Catherine of Aragon

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Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536).jpg
Portrait by Lucas Horenbout, c.1525
Queen consort of England
Tenure11 June 1509 – 23 May 1533
Coronation 24 June 1509
Born16 December 1485 (1485-12-16)
Archiepiscopal Palace, Alcalá de Henares, Castile
Died7 January 1536(1536-01-07) (aged 50)
Kimbolton Castle, England
Burial29 January 1536
among others...
House Trastámara
Father Ferdinand II of Aragon
Mother Isabella I of Castile
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Catherine of Aragon Signature.svg

Catherine of Aragon (also spelt as Katherine, Spanish : Catalina; 16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536) was Queen of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII from their marriage on 11 June 1509 until their annulment on 23 May 1533. She was previously Princess of Wales as the wife of Henry's elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales.


The daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, Catherine was three years old when she was betrothed to Prince Arthur, heir apparent to the English throne. They married in 1501, but Arthur died five months later. Catherine spent years in limbo, and during this time, she held the position of ambassador of the Aragonese crown to England in 1507, the first known female ambassador in European history. [1] She married Arthur's younger brother, the recently ascended Henry VIII, in 1509. For six months in 1513, she served as regent of England while Henry VIII was in France. During that time the English crushed and defeated a Scottish invasion at the Battle of Flodden, an event in which Catherine played an important part with an emotional speech about English courage and patriotism. [2]

By 1525, Henry VIII was infatuated with Anne Boleyn and dissatisfied that his marriage to Catherine had produced no surviving sons, leaving their daughter Mary as heir presumptive at a time when there was no established precedent for a woman on the throne. 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. In 1533 their marriage was consequently declared invalid and Henry married Anne on the judgement of clergy in England, without reference to the pope. 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. [3] Despite this, Henry acknowledged her only as dowager princess of Wales. After being banished from court by Henry, Catherine lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, dying there in January 1536 of cancer. The English people held Catherine in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning. [4] Her daughter Mary would become the first undisputed English queen regnant in 1553.

Catherine commissioned The Education of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives, who dedicated the book, controversial at the time, to the Queen in 1523. Such was Catherine's impression on people that even her adversary Thomas Cromwell said of her, "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History." [5] She successfully appealed for the lives of the rebels involved in the Evil May Day, for the sake of their families, [6] and also won widespread admiration by starting an extensive programme for the relief of the poor. [6] [7] Catherine was a patron of Renaissance humanism, and a friend of the great scholars Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More. [7]

Early life

Portrait by Juan de Flandes thought to be of 11-year-old Catherine. She resembles her sister Joanna of Castile. Juan de Flandes 002.jpg
Portrait by Juan de Flandes thought to be of 11-year-old Catherine. She resembles her sister Joanna of Castile.

Catherine was born at the Archbishop's Palace of Alcalá de Henares near Madrid, in the early hours of 16 December 1485. She was the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. [8] Catherine was quite short in stature [9] with long red hair, wide blue eyes, a round face, and a fair complexion. [10] She was descended, on her maternal side, from the House of Lancaster, an 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. Consequently, she was third cousin of her father-in-law, Henry VII of England, [11] and fourth cousin of her mother-in-law Elizabeth of York.

Catherine was educated by a tutor, Alessandro Geraldini, who was a clerk in Holy Orders. She studied arithmetic, canon and civil law, classical literature, genealogy and heraldry, history, philosophy, religion, and theology. She had a strong religious upbringing and developed her Roman Catholic faith that would play a major role in later life. [12] She learned to speak, read and write in Castilian Spanish and Latin, and spoke French and Greek. Erasmus later said that Catherine "loved good literature which she had studied with success since childhood". [13] She had been given lessons in domestic skills, such as cooking, embroidery, lace-making, needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving and was also taught music, dancing, drawing, as well as being carefully educated in good manners and court etiquette. [14]

At an early age, Catherine was considered a suitable wife for Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to the English throne, due to the English ancestry she inherited from her mother. Theoretically, by means of her mother, Catherine had a stronger legitimate claim to the English throne than King Henry VII himself through the first two wives of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster: Blanche of Lancaster and Constance of Castile. In contrast, Henry VII was the descendant of Gaunt's third marriage to Katherine Swynford, whose children were born out of wedlock and only legitimised after the death of Constance and the marriage of John to Katherine. The children of John and Katherine, while legitimised, were barred from inheriting the English throne, a stricture that was ignored in later generations. Because of Henry's descent through illegitimate children barred from succession to the English throne, the Tudor monarchy was not accepted by all European kingdoms. At the time, the House of Trastámara was the most prestigious in Europe, [11] due to the rule of the Catholic Monarchs, so the alliance of Catherine and Arthur validated the House of Tudor in the eyes of European royalty and strengthened the Tudor claim to the English throne via Catherine of Aragon's ancestry. It would have given a male heir an indisputable claim to the throne. 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 begin their conjugal life. [15]

