Katherine of Aragon (1485 – 1536)
Katherine was born “Catalina de Aragon” on Dec. 18, 1485 in Madrid, Spain to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. She was raised at the Spanish court, and was even present at military camps with her mother during the war against the Islamic forces threatening her Kingdom’s boarders.
By 1499, a marriage treaty had finally been decided on between Catalina and Arthur, Prince of Wales. Catalina arrived in England in 1501 and was married to Arthur at St. Paul’s Cathedral in November of the same year. Sadly, the new union was soon broken with the death of Arthur in 1502 from the mysterious “sweating sickness.” Katherine found herself alone in a foreign country. She was burdened further when her father missed her dowry payment and King Henry VII of England forced her to live on meager means. Because Henry VII did not want to loose Katherine’s dowry, she was quickly betrothed to Prince Henry of York, Arthur’s brother and the new heir to the throne.
However the actual marriage was delayed (and actually did not take place until after Henry VII’s death). Katherine suffered under Henry VII’s ill-treatment for several years until his death. Some letters to her father survive telling of this ill treatment.However, everything changed in 1509 with the death of Henry VII and the ascension of Henry VIII to the English throne.
Young king Henry was dashingly handsome, athletically talented, and finally out from under his father’s rule. Whether Henry VIII felt sorry for Katherine and felt a need to “rescue” her from her pitiful state, his father commanded him to, or he was genuinely in love with her, Henry VIII finally fulfilled the marriage contract and took Katherine as his wife and queen. She joined him in his magnificent coronation and was crowned Queen of England.
The next few years were full of joy and sorrow. Katherine became pregnant many times, but most ended in still births or miscarriages. On New Year’s Day 1511, Katherine finally gave birth to a living son. The child was named Henry and the entire country rejoiced with the King. However, the joy was short lived, for the child died a little over a month later. Finally, on Feb. 16, 1516, Katherine gave birth to a healthy baby, a girl she named Mary. Though she was not the longed for son, she was healthy and grew into childhood, surpassing all her previous brothers and sisters that died in infancy.
Katherine was unable to give the King his desired son, and he became enamored with a young lady-in-waiting by 1525 known as Anne Boleyn. By this time, Katherine had most likely gone into early menopause, for no more children or miscarriages were recorded. Henry, along with Anne and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, began working on what would become known as the King’s Great Matter.
Though Henry attempted to keep it a secret, Katherine found out about the proceedings. However, she kept her composure, and when Henry finally broke the news to her, though she wept, asked for her own council and swore to him that she was a virgin upon their marriage.
Throughout the entire divorce proceedings, Katherine had the unwavering support of the people. Though she made a stirring speech begging the King to stop the proceedings, Henry would not budge. When Henry did not receive the verdict he wanted in the time he wanted, he began to look for other means to reach his desired end. Joining with Thomas Cromwell and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, the King began proceedings to break with the Catholic Church (for the Pope was under Emperor Charles’s influnce, and he was Katherine’s nephew), and instate himself not only as King of England, but Head of the Church of England as well. By 1533, Katherine was banished to Kimbolton Castle in the Welsh Marshes and cut off from her daughter. Henry secretly married Anne and she soon became pregnant. Once Henry became head of the Church, he had Cranmer annul his marriage to Katherine and had her demoted to Dowager Princess of Wales.
Katherine, however, called herself Queen of England until her death. She probably died of cancer, as her autopsy showed a “hideous” black mass on her heart. On her death bed in 1536, Katherine wrote one last letter to Henry in which she begged him to love their daughter Mary, who by taking her mother’s side, had fallen from the King’s good graces, and by an Act of Parliament been declared a bastard. She upheld her title as Queen until her death on Jan. 7, 1536. Henry did not. He gave her a funeral fit for the Dowager Princess of Wales, and had the same title placed upon her tombstone. Now, Katherine has Queen on her tomb, thanks to Queen Victoria in the 1800′s.
Katherine of Aragon’s speech to Henry VIII at the Divorce Trial:
“Sire, I beeseach you for all the love that has been between us, let me have justice. Take pity on me, show me compassion, for I am an old woman, and a stranger in your domain. I have here no friend, and an indifferent council. I appeal to you, as you are the head of justice in this kingdom. I take God and all the world to witness that I have been your true, humble, and obedient wife, always appealing to your will and pleasure, always content with all things you have found delight in. I loved all those you loved, only for your sake whether I had cause or not, whether they were my friends or enemies. Sire, I will happily be put away if there is legal cause for me to do so. But” she reminded him, “we have had many children, though God has seen fit to call them from this world. And when you had me at first, I take God as my judge, I was a virgin, without the touch of man. Whether this be true or not, I leave it to your own conscience.”