February 25, 2013
Catherine of Aragon
The life of royalty is not always as glamorous as most people would think. Yes, it has many perks that included being able to have immense power, unlimited assistance, and being wealthy, but it also can have many downfalls. Catherine of Aragon experienced both during her lifetime. Catherine of Aragon went through many struggles in her marriages and entire life and had to make many difficult decisions that eventually led to the start of the Protestant Reformation.
Royal families were very important during the fifteenth century and they would do almost anything to keep their blood line in power. Wars were fought over thrones and there was a lot of incest in royal families. This is exactly what happened in Spain. Even though Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile were cousins, they both knew their marriage was a necessity for the country of Spain (The Golden Age 1). Castile and Aragon were struggling but by uniting them, they both became much stronger. Ferdinand and Isabella married in 1469 and began to unite Spain. They now had joint ruling over all of Spain. Not only did they unite the country, but also the religions, cultures, and people.
Together they worked as rulers to accomplish what they thought was best for Spain. One of their main focuses was to get Spain back to its original religion, Catholicism. In 1492 they defeated Granada and conquered the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to driving out the Islamic, they also successfully got rid of the Jews by making them leave the country (Chauviere 1). After this accomplishment, Pope Alexander VI awarded Ferdinand and Isabella the title of "Catholic Kings" in 1496 (Katharine of Aragon).
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain had their fifth child, Catherine, on December 16, 1485 (Lewis 1). Catherine’s birth was extremely important to her royal family and there were many expectations for her as a princess of Spain. She was born in Archbishop of Toledo’s Palace, near Madrid, into a family of six (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 1). She had blue eyes, reddish-blonde hair, and was fairly plump. It was obvious that she would grow up to be a beautiful young lady (Weir 15). Growing up in a royal family during this time was not normal compared to the rest of the people in the world, but it was all Catherine ever knew.
Catherine had four older siblings: Isabella, Juan, Juanna, and Maria (Lewis 1). They all grew up together, knowing they would have big shoes to fill as royalty. They each received schooling that mainly included religion, literacy, and Latin; however, the girls also learned house wife skills. All of the children learned how to deal with military issues and how to successfully run a country from watching their parents for so many years (Frable 2). Isabella married the prince of Portugal who died a few months shortly after the marriage. She then married the Prince’s uncle, Manuel I of Portugal, and died during child birth. Shortly after, Maria was sent to marry Manuel after Isabella passed away. Juan married the Archduchess Margret, but he died a few months later. Juanna married Phillip of Burgandy and they had a fairly difficult marriage. Each of the children were slowing becoming royalty, and Catherine was next (Henry VIII’s Wives 1).
Catherine was the last of her siblings to get married, though as soon as she was born, her parents quickly began looking for a future mate for their new princess. When the new Prince of Wales was born in England just a year after Catherine, he became a possible candidate for Catherine. After conversations between the sets of parents, they agreed that the marriage of their children would be good for both of their countries. They both thought it would bring peace between the countries (Frable 1). As a result, by the time Catherine was three, an arranged marriage had already been planned for her.
When Arthur, Prince of Wales, turned twelve he began writing to Catherine. He was more polite with her rather than caring or passionate, but it still helped start their relationship before they ever met (Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales 2). In 1501, Catherine began her three month journey to England from Spain. She was still only fifteen by the time she arrived in Plymouth on October 2 (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 1). The royal family had no time to waste and they quickly began getting ready for to wedding. Catherine and Arthur married on November 14, 1501 (Frable 1). The wedding ceremony took place at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. At the ceremony, Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, escorted Catherine down the aisle (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 1).
Catherine and Arthur were now the Prince and Princess of Wales. The newlywed couple then moved together into the Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border. Many people thought the couple was too young to live together, but they seemed just fine for the first few months (Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales 2). Arthur had always had struggles with his health; he was thin and had gotten sick often in his childhood. A few months after the marriage, his health took a turn for the worst.
Arthur passed away after six months of being married to Catherine (Katharine of Aragon 2). He died in his home on April 2, 1502 (Frable 1). Of course, everyone was extremely devastated, including Catherine. Still to this day, no one is completely sure of the cause of Arthur’s death. Most scholars believe he either died from tuberculosis or the ‘sweating sickness’. Arthur was buried in Worchester Cathedral (Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales 1).
Because the trip back to Spain was so long, Catherine stayed in London during this time. She became very poor and the Spanish ambassador paid for most of her needs while she was in England as a widow. During this time, Henry VIII wrote to Catherine’s parents about possibly marrying their daughter (Katharine of Aragon 2). Fourteen months after Arthur died, Catherine and Henry VIII were betrothed. Henry was only fourteen at the time, and too young to marry; so Catherine had to wait in London. Soon conflict arose between Spain and England. Henry VII changed his mind about his son marrying Catherine and demanded his son to refuse the marriage. Henry VIII informed people that the marriage arrangements were done behind his back and he wanted nothing to do with marrying Catherine (Katharine of Aragon 2).
Seven years later, on April 21, 1509, Henry VII died, leaving the throne to his son (Starkey 106). Henry VIII, now eighteen years old, was King of England. He was very handsome and healthier than his older brother. Before Arthur passed away, Henry VIII had been studying theology and planned to work in the church; so he was very educated for his age. One of the first things Henry did as king was marry Catherine (Katharine of Aragon 3).
Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, King of England, married on June 24, 1509. They also had their joint coronation on the same day (Frable 2). Even though Catherine was six years older than her husband, the beginning of their marriage seemed successful (Katharine of Aragon 2). The couple enjoyed listening to music, singing, and dancing together (Frable 1). Henry and Catherine often showed affection for each other in public and seemed to really love each other, which was not common for royal couples during that time (Katharine of Aragon 3).
For the next few years Catherine handled her position as queen wonderfully. She was in charge of managing the house and some of their estates. Catherine would even pick out Henry’s outfits for him sometimes. While Henry was away at a battle or visiting another leader, Catherine would be in charge of the royal business than needed her attention. While Henry was away at war in France, Catherine had full control. She was able to stop the Scottish from rebelling in England and keep them calm. This was extremely impressive for a woman to do at this time (Frable 1).
Catherine also had a true heart for the people of her country. She often would give food or money to the poor and needy (Frable 1). She was an ideal queen for the country of England, and most of the public adored her. During this time, Catherine became pregnant with her fist child (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 2).
At the age of 25, in January of 1510, Catherine had her first child. A stillborn, premature baby girl was born. This was not particularly uncommon during the sixteen century, but it was still very saddening to the entire family. Within the next year, she gave birth to another child. Prince Henry was born on January 1, 1511. He was christened four days later. The family was extremely happy to have a son because he would be able to take the throne someday. Sadly, fifty-two days later, the young baby boy passed away. Catherine then had a miscarriage followed by another stillborn son (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 2).
Finally, Henry and Catherine had a surviving child. Mary was born in February of 1516. Though they were very happy to have a child, they still realized the absence of a male heir. Two years later, Catherine had another child; however, this new baby girl died within her first week of life. After six children, Catherine was already thirty two years old and her child bearing years had quickly passed away. Though there was still no male heir for the royal family, Henry remained faithful to Catherine. Because of how their marriage seemed to be, no one would have expected what tragedy would happen in the next few years (Catherine of Aragon NNBD 3).
For royal families, it was not uncommon for the males to have affairs. Henry was considered prude because he only had two serious affairs while he was married to Catherine. Henry had an affair with one of his mistresses, Elizabeth Blount. Elizabeth became pregnant, but this was mainly kept a secret from the public. She gave birth to a son, Henry Fitzroy, who was then titled as the Duke of Richmond (Katharine of Aragon 3).
Henry also had an affair with another one of his mistresses, Mary Boleyn. He also became close with Mary’s sister, Anne. Soon, Henry really got to know Anne, and they would spend a lot of time together. It was very obvious to everyone that Henry liked Anne. She was much younger than Catherine and was still able to have children. Slowly, Henry began to drift away from Catherine and spend more of his time with Anne (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 2). Soon, they fell in love.
Henry then began to seriously consider his options and choices. He was questioning his marriage and eventually decided that he wanted an annulment (Katharine of Aragon 3-4). He loved Anne and no longer had feelings for Catherine. Though he had a daughter with Catherine, he did not consider her to be a good child. He longed to have a son to continue the Tudor dynasty and was willing to do almost anything to have a son.
Henry, being biblically educated, recalled a verse from the Bible that states no man should have sexual relations with his brother’s wife, or he will be cursed. Henry believed that he was cursed by God with no sons because he married his brother’s wife. He decided that this would be his argument against the Pope for his request of an annulment (Katharine of Aragon 3-4).
Henry went to Pope Clement VII of the Catholic Church to ask for an annulment (Frable 2). At first, Catherine did not know of the annulment. At this time, she spent most her time with Mary and tended to things in the castle. She knew that Henry was involved with Anne, but she did not expect him to want a divorce. When Catherine finally found out that Henry had asked for an annulment, she was extremely hurt and felt betrayed. When Catherine confronted Henry about it, Henry became very upset. He fired all of the Spanish attendants that worked in the castle who were some of Catherine’s best friends (Katharine of Aragon 3).
It was then obvious to Catherine that she would have to fight for her rights as queen. She no longer had the support of her husband with her. Catherine was a strong woman who was willing to do whatever was necessary to keep herself and Mary safe. Catherine then began discussing the possibilities of outcomes with Mary. Mary knew at a young age that her father was never really fond of her, and that he never really paid much attention to her. Catherine would encourage Mary to fight for her rights as princess no matter what happened in the end (Katharine of Aragon 4).