Catherine was accompanied to England by the ambassadors Diego Fernández de Córdoba y Mendoza, 3rd Count of Cabra, Alonso de Fonseca, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, and Antonio de Rojas Manrique, bishop of Mallorca. [16] She brought a group of her African attendants with her, including one identified as the trumpeter John Blanke. [17] 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. [18] Her Spanish retinue was supervised by her duenna, Elvira Manuel.

At first it was thought Catherine's ship would arrive at Gravesend. A number of English gentlewomen were appointed to be ready to welcome her on arrival in October 1501. They were to escort Catherine in a flotilla of barges on the Thames to the Tower of London. [19]

As wife and widow of Arthur

Portrait of a noblewoman, possibly Mary Tudor c. 1514 or Catherine of Aragon c. 1502, by Michael Sittow. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Michel Sittow 002.jpg
Portrait of a noblewoman, possibly Mary Tudor c.1514 or Catherine of Aragon c.1502, by Michael Sittow. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Then-15-year-old Catherine departed from A Coruña on 17 August 1501 and met Arthur on 4 November at Dogmersfield in Hampshire. [21] [22] [23] 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's spoken conversation, because they had learned different Latin pronunciations. [24] Ten days later, on 14 November 1501, they were married at Old St. Paul's Cathedral. [11] A dowry of 200,000 ducats had been agreed, and half was paid shortly after the marriage. [25]

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. A few months later, they both became ill, possibly with the sweating sickness, which was sweeping the area. Arthur died on 2 April 1502; 16-year-old Catherine recovered to find herself a widow. [26]

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. [27] Following the death of Queen Elizabeth in February 1503, King Henry VII initially considered marrying Catherine himself, but the opposition of her father and potential questions over the legitimacy of the couple's issue ended the idea. [28] 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 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. [29] 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. In 1507 she served as the Spanish ambassador to England, the first female ambassador in European history. [1] While Henry VII and his counsellors expected her to be easily manipulated, Catherine went on to prove them wrong. [1]

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 [lower-alpha 1] ). Catherine testified that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated as, also according to canon law, a marriage was dissoluble unless consummated. [30] [31]

Queen of England

16th-century woodcut of the coronation of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon showing their heraldic badges, the Tudor Rose and the Pomegranate of Granada Henry VIII Catherine of Aragon coronation woodcut.jpg
16th-century woodcut of the coronation of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon showing their heraldic badges, the Tudor Rose and the Pomegranate of Granada


Catherine's second wedding took place on 11 June 1509, [32] seven years after Prince Arthur's death. 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. [32] [33]


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. On Midsummer's Day, Sunday, 24 June 1509, Henry VIII and Catherine were anointed and crowned together by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The coronation was followed by a banquet in Westminster Hall. Many new Knights of the Bath were created in honour of the coronation. [32] 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. [26]


Henry VIII at the time of their marriage Henry VIII (reigned 1509-1547) by English School.jpg
Henry VIII at the time of their marriage

On 11 June 1513, Henry appointed Catherine Regent in England with the titles "Governor of the Realm and Captain General," while he went to France on a military campaign. [34] 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." [35] The war with Scotland occupied her subjects, and she was "horrible busy with making standards, banners, and badges" at Richmond Palace. The Scots invaded and on 3 September 1513, she ordered Thomas Lovell to raise an army in the midland counties. [36] [37]

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. [38] Although an Italian newsletter said she was 100 miles (160 km) north of London when news of the victory at Battle of Flodden Field reached her, she was near Buckingham. [39] 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. [40]

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. [41] A long civil war (1135–1154) 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. [42]

In 1520, Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, [43] paid a state visit to England, and she urged Henry to enter an alliance with Charles rather than with France. Immediately after his departure, she accompanied Henry to France on the celebrated visit to Francis I, the 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.

