Although Philippa Gregory’s book on Katherine of Aragon is purely fictional, the title is more than fitting. Katherine had waited seven years, almost as much as Anne is reputed to have waited, to marry Henry, who was next in line to the English throne after his older brother passed away.
On January 29th, 1536 Katherine of Aragon was buried on St. Peterborough Cathedral. She had been laid under a canopy of state the previous day which had included the royal arms of England and Spain and her personal emblem, the Pomegranate and eighteen banners to illustrate her connection to other royal houses in Europe.
Eustace Chapuys was not present for the ceremony but from the reports he received afterward, he found it shameful.
The chief mourner was Frances Brandon, Henry VIII’s niece. With her were her husband Henry Grey, and her sister, Eleanor Brandon. Mary was not allowed to attend her mother’s funeral but if she had, she would have found it shameful as well.
Perhaps it was better that she didn’t because she would have no doubt felt the same outrage.
At the ceremony, Katherine was referred to as the “Princess Dowager” not as the Queen of England as she and her supporters had always maintained. The priest performing the ceremony was none other than the John Hilsey, the Bishop of Rochester who had replaced Fisher after the latter’s death.His eulogy condemned Katherine for standing against her sovereign and reiterated many times that her marriage had been an affront to God, and that she was never truly Queen, but only the King’s sister. Representing Henry VIII, her “brother-in-law”, was Sir William Paulet. Maria de Salinas and her daughter, the new Duchess of Suffolk, Catherine Willoughby were also present.
Visitors to the UK today are drawn to her tomb. It is marked by golden letters on top, on the gate, KATHARINE OF ARAGON: QUEEN OF ENGLAND, and two flags, flying horizontally. These letters were added many centuries after her funeral, as a way to honor her. Regardless of who she was, what everyone’s views of her are or remain, she was married to Henry for more than twenty years, served as his Regent (distinguished herself in that position) and was mother to England’s first Queen, and the youngest daughter of two of the most celebrated –and also infamous- monarchs in Western Europe.
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 Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
On the day of Katherine’s death, a letter was sent to her husband which expressed her true feelings regarding his reformation and his other actions which she stressed that he should repent, but furthermore she pleaded with him that he should look after their daughter and that in spite of his treatment of her, she still loved him and that she would always be in the eyes of God his true wife. She signed the letter ‘Katherine the Quene’. Some romanticists like Tudor chronicler and propagandist Polydore Vergil, attest that once Henry finished reading the letter, he went down on his knees and cried. In the “Tudors” this is exactly what happens while in another scene we see Anne flashing her cat-like smile, deviously concocting ways to celebrate her dreaded rival’s passing. As beautiful as this image sounds, it is largely fictional.
Edward Hall and Chapuys corroborate the story that Henry wore yellow and threw as many masquerades and jousts to celebrate his first wife’s death on the eighty or ninth of January (depending on the source). But it’s only Chapuys who lays the blame entirely at Henry’s doorstep . Even if Anne had worn yellow, she would have done so to please her husband. Henry had more reason to celebrate Katherine’s death than Anne.
He declared on one of the feasts that he was deeply overjoyed because Katherine’s death meant the threat of war was over. (This was wishful thinking on his part. Although some were encouraging the Emperor to invade on his aunt and cousin’s behalf, Katherine had no desire to see more blood spilled on her adoptive country in her name. She had said so to Chapuys two days before her death, on his last visit.)
“Thank God, we are now free from any fear of war, and the time has come for dealing with the French much more to our advantage than herefore, for if they once suspect my becoming the Emperor’s friend and ally now that the real cause of our enmity no longer exists I shall be able to do anything I like with them.” (Henry VIII)
The color yellow which has been commonly associated with Spanish mourning, was in fact a symbol of rebirth. Henry was making a statement. By showing off his wife and his daughter Elizabeth, he was emphasizing their positions and his: Anne as his true wife, Elizabeth as his heir apparent, the true Princess of England while his eldest daughter remained a product of incest, a bastard. And himself as the head of the Church and the unchallenged sovereign of the realm, its supreme ruler.
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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
The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods …used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.
The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.
Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.
Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.
The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.
Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.
Those in the UK will be lucky to see the new mini-series adapted from Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, this January. For those of us in America, we will have to wait until April when it’s aired on PBS. In spite of the long wait. Let’s review on the accuracy of this show.
