London Welcomes the Spanish Princess

Katherine of Aragon by Sittow

On the 12th of November 1501, Katherine of Aragon arrived to the city of London. She had met her future brother in law, Henry Tudor Duke of York, days prior. He and his party escorted the Infanta to the city. The roads were sanded and graveled to prevent horses from sliding and everywhere she turned there was a new pageant. The city was joyous to see their new princess. The Spanish Infanta was everything they hoped for in a consort. She was shy, humble with her eyes cast downward, looking away whenever she was paid a compliment but most of all she was beautiful with red-golden hair, fair skin and blue eyes. “But appearances” as historian Julia Fox points out in her dual biography on her and her sister, “can be deceiving”. 

Katherine had her mother’s warrior spirit. The Lord Mayor, Sir John Shaa was in charge of the celebrations. According to the ‘Receyt of the Ladie Catheryne’, Katherine wore her hair loose “down to her back through a specially designed gap in her headdress” which consisted of a wide-brimmed hat that looked like a cardinal hat that was “held in place by a golden lace.”

Tudor Rose

There were twelve pageants in total and the first she came across was the one on the bridge where she and Arthur were marvelously represented by actors that also celebrated their future marriage. Laden with symbols, she would have recognized the Tudor rose, the Beaufort portcullises, the Welsh red dragon of King Cadwalldr that Henry VII had used as his main standard when he fought Richard III at Bosworth field (and was now part of the royal coat of arms), and last but not least the ostrich feathers which represented the Prince of Wales.

The other pageants consisted of historical and celestial figures which approached the Spanish Princess to talk of the joys of marriage. One of these was Saint Ursula who was a British saint and who had accompanied thousands of young girls on a pilgrimage to Rome. She was the epitome of virtue and piety as they hoped Katherine would be. Then there was her namesake, St. Catherine, who had also been a princess in addition to being a church scholar and highly revered. She told the Infanta that she would have two husbands, a celestial one in God and an earthly one in Prince Arthur. (Ironically, Katherine would have two husbands). The next one paid homage to her native ancestor, the revered King of Castile, Alfonso the Tenth better known as “El Sabio” (the wise) who stood next to the biblical figures of Raphael and Job and the philosopher Boethius. The Castilian King told her that a “princess young and tender” was fated to come to England to “marry a noble prince” and that from her many kings would follow.

When her party reached Cheapside for the fourth display, she saw an actor playing Arthur. This amused her as she saw him standing in between the pillars decorated with red and white roses that symbolized the dynastic conflict between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The penultimate pageant was the most important as its great structure depicted the Temple of God with heavenly figures giving their approval to the marriage and comparing the king and founder of the Tudor dynasty to God himself.

“The actors declaimed that while God has bestowed matrimony as a sign of the union between Himself and human beings, Henry had bestowed matrimony on Katherine and Arthur to bring peace and prosperity to the realm.” (Fox)

Last but not least, the final pageant was set up in the churchyard of Saint Paul where three golden thrones were erected representing Katherine and Arthur with Honor in the middle.

Arthur Tudor 2

Although she couldn’t see them, the King and Queen and her betrothed were nearby, watching everything unfold.

When the ceremonies ended she received gifts from the Lord Mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury and made offerings to St. Erkenwalkd then retired to the Bishop’s Palace. The following day she would meet her mother and grandmother in law and entertain them at Baynard Castle and the day after that, she would marry Arthur becoming Princess of Wales.

Sources:

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