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 ┬áCastile. Ballantine Books. 2012.

 

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Lady Elizabeth Tudor writes to her stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr

Katherine and Elizabeth

On July 31st, 1544 the Lady Elizabeth Tudor wrote to her fourth stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, expressing her desire to spend more time with her. Some historians have interpreted this as a symbol of the King’s annoyance with his youngest daughter, however it could have simply been a demonstration of her affection for the queen, namely because her father was away at the time (fighting in France). The letter goes as follows:

Elizabeth I exile letter

“Inmical fortune, envious of all good and ever revolving human affairs, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and not thus content, has yet again robbed me of the same good; which thing would be intolerable to me, did I not hope to enjoy it very soon. And in this exile I well know that the clemency of Your Highness has had much care and solicitude for my health as the King’s majesty himself. By which thing I am not only bound to serve you, but also revere you with filial love, since I understand that your most illustrious Highness has not forgotten me every time you requested from you. For heretofore I have not dared to write to him. Wherefore I now humbly pray your most excellent Highness, that, when you write to His Majesty, you will condescend to recommend me to him, praying ever for his sweet benediction, and similarly entreating our Lord God to send him best success, and the obtaining of victory over his enemies, so that Your Highness and I may, as soon as possible, rejoice together with him on his happy return. No less pray I to God, that He would preserve your most illustrious Highness; to whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and recommend myself.
From St. James this 31st July
Your most obedient daughter and most faithful servant, Elizabeth.”

The letter was written in flawless Italian and there is nothing weird about her location since Henry, conscious that he could die during the war, had left specific instructions for the council, including his wife’s regency during his absence and the places his children would stay. St. James was the designated place for his youngest daughter. As one historian pointed out in her latest book, Bess learned so much from Katherine Parr -namely the power a woman could wield through her smile (courtly manners) and intelligence- that she could not get enough of her. She wanted to spend time with her as much as possible.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family┬áby Leanda de Lisle
  • Tudors vs Stewarts by Linda Porter