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
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The Christening of Prince Arthur

The Rose both red and white. In one rose now doth grow.
The Rose both red and white. In one rose now doth grow.

On Sunday the 24th of September 1486, Prince Arthur Tudor was christened at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were the Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Thomas Stanley, the Earl of Derby.

“The city turned out to see the solemn procession, which was captured in an engraving by an unknown artist, showing no less than five people carrying the baby’s train under a fringed canopy. He was wrapped in crimson cloth of gold furred with ermine. Elizabeth’s family played prominent roles in her absence, with her mother being one of the named godparents.” (Licence)

Margaret Beaufort was absent from the celebrations. Possibly because she did not wish to overshadow her daughter-in-law’s family, especially the Queen Dowager who outranked her. It is a myth that Elizabeth’s family were treated with hostility during Henry VII’s reign. Some historians believe that he suspected his mother-in-law of playing a role in Lambert Simnel’s rebellion and historical fiction writers blame him for her low-key funeral. But the fact is that Elizabeth Woodville was a pious woman, and she won the commons during her first time in Sanctuary when she gave birth to the King’s first legitimate son, Edward, Prince of Wales (one of the lost princes in the tower) and she depended largely on their charity. The fact that she didn’t ask them to fight for her and played her role of the ‘good wife’ to perfection endeared her to them. And her daughter was pretty much the same and some have gone so far as to say that she became the image of the ideal wife and consort, that she was the basis by which Henry VIII judged all of his wives.

“It was not until the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon wrote his history of Henry VII’s reign, that Elizabeth was explicitly linked to the Lambert Simnel conspiracy.” (Higginbotham)

Whether she was involved or not, her family’s religiosity was widely admired and commented on, even for the times.

The Queen Dowager’s brother, the late Earl of Rivers hosted his brother-in-law’s sister, the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy when she came for her last visit to England in 1480 and the two shared a common interest in education, and he expressed a deep interest in fighting in a crusade. One of her surviving brothers did fight in a crusade. Sir Edward Woodville aided Henry VII during the Simnel fiasco and then went on to give his services to the Catholic Kings when they fought against the Moors. He was also present for the christening, helping others carry the canopy over the baby.

“The Cathedral door was hung with cloth of gold and the nave had been magnificently “hanged with cloths of Arras and red sarcenet” and laid with carpets right to the altar … To one side was a curtained area, behind was “a fire of coals”, a chafer of water, and silver basins. It was here where he could be kept warm and clean, that the prince was undressed completely.” (Weir.)

He was given to John Alcock [Bishop of Worcester] who immersed him in the basin of holy water just enough to touch his forehead and christened him. His aunt, Anne of York then came and placed a cloth on his forehead and he was handed over to his maternal grandmother and godmother, Elizabeth Woodville who laid him on the altar “after which the Earl of Oxford took the prince in his right arm, and Peter Courtenay [Bishop of Exeter] confirmed him.” Gifts were brought, offerings were made, and then Cecily took the baby and brought him back to his mother.

Arthur would later be invested as Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia besides becoming Duke of Cornwall. The hope of the Tudor rested entirely on his shoulders from the moment of his birth. Poems were made about him, extolling his lineage, remarking how he was the true embodiment of the union between Lancaster and York.

Sources:

  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir

Red and White it flows: The Birth of Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor rose

On the 20th of September 1486, Queen Elizabeth of York gave birth to the first prince of the Tudor dynasty, a baby boy named Arthur at St. Swithun’s Priory next to Winchester Cathedral. This was no coincidence as Henry wanted his crown heir to be born in the place where it was believed Camelot once stood.

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and he wanted to exalt them, by naming his crown heir, Arthur after the legendary king who unified all Britain. From the start, Henry VII, was doing his best to solidify his place in English history and the rest of Europe. When he married Elizabeth of York that same year, their union was widely celebrated. A new emblem was a created.

“Henry had been born at Pembroke Castle in Wales and spent his early years at Raglan in Monmouthsire. His paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor claimed descent from Arthur and he had marched under the banner of a red dragon, the Pen Draig, or Pendragon, at Bosworth. Breton minstrels and early Welsh texts had been drawing on the legend long before the Tudors …The present round table in Winchester’s Great Hall has been carbon dated to 1250-90 … Even Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, had been drawn to Arthurian ideals and produced genealogies to justify his wresting the throne from Henry VI.” (Licence)

Tudor banner

Not surprisingly then, Henry VII felt even more drawn because of his Welsh roots. On the road to Bosworth, he chose for his main standard the dragon of Cadwalldr and thanks to his uncle Jasper’s popularity in that area, the bards sang songs about him being their prophesized savior.

Arthur was the embodiment of these myths, being born at the place where many believed Arthur’s fabled city of Camelot once stood, and where a replica of the round table was held at the ceiling of Winchester Cathedral, and of his father’s ambitions. He was a prince of both Lancaster and York.

For her part, Elizabeth had been preparing for the birth since Easter with the help of her mother-in-law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort [Countess of Richmond]. Besides her, Elizabeth had the company of her mother and other female relatives. Birth in this period was exclusively a female thing and although doctors were present, they were not normally involved in childbirth. They were just there to act as consultants. It was up to Elizabeth’s women and the midwives to assist her during the birth.
When her labor began on the 19th, natural creams would be applied on her abdomen. These would mostly consist of a mixture of distilled marjoram and saffron and brandy to “aid the contractions and help lessen the intensity” of these.

Although medical knowledge was limited, Alison Weir writes that the “practices employed by midwives” were fairly modern.

“Documentary evidence suggests that women were encouraged to give birth in a sitting or squatting position. They were encouraged to do breathing exercises for labor, much as they are today, but there was no pain relief beyond opiates and herbs.”

Weir adds that it is possible that Elizabeth of York might have had the protection of the Virgin Mary via her girdle which was held at Westminster Abbey and it “was sometimes lent to queens and high-ranking women, so that they could tie it around themselves in labor.”

Tudor Rose Prince Arthur of Wales

When his birth was announced, the country rejoiced and many poems such as the following, illustrate this:
“I love the red rose
but red and white it flows
is that your pure appetite?
To hear talk of them
is my delight
loved may we be
our prince to see
and roses three.”

Arthur was christened four days later at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his grandmother the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and his step-grandfather, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. After the ceremonies were over, the Queen’s sister, lady Cecily returned the baby to his mother. Less than a year later, Elizabeth would be crowned.
Margaret Beaufort was not present at this event, but she was very present in the child’s life.

“She had ordered, for example, that a physician supervise the nurse breastfeeding Elizabeth’s baby, and a yeoman test the king’s mattress daily … She was furthermore always there, her tiny frame an almost inescapable presence.” (Lisle)

While the proud parents would boast of more children, only three would survive them. Margaret, Mary and Henry Tudor would go on to become Queens and King, while their crown heir would die before his time.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen & her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • In bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle