with the dignity of a saint.

So thus ended the life of one of the most educated women in Western Europe, who paved the way for other educated women, including two of her successors Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr.
In spite of her pleas, Henry showed no regrets or remorse after he was told of her death. That following Sunday on the 9th, dressed in yellow and carrying Elizabeth in his arms, he showed her off to his courtiers as one ‘transported with joy’ wrote one contemporary. Two weeks later he continued to celebrate.

KOA St Peterborough
Visitors today are drawn to her tomb which lies to the left of the altar in the North Presbytery aisle, beneath an unmarked stone slab on the floor, it is identifiable by the golden letters KATHERINE QUEEN OF ENGLAND which were added in the nineteenth century. Unlike Chapuys who refused to go to her funeral (clearly displeased by Henry’s reaction and the way she was interred) ambassadors of Spain to the UK today do visit her tomb for a special service that is conducted every January on the anniversary of her death.

The day following her death, Katherine was laid under a canopy of state before being transported to St. Peterborough Cathedral on January the 28th where she was interred with the honors due to a ‘Princess Dowager of Wales’. Among her mourners were Frances Brandon (Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor’s eldest daughter and a great friend of Mary’s at the time) who acted as her chief mourner, Maria de Salinas and her daughter the new Duchess of Suffolk (Catherine Willoughby), the Countesses of Oxford and Surrey. Representing Henry VIII was Sir William Paulet, Fisher’s replacement as Bishop of Rochester, John Hilsey, preached the homily, speaking against the power of the ‘Bishop of Rome’ and the marriage of Katherine and Henry, insisting that she had never been Queen of England.

Sources:

  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox*
  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
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