Her father’s daughter: Katharine of Aragon ‘Humble and Loyal’ scolds the Pope

Catherine of Aragon purple six wives
If you still think Katherine of Aragon was submissive, here is one of her most ardent letters to the pope, Clement VII dated December 17th, 1530:

“Most Holy Father:

The great need in which my troubled affairs stand require Your Holiness’ redress and help (upon which the service of God and my own response and the salvation of my soul, as well as that of the king, my Lord, depend). This obliges me to implore Your Holiness that I may be heard on that very account.
Even had I an ordinary claim to ask what I have so long and so fervently prayed for, and so frequently urged, how much more is it now evident that the justice of my cause is so great before God, who knows my perfect sincerity and innocence. I trust that Your Holiness will see that God, in His great mercy, wishes that the decision be published.
I believe that Your Holiness will understand that there is no learned or conscientious person acknowledging the power and authority of the Apostolic See who does not agree and maintain that the marriage between the King, my Lord, and me is indissoluble, since God alone can separate us. I cannot then do less than complain that my petitions … should have been so long disregarded by Your Holiness.
One thing alone that comforts me in the midst of my tribulations, is to believe that God wishes to punish me for my sins in this world, and that therefore Your Holiness, His vicar on earth, will not forgive me. I humbly beg Your Holiness to have pity on me and accept as though I had been in Purgatory the penance I have already endured for so many years, thus delivering me from the pains, torments and sudden fears to which I am daily exposed and which are so great and so numerous that I could not possibly bear them had not God given me strength to endure … I am convinced that God, n whom all my hopes are concentrated will not abandon me in this cause in which justice is so obviously with me.
The remedy lies in [issuing] the sentence and determination of my cause without any delay. Any other course short of that will do more harm than good, as appears quite evident from the evils which the delay has already produced. Should the sentence be further deferred, Your Holiness will appreciate that the delay will be the cause of a new hell [upon earth], the remedy for which will entail more disastrous measures than have ever yet been tried.
I have been informed that my enemies demand a new delay. I beg Your Holiness not to grant it to them, for in doing so, the greatest possible injury will be done to me, convinced as I am that everything proposed by those people is for the worst, as it might come to pass justice would suffer through it, and that from the Purgatory in which I now find myself I should be cast down into a temporal hell, from the bottom of which I should be continually raising my voice to God and complaining of the tiny amount of pity and mercy that Your Holiness has granted me.
Again I beg and entreat Your Holiness not to allow any further delays in this trial but immediately to pronounce full sentence in the most expeditious way. Until this is done I shall not cease begging Your Holiness, as did the Samaritan woman to Jesus Christ, on whom her remedy depended.
Some days ago Miguel Mai, the ambassador of his Imperial Majesty in Rome and my solicitor in this case wrote to say taht Your Holiness had promised him to renew the brief which Your Holiness issued at Bologna and another one commanding the King my Lord to dismiss and cast away from this woman with whom he lives.
On hearing this, these ‘good people’ who have placed and still keep the King, my Lord, in this awkward position, began to give way, considering themselves lost. May God forgive whoever it was who was the cause of the briefs not being delivered, for the news of the preparation alone introduced a most marked improvement in my case; besides which, had the potion, though disagreeable to their mouths, been administered at the right time, that which I hope Your Holiness keeps in store for them would have been comparatively sweet.
I am, therefore, deeply grieved at the injury which was inflicted upon me by the withdrawal of the promised briefs but I bear all this with patience waiting for the remedy to the evils of which I complain. This can be no other, I repeat, than the sentence that I am expecting every day and hour.
One thing I should like Your Highness to be aware of, namely that my plea is not against the King, my Lord, but against the inventors and abettors of this cause. I trust so much in the natural goodness and virtues of the king, my Lord, that if I could only have him two months with me, as he used to be, I alone should be powerful enough to make him forget the past; but as they know this to be true they do not let him live with me.
These are my real enemies who wage such constant war against me; some of them intending that the bad advice they gave the king should not become public, though they have already been well paid for it, and others that they may rob and plunder as much as they can, thus endangering the estate of the king, my Lord, to the risk of his honor and the eternal perdition of his soul. These are the people from whom spring the threats and bravadoes preferred against Your Holiness, they are the sole inventors of them, not the king, my Lord.
It is, therefore, urgent that Your Holiness put a very strong bit in their mouths, which is no other than the sentence.
With that the tongues of the bad counselors will be stopped and their hope of mischief vanish; the greedy thieves will no longer devour him on whom they have been feeding all this time; they will set him at liberty, and he will become as dutiful a son of Your Holiness as he was in former times. This to me would be the greatest charity that ever Your Holiness bestowed on a human being; it will restore peace and happiness among the Christian princes, and set a good example to the whole of Christendom.”

It took Clement several more letters and pressure from Katharine and her nephew, to issue a threat that he would excommunicate Henry if he didn’t leave Anne Boleyn. But by the time it came, Katherine was already frustrated and too angry with him, and even Chapuys recognized that it came too late.

This is just one of many examples that show that Katharine of Aragon was her father’s daughter. She could be cordial and humble like her mother would seem at times, and win over the people with her sweetness but as Julia Fox noted in her biography of her and Juana, appearances can be deceiving. During her political limbo, after her mother died and her future as queen of England seemed uncertain, she became very observant and to save her from further penury, her father appointed her his ambassador. No other woman before her had been granted such honor, let alone a Princess. As her father’s ambassador, she learned a great deal about the machinations of the court and foreign policy.
Katharine had also been schooled in canon and civic law so in her view, there was no other better person to scold the pope than her. And as her father, she always presented herself as a loyal daughter of the church, humble in public but defiant in private, and subtle in her threats.
Sources:
  • 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.

 

Advertisements

500 Years ago the ‘Right noble and Excellent Princess Mary’ was born

600 Queen Mary

On the 18th of February 1516, Princess Mary Tudor was born. Her parents were King Henry VIII and his first Consort, Queen Katherine of Aragon. The long awaited Prince turned out to be a girl. While this was a minor disappointment on her parents, they were nevertheless joyful and considered this as a sign of good will. After all, Henry had replied to the Venetian Ambassador “If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God, sons will follow.”

COA Six Wives of Henry VIII

Immediately after her birth, the child was cleaned and presented to her parents. Two days later she was christened at the Church of the Observant Friars. Following tradition, her parents were not present. Her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (who was fast becoming a favorite of her father), the Duchess of Norfolk and her grand-aunt, Catherine of York, Countess of Devon. Present at the ceremony were an army of courtiers; gentlemen, ladies, earls and bishops who were in awe of their new Princess.

After she was blessed, she was given the name Mary, her paternal aunt who had risked royal wrath a few years back, but had worked things out with her brother. Henry had always felt closer to his younger sister than his older one, and now was honoring her even further by naming his only surviving child after her.
Afterwards, she was plunged three times into the basin of holy water, then anointed with holy oil, dried, swaddled and finally taken to the high alter where it was proclaimed:

“God send and give good life and long unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness.”

Mary Tudor 4

Mary’s life would not be without struggle. She was constantly under suspicion and despite her father’s actions -influenced by her last stepmother, Katherine Parr- to restore her and her half-sister to the line of succession, she still had many enemies and her troubles continued well into her brother’s reign. Following her half-brother’s death, she rallied  the people to her cause after she found out the King had taken his sisters out of the line  of succession in favor of their cousins, the Grey sisters.
Mary’s popular revolt was astounding because she reclaimed her birthright without the need for bloodshed. After Mary’s forces became too much for the new regime, the Council turned their backs on her cousin and her family, and sent her a letter, pledging their allegiance to her.

600 Mary I coronation

Mary was declared Queen and she entered the city of London triumphantly. Months later she was crowned Queen of England, becoming the country’s first female monarch.