So we have no cod-pieces because they thought American audiences, or others for that matter, would squirm at it. Okay BBC, first of all, not all of us in America are ignorant about cod-pieces or the fact that they are not sexual in any way. But anyways, refraining myself from an upcoming rant I will go to the most important points of this article: Accuracy. And how does Wolf Hall score in this respect?
If I could give it a score from 0 to 100 based on the photographs and articles I have seen written of it, as well as historians weighing in on it , I would give it a 90. (Yes not a 100 because of the lack of cod-pieces.)
To be honest, it was about time we had a series that other from being entertaining and being a Glee-style travesty of history, invested its big budget on accuracy. “The Tudors” was entertaining, many people liked it (myself included) but it was not accurate. Not by a long shot. In terms of acting it was great, new talent was discovered, young actors got their careers bolstered and I am glad. But the series missed a lot of good points such as Henry VIII’s two sisters that got merged into one because apparently Hirst believed we (the audience) would be too stupid to distinguish from the many Marys on the show. Hilary Mantel thankfully is not making the same mistake. And neither does the production team behind “Wolf Hall”.
There has been an intricate attention to detail, from costuming to the way people acted or were attended by their ladies. in this scene where Anne Boleyn is about to be crowned; she is not just about to be crowned in the traditional sense as we’ve seen on TV. But the complete ritual is about to be displayed.
She sits in the chair, crowned with a beautiful white dress and is visibly pregnant. She holds the scepter and the rod and on her forehead is none other than the heavy crown of St. Edward. Let’s remember this because it is very important! Anne was not crowned as her predecessor was with the traditional crown worn by Queen Consorts. She was crowned with the crown of St. Edward. Henry wanted to make a powerful political statement that this Queen was not only going to be his true queen and his true wife but that their heir that was nestling safely in her womb would be his undoubted successor.
Secondly, before she even reaches the chair she has to complete the long ritual of prostrating herself before the altar. For this, it had to be a complete ordeal for Claire Foy who was wearing a baby bump to simulate Anne’s real pregnancy. Lucy Worsley gave her advice how to accomplish this:
“Foy reveals that the ‘baby bump’ is uncomfortable under her costume, and isn’t sure how to ‘prostrate’ herself to the ground before the altar. With his customary attention to detail, director Peter Kosminsky asks me, as a historian, how she should do it. We agree that two of Anne’s ladies in waiting should help their pregnant mistress down to the floor.”
After the Mass ended, she made her way to Whitehall where a banquet was held in he…r honor. Upon her arrival the heralds cried:
“Now the noble Anna bears the sacred diadem.”
Anne’s victory was nearly complete. now all she needed was to give birth to a son. Anne was visibly pregnant during the ceremony, some whispered she had conceived before their marriage in January of that year (some historians place it before or after, depending on what sources they are using). This ceremony was significant because it guaranteed Anne’s place next to Henry and their offspring’ legitimacy.
In spite of all of this; there are some things that the series missed and this is that it will keep perpetuating the ‘dark Spaniard’ myth that all Spaniards are dark-haired- dark-eyed, etc.
Now the actress portraying Katherine of Aragon is not black-haired as Irene Papas in the “Anne of a Thousand Days” movies but she wears too much make up that makes her look too old and she looks very thin.
Katherine of Aragon had grown plumper as her predecessor, her mother in law Elizabeth of York had. The series of miscarriages and tragedies she had suffered -and the added stress- made her lose her figure but by no means did she look *that* old. Secondly, it was Anne who was dark-haired and dark-eyed and had olive skin and Katherine who was red-haired and with fair skin and blue eyes. Joanna Whalley by contrast is fair skinned, but her hair is not red enough and her eyes are dark brown, but at the same time she is shown wearing gable hoods and wearing the color purple which is very important if we want to talk about accurate costuming. Tudor society was very elitist. Everyone was put into boxes, or categorized according to their wealth and lineage. Thomas Cromwell and his family wear very sober colors, they have a lot of material artifacts thanks to the social mobility experienced during this period; but this doesn’t change the fact that they are still part of the middle class and not the elite. Royals, as they were above everyone else would wear specific colors. Purple was one of them.
But I guess, like with Katherine of Aragon, we can’t have it all can we?
Nonetheless, the production looks very good, the clothes are very accurate, the hoods, the castles -the way they are decorated-, and everything else in general looks spectacular and I, as many history buffs, will be looking forward to this production when it hits the States in April.
