My first great love of history, literature, and kings/queens/dukes/duchesses/etc. was sparked by Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. I think 2009 was the first year I read that book, and it changed everything about how I saw the 1500s and history I probably should have known all along. Her amazing book led me to read more, and more, and more about King Henry VIII–his wives–and really, all the people involved in his life.
The time period FASCINATES me. This time frame went from having been the one I was most afraid of to my very favorite. So, when I saw the venerable Katherine of Aragon in my history research for today, I had to write about her.
Before I begin–I want to note that each source I visit has her name spelled either as Katherine or as Catherine. Since the books I read first used the K, that’s what I use.
Anyway, to begin this post–I’d like to make note that Katherine of Aragon is most known for having been the first wife of the tyrannical King Henry VIII. Wait…. if she was wife to Henry, why is this post about an Arthur? I’ll answer that happily! She was originally married to Henry’s brother–Prince Arthur Tudor. As is my style, I’ve outlined the major events in Katherine’s life that pique my interest the most.
On November 14, 1501, the ceremony to wed these two royals began. They had been betrothed to each other since Katherine was only 3 years old! They were married in St. Paul’s Cathedral by the Archbishop of Canterbury. According to one article, the couple was very young by today’s standards; both Arthur and Katherine were only 15 years old! click here to read more on historytoday.com
Their wedding was a diplomatic attempt to unite England’s royal family with the Katherine’s powerful Spanish royal family. Katherine’s parents were Queen Isabella I of Castille and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Death of Prince Arthur…and the King
Only months after they wed, Prince Arthur died. 8 years later, his father–King Henry VII–also had died. This made Henry’s younger son–our infamous Henry VIII–inherit the throne and become king.
Wedding to King Henry VIII
According to an article I researched, it had been King Henry VII’s dying wish that his son Henry marry his brother’s widow. A month after his father’s death, Henry fulfilled this wish by marring Katherine in 1509. click here to read more!
Princess Mary is Born
Katherine had a total of 6 pregnancies–and had even given birth to a son. That son tragically only lived 52 days before dying of unknown causes (at least unrecorded causes, that is). She gave birth to two more sons in the years following. One of these sons was still born and one didn’t live long after his birth.
Katherine and Henry’s only surviving child was born in 1516. Years later, she would inherit the throne and would rule with an iron fist–in defiance of her father and everything he had done. See the “Katherine’s Legacy” section of this post for more detail on this topic.
Katherine never had another surviving child–a fact that would come to play possibly the biggest role in Henry setting her aside. He’d wanted a male heir and she couldn’t give him one.
Abandonment by King Henry VIII–Plus Claim that Wedding Wasn’t Valid
King Henry had always been known to have mistresses. One of his lesser known mistresses was Mary Boleyn–the subject of the book I referenced first thing in this post. According to Ms. Gregory–and I happen to concur–the Howard/Boleyn family just wanted their women in the King’s bed so they could gain power! When Henry turned his glance to Mary’s sister Anne, the game was going to change. This time, the Howard/Boleyn family didn’t want just the mistress playing power. That had been done and had served the family decently–but Anne wanted the throne. (Most of this is speculation, but I can share speculations.) It became clear to Henry that he’d have to divorce Katherine if he wanted to get the temptress Anne.
However, Henry had a problem. Divorce was not a Catholic possibility unless the marriage was declared invalid by the Pope. As he hunted for reasons to persuade the Pope to grant him his divorce, he zeroed in on the fact that Katherine had been married previously to his brother. Apparently–the marriage was “against cannon law”–meaning, he’d had to get special permission from the Pope himself to marry her. He went back to the fact that the marriage was never even legal nor should have been allowed. He also went on to claim that he’d never consummated the marriage with his brother’s widow (Katherine–if you got lost in my excitement). click here to read more
By 1533, Henry had created his own church, declared himself the head, and got his divorce from Katherine so he could marry Anne Boleyn.
Henry deposed Katherine, declared her the “Dowager Princess of Wales,” banished her from court, and sent her to live in Kimbolton Castle. He also decided his daughter–Princess Mary–was now only “Lady Mary.” He essentially took her royalty and claim to the throne away with this move. She was, after all, the daughter he shared with his now ex-wife who was no longer Queen.
Katherine of Aragon left behind a bigger legacy than I think she realized in her lifetime. First–she was the first wife scorned by King Henry. Thankfully, she escaped with her life, even if she didn’t live too long after the horrible betrayal she was dealt; she lived only 2-3 years after her marriage was declared invalid. The divorce with Katherine reshaped everything as we know it. Because Henry couldn’t divorce her under the Roman Catholic religion–the Pope wouldn’t grant a divorce–Henry took matters in his own hands and just created himself a church where he was the head and gave himself a divorce. The Church of England still exists today. The sad story of Katherine being set aside was also the first time a royal had been disposed and disgraced. Thanks to Henry’s ever-changing mind, she was not the last. He’d set the trend with Katherine and other wives were not so lucky as she was.
The second major legacy Katherine left behind was that of her daughter Mary. I probably don’t have time to go into all of the details about Princess Mary–but I’d be willing to hedge a bet that you’ve heard the term “Bloody Mary.” King Henry and Katherine’s daughter Mary was that Mary. She was Bloody Mary. You see, she came to the throne years after her father had scored and set aside her dear mother and had created his own church. She had never been ok with what he’d done. She was a staunch traditional Catholic. Her horribly graphic nickname comes from the fact that she was quick and brutal in her enforcement of the return to Catholicism. Any heretics or protesters were eliminated immediately.
In conclusion, I had to write about Katherine on this wedding day of hers. Her marriage to Arthur was a strategic one, and was mostly uneventful. Little did sweet Katherine know what awaited her as she joined the Tudor family…(I dare you to read more on your own. This post would have taken hours to read if I had included everything about Katherine in it!)