Mary’s reign however wasn’t easy. Once more she faced a lot of disagreement and tragedy, as well as an inability to bring what her dynasty needed the most: a male heir. Mary’s phantom pregnancies became an embarrassment to her, and her contributions became forgotten and attributed to her sister (who also appropriated her motto on her coronation progress). To make matters worse, her wishes to be buried next to her mother (as well as having her mother’s body moved to Westminster) were never carried out. She was given a modest plaque. Her eulogy changed to fit the new rhetoric of Elizabeth’s reign being a godsend as opposed to Mary’s. And after her sister died, her successor James Stuart, created an elaborate monument and put the two sisters together. But only Elizabeth’s effigy was included, Mary was once again absent except in the plaque that read:

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary

“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

David Loades lists Mary I’s achievements in a BBC History Magazine article he did in honor of England’s first Queen. These include:

  1. Preservation of the Tudor succession
  2. Strengthening of the position of Parliament by using it for her religious settlement.
  3. Establishment of the “gender free” authority of the crown
  4. Restoration and strengthening of the administrative structure of the church.
  5. Maintenance of the navy and reforming the militia.

In her book “Mary Tudor. Princess, Bastard, Queen”, Anna Whitelock adds more, saying that she refounded various universities. Linda Porter in her biography “Myth of Bloody Mary” also adds that she established a curriculum that brought an emphasis to Humanism, and forced every priest to serve their parish” and had very little tolerance for those that didn’t bend their knee to royal authority.

Sources:

Margaery Tyrell and Highgarden: Two sides of the same historical coin

 

Anne COA Highgarden

In the spring of 1536, Charles Brandon and other courtiers visited Anne’s chambers to tell her the news that they had arrested her brother and a handful of other guys, and they were going to take her to the Tower of London. Just three years before, she had lodged in the Tower to await her coronation. Henry VIII chose to crown her with St Edward the Confessor’s crown which was reserved for Kings. It was Anne’s greatest triumph, and it would have remain that way if she had given what Henry wanted (and needed) the most: A son.

The Tudor Dynasty was fairly new and England wasn’t used to the idea of women rulers so the thought of leaving the throne to little Princess Elizabeth after Henry had gone through great trouble to divorce his first wife for the same reason, would’ve been ludicrous. Anne was accused of incest and adultery and high treason and she lost her head on May 19th of that year.

margaeryjpg-a8eaec5b283c8c8b

In the show, Margaery (who coincidentally played Anne in ‘The Tudors’) is arrested after the High Septon (who’s like the pope in this world) accuses her f perjury, lying under oath which is a great sin since you swear to testify the truth and the whole truth under the gods. The equivalent to today’s ‘you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you God?’

In medieval times this was a great deal. And Game of Thrones is a show that prides itself to take inspiration from the middle ages, specifically from the wars of the roses and the Tudor periods.

Margaery’s arrest therefore must be seen within this religious context. However, Cersei was also responsible for her arrest because she knew how much the HIgh Septon hated Margaery, and her family because her family are traditional followers of the Seven and they hate everything that has to do with religious reformation.

Anne Boleyn arrest

This is a great departure from Anne Boleyn. Though she was described as “more Lutheran than Luther herself”, Anne was not a staunch Reformist, and neither was she a martyr for her cause. She favored a lot of Reformist authors and teachings, but it was her father and her brother who believed more in the cause than she did.

During her short tenure as Queen, she did a lot of good charitable works. One of the reasons why she and Cromwell hated each other was because Cromwell couldn’t afford to say ‘no’ to the king given his position, and also wanted to enrich him, while Anne believed that the money taken from the monasteries and other religious houses should be distributed among the people -to build hospitals, centers of education, and to the new churches that would make people more invested on the new church.

COA and Margaery

Margaery like so many of Martin’s characters is based on more than one person, and perhaps it is the author’s way of being ironic and sarcastic that he often mixes two or more characters who were rivals in real life to create unique characters..

Margaery’s family is a perfect example of that.
Highgarden is located on the Reach where there are constant border raids from their neighboring Dorne. This should sound family to history buffs, especially Spanish history aficionados who’ve read on the subject.

Spain at the time of Catherine of Aragon’s birth, was divided into three kingdoms, and though the two Catholic crowns were united thanks to her parents’ union, the third crown which represented the Taifa kingdom of Granada, remained separate. Granada was the last of the once great Taifa kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. And there were many border raids between the two peoples. They both believed in God but had different religions, and they borrowed from each other’s cultures (though they were hesitant to admit it).

Secondly, the two neighboring realms hated each other. Isabel never felt bad about lying under oath, and neither did her husband. They pretended to be on Boabdil’s side more than one time, and played both sides against one another, so it made taking their realm an easier enterprise. They finally achieved it on the 2nd of January 1492. She and Fernando stood in front of Boabdil, outside the gates of Granada. The King approached Fernando first and gave them the keys to the city then paid his respects to Isabel.

Isabel y su esposo

Isabel was a ruthless politician -not unlike the Queen of Thorns- and always dressed lavishly, while giving a lot of money to the church and keeping her clerics under a tight leash, raised her children well. Her husband was a skilled warrior who helped her maintain stability in her kingdom, and fight off her niece whom she always maintained wasn’t her brother’s real daughter; and he was also a cunning politician.

Catherine learned well from their example and from a young age she learned everything from the great literary works of the ancient world, to civic and canon law, dance, art, poetry, and most of all, her future role, not only as future Queen of England, but as a politician.

Catherine’s years after Prince Arthur died were anything but easy and her father was embroiled in a battle to control Castile and wrestle it from her sister and her husband. David Loades tells us how he wanted to send her money but couldn’t so instead he made her his ambassador. She was the first female ambassador to England and this increased her status but not as much as she hoped for, so she continued fighting and did what she could to get the next in line to the throne, Prince Henry Tudor of Wales’ attention.

When Henry VII died, his son did something unexpected (but not unprecedented) and chose to follow his heart instead of listening to the council. Fancying himself a knight in shining armor, he married his sweet sister in law and the two were crowned on the same day in June 24th 1509.

Highgarden and Castilla

The books, including the World of Ice and Fire, make it clear just how traditional Margaery’s family is. And there have been a lot of inaccurate and crazy blogs that say that Catherine’s equivalent in the show is likely someone like Selyse or another religious fanatic. But let’s stop and think for a second: If we consider Anne super religious while also being a fashion icon, why can’t we think the same for Catherine? Or are we just too lazy to do research and prefer to believe what someone else tells us or what has become the norm after centuries of story-telling that have become the new history?

England and Castile and Aragon were highly religious yet they enjoyed many past-times. Castile was one of the richest courts in Western Europe, and Isabel loved everything that had to do with fashion, music and art, and she was passionate about her children learning about the latest educational trends such as Humanism and reading classical books.

She was referred by some as sweet, and by others said that she could also be cross.

Catherine had an idyllic childhood, much like the actress Natalie Dormer has said of her character in Game of Thrones.

The two also introduced fashions in their adoptive countries or realms. They loved gossip (Catherine’s mother especially) and they had fierce maternal relatives who never held their tongue. Isabel made sure her children dressed the best, were more educated tha other European princes. There was always music and dancing wherever they went. They also loved to watch plays while they celebrated, and they always surrounded themselves by bright colors. Not just in their clothing but in paintings that Isabel had commissioned for her family where they vibrantly appeared as saints or being blessed by God and the Holy Mother. And they were not afraid to speak against their religious leaders.

Catherine of Aragon wrote a strong letter in December 1531, subtly urging the pope to rule in her favor. And I say subtly because Catherine of Aragon was good at making threats that didn’t seem like threats but more like passive-aggressive rhetoric, the kind you get from a skilled politicians. Margaery does the same thing. When she is smiling, she isn’t really smiling. She is surviving by playing the game of thrones better than her opponents, bearing the same perseverance that Catherine did for seven years.

It should come as no surprise that Catherine’s first motto was ‘Not for my Crown’ and that her second ‘Humble and Loyal’ (which resembled her late mother in law’s) reflected her great understanding of politics. She could appear docile and sweet on the outside, but was a strong and skillful politician like her parents.

Anne Boleyn arrest 1

On the manner of Margaery’s arrest though, the Anne Boleyn persona takes over, especially when you take into account what happens in the book. In the book, Cersei firmly believes that her daughter in law is cheating, and that while her second marriage to her eldest son (Joffrey) wasn’t consummated, the first might have been. Like Catherine, it is a question that will likely haunt Margaery for ages (or less given than everyone dies far sooner in GOT). But instead of annulling her marriage, she wants to humiliate her and her family since she believes Margaery is the young, beautiful queen from the prophecy who will take everything from her.By book 5, is pretty clear that Cersei doesn’t really believe in all the charges, but she is so consumed by rage (after she too has been imprisoned) that she doesn’t care anymore. Margaery is accused of sleeping with her servants and her brother. Like Anne, she isn’t given the benefit of the doubt by the highest authority, which is her mother-in-law, and she seems doomed.

Like both Queens, Margaery’s mistake is not in being of one side or the other, but being politically active, and better at the game than her rival, and not giving the crown what it needs: an heir and complete obedience. The Baratheon dynasty is new and nobody really believes that Cersei’s bastard children are Robert’s, but they are in power and most of their enemies have died, so that doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, they need a male heir to continue the line. Margaery hasn’t delivered because she is way older than Tommen in the books who’s just a kid, and in the show although the two have consummated their marriage, there is no sign of her getting pregnant. And she isn’t one to bow down to Cersei. She is good at playing docile, but she is even better at convincing others to take her side and subtly get rid of Cersei -something the Queen Mother couldn’t forgive and now Margaery is paying the consequences

We will have to see what awaits her. And what awaits Highgarden. If Margaery and Loras die, they will have Willas to take over when their father dies as well, but in the show, it looks as if Highgarden’s golden age is about to end. Could it be a parallel to Spain or to the Trastamara dynasty? After the Catholic Kings lost their precious jewel, Don Juan, Prince of Asturias, they had no other choice but name their daughter Princess of Asturias and after she and her baby died, their second daughter, Dona Juana, Duchess of Burgundy whose strong temperament made them nervous, and whose reckless husband, made things worse.

Sources:

  • Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six  Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • World of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin,  Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

The Royal Wedding of Prince Arthur and Infanta Catalina

Arthur and Catherine of Aragon

On Sunday, 14th of November 1501, Katherine of Aragon and Arthur Tudor were married in a splendid ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. She was led to the church by her brother-in-law, Henry Tudor, the Duke of York who also wore white and gold. White was a color not normally seen in brides, and yet Katherine wore it, dazzling the English onlookers as she exited from her chambers with her ladies and Dona Elvira, and accompanied by the young Duke into the Church.

Arthur for his part rose up early, awoken by a handful of noblemen led by the Great Chamberlain of England, John de Vere [13th Earl of Oxford]. The two were one of a kind, and no expense had been spared for this occasion. London had made sure that Katherine received a great reception two days earlier when she arrived to London (once again accompanied by her brother-in-law) and the day before the wedding, he had thrown a big party, with his mother and wife present. Katherine for her part, made a great impression on the English people. Beautiful, petite, with blue eyes, fair skin and red-golden hair, she fit the medieval standards of beauty and her expression looked both serene and content. But appearances, as one historian pointed out, can be deceiving. Katherine was her parents’ daughter, and like them, she adapted quickly to her new environment. Besides her unusual choice of color, she had donned a gown that was Spanish in design, and which must have looked odd to some of the spectators. The skirt was bell-shaped, called a vertugado and highly fashionable in Spain, and it would also become fashionable in England when she became Queen eight years later. The rest of her dress consisted of gold, pearls, and gems and on her head, she wore a long silk veil.

Katherine-of-Aragon-1st-Queen-of-Henry-VIII-catherine-of-aragon-11212609-453-652

Furthermore, the cathedral was hung with marvelous tapestries displaying both of their families’ heraldic symbols as well as Arthur’s fabled ancestry to his mythical namesake. When the trumpets sounded, the young Duke led Katherine into the church, her train being carried by his aunt, the Queen’s sister, Lady Cecily Welles. The King, Queen and the Countess of Richmond were nowhere to be seen. They had opted to watch the ceremony behind a screen instead, fearing that their presence would overshadow the young couple. “The Archbishop of Canterbury” points the Receyt of Ladie Kateryne “was waiting there for her with eighteen more bishops and honorable abbots” who were anxious for the ceremony to start.
Several people shouted “King Henry! King Henry!” and “Prince Arthur!” as she and Arthur momentarily turned to acknowledge the congregation. After the Mass was over, Arthur stepped aside to sign the last papers of their union. The young Duke once again took Katherine’s arm and led her to her next destination at the Bishop’s Palace where a great banquet awaited them.

“The food and its service were designed to display the royal wealth to the full. Arthur had Catherine would have been honored by the creation of subtleties, sculptured in marzipan, of allegorical, historian and religious figures. Warham’s table had been graced by one design featuring a king seated on a throne, surrounded by kneeling knights and flanked by two gentlemen on horseback. A second design centered on St Eustace kneeling in a park under a great tree of roses, with a white hart bearing a crucifix between its horns.” (Licence)

Other figures would have included heraldic symbols of both their dynasties. Just as in the church, the Bishop’s palace would have been full of Tudor and Trastamara imagery, with their ancestors thrown into the mix.

Henry VII Shadow in the tower

This was the wedding of the century, and Henry VII must have felt like this was his greatest accomplishment. After years of fighting off pretenders and putting down rebellions, here was a marriage that would validate his dynasty, show off his kingdom’s wealth, and give him a strong alliance with the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon whose monarchs had become a legend.

“It feel to the Earl of Oxford in his capacity as Lord Chamberlain of England to test ‘the bed of state’ by lying down first on one side and then on the other to check that nothing protruded from the mattress that could do harm to the prince and his bride.” (Williams)

Following the ceremony the bedding took place. Katherine was the first one to lay in bed. Her husband then appeared, escorted by his father and some of his friends who wished him well. What happened next would be something that many of us would still ask today and as for the answer, at the expense of having books thrown at me by hardcore fans, it is something I am anxious to give my two cents given what we know so far about the period in terms of sex, marriage and religion, but I will reserve it for another time and simply say that whatever the truth is, only two people know what happened on that day and they took that secret to their graves.

Sources:

  • Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife by Patrick Williams
  • Sister Queens: The Unfortunate and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

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

Katherine of Aragon: A Humble & Obedient Wife

Katherine of Aragon kneeling before Henry VIII by Henry Nelson O'Neil.
Katherine of Aragon kneeling before Henry VIII by Henry Nelson O’Neil.

On June the 21st 1529 Katherine made her appearance before the Parliament Chamber of Blackfriars. Henry spoke of his mortal sin (being married to his brother’s wife for so long) and keeping his silence out of love for her but he could do so no more because it weighed heavily on his conscience.
It was Katherine’s turn. An excellent actress and politician like her father, she out-performed him. According to contemporaries, after she rejected the legality of the Legatine Court, she rose and crossed the floor then fell on her knees and declared before Henry and all the witnesses:

Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in
Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy) in “The Tudors” s.1

“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that there has been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominions, I have here no assured friend and much less indifferent counsel: I appeal to you as to the head of justice within this realm. Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I given you? Have I acted against your will and pleasure, so that you should intend -as I perceive- to put me from you?
I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contended with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much, never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a glimpse or spark of discontentment. I loved all those whom you loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or not and whether they were my friends or my enemies.
These twenty years I have been your true wife or more, and by me ye have divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no fault in me.
When you had me first, I take God to be my judge I was a true maid without touch of man; and whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience if there be any just cause by the law that you can allege against me, either of dishonesty or any other impediment, to banish me and send me away from you, I will happily go to my great shame and dishonor; but if there be none, then here I most humbly beg you to let me remain in my former state and receive just at your hands.”

She was challenging Henry and telling him that everything that would happen from this point would be his doing and right or wrong, it would weigh on his conscience. In an era where women were expected to be submissive or passive, Katherine’s performance gave her supporters exactly that. By kneeling in front of Henry, appealing to his conscience and listing everything she had done for him, she had portrayed herself as the wounded wife and Henry as the aggressor. We all know that Katherine was weak or submissive, but she knew how to use these stereotypes to her advantage.

Afterwards, she went further and added how he would be insulting the memory of their respective fathers if he went ahead with this, then she rose and with her assistant walked out of the room, never looking back.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens:The Tragic & Noble Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda Lisle
  • Katherine of Aragon by Patrick Williams.

The Marriage of Henry VIII and Infanta Catalina: The Rose & the Pomegranate

KOA and Henry VIII 2

On June Eleventh 1509, Henry VIII married the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon at the Friary Church at Greenwich. It was a modest ceremony. Katherine’s confessor wrote to her father that “His Highness loves her and she loves him”. Katherine of Aragon had been his brother’s widow. There was that issue of the papal dispensation which her mother had taken care of before her death, five years prior. But Isabella’s death split the country in two and Katherine was no longer a valuable asset. Henry VII made his son publicly repudiate his intended bride, yet Henry continued to be infatuated with her. Katherine always made sure she got to see him as much as she could so Henry’s interest in her would remain. People tend to forget how long the two waited to be married and furthermore, how long they were married.

Katherine of Aragon Magdalene

Nobody expected Katherine to become Queen. Henry had been kept from other people, except a select few. Henry VII wanted to make sure that his son would become the perfect Prince, one who would listen to his father and his advisers. Henry VIII however was determined to be his own man. David Loades said it himself, that Henry’s decision to marry Katherine echoes his maternal grandfather’s decision to marry an impoverished Lancastrian widow. As with the latter, Katherine did not have anything more to recommend her other than her name. Her credentials were impeccable (and she was also the first female Western European ambassador) but other than that, her country had been torn up by civil war, and she was no longer a bride who was considered desirable on that prospect. But more than that, Henry was determined to her. Like Edward IV, nobody was going to tell him what to do. The council wanted Henry to marry Katherine’s niece or someone else who would bring a larger dowry with her and who was younger, but Henry said no claiming that on his deathbed, his father made him swear that he would look after his late brother’s wife by marrying her.

HenryVIII_1509

In completely fairness, Henry was acting in the chivalric traditions where a knight rescues his fair maiden and protects her from all harm. His declaration does have some truth in that sense; but the part about his father making him promise to marry Katherine is unbelievable. It is true that Henry VII had grown into a very avaricious man towards the end of his reign; but much as he coveted Katherine’s dowry, he was more interested in his son marrying a bride who would bring more to the table.
The council didn’t believe his story either, but he was their King and they could do nothing to dissuade him.

Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon in the Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

When Katherine was told of the news, no doubt she felt a sense of fulfillment, because at last her seven long years of waiting to wear the crown of Edith, was becoming a reality. And there was also another aspect to their union: Henry was attracted to her, not just because she was beautiful, but because she was intelligent and because despite Spain being in a tough situation, his alliance with Ferdinand fed into his ambitious to conquer France. Ferdinand like Henry was no friend of the Valois and he encouraged his son in law (through Katherine) to join him against France.
During the first years of their marriage, Katherine was extremely influential. The two were crowned together, and Katherine would oversee many things and as Queen she had her own household and she proved to be an excellent administrator, and also a great leader. When her husband left to aid her father in the war against France, she was left in charge of his realm. Under her Regency, the Scots were defeated and their king, James IV, was slain. And she became very loved by the people by striking a harmonious balance between her fashions, piety, and devotion to her husband.
At the same time, there is also one detail that many people forget and that is Katherine’s reaction to her husband’s infidelities. By the time Anne Boleyn came into the fold, Katherine had learned her ‘lesson’ and turned a blind eye to them. As long as her position was safe, she would not have to worry about the rest. But in the beginning Katherine was very upset of his affairs, and more than one occasion she voiced her displeasure. And on another, she made it very clear how she saw her husband’s illegitimate son as a threat to her daughter, the Princess Mary.
But whereas Anne was said to have been outspoken in front of many of her ladies and his closest friends; Katherine unleashed her anger when they were in private, and in other ways through cold looks and sarcastic remarks.

Sources:

  • 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
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

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.

Sources:

  • 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

Arthur Tudor: Forever Young, the Death of the Camelot dream

Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.
Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.