Something that’s always bugged me is how Katherine is portrayed in the media or fiction (or history for that matter). She is always old, super pious or to put it simply an outdated ‘bitch’ who doesn’t want to give her poor, sweet and younger Henry his much needed divorce. We have no idea what these people thought so we cannot know what really went through Henry’s mind when he broke the news to Katherine or through Katherine’s. We can assume based on their letters and their actions but that’s it. If we want to be Sherlock Holmes, we can go further by investigating the customs and morals that dictated the period, but even then, we will never get the answers we want.
Katherine of Aragon has continued to fascinate historians for decades (and will continue to do so as her darker and more alluring counterpart Anne Boleyn). But to pit this woman against her rival in a game of “who was more beautiful” or “who was more worthy of wearing the crown?” Or worse yet, “whose daughters showed through their actions that their mothers were the rightful Queens of England” are ridiculous. The cults built around certain figures has become too religious -if it wasn’t before- for my taste and nothing scares me more than cults and religion. When people speak about the Tudors and they think of Katherine of Aragon, the first thing that comes to mind is either victim or stubborn, old, ugly woman. What does this say about our own culture? I always say if you want to look at our society, look at the way people view history, he way people view old people and that will tell you everything. As political satirist Bill Maher has said, young people today do not value the wisdom in their elders. Yes, some elders are not that wise, but that is no excuse to bash old people and say they deserve to be pushed away because they are old, ugly and what not. Katherine of Aragon was not always old and she was not certainly ugly!
Amy Licence in her latest biography on the Six Wives, weighs in on this:
“The teenaged Catherine with her petite, plump figure and regal colouring, she did not disappoint the English.
Her ‘fair auburn’ hair hung down past her shoulders, loose under the cap she wore, held in place by a gold ribbon.”
Furthermore, Kyra Cornelius Kramer adds that when Katherine got older and she was unable to give the King anymore children, she was by no means ugly:
“Katherine was now “middle-aged” by the reckoning of her time period, but certainly still young enough to have more children. However, having lost her youth, she had also begun to lose her good looks. She had started to “run to fat”, and her face was becoming “round and blotched and bloated” (Starkey, 2006: 37). This seems natural enough in light of the fact that she had undergone repeated and yearly obstetrical tribulations, had the added emotional burden of being blamed for not producing a living heir to the throne, had successfully acted as regent for her husband during a war, and had suffered a total breach with her father in favor of her husband, who incidentally was angry with her for her father’s behavior. It would be very difficult to retain ‘girlish’ good-looks under such stress.
This is not to say she had completely lost her charms, however, since one contemporary recorded that while the Queen “was not handsome” she was “certainly not ugly” either (Fraser, 1994: 75-76). Moreover she was intelligent, a good wife, and was adored by her English subjects. An ambassador from Venice reported that while Katherine was “of low stature and rather stout”, she had the virtues of being “very good and very religious”, spoke “Spanish, French, Flemish, and English”, and was “more beloved by the Islanders than any queen that has ever reigned” (Froude, 1891: 32). Some historical writings emphasize the fact that she wasn’t as pretty as she approached mid-life as she had been as a girl, particularly as a result of her weight gain.
When Katherine’s plumper body is discussed, Henry’s desire to end his marriage is usually portrayed more sympathetically, on the assumption that a fat, middle-aged body could never be pleasing to a man. This is more a reflection of the modern bias against the fat female body than a true representation of Katherine’s attractiveness. Clearly some of the writings about the Queen have been steeped in the modern socio-cultural belief that if an individual female is fat she must therefore be considered ugly, and her body is consequently interpreted “as reflecting moral or personal inadequacy, or lack of will”, which in turns turn renders fat women ‘bad’ and repellent (Bordo, 1993: 192). It is very problematic to ascribe this bias to Henry, who was the product of very different cultural norms. Since fashion in the Tudor time period “favored slimness”, some historians have argued that this was Henry’s own preference (Starkey, 2003: 161).
Notwithstanding the fashion for a trim waist, Henry was probably unaffected by the ‘excessive’ adipose tissue of his sexual partners. Although his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was very slender, his fifth wife, Katheryn Howard, with whom he was utterly infatuated and enthralled sexually, was plump with the “fetching beginnings of a double-chin” (Starkey, 2003: 651). Clearly the King was attracted to many different body types. Katheriea’s weight gain may not have been an issue for Henry the way it can be for people reared in a modern fat-intolerant cultural climate. Regardless of the change in her physical appearance, the King still found her comely enough that she became pregnant again a few months after the loss of yet another son.”