Pregnancies and children

Catherine watching Henry jousting in her honour after giving birth to a son. Henry's horse mantle is emblazoned with Catherine's initial letter, 'K.' 10. Westminster Roll selected scenes 260814 005 A5.jpg
Catherine watching Henry jousting in her honour after giving birth to a son. Henry's horse mantle is emblazoned with Catherine's initial letter, 'K.'
Daughter31 January 1510Stillborn. Catherine was told she was carrying twins and that the other still lived, so the loss was kept secret as she prepared for the birth. No child came. [44]
Henry 1 January 151122 February 1511Died suddenly, with no recorded cause of death.
Sonc.17 September 1513Either stillborn or lived for a few hours. [45]
SonNovember/December 1514Stillborn. Wolsey wrote in a letter on 15 November that Catherine was "to lie in shortly." [46] Two letters in December mention Catherine lost a child. [47] [48]
Mary 18 February 151617 November 1558Became Queen Mary I of England.
Daughter10 November 1518Stillborn. [49]

The King's great matter

The Trial of Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Henry Nelson O'Neil (1846-1848, Birmingham Museums) Catherine Aragon Henri VIII by Henry Nelson ONeil.jpg
The Trial of Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Henry Nelson O'Neil (1846–1848, Birmingham Museums)

In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine; Anne was between ten and seventeen years younger than Henry, being born between 1501 and 1507. Henry began pursuing her; [50] 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. [7] [51] 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. [31] Whether the pope at the time of Henry and Catherine's marriage 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. [31] 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. [52]

It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to secure an annulment. [53] Catherine was defiant when it was suggested that she quietly retire to a nunnery, saying: "God never called me to a nunnery. I am the King's true and legitimate wife." [54] He set his hopes upon an appeal to the Holy See, acting independently of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whom he told nothing of his plans. William Knight, the King's secretary, was sent to Pope Clement VII to sue for an annulment, on the grounds that the dispensing bull of Pope Julius II was obtained by false pretenses.

As the pope was, at that time, the prisoner of Catherine's nephew Emperor Charles V following the Sack of Rome in May 1527, Knight had difficulty in obtaining access to him. In the end, Henry's envoy had to return without accomplishing much. Henry now had no choice but to put this great matter into the hands of Wolsey, who did all he could to secure a decision in Henry's favour. [55]

Miniature of Princess Mary at the time of her engagement to Emperor Charles V. She is wearing a rectangular brooch inscribed with "The Emperour". Mary Tudor by Horenbout.jpg
Miniature of Princess Mary at the time of her engagement to Emperor Charles V. She is wearing a rectangular brooch inscribed with "The Emperour".

Wolsey went so far as to convene an ecclesiastical court in England with a representative of the pope presiding, and Henry and Catherine herself in attendance. The pope had no intention of allowing a decision to be reached in England, and his legate was recalled. (How far the pope was influenced by Charles V is difficult to say, but it is clear Henry saw that the pope was unlikely to annul his marriage to the emperor's aunt. [56] ) The Pope forbade Henry to marry again before a decision was given in Rome. Wolsey had failed and was dismissed from public office in 1529. Wolsey then began a secret plot to have Anne Boleyn forced into exile and began communicating with the pope to that end. 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. [57]

A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her old rooms were given to Anne Boleyn. Catherine wrote in a letter to Charles V in 1531:

My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the King's wicked intention, the surprises which the King gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine. [58] [59]

When Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham died, the Boleyn family's chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, was appointed to the vacant position. [60]

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. [61] [62] Other people who supported Catherine's case included Thomas More; Henry's own sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France; María de Salinas; Holy Roman Emperor Charles V; Pope Paul III; and Protestant Reformers Martin Luther [63] and William Tyndale. [64]

Banishment and death

Six Wives of Henry VIII
(by years of marriage)
Catalina de Aragon, palacio de Lambeth.jpg
Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour, Queen of England - Google Art Project.jpg
Jane Seymour
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr from NPG.jpg
Catherine Parr

Upon returning to Dover from a meeting with King Francis I of France in Calais, Henry married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony. [65] Some sources speculate that Anne was already pregnant at the time (and Henry did not want to risk a son being born illegitimate) but others testify that Anne (who had seen her sister Mary Boleyn taken up as the king's mistress and summarily cast aside) refused to sleep with Henry until they were married. Henry defended the lawfulness of their union by pointing out that Catherine had previously been married. If she and Arthur had consummated their marriage, Henry by canon law had the right to remarry. [66] 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 unlawful, even though Catherine had testified that she and Arthur had never had physical relations. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer ruled that Henry and Anne's marriage was valid. [67]

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 as such. Henry refused her the right to any title but "Dowager Princess of Wales" in recognition of her position as his brother's widow. [65]

Catherine went to live at The More castle late in 1531. [68] After that, she was successively moved to the Royal Palace of Hatfield (May to September, 1532), Elsyng Palace, Enfield (September 1532 to February 1533), Ampthill Castle (February to July, 1533) and Buckden Towers (July 1533 to May 1534). She was then finally transferred to Kimbolton Castle, where 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. [69] 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 sympathisers discreetly conveyed 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. [68]

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. It has been claimed that she then penned one final letter to Henry: [70]

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 commend 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 calamities 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.
Katharine the Quene.

The authenticity of the letter itself has been questioned, but not Catherine's attitude in its wording, which has been reported with variations in different sources. [71]

Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle on 7 January 1536. [72] The following day, news of her death reached the king. At the time there were rumours that she was poisoned, [73] [74] [75] possibly by Gregory di Casale. [76] 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. [77] 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. [78] 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 male child. Rumours then circulated that Catherine had been poisoned by Anne or Henry, or both. 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. [79] 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. [80]

Catherine was buried in Peterborough Cathedral with the ceremony due to her position as a Dowager Princess of Wales, and not a queen. Henry did not attend the funeral and forbade Mary to attend. [80]


Catherine was a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis and she was punctilious in her religious obligations in the Order, integrating without demur her necessary duties as queen with her personal piety. After the annulment, she was quoted "I would rather be a poor beggar's wife and be sure of heaven, than queen of all the world and stand in doubt thereof by reason of my own consent." [81]

The outward celebration of saints and holy relics formed no major part of her personal devotions, [82] which she rather expressed in the Mass, prayer, confession and penance. Privately, however, she was aware of what she identified as the shortcomings of the papacy and church officialdom. [82] 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.

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. The book denounced 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. [83]


In her youth, Catherine was described as "the most beautiful creature in the world" [84] and that there was "nothing lacking in her that the most beautiful girl should have". [9] 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." [85] [86]

Legacy, memory and historiography

Statue of Catherine at Alcala de Henares Alcala de Henares, Monumento a Catalina de Aragon (M. Peinado 24-05-2008).jpg
Statue of Catherine at Alcalá de Henares

The controversial book The Education of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives, which claimed women have the right to an education, was dedicated to and commissioned by 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." [5] She successfully appealed for the lives of the rebels involved in the Evil May Day for the sake of their families. [6] Furthermore, Catherine won widespread admiration by starting an extensive programme for the relief of the poor. [6] She was also a patron of Renaissance humanism, and a friend of the great scholars Erasmus of Rotterdam and Saint Thomas More. Some saw her as a martyr. [87] [88]

In the reign of her daughter Mary I of England, her marriage to Henry VIII was declared "good and valid". Her daughter Queen Mary also had several portraits commissioned of Catherine, and it would not by any means be the last time she was painted. After her death, numerous portraits were painted of her, particularly of her speech at the Legatine Trial, a moment accurately rendered in Shakespeare's play about Henry VIII.

Her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral [89] can be seen and there is hardly ever a time when it is not decorated with flowers or pomegranates, her heraldic symbol. It bears the title Katharine Queen of England.

In the 20th century, George V's wife, Mary of Teck, had her grave upgraded and there are now banners there denoting Catherine as a Queen of England. Every year at Peterborough Cathedral there is a service in her memory. There are processions, prayers and various events in the Cathedral including processions to Catherine's grave in which candles, pomegranates, flowers and other offerings are placed on her grave. On the service commemorating the 470th anniversary of her death, the Spanish Ambassador to the United Kingdom attended. During the 2010 service a rendition of Catherine of Aragon's speech before the Legatine court was read by Jane Lapotaire. There is a statue of her in her birthplace of Alcalá de Henares, as a young woman holding a book and a rose. [90]

Catherine has remained a popular biographical subject to the present day. The American historian Garrett Mattingly was the author of a popular biography Katherine of Aragon in 1942. In 1966, Catherine and her many supporters at court were the subjects of Catherine of Aragon and her Friends, a biography by John E. Paul. In 1967, Mary M. Luke wrote the first book of her Tudor trilogy, Catherine the Queen which portrayed her and the tumultuous era of English history through which she lived.

