The Full Wiki

Catherine of Aragon: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Catherine of Aragon (Spanish: Catalina de Aragón y Castilla, 16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536, also known as Katherine or Katharine) was Princess of Wales as the wife of Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Queen of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England.

Henry VIII's attempt to have their 24-year marriage annulled set in motion a chain of events that led to England's break with the Church of Rome. Henry was dissatisfied because their sons had died in infancy and others were stillborn, 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, although there was no Salic law in England. When Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage, Henry defied him by assuming supremacy over religious matters. This allowed him to marry Anne Boleyn on the judgment of clergy in England, without reference to the Pope. He was motivated by the hope of fathering a male heir to the Tudor dynasty. Catherine refused to accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and considered herself the King's rightful wife and Queen until her death.

Early life

Catherine was born at the Archbishop's Palace in Alcalá de Henaresmarker, in 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 golden auburn hair, wide blue eyes, a round face, and a fair complexion. There are a number of portraits by court painters which probably show her as a girl and teenager, but she is not certainly the subject in any of them. She was descended from the English royal house as her great-grandmother Katherine 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, and fourth cousin of her mother-in-law Elizabeth of York.

She was educated by a tutor, Alessandro Geraldini, who was a clerk in Holy Orders. Catherine studied religion, the classics, Latin histories, canon and civil law. She had a strong religious upbringing and developed a faith that would play a major role in later life. She learned to speak, read and write in Spanish and Latin, and spoke French and Greek. She was also taught domestic skills, such as needlepoint, lacemaking, embroidery, music and dancing. The great scholar Erasmus would later say that Catherine "loved good literature which she had studied with success since childhood".

At an early age, she was considered a suitable wife for Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII of England and heir to the throne due to her overwhelming prominent English ancestry inherited from her mother Queen Isabella I of Castile. By means of her mother Catherine had a stronger legitimate ancestry to the English throne via the two first wives of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster; Blanche of Lancaster and the Spanish Infanta Constance of Castile, by whom John hoped to claim the Crown of Castile. On the other hand Henry VII of England was the descendent of Gaunt’s third marriage to Katherine Swynford whose children were born out of wedlock and only legitimized after the death of Constance and the marriage of John to Katherine. The children of John and Katherine, while legitimized, were barred from ever inheriting the English throne. Because of this, the Tudor monarchy was not accepted by all the European kingdoms. At the time, the house of Trastamara was the most prestigious due to the great rule of the Catholic Monarchs, so the alliance of Catherine and Arthur validated the House of Tudor in the eyes of European royalty and also strengthened the Tudor claim to the English throne via Catherine of Aragon’s ancestry. It would also 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 15 and it was decided that they were old enough to be married.

As wife and widow of Arthur

The couple later met on 4 November at Dogmersfieldmarker 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'. They found that they were unable to speak to each other since they had learned different pronunciations of Latin. Ten days later, on 14 November 1501, they were married at St. Paul's Cathedralmarker.

Once married, Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castlemarker on the borders of Walesmarker, 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. He died on 2 April 1502, and she almost died too, but recovered to find herself a widow.

At this point, Henry VII faced the challenge of avoiding returning her dowry to her father. To avoid complications, it was agreed she would marry Henry VII's second son, Henry, Duke of York, who was five years younger than she was. However, the death of her mother meant that Catherine's '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 Henry VII procrastinated so much about Catherine's unpaid dowry that it was doubtful if the marriage would ever take place. She lived as a virtual prisoner at Durham Housemarker in Londonmarker. Some of her letters to her father, complaining of her treatment, have survived. She had little money and struggled to cope, as she had the wellbeing of her ladies-in-waiting to maintain as well as her own.

Marriage to Arthur's brother depended on the Pope granting a dispensation because of the close relationship. Catherine testified her marriage to Arthur was never consummated. The matter was considered of minor importance at the time, as the Pope had the power to overrule any objections, whether or not they were for religious reasons.

Queen of England (1509-1533)

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, seven years after Prince Arthur's death. She married the then recently crowned Henry VIII in a private ceremony at Greenwich Church. She was 23 years of age. The king was just days short of his 18th birthday.


On Saturday 23 June, the traditional eve-of-coronation procession to Westminster was greeted by an extremely large and very enthusiastic crowd. As was the custom, they spent the night before their coronation at the Tower of Londonmarker. On Midsummer's Day, Sunday, 24 June 1509, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were anointed and crowned together by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbeymarker. The coronation was followed by a banquet in Westminster Hall. Many new Knights of the Bath were created in honour of the coronation.

Pregnancies and children

On 31 January 1510, Catherine gave birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter. A son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was born on New Year's Day 1511. He lived for only 52 days. In 1513, Catherine was pregnant again. Henry appointed her regent when he went to France on a military campaign. When the Scots invaded, they were defeated at the Battle of Flodden Fieldmarker, with Catherine addressing the army, and riding north with some of the troops. She sent a letter to Henry along with the bloodied coat of the King of Scots, James IV, who died in the battle.

Catherine had lost another son when Henry returned from France. He was either stillborn or died shortly after birth. In November 1514, she had another stillborn son. On 18 February 1516, Catherine delivered a healthy girl. She was named Mary and christened three days later with great ceremony at The Church of Observant Friars. In 1518, Catherine became pregnant for the last time. She gave birth to a daughter on 10 November, but the child was weak and lived only a few hours. Catherine was pregnant six times altogether.

Catherine watching Henry at the joust in honour of Catherine giving birth to a son.

Catherine's religious dedication increased as she aged, as did her interest in academics. She continued to broaden her knowledge and provide training for her daughter. Education among women became fashionable, partly because of Catherine's influence. She also 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, (Henry I of England's daughter, Empress Matilda), had inherited the throne. The disasters of civil war were still fresh in living memory from the Wars of the Roses.

In 1520, Catherine's nephew Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, paid a state visit to England, and she urged Henry to enter an alliance with Charles rather than with Francemarker. 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.

The King's Great Matter

Catherine as queen
In 1525, Henry VIII became enamoured of Anne Boleyn, a maid-of-honour to Queen Catherine who was between 10 and 17 years younger than Henry (Anne's exact year of birth is unknown). Henry began pursuing her. By this time Catherine was no longer able to bear children. Henry began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from the Bible, which he (mis)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), a strict 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 this scriptural impediment would become a hot point 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, Henry VII, 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.

It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry's desires to secure an annulment. 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". 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 pretences.

Catherine and Henry's daughter Mary never accepted Anne as queen

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 his great matter into the hands of Thomas Wolsey, and Wolsey did all he could to secure a decision in Henry's favour. 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. Shakespeare's play, The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth accurately records Catherine's astounding coup in that remarkable courtroom in Act II, scene iv. She bows low to Henry, put herself at his mercy, states her case with irrefutable eloquence and then sweeps out of the courtroom, a woman both formidable and clearly wronged. 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 give him an annulment from the Emperor's aunt.) 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 it not been for his death from terminal illness in 1530, he might have been executed for treason. 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, Martin Luther, Maria de Salinas, Charles V of Germany, and Pope Paul III.

Later years (1533-1536)

Upon returning to Dovermarker from a meeting with King Francis I of France in Calaismarker, Henry married Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony. Anne was already pregnant at the time. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer, sitting in judgment at a special court convened at Dunstable Priorymarker to rule on the validity of Henry's marriage to Catherine, declared the marriage illegal. Five days later, on 28 May 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne valid.

Until the end of her life, Catherine would refer to herself as Henry's only lawful wedded wife and England's only rightful queen; her faithful servants continued to address her by that title, and most of the population of Europe believed her to be Queen, and Anne just a concubine and her daughter a bastard. Henry refused her the right to any title but "Dowager Princess of Wales", in recognition of her position as his brother's widow.

In 1535 she was transferred to the decaying and remote Kimbolton Castlemarker. Confining herself to one room, leaving it only to attend Mass, and fasting most of the time, and wearing the hair shirt of the Order of St. Francis, she prepared to meet her end. While she was permitted to receive occasional visitors, she was forbidden to see her daughter, Mary. They were also forbidden to communicate but discreet sympathizers ferried letters between mother and daughter. Henry offered them both better quarters and each other's company if they would acknowledge Anne Boleyn as his new Queen. Neither did.

In late December 1535, sensing death was near, she 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":

She died at Kimbolton Castlemarker, on 7 January 1536. The following day, news of her death reached the King. According to the chronicler Edward Hall, Anne wore yellow for the mourning, which has been interpreted in various ways; Polydore Vergil interpreted this to mean that Anne did not mourn. However, Chapuys reported that it was actually 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. Rumours then circulated that she 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.Another theory, is that the dressing in yellow was out of respect for the late queen/princess dowager as yellow was 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.

She was buried in Peterborough Cathedralmarker with the ceremony due to a Dowager Princess of Wales, not a queen. Henry did not attend the funeral and refused to allow Mary to attend either.

Legacy, memory, and historiography

In the reign of her daughter, Mary I of England, her marriage to Henry VIII was declared "good and valid." Her daughter Queen Mary I 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. Shakespeare's work plays fast and loose with many of the elements of the Katherine-Henry-Anne triangle, painting Anne and Henry as quite innocent of any suffering Katherine endured,(It must be remembered he was writing it for Elizabeth I, Henry and Anne's daughter, so he had to write it in a way that would not offend her.) preferring to frame Cardinal Wolsey as the sole engineer of the divorce, and, further, fudging the history so that Anne doesn't exactly displace Katherine until after Katherine's death and stopping the story well short of Anne's execution. The play thus does nothing to malign Henry Tudor, which is no small artistic feat and, in fact, a lie.

Her tomb in Peterborough Cathedralmarker 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.

Peterboroughmarker is twinned with the Castilian city of Alcalá de Henaresmarker, her birthplace, as a tribute to Catherine, and children from schools in the two places have learned about each other as part of the twinning venture, and artists have even come over from Alcalá de Henares to paint Catharine's tombstone.

In the 20th century, Mary of Teck had her grave upgraded and there are now banners there denoting Catherine as a Queen of England. Every year at Peterbourgh Cathedral there is a service in her memory. On the service commemorating the 470th anniversary of her death, the Spanish Ambassador to the United Kingdommarker attended. The service started with a procession, led by the Mayor, from the Peterbourgh town hall, invited guests then joined the parade en route, before taking up their position in the Cathedral, music was played by pupils from the King's School, and a trumpeter heralded the start of the procession, then as they entered the Cathedral, music was played from the restored organ. After the service, people were able to view portraits of Catherine of Aragon drawn by local schoolchildren for an art competition, which the ambassador then judged. There is a statue of her in her birthplace of Alcalá de Henaresmarker, as a young woman holding a book and a rose.

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 controversial era of English history through which she lived.
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.


  • Peterboroughmarker is twinned with the Castilian city of Alcalá de Henaresmarker, Catherine's birthplace as a tribute to her. In Alcalá de Henares a statue of Catherine as a young woman can be found.

  • Aragon in Ampthill is named after Catherine, there is also in Ampthill a statue of a cross named "Queen Catherine's Cross" in her honour.

Spelling of her name

"Catherine", or "Katherine" is the most common modern English spelling of her name. Katherine herself signed her name "Katherine", "Katherina", "Katharine" and sometimes "Katharina". In a letter to her, Arthur, her first 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.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography lists her name as Katherine.

Loveknots built into his various palaces by her husband, Henry VIII, display the initials "H & K", as do other items belonging to Henry and Katherine, including gold goblets, a gold salt cellar, basins of gold, and candlesticks. Her tomb in Peterborough Cathedralmarker is marked "Katharine Queen of England".

Titles, styles and arms

[[Image:Catherine of Aragon Arms.svg|thumb|right|upright|Catherine of Aragon's arms while queen]]

In art and media

Over the years, numerous artistic and cultural works have been dedicated to her, written about her, or mentioned her, including some by her husband Henry VIII, who wrote "Grene growth the holy" about and for her, and Juan Luis Vives, who dedicated "The Education of Christian Women" to her.

Catherine of Aragon has been portrayed in film, television, plays, books, and other forms many times, and as a result she has stayed very much in popular memory. There has never been a film or television series where she is the main character although an arguable exception is the first episode of The Six Wives of Henry VIII which is told from her point of view and where she is portrayed by Annette Crosbie. There are also many novels, songs, and poems written about her. Shakespeare's play about Henry VIII is tremendously successful in recreating, with great accuracy, Katherine's statement about the legitimacy of her marriage at the court in Blackfriars before King Henry, and Katherine's portrayal is very sympathetic therein. However, most of the rest of the play is an attempt to absolve many, especially Henry VIII, and the timing of key incidents (including Katherine's death) are changed and other events are avoided (the play makes Henry nearly an innocent pawn in the hands of a dastard Cardinal Wolsey, and the play stops short of Anne Boleyn's execution).

Although Katherine is often portrayed in film and on stage as having possessed the stereotypical Spanish traits of dark hair and eyes and an olive complexion, existing portraits and contemporary descriptions depict her as having had blue eyes, fair skin, and reddish-blonde hair, not unusual for Spaniards such as those from her father's land of Aragonmarker. She is often played with a Spanish accent; from most reports, this is accurate, as she never fully mastered the English language.

Furthermore, she was part English, through her ancestors, Katherine of Lancaster and Philippa of Lancaster, who were both daughters of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster.

Music and rhymes

  • The ballad by Henry VIII "Pastime with Good Company" is said to have been written for Catherine of Aragon.
  • A verse in the song "Who shot Henry VIII?" is about Catherine.
  • The song "Green groweth the holly" is said to have been written for her by Henry VIII.
  • In the children's nursery rhyme "I had a little nut tree" she is the "King of Spain's Daughter".
  • She is remembered in a street ballad, for vouching for the rioters, on behalf of their wives and children, after the Evil May Day.


Catherine is the main character in:

  • "Katharine, The Virgin Widow", "The Shadow of the Pomegranate", and "The King's Secret Matter" (later published in an omnibus "Katharine of Aragon") by Jean Plaidy
  • The King's Pleasure, by Norah Lofts;
  • "The Constant Princess", by Philippa Gregory (a novel about Catherine's younger years);
  • "Patience, Princess Catherine" by Carolyn Meyer (young adult novel);
  • "Isabella's Daughter" by Charity Bishop.

Catherine is a character in:

Theatre, Film, Stage, and TV

Catherine was portrayed by:


See also



  • Brigden, Susan (2000). New Worlds, Lost Worlds.
  • Fraser, Antonia (1992). The Wives of Henry VIII. ISBN 067973001X
  • Haigh, Christopher (1993). English Reformations.
  • J.O. Hand & M. Wolff, Early Netherlandish Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington(catalogue)/Cambridge UP, 1986, ISBN 0521340160
  • Lacey, Robert (1972). The Life and Times of Henry VIII.
  • Lofts, Norah (1979). Anne Boleyn. ISBN 0-698-11005-6.
  • Morris, T. A. (1998). Europe and England in the Sixteenth Century.
  • Starkey, David (2003). Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. ISBN 0060005505
  • Warnicke, Retha M. (1991). The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn. ISBN 0521406773
  • Weir, Alison (1991). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. ISBN 0802136834
  • Williams, Neville (1971). Henry VIII and his Court.
  • Mattingly, Gareth. Catherine of Aragon
  • John E. Paul Catherine of Aragon and her friends

Further reading

  • Ashley, Mike (2002). British Kings & Queens. ISBN 0-7867-1104-3
  • Bernard, G.W. The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church.
  • Coates, Tim. Letters of Henry VIII 1526-29.
  • Lindsey, Karen. (1995). Divorced Beheaded Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII. ISBN 0201408236
  • Mattingly, Garrett. (1941). Katherine of Aragon.
  • Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.
  • Weir, Alison. (2002). Henry VIII: The King and His Court. ISBN 034543708X

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address