Other biographers such as Julia Fox add that Katherine was better prepared than other princesses. Whereas royal women were taught to knit, sew, sing and dance and be the epitome of feminine virtue, Katherine’s mother added another component to her daughters’ education.
“Acutely aware of her own educational deficiencies, she determined that her children would not suffer from the same limitations.” (Fox)
Isabella I of Castile had been taught a very basic education, something she always regretted and didn’t want her daughters to have. Her daughters would not marry simple courtiers or second-sons. They would be queens or royal duchesses, and Isabella trusted them enough so that they would steer their husband’s policies to Spain’s favor. But she wasn’t completely pragmatic. As ambitious as Isabella was, she was also human and she regretted parted with all of her daughters. The most was Catalina or Katherine as she later changed her name to, because she was the youngest. Isabella had been taught religious devotion at a young age. But she had also learned how cruel the world could be. Her brother Enrique was supposed to honor their father’s will and ensure her mother received the revenues from Arevalo where she, her mother and brother were living, and other nearby towns but instead Enrique kept it all to himself. Nearby was Medina, where every world trader came to sell rich fabrics and other things that got Isabella curious in naval exploration. But with the frugal pension her mother received, she could boast of no wealth or pretty clothes like the ones her older brother the King and his new wife -Juana of Avis, Princess of Portugal- wore. As expected, Isabella was “tutored in skills expected of the wife of a ruler” (Downey). She was taught to read and speak in Italian, her native Castilian and also Portuguese, but she was taught no Latin and it was not until she was older that she began to learn. In spite of these obstacles, Isabella grew to be a very tenacious and fearless woman.
“She was strong and active, a good horsewoman at home in the saddle. She loved to hunt; she enjoyed parties, games, art, and architecture” (Downey)
And more than that, she grew to admire women who took destiny in their own hands instead of waiting for others to choose for them. As Elizabeth I’s, ironically her granddaughter’s half sister and rival would one day be quoted of saying “God helps those who help themselves”; no one emulated this more than Isabella. Isabella grew to distrust and even abhor the noble class. This was the same class that pulled the strings of her brother’s courts, the sort that stayed silent when her mother was nearly raped (likely on Enrique’s orders) and more than that, the sort who shifted sides every time it was convenient for them. Of course, Isabella was not blind to the harsh political reality of her country. Castile was split into many factions and people had to do what they could to survive. Nonetheless Isabella was not about to be as indecisive and weak as her brother had been. When he died, she took control and without waiting for Cortes (the Castilian Council) to declare her Queen of Castile, she took the crown for herself and asked one of her favorites to carry the sword of justice on her behalf as she and her men walked behind their newly self-crowned Queen.
From her mother, Katherine knew the power that women could have, even in a patriarchal sphere such as theirs. England of course was more patriarchal than Castile. It had no Salic Law, but plagued by recent civil wars, they had no desire to see women rule on their behalf. Women were there to bring babies, that was their main function. Katherine of course defied these concepts. But she did it in a way that did not upset the status quo. Emulating the feminine virtues that she was taught from an early age, she lived by these virtues, praying more than anybody and giving as much to others as other Queen Consorts had done before her. Her education and her actions during Henry’s reign of course, tell a different story.
Stoic, proud, she was the product of her mother’s court. Surrounded with scholars of both genders, and watching her mother “championing educational achievements”, she desired the same for when she became future Queen of England.
“Like her sisters, Katherine was nurtured in the classics, her parents engaging two remarkable humanist scholars, Antonia Geraldini and his brother Alesandro (who stepped in when Antonio died) as teachers. Alessandro, who took his duties very seriously, wrote a book on the education of girls. The book has long since disappeared, but it clearly remained in Katherine’s memory, for she was to commission a similar work for her own daughter … Katherine would have had access to her mother’s extensive library, although her reading was carefully monitored. She was introduced to the Christian poets, to history, to law, to the lives of the saints, and to religious works such as the writings of Saint Augustine, as well as to carefully vetted classical authors like Seneca … and for yet lighter relief, there were always Isabella’s copies of Arthurian romances and chivalric tales. Every mindful of her own experiences, the queen was determined to give her girls the best start available.” (Fox)
The kind of law that Katherine of Aragon was educated was both canon and secular law. If women were allowed to practice law as they are today, she would no doubt have made a great lawyer. One cannot help but wonder if it was more of Katherine’s words put into her defenders -such as Bishop Fisher, her grandmother in law’s former Confessor- mouths than their own? As Queen Consort, Katherine was just as active as her husband. Thanks to her regency, England won a major victory against Scotland. Scotland “lost all the flower” of “her youth” and their “chivalry” (Porter).