Grave of Catherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral Peterborough Cathedral Catherine of Aaragon Grave, Cambridgeshire, UK - Diliff.jpg
Grave of Catherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral

In recent years, the historian Alison Weir covered her life extensively in her biography The Six Wives of Henry VIII , first published in 1991. Antonia Fraser did the same in her own 1992 biography of the same title; as did the British historian David Starkey in his 2003 book Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. [91] [92] [93] Giles Tremlett's biography, Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII, came out in 2010, and Julia Fox's dual biography, Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile, came out in 2011.

Places and statues

Spelling of her name

Her baptismal name was "Catalina", but "Katherine" was soon the accepted form in England after her marriage to Arthur. [82] Catherine herself signed her name "Katherine", "Katherina", "Katharine" and sometimes "Katharina". In a letter to her, Arthur, her husband, addressed her as "Princess Katerine". Her daughter Queen Mary I called her "Quene Kateryn", in her will. Rarely were names, particularly first names, written in an exact manner during the sixteenth century and it is evident from Catherine's own letters that she endorsed different variations. [lower-alpha 2] Loveknots built into his various palaces by her husband, Henry VIII, display the initials "H & K", [lower-alpha 3] as do other items belonging to Henry and Catherine, including gold goblets, a gold salt cellar, basins of gold, and candlesticks. Her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral is marked "Katharine Queen of England". [94] [95]

Catherine of Aragon's arms while queen Coat of Arms of Catherine of Aragon.svg
Catherine of Aragon's arms while queen


See also


  1. Canon law took this verse out of context,[ citation needed ] and Deuteronomy 25:5–10 required levirate marriage.
  2. Catherine's endorsement of different spellings can be identified in numerous letters, signing herself as 'Katharine the Quene' in a letter to Wolsey in 1513 and as 'Katharine' in her final letter to Henry VIII dating to Jan 1536.
  3. As Latin inscriptions were used in structures, a "C" represented the numeral 100, so a "K" was used instead. The same was applied during the time of Henri II and his wife Catherine during her state entry in Paris on 18 June 1549.

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Henry VIII was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for his six marriages, and for his efforts to have his first marriage annulled. His disagreement with Pope Clement VII about such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated by the pope. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy" as he invested heavily in the navy and increased its size from a few to more than 50 ships, and established the Navy Board.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">House of Tudor</span> English royal house of Welsh origin

The House of Tudor was a royal house of largely Welsh origin that held the English throne from 1485 to 1603. They descended from the Tudors of Penmynydd and Catherine of France. Tudor monarchs ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including their ancestral Wales and the Lordship of Ireland for 118 years with five monarchs: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. There is also a sixth Tudor monarch, Jane Grey, who disputedly reigned for nine days, in between Edward VI and Mary I. The Tudors succeeded the House of Plantagenet as rulers of the Kingdom of England, and were succeeded by the House of Stuart. The first Tudor monarch, Henry VII of England, descended through his mother from a legitimised branch of the English royal House of Lancaster, a cadet house of the Plantagenets. The Tudor family rose to power and started the Tudor period in the wake of the Wars of the Roses (1455–1487), which left the Tudor-aligned House of Lancaster extinct in the male line.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anne Boleyn</span> Second wife of Henry VIII of England

Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, as the second wife of King Henry VIII. The circumstances of her marriage and of her execution by beheading for treason and other charges made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that marked the start of the English Reformation. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honour to Queen Claude of France. Anne returned to England in early 1522, to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond; the marriage plans were broken off, and instead she secured a post at court as maid of honour to Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon.

<i>Anne of the Thousand Days</i> 1969 British film

Anne of the Thousand Days is a 1969 British period historical drama film based on the life of Anne Boleyn, directed by Charles Jarrott and produced by Hal B. Wallis. The screenplay by Bridget Boland and John Hale is an adaptation of the 1948 play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jane Seymour</span> Third wife of Henry VIII of England (c.1508–1537)

Jane Seymour was Queen of England as the third wife of King Henry VIII of England from their marriage on 30 May 1536 until her death the next year. She became queen following the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. She died of postnatal complications less than two weeks after the birth of her only child, the future King Edward VI. She was the only wife of Henry to receive a queen's funeral or to be buried beside him in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Tudor, Queen of France</span> Duchess of Suffolk

Mary Tudor was an English princess who was briefly Queen of France as the wife of Louis XII. She was the younger surviving daughter of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, and the third wife of King Louis XII of France, who was more than 30 years older than she.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire</span>

Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, 1st Earl of Ormond, 1st Viscount RochfordKGKB, of Hever Castle in Kent, was an English diplomat and politician who was the father of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, and was thus the maternal grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I. By Henry VIII he was made a knight of the Garter in 1523 and was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Rochford in 1525 and in 1529 was further ennobled as Earl of Wiltshire and Earl of Ormond.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a series of six television plays produced by the BBC and first transmitted between 1 January and 5 February 1970. The series was later aired in the United States on CBS from 1 August to 5 September 1971 with narration added by Anthony Quayle. The series was rebroadcast in the United States without commercials on PBS as part of its Masterpiece Theatre series.