On the 2nd of April 1502, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died at the age of fifteen at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. No one knows exactly what the cause of his death was, but mostly agree it was this one. Contrary to what’s shown in popular culture, Arthur Tudor was not a sickly teen. In fact, he was very sheltered, reared with a very religious and rigorous regime that included the latest Humanist books and of course,  classical texts. His tutor Andre remarked that he was a bright pupil who absorbed everything that was taught to him immediately. Clearly, he represented a dream, the chosen Prince who would herald a new era into England. A new Camelot, and would make the Tudor dynasty the most famous dynasty in history. His father was a quarter Welsh through his half-Welsh/half-French father Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.  Through his mother (Margaret Beaufort) he inherited the claim to the throne as she descended from the eldest son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and his mistress (and later his wife) Katherine Swynford. When Henry went into battle, he came with a red dragon as his emblem and incorporated it into the royal arms. The red dragon represented none other than Cadwalladr. It won Henry many Welsh allies, who since his birth had begun making poems of him since his father and his uncle were very loved there. Henry never forgot his Welsh roots and naming his firstborn after this legendary hero and being born at Winchester (where Camelot was reputed to have been) was a statement that he intended to make the Tudor Dynasty immortal, and like his son’s namesake, bring a new Camelot.

Sadly, this was not to be. Arthur died and with him, Henry’s dreams. He and his wife, Elizabeth of York, received the news two days later on April 4. The council deemed it appropriate to have Henry’s confessor tell him the news.

"If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God." -Henry's confessor to the King.
“If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God.” -Henry’s confessor to the King.

The news shocked Henry so much that he went into full despair. Elizabeth, equally heartbroken, but nonetheless stoic as she’d aways been; took him in her arms and reminded him of his position and that they were still young  and could have more children.

Elizabeth "did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’" writes Licence. And that "God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses" and that they were still young and could have more children. Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.
Elizabeth “did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’” writes Licence. And that “God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses” and that they were still young and could have more children.
Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.

Perhaps the one who took his death the hardest was Katherine of Aragon, the young Infanta who was not yet seventeen and who had come from Spain with the mindset that she woud become the future Queen of England.

Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur's death left her in a political limbo for seven years.
Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo for seven years.

Katherine had been trained  almost as a renaissance Prince. She was taught the same subjects as Arthur and furthermore was taught canon and civic law and had been with her mother on her military campaigns. No other princess was better prepared. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo and although her mother secured a papal dispensation before she died (1504) and made Henry VII agree to a betrothal, she was still left in despair. Her father made her into his ambassador to increase her allowance and that helped and gave her a taste of the intrigue of the Tudor court. For five more years she waited, and what seemed in vain at last took fruit when the friendship she had formed with the new Prince of Wales (Harry Tudor) convinced him that she was the only wife for him. After the death of his father, the new King, Henry VIII, told his council that he would take no other wife but Katherine of Aragon. At last Katherine fulfilled her life’s dream, becoming Queen of England.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The noble and tragic lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Katherine of Aragon’s First Miscarriage

On the 31st of January, 1510, Katherine suffered her first miscarriage, giving birth to a still-born daughter.
Henry and Katherine were married on the eleventh of June 1509 and crowned thirteen days later. Henry wrote enthusiastically to Ferdinand of his joy of being married and on November the first informed him that “the Queen is pregnant, and the child in her womb is alive.” At the end of January Katherine went into confinement. When they learned of the tragedy, they did their best to cope with their disappointment but soon their grief was abated when her physician informed them that she had been carrying twins and one of them was still alive. Ecstatic, Katherine and Henry’s hopes were renewed and Henry ordered the nursery to be refurbished but on March when she went into confinement once more, her swelling began to decrease and it became clear to everyone that she had never been carrying twins.  
To make matters worse for her, people began to talk that she could not bear anymore children and she caught wind of her husband’s first affair with Lady Hastings, the Duke of Buckingham’s sister. Caroz, the Spanish Ambassador at the time tried to placate Katherine who (unlike the passive woman she is often believed to be) was livid and made her “ill will” very plain to William Compton (who had been the first to receive the blame for Henry’s attentions to Lady Hastings) and her husband and very soon the whole court knew. Very soon she put the whole episode behind her when she learned she was pregnant again by the end of May. She wrote to her father (who had been left completely in the dark regarding the status of her first pregnancy) informing him that she had miscarried “some days before” but she was pregnant again and that she and the King could not be happier.
Sources:
  • 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.