Catherine went to speak with the Pope directly. Catherine argued that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and therefore, it would not qualify as a biblical marriage. Catherine had no intentions of divorcing Henry or leaving her position as Queen of England. Catherine was fairly confident that the Pope would not grant the annulment, because her nephew, Charles V, was the Holy Roman Emperor (Katharine of Aragon 4). After the ‘sack of Rome’ in 1527, Charles had a lot of control over the Pope and his decisions. After many arguments between Catherine and Henry, there was still no progress being made. The Pope had not made a final decision, and this continued for a few years. In 1531, Catherine became depressed and wrote "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" (Katharine of Aragon 1).
After many long difficult years, the Pope refused the annulment. He admitted to Henry later that he definitely would have approved the annulment, had it not been for Charles V. The Pope realized that the royal marriage was not working and that it would probably be better for Henry to marry Anne. By this time, Catherine no longer even wanted to be married to Henry, but she still wanted to keep her throne. After the Pope refused to grant the annulment, Catherine was fairly certain that she would be able to keep her position as queen.
Henry, on the other hand, was not satisfied at all. He was not married to the woman he loved, and he was uncertain about what to do. Anne Boleyn was tired of waiting for such a long time; she didn’t want to waste her youthful years. She wanted to be Henry’s wife and the queen of England. Whether it was Henry’s decision or Anne’s, they secretly married in 1533 (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 1). During this time, Catherine said "In this world I will confess myself to be the King’s true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted" (Katharine of Aragon 2).
As I mentioned previously, the public people adored Catherine. They wanted her to remain their wonderful queen and to succeed. The citizens were on Catherine’s side of the argument. Most of the public was against Henry and upset that he would even think to leave Catherine. During the long years of battling for the annulment, it was a very interesting topic for the public to talk about. People all over Europe would talk about the problems between Catherine, Henry, and Anne. This became known as the ‘King’s Great Matter’ (Katharine of Aragon 4-5).
Henry did not want to lose Anne, so had to use his last resort. Henry passed the Act of Supremacy which stated that he was now the head of the English Church (Catherine of Aragon BBC 1). Most people did not agree with what Henry had done, it was cold and harsh, but he was the king and could do whatever he wanted. Now as the new head of the church, Henry had Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to grant the annulment. The annulment was granted on March 30, 1534 and it was as if Henry and Catherine had never married (Frable 2). This showed his true character, people now realized that their king was not as loyal or honorable as they had previously thought.
Henry sent Catherine away and basically exiled her. Henry refused to let Catherine see Mary at all. Though the people loved Catherine, there was nothing anyone could do to stop the king. Henry suggested that Catherine be put into a nunnery, but she refused. Instead she decided to live alone. Her title was also changed to Princess of Dowager; however, she never accepted this title or wanted to be called it. In Catherine’s eyes, it was more of an insult than anything else.
For the next three years of her life, she was extremely lonely. She lived away from anyone else with only a few servants to ever keep her company. Her home was very old, dirty, and no place fit for the previous queen. She was not even allowed to write to anyone. She was able to get a few letters through to her parents though they had to be smuggled (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 2). Catherine spent the rest of her life living in solitude. Just before Catherine passed away, she sent one last letter. It was a love letter sent to Henry. It was signed ‘Catherine the Queen.’ No one knows if he actually ever read it or not (Katharine of Aragon 5).
She died on January 7, 1536 in her home, Kimbolton Castle (Tremlett 365). She was fifty years old when she passed away. There were many rumors that Henry poisoned her, but this was never proven. She most likely died from being sick, unhealthy, and depressed (Katharine of Aragon 5). She probably didn’t take good care of herself anymore, because she had nothing left to live for. She was buried in Peterborough Abbey that is known today as Peterborough Cathedral. The funeral ceremony was very plain. She was not motioned as the Queen of England at all during her funeral, but as the Princess of Dowager (Catherine of Aragon Tudor History 2).
Catherine’s own personal motto was ‘Humble and Loyal’ (Katharine of Aragon 5). She lived this out daily, and proved it through most of the decisions she made. Catherine’s life had a huge impact on the country of England. She gave the citizens hope for a better future. She gave them the direction, loyalty, and confidence that England needed. If Catherine had not fought so hard for her beliefs, the English Reformation would have been delayed from occurring in England (Catherine of Aragon BBC 1).
Overall, Catherine was an incredible woman who did not receive everything she deserved. She never backed down from her strong beliefs, but stood firm in them no matter what struggles came in her way. She is an exceptional example of a woman who changed the course of history and whose actions can still be learned from to this day.