When Katherine wanted to prepare her daughter for her future role as Queen rather than Queen Consort as she was prepared, she ensured her daughter received a top education. Mary learned to dance, play various instruments, poetry, letters, and of course canon and civil law as her mother; but she was also taught about ruling since she was up until that point, her father’s heir-apparent. To ensure her legacy, Katherine not only invited the scholar Juan Luis Vives to court, but she also wrote her own defense of her church after her husband Henry had done so, and for this she was named ‘Defendress of the Faith’.
While Katherine continues to be appreciated by modern American and British audiences in TV and fiction, her native country has made a greater leap forward by casting her in a more favorable (and accurate) light in the hit TV drama “Isabel”. American and British audiences will say this is unfair because the Spaniards are being bias, but they are in fact not. What the series did for her was something American and British historical dramas have failed to do. They always start her story in the later years of her marriage when Anne comes into the picture and she is older (“too old” for Henry who is portrayed as much younger and handsome) and is a great contrast to the drop-dead gorgeous figure of Anne Boleyn. For once, we have a Katherine who is younger than any actress who has portrayed her, and is also fair skinned, blue eyed and blond. While Katherine was described as auburn-haired, this is a nice change from the past decade’s portrayals of her.
And this brings me once again, to stress what Bill Maher said in his past show about tween audiences versus older and more mature audiences. People will get old. You were young once, you were hot once, “but you get older, and you get wiser duh!” It’s the natural cycle of life and it will happen to all of us. Anne for future generations had the good luck that she didn’t get old because Henry cut her head off. She was beheaded under false charges and while this is regrettable, it nonetheless made her a figure for all times. A timeless, ageless figure who like many figures who go down young and with a bang, are admired because they were young, they were beautiful, they had it all! But these figures are victims of their own sons, daughters (in Anne’s case) or successors’ propaganda. Alexander the Great died when he was still young and hot. If he had lived, would he be remembered as ‘The Great’, the epitome of ‘I can do whatever I like because I am freaking young!’ Of course not! And neither would Henry V who is praised as the greatest of all Plantagenet Kings for conquering France. Yes, like Anne, they are worshiped, revered because they died young, because they died tragically, or in the case of the two kings, while they were still young and famous. But had they lived, guess what?! They would have aged too and it wouldn’t have been pretty. In an age where cosmetics were not what they are today, they would have become wrinkled, thinner or probably (in Anne’s case) gain weight with every pregnancy. But that would be normal because that is what is meant to happen to all of us. Our bodies changes, we lose our looks but that doesn’t mean we become lamer or duller. Some do, but some become wiser and continue to be active as when they were younger. For Katherine, this is exactly what happened. Age did not affect her brains. She was still the same active, educated woman she had been when she came to England. She became religious as she got older, this was normal in a woman her age after all she had suffered. Her predecessors, Queens and Kings’ mothers, had done the same. Elizabeth of York was well known for her piety and so was her mother in law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort. Her grandmother the Duchess Dowager of York “Proud Cis” had taken on a strict religious routine after her son and husband who had been killed during the battle of Wakefield were re-interred in York. But this was not an impediment as Starkey and Loades point out in their respective biographies on the wives, on Katherine’s pragmatism. She proved to be her mother’s daughter to the end, and she sent many strong letters to the pope and bishops, demanding them to side with her and press her husband to leave his intended bride. Katherine’s struggle for survival was much her own as it was her daughter’s, for Katherine not only believed that she was meant to be Henry’s Queen, but that her daughter in spite of her gender, was meant to rule as England’s first Queen Regnant.
Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
Blood Will Tell by Kyra C. Kramer
The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
Tudors VS Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
On the 2nd of January 1492, Granada surrendered to the Catholic Kings. The Spanish Reconquest or “Reconquista” was over.
