Katherine of Aragon: The Politics of Queenship & the Evil May Day Riots

Katherine of Aragon as played by Natalia Rodriguez in the Spanish series Isabel.
Katherine of Aragon as played by Natalia Rodriguez in the Spanish series Isabel.

A year after Queen Katherine of Aragon had given birth to Princess Mary, a riot broke out in London on the first of May, composed of young laborers and apprentices against foreign merchants whom they claimed were stealing their jobs. The day became known as the “Evil May Day Riots”. The rioters broke out into the houses of these merchants and attacked everyone who stood in their way or they perceived as a foreign sympathizer. Before this could get more out of hand the King sent the Duke of Norfolk to arrest the men responsible. On May 4th, thirteen people were executed, three days later John Lincoln (who had written a treatise along with his associate Doctor Bell, inciting people to violence) was executed. This would not be the last xenophobic episode on English soil. After the divorce, England would become more isolated and more nationalistic. National pride in Tudor times would reach its apex after the defeat of the Armada in 1588. However, the roots of national pride can be traced way back to the Hundred Years War with France.

After their leaders were executed, the remaining rioters prepared to die when Catherine of Aragon appeared on the scene with her two sisters in law, and begged Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey to show them mercy. They did.
Some see this as a great act of humility on Katherine’s part, born out of kindness and the empathy she felt for the common people. But there is another element to this that it is often forgotten. Queen Consorts were expected to emulate every virtue of the Holy Mother (the Virgin Mary), they were expected to be humble, kind, and gracious. As such acts as these were required of them. Another reason is that Katherine understood the politics behind queenship very well, having learned from the best. Her mother was well-known for her popularity and Catherine likewise learned the value of making good relations with the common people.


  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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