Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and I of Spain arrived at Dover, England on the 26th of May 1522, where he was greeted by Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey and an entourage of 300 select Englishmen. Henry VIII met with him two days later “with much joy and gladness” while he was still at Dover.
Henry VIII had been eager to meet with his nephew since he saw him as a powerful ally against France, and his vehicle to regain some of the territories his country had lost under Henry VI. Like many Englishmen, Henry VIII had a romantic idea of the past, where he aspired like his namesake, Henry V, whose victory and conquest of France was legendary. Calais was the last of England’s stronghold in France and Henry was anxious to make a name for himself as when he went to war with his wife’s father, Charles V’s grandfather, Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Unfortunately for Henry, once the war started, he would discover that not much had changed and just as before, he would become disillusioned with Catherine’s family.
To seal their alliance, Charles V agreed to marry Henry VIII’s only heir, his first cousin, Princess Mary. Mary was six at the time while Charles was twenty-two. The legal age for men and women to marry would be in their early teens. Given Mary’s age, both parties agreed that it would be better to way until she was twelve or older.
Henry VIII and Charles celebrated the Feast of the Ascension there and afterwards, Henry VIII gave him a private tour on board one of his greatest ships “Henry by the Grace of God” and the “Mary Rose”. Charles V marveled at these two ships, something that The Tudors, despite all its inaccuracies, accurately depicted when Charles tells Henry that it surpasses every ship he owns.
After the naval tour, Henry took his guest and his entourage to Canterbury where they were greeted by the city mayor and the aldermen before they went inside the cathedral, their swords of state carried before them.
On the 31st he was Sittingbourne. On the 1st of June, Rochester, on the 2nd, Gravesend where he traveled by barge to the Palace of Placentia, otherwise known as Greenwich. There, he met what would in alternate universe would have been his future wife, his cousin, Princess Mary.
The Holy Roman Emperor was first greeted by his uncle and then at the hall door by his aunt, Queen Katharine and Princess Mary in the Spanish custom -which was Katharine giving her blessing to her nephew to marry her daughter after he had asked for it.
Since day one, Katharine encouraged her daughter’s enthusiasm. This was the union that she always hoped for, and one would that strengthen ties between England and Spain against what she saw as their common enemy -France.
For Henry, this must have felt momentous as well. Since Katharine was unable to provide him with any more heirs. His hope of securing the throne for his descendants now rested “for the birth of a male heir in the next generation”.*
As previously stated, Princess Mary was six-years-old at the time and it is hard to know what she must have felt. Perhaps she felt happy at being betrothed to someone of such importance, or perhaps being the princess that she was and her father’s heir, she put on a plastic smile to please her mother.
From early childhood, she had been taught that one day she would be Queen -until her mother gave birth to a son, that is- and as Queen Regnant she would have to produce sons. And who better than with someone of impeccable royal descent as Charles?
Charles was enchanted with his little cousin. He gave her a pony to ride and a goshawk and she in turn led him to a window so he could see his presents -horses, of the finest breed, she boasted. She then entertained him and his entourage by showing off her musical skills, playing the spinet and performing a galliard (a French dance).
“Perhaps when Charles arrived she wore some of the jewelry that had been specially made for her, an impressive brooch with the name Charles on it, or another with The Emperor picked out in lettering.” (Porter, The Myth of Bloody Mary)
Charles stayed in Greenwich for four more days. On the 6th he and Henry VIII emerged from the Palace of Placentia and rode through London on a magnificent procession that was akin to the Field of Cloth and Gold that had taken place two years earlier between Henry and Francis I of France.
Before arriving to the city they stopped at a tent of cloth and gold where they donned their clothes for something more flamboyant. To demonstrate their commitment and mutual friendship, the two dressed identically in suits of cloth of gold lined with silver decorations. They were preceded by English and Spanish courtiers riding side by side as equals, just as their sovereigns. Sir Thomas More greeted them, delivering a speech in which he praised in a style similar to when he praised Katharine and Henry on their joint coronation.
At Southwark, the two were welcomed by the representatives of the clergy. When they reached King’s Bench, the Emperor asked Henry VIII to pardon as many prisoners as they could. This was similar to what his aunt had done in the aftermath of the Evil May Day Riots, even after some of the rebels protested against foreigners, including the much beloved queen. And just as before, Henry conceded. As they resumed their progress, they were met by nine pageants. One pageant impressed the Emperor. This one features the monarchs’ emblems, next to each were two of the greatest heroes of Greek and biblical mythology: Hercules and Samson. Charles was compared to the demigod Hercules while Henry VIII was compared to the equally strong and fearsome Samson.
Charles wrote to the Abbot of Najera the following day, describing to him his experience, noting that after seeing Henry’s fleet, he had become convinced that the two could take on France easily.
On the 8th of June, Henry and Charles made their last stroll through the city before they retreated to their respective quarters. It was during his stay at Greenwich and his processions through London that Charles got to know his betrothed and make up for lost time with his aunt, with the two growing very fond of one another.
On the 9th, Charles traveled to Richmond Palace and on the 10th on Hampton Court, which was one of Henry’s favorite residences and one of the architectural jewels from the Tudor era that still survives. Charles V would continue to be greeted by grand ceremony, and move from palace to palace, in an effort to make the young Emperor and King of Spain feel at home. His journey would come to an end on the middle of July, with both parties swearing to honor their agreement by pledging ships, men and a hand in marriage to seal the deal.
- Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
- Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
- Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
- Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
- Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and his Court. Ballantine Books. 2001.