Ferdinand and Isabella rode ahead of their armies. The others present saw how the last ruler of Granada, Boabdil gave the King of Aragon the key to the city. This was a glorious day. Years of campaigning had finally paid off. The Spanish had been fighting the Moors for more than seven hundred years, little by little they had been taking back what the Moors took and at last, Isabella closed that chapter of their bloody history.
But …the truth was that the Reconquista as the Spaniards called it, was not merely taking back what their invaders took. It was meant to give a message to Western Europe, that the King and Queen of a new and unified Spain, were blessed by God.
There has always been a lot of debate as to whether the Moors were really invaders or the other way around. The fact was that Spain had been occupied many times, first by African and Celtic tribes and later by Roman and Germanic. There was never such a thing as a ‘Spain’ until the country became one under a single ideal, a single religion and the people responsible for this were Mary’s grandparents, Ferdinand and Isabella. The two had married when they were Princes. Later they became Kings and Isabella fought long and hard for her crown. Some still regarded ‘La Beltraneja’ as the true Queen. Isabella maintained that was not true, she was the true Queen because her niece was not really her niece, she was not even her brother’s daughter. But nothing could ever be proven. Yet Isabella won in the end and shortly after that she initiated a campaign to take Granada from the Moors.
Her enterprise was long and costly but at last she succeeded. On the second day of 1492, she, accompanied by Ferdinand, rode with their armies to meet Boabdil. He greeted Ferdinand and gave him the key to the city, Ferdinand in turn gave it to Isabella. She wasted no time and appointed Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, Count of Tendilla as governor and her confessor, Hernando de Talavera as Archbishop. Boabdil was allowed to live as an aristocrat but left the Spanish Court for North Africa where he died many years later. His mother and half siblings stayed and were assimilated into Castilian noble society.
Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
Happy New Year! And to start the year we will start by mentioning an important event that (had it not ended in tragedy) could have changed the fate of Henry VIII’s first wife and Consort, Katherine of Aragon and the fate of England itself.
On the first of January 1511, Katherine of Aragon gave birth to her first son, Henry Tudor, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall. Though never formally invested, his titles and place in the line of succession were secured. It was also a personal triumph for Katherine whose first pregnancy had been disastrous. He was a perfectly healthy boy and to celebrate his birth, bonfires burned, the streets ran with wine to the ‘great gladness of the realm’. Henry organized all kinds of pageants and tournaments. The baby was christened four days later on the fifth of January. His godparents were William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry’s aunt Katherine of York (Elizabeth of York’s younger sister) and Countess of Devonshire and Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey who stood for the Archduchess Margaret Habsburg of the Netherlands and Louis XII of France. Henry felt so joyful for the birth that he went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham at Norfolk to give thanks.
Once she was churched, Henry and Katherine moved from Richmond to Westminster where Henry hosted a series of tournaments commemorating the birth of his son and his Queen. It was here where Henry became known as ‘Sir Loyal Heart’ and adding to the chivalric tradition which Henry was brought in, he had all of his knights (himself included) wearing the letters ‘H’ and ‘K’ in gold. Riding with the King were Sir Edward Neville (representing Valiant Desire), Sir Thomas Knyvet as Good Hope, and William Earl of Devonshire as Good Valor. They addressed Katherine, congratulating her for the ‘good and gracious fortune of the birth of the young prince that it hath pleased God to send to her and her husband’. Jousts continued for nearly two weeks with Katherine giving prizes after every tourney, and then they stopped when terrible news came from Richmond. Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall, the king and queen’s firstborn son and one day future king, had died. It is not known what caused his death. There has been many speculation but we can be assured it was nothing out of the ordinary. Sadly, child mortality was very high, and anything from a common cold to an infection could have been responsible for the little prince’s death.
Katherine and Henry took his death really hard. Here was the Prince they hoped would one day succeed his father as King of England. For Katherine, the loss was more devastating because a son helped her husband secure the line of succession and her place by his side. When she was told of her son’s death, Henry went to her side and comforted her and told her what he would one day tell his second wife when she bore him a daughter, that they were still young and they could have more children. And at the time nobody thought differently. Katherine was after all twenty five and Henry nineteen. Not only that, they had also known each other since childhood and Henry still loved her, so the future looked bright.
Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Catherine of Aragon by Garett Mattingly
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence