Catherine of Aragon
Queen Consort of Henry VIII
Catherine of Aragon
Catharine of Aragon was the Spanish Queen consort of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England and Princess of Wales as the wife to Arthur, Prince of Wales. In 1507, she also held the position of Ambassador for the Spanish Court in England when her father found himself without one, becoming the first female ambassador in European history. For six months, she served as regent of England while Henry VIII was in France.
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Catherine of Aragon's personal information overview.
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    FIFTIES
  • 1536
    Age 50
    After being banished from court, she lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, and died there on 7 January 1536.
    More Details Hide Details Catherine's English subjects held her in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning among the English people. The controversial book The Education of Christian Women by Juan Luis Vives, which claimed women have the right to an education, was commissioned by and dedicated to her. Such was Catherine's impression on people that even her enemy, Thomas Cromwell, said of her, "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History." She successfully appealed for the lives of the rebels involved in the Evil May Day, for the sake of their families. Catherine also won widespread admiration by starting an extensive programme for the relief of the poor. She was a patron of Renaissance humanism, and a friend of the great scholars Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. Catherine was born at the Archbishop's Palace in Alcalá de Henares near Madrid, on the night of 16 December 1485. She was the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Catherine was quite short in stature with long red hair, wide blue eyes, a round face, and a fair complexion. She was descended, on her maternal side, from the English royal house; her great-grandmother Catherine of Lancaster, after whom she was named, and her great-great-grandmother Philippa of Lancaster were both daughters of John of Gaunt and granddaughters of Edward III of England.
  • FORTIES
  • 1535
    Age 49
    In late December 1535, sensing her death was near, Catherine made her will, and wrote to her nephew, the Emperor Charles V, asking him to protect her daughter. She then penned one final letter to Henry, her "most dear lord and husband": Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle on 1536.
    More Details Hide Details The following day, news of her death reached the king. At the time there were rumours that she was poisoned, possibly by Gregory di Casale. According to the chronicler Edward Hall, Anne Boleyn wore yellow for the mourning, which has been interpreted in various ways; Polydore Vergil interpreted this to mean that Anne did not mourn. Chapuys reported that it was King Henry who decked himself in yellow, celebrating the news and making a great show of his and Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, to his courtiers. This was seen as distasteful and vulgar by many. Another theory is that the dressing in yellow was out of respect for Catherine as yellow was said to be the Spanish colour of mourning. Certainly, later in the day it is reported that Henry and Anne both individually and privately wept for her death. On the day of Catherine's funeral, Anne Boleyn miscarried a boy. Rumours then circulated that Catherine had been poisoned by Anne or Henry, or both, as Anne had threatened to murder both Catherine and Mary on several occasions. The rumours were born after the apparent discovery during her embalming that there was a black growth on her heart that might have been caused by poisoning. Modern medical experts are in agreement that her heart's discolouration was due not to poisoning, but to cancer, something which was not understood at the time.
    In 1535 she was transferred to Kimbolton Castle.
    More Details Hide Details There, she confined herself to one room (which she left only to attend Mass), dressed only in the hair shirt of the Order of St. Francis, and fasted continuously. While she was permitted to receive occasional visitors, she was forbidden to see her daughter Mary. They were also forbidden to communicate in writing, but sympathizers discreetly ferried letters between the two. Henry offered both mother and daughter better quarters and permission to see each other if they would acknowledge Anne Boleyn as the new queen. Both refused.
  • 1533
    Age 47
    Cranmer ruled Henry and Anne's marriage valid five days later, on 28 May 1533.
    More Details Hide Details Until the end of her life, Catherine would refer to herself as Henry's only lawful wedded wife and England's only rightful queen, and her servants continued to address her by that title. Henry refused her the right to any title but "Dowager Princess of Wales" in recognition of her position as his brother's widow. Catherine went to live at The More castle in the winter of 1531/32.
    On 23 May 1533, Cranmer, sitting in judgement at a special court convened at Dunstable Priory to rule on the validity of Henry's marriage to Catherine, declared the marriage illegal, even though Catherine testified she and Arthur had never had physical relations.
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    In 1533 their marriage was consequently declared invalid and Henry married Anne on the judgement of clergy in England, without reference to the Pope.
    More Details Hide Details Catherine refused to accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church in England and considered herself the King's rightful wife and queen, attracting much popular sympathy. Despite this, she was acknowledged only as Dowager Princess of Wales by Henry.
  • 1530
    Age 44
    When this was discovered, Henry ordered Wolsey's arrest and, had he not been terminally ill and died in 1530, he might have been executed for treason.
    More Details Hide Details A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her old rooms were given to Anne Boleyn. When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, the Boleyn family's chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, was appointed to the vacant position. When Henry decided to annul his marriage to Catherine, John Fisher became her most trusted counsellor and one of her chief supporters. He appeared in the legates' court on her behalf, where he shocked people with the directness of his language, and by declaring that, like John the Baptist, he was ready to die on behalf of the indissolubility of marriage. Henry was so enraged by this that he wrote a long Latin address to the legates in answer to Fisher's speech. Fisher's copy of this still exists, with his manuscript annotations in the margin which show how little he feared Henry's anger. The removal of the cause to Rome ended Fisher's role in the matter, but Henry never forgave him. Other people who supported Catherine's case included Thomas More, Henry's own sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France - though as a member of the Tudor family and of royal blood, she was safe from any punishment and execution - María de Salinas, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Pope Paul III and Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and William Tyndale.
  • 1529
    Age 43
    Wolsey had failed and was dismissed from public office in 1529.
    More Details Hide Details Wolsey then began a secret plot to have Anne Boleyn forced into exile and began communicating with the Pope to that end.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1525
    Age 39
    In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine who was 11 years younger than Henry.
    More Details Hide Details Henry began pursuing her; Catherine was no longer able to bear children by this time. Henry began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from the Bible, which he interpreted to say that if a man marries his brother's wife, the couple will be childless. Even if her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated (and Catherine would insist to her dying day that she had come to Henry's bed a virgin), Henry's interpretation of that biblical passage meant that their marriage had been wrong in the eyes of God. Whether the Pope at the time of Henry and Catherine's marriage had had the right to overrule Henry's claimed scriptural impediment would become a hot topic in Henry's campaign to wrest an annulment from the present Pope. It is possible that the idea of annulment had been suggested to Henry much earlier than this, and is highly probable that it was motivated by his desire for a son. Before Henry's father ascended the throne, England was beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the English crown, and Henry may have wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the succession.
    By 1525, Henry VIII was infatuated with Anne Boleyn and dissatisfied that his marriage to Catherine had produced no surviving sons, leaving their daughter, the future Mary I of England, as heiress presumptive at a time when there was no established precedent for a woman on the throne.
    More Details Hide Details He sought to have their marriage annulled, setting in motion a chain of events that led to England's schism with the Catholic Church. When Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage, Henry defied him by assuming supremacy over religious matters.
  • 1520
    Age 34
    In 1520, Catherine's nephew Holy Roman Emperor Charles V paid a state visit to England, and she urged Henry to enter an alliance with Charles rather than with France.
    More Details Hide Details Immediately after his departure, she accompanied Henry to France on the celebrated visit to Francis I, the so-called Field of the Cloth of Gold. Within two years, war was declared against France and the Emperor was once again welcome in England, where plans were afoot to betroth him to Catherine's daughter Mary.
  • 1517
    Age 31
    Her doubts about Church improprieties certainly did not extend so far as to support the allegations of corruption made public by Martin Luther in Wittenberg in 1517, which were soon to have such far-reaching consequences in initiating the Protestant Reformation.
    More Details Hide Details In 1523 Alfonso de Villa Sancta, a learned friar of the Observant (reform) branch of the Friars Minor and friend of the king's old advisor Erasmus, dedicated to the queen his book De Liberio Arbitrio adversus Melanchthonem denouncing Philip Melanchthon, a supporter of Luther. Acting as her confessor, he was able to nominate her for the title of "Defender of the Faith" for denying Luther's arguments. Catherine was of a very fair complexion, had blue eyes, and had a hair colour that was between reddish-blonde and auburn like her mother and sister Joanna. In her youth she was described as "the most beautiful creature in the world" and that there was "nothing lacking in her that the most beautiful girl should have." Thomas More and Lord Herbert would reflect later in her lifetime that in regard to her appearance "there were few women who could compete with the Queen Catherine in her prime."
  • TWENTIES
  • 1513
    Age 27
    The Scots invaded and on 3 September 1513, she ordered Thomas Lovell to raise an army in the midland counties.
    More Details Hide Details Catherine rode north in full armour to address the troops, despite being heavily pregnant at the time. Her fine speech was reported to the historian Peter Martyr d'Anghiera in Valladolid within a fortnight. Although an Italian newsletter said she was north of London when news of the victory at Battle of Flodden Field reached her, she was near Buckingham. From Woburn Abbey she sent a letter to Henry along with a piece of the bloodied coat of King James IV of Scotland, who died in the battle, for Henry to use as a banner at the siege of Tournai. Catherine's religious dedication increased as she became older, as did her interest in academics. She continued to broaden her knowledge and provide training for her daughter, Mary. Education among women became fashionable, partly because of Catherine's influence, and she donated large sums of money to several colleges. Henry, however, still considered a male heir essential. The Tudor dynasty was new, and its legitimacy might still be tested. A long civil war (1135–54) had been fought the last time a woman, (Empress Matilda), had inherited the throne. The disasters of civil war were still fresh in living memory from the Wars of the Roses.
    On 11June 1513, Henry appointed Catherine Regent or Governor of England while he went to France on a military campaign.
    More Details Hide Details When Louis d'Orléans, Duke of Longueville, was captured at Thérouanne, Henry sent him to stay in Catherine's household. She wrote to Wolsey that she and her council would prefer the Duke to stay in the Tower of London as the Scots were "so busy as they now be" and she added her prayers for "God to sende us as good lukke against the Scotts, as the King hath ther." The war with Scotland occupied her subjects, and she was "horrible busy with making standards, banners, and badges" at Richmond Palace.
  • 1509
    Age 23
    On Midsummer's Day, Sunday, 1509, Henry VIII and Catherine were anointed and crowned together by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
    More Details Hide Details The coronation was followed by a banquet in Westminster Hall. Many new Knights of the Bath were created in honour of the coronation. In that month that followed, many social occasions presented the new Queen to the English public. She made a fine impression and was well received by the people of England. Catherine was pregnant six times altogether:
    Catherine's wedding took place on 11 June 1509, seven years after Prince Arthur's death.
    More Details Hide Details She married Henry VIII, who had only just acceded to the throne, in a private ceremony in the church of the Observant Friars outside Greenwich Palace. She was 23 years of age. The king was just days short of his 18th birthday. On Saturday 23 June 1509, the traditional eve-of-coronation procession to Westminster was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd. As was the custom, the couple spent the night before their coronation at the Tower of London.
    Catherine subsequently married Arthur's younger brother, the recently ascended Henry VIII, in 1509.
    More Details Hide Details For six months in 1513, she served as regent of England while Henry VIII was in France. During that time the English won the Battle of Flodden, an event in which Catherine played an important part.
  • 1507
    Age 21
    In 1507 she served as the Spanish ambassador to England, the first female ambassador in European history.
    More Details Hide Details While Henry VII and his councillors expected her to be easily manipulated, Catherine went on to prove them wrong. Marriage to Arthur's brother depended on the Pope granting a dispensation because canon law forbade a man to marry his brother's widow (Lev. 18:16). Catherine testified that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated as, also according to canon law, a marriage was not valid until consummated.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1503
    Age 17
    Following the death of his queen, Elizabeth of York, in February 1503, Henry VII initially considered marrying Catherine himself, but the opposition of her father and potential questions over the legitimacy of the couple's issue put paid to the idea.
    More Details Hide Details To settle the matter, it was agreed that Catherine would marry Henry VII's second son, Henry, Duke of York, who was five years younger than she was. The death of Catherine's mother, however, meant that her "value" in the marriage market decreased. Castile was a much larger kingdom than Aragon, and it was inherited by Catherine's mentally unstable elder sister, Joanna. Ostensibly, the marriage was delayed until Henry was old enough, but Ferdinand II procrastinated so much over payment of the remainder of Catherine's dowry that it became doubtful that the marriage would take place. She lived as a virtual prisoner at Durham House in London. Some of the letters she wrote to her father complaining of her treatment have survived. In one of these letters she tells him that "I choose what I believe, and say nothing. For I am not as simple as I may seem." She had little money and struggled to cope, as she had to support her ladies-in-waiting as well as herself.
  • 1501
    Age 15
    Ten days later, on 14 November 1501, they were married at Old St. Paul's Cathedral.
    More Details Hide Details A dowry of 200,000 crowns had been agreed, and half was paid shortly after the marriage. Once married, Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castle on the borders of Wales to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches, as was his duty as Prince of Wales, and his bride accompanied him. The couple stayed at Castle Lodge, Ludlow. A few months later, they both became ill, possibly with the sweating sickness which was sweeping the area. Arthur died on 2 April 1502; Catherine recovered to find herself a widow. At this point, Henry VII faced the challenge of avoiding the obligation to return her 200,000 ducat dowry, half of which he had not yet received, to her father, as required by her marriage contract should she return home.
  • 1499
    Age 13
    The two were married by proxy on 19 May 1499 and corresponded in Latin until Arthur turned fifteen, when it was decided that they were old enough to be married.
    More Details Hide Details When Catherine of Aragon travelled to London, she brought a group of her African attendants with her, including one identified as the trumpeter John Blanke. They are the first Africans recorded to have arrived in London at the time, and were considered luxury servants. They caused a great impression about the princess and the power of her family. The couple met on 4 November 1501 at Dogmersfield in Hampshire. Little is known about their first impressions of each other, but Arthur did write to his parents-in-law that he would be "a true and loving husband" and told his parents that he was immensely happy to "behold the face of his lovely bride". The couple had corresponded in Latin, but found that they could not understand each other, since they had learned different pronunciations.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1485
    Born
    Born on December 16, 1485.
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