Elizabeth Blount, commonly known during her lifetime as Bessie Blount, was a mistress of Henry VIII of England.

<i>The Other Boleyn Girl</i> 2001 historical novel by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) is a historical novel written by British author Philippa Gregory, loosely based on the life of 16th-century aristocrat Mary Boleyn of whom little is known. Inspired by Mary's life story, Gregory depicts the annulment of one of the most significant royal marriages in English history and conveys the urgency of the need for a male heir to the throne. Much of the history is highly distorted in her account.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wives of Henry VIII</span> Queens consort of Henry VIII of England

In common parlance, the wives of Henry VIII were the six queens consort of King Henry VIII of England between 1509 and his death in 1547. In legal terms, Henry had only three wives, because three of his marriages were annulled by the Church of England. However, he was never granted an annulment by the Pope, as he desired, for Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. Annulments declare that a true marriage never took place, unlike a divorce, in which a married couple end their union. Along with his six wives, Henry took several mistresses.

<i>The Tudors</i> Historical fiction television series

The Tudors is a historical fiction television series set primarily in 16th-century England, created and written by Michael Hirst and produced for the American premium cable television channel Showtime. The series was a collaboration among American, British, and Canadian producers, and was filmed mostly in Ireland. It is named after the Tudor dynasty as a whole, although it is based specifically upon the reign of King Henry VIII.

<i>Henry VIII</i> (TV serial)

Henry VIII is a two-part British television serial produced principally by Granada Television for ITV from 12 to 19 October 2003. It chronicles the life of Henry VIII of England from the disintegration of his first marriage to an aging Spanish princess until his death following a stroke in 1547, by which time he had married for the sixth time. Additional production funding was provided by WGBH Boston, Powercorp and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

<i>Henry VIII and His Six Wives</i> 1972 British film

Henry VIII and His Six Wives is a 1972 British historical film adaptation, directed by Waris Hussein, of the BBC 1970 six-part miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Keith Michell, who plays Henry VIII in the TV series, also portrays the king in the film. His six wives are portrayed by different actresses, among them Frances Cuka as Catherine of Aragon, and Jane Asher as Jane Seymour. Donald Pleasence portrays Thomas Cromwell and Bernard Hepton portrays Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, a role he had also played in the miniseries and briefly in its follow-up Elizabeth R.

Events from the 1500s in England.

Anne Berkeley, Baroness Berkeley was a lady-in-waiting and companion of Queen Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII of England. She was reputed to be one of the witnesses at the secret wedding ceremony of the King and Anne Boleyn which occurred on 25 January 1533.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Boleyn</span> Sister of English queen consort Anne Boleyn (c.1499–1543)

Mary Boleyn, also known as Lady Mary, was the sister of English queen consort Anne Boleyn, whose family enjoyed considerable influence during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Mary Percy, Countess of Northumberland was a courtier and noblewoman during the reign of Henry VIII of England. She was the daughter of George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury. Her husband, Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, had wished to marry Anne Boleyn instead of her.

Joan or Jane Vaux, also known as Mother Guildford, was an English courtier who was the Lady Governess to the Princesses Margaret Tudor and Mary Tudor. She accompanied Mary Tudor to France when she married King Louis XII in 1514.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coronation of Anne Boleyn</span> 1533 coronation in England

The coronation of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England took place at Westminster Abbey, London, England, on 1 June 1533. The new queen was King Henry VIII's second wife, to whom he had remarried following the annulment of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon.



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Further reading

Catherine of Aragon
Born: 16 December 1485 Died: 7 January 1536
English royalty
Title last held by
Elizabeth of York
Queen consort of England
Lady of Ireland

Title next held by
Anne Boleyn
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Ambassador of Aragon to England
with Rodrigo González de la Puebla (1507–1508)
Gutierre Gómez de Fuensalida (1508–1509)
Succeeded by