Archbishop’s Palace in Alcala de Henares, Spain
Queen Katherine of Aragon
( 1486- 1536)
Catalina de Aragon was born on December 16, 1485 in the Archbishop’s Palace in Alcala de Hernares a town just east of Madrid. She was the youngest and last child of the great Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella of Castile and king Ferdinand of Aragon. The couples others children included Isabella, Juan, Juana, and Marie.
Pregnancy had not stopped Katherine’s mother ( Isabel of Castile) from waging war on the Moor and she spent the summer of 1485 moving around Andalucía following her troops campaign. Isabel and her troops finished warring for the year in September and the Royal court travelled from Andalucía to Alcala for the winter and for the impending birth
Giles Tremlett in his biography of Katherine writes how we know various details about Katherine’s childhood because it was recorded by Gonzalo de Baeza, Isabel’s Treasurer. We know that she was baptized by the Bishop of Palencia and wore a white brocaded gown which was trimmed with gold lace and lined with green velvet and that Dutch Olanda linen was used to make her sheets, pillow cases, night shirts, and bibs. We also know that scarlet Florentine cloth was ordered to make clothes, fresh cotton was used to stuff her crib mattress, a brass basin was used for washing her and that she owned perfume sprinkler.
Katherine of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, and Queen Isabel of Castile
Katherine was likely named for her mother’s grandmother, Katherine of Lancaster, the daughter of Constance of Castile who was second wife of John of Gaunt, himself son of England’s Edward III. Constance and John’s daughter, Catherine of Lancaster, married Henry III of Castile and was the mother of John II of Castile, Isabella’s father. Constance of Castile was the daughter of Peter (Pedro) of Castile, known as Peter the Cruel, who was overthrown by his brother Henry (Enrique) II. John of Gaunt tried to claim the throne of Castile on the basis of his wife Constance’s descent from Peter.
Katherine’s father Ferdinand was the great-grandson of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt and his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. Philippa’s brother was Henry IV of England. Thus, Catherine of Aragon had considerable English royal heritage herself.
In her early years, Katherine traveled extensively within Spain with her parents as they fought their war to remove the Muslims from Granada.
Because Isabella regretted the lack of her own educational preparation when she became a ruling queen, she educated her daughters well, preparing them for their likely roles as queens. So Katherine had an extensive education, with many European humanists as her teachers. Katherine spoke Spanish, Latin, French and English, and was well-read in philosophy and theology.
Katherine & Arthur
The Tudor dynasty was new after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field in August of 1485. Henry’s Lancastrian claim was weak and he needed to shore up his position as King of England. A marriage between his son and a daughter of Spain would help to bolster his dynasty, gain him entre into the great ruling houses of Europe, diffuse any Yorkist plotting against his regime, secure allies and make an impression on his subjects.
The nuptials were a long time in the making. The idea of a Spanish marriage was first discussed in 1488. Ambassadors were sent to Spain in 1489 and the match was agreed upon. A betrothal was celebrated in 1497 and a proxy rite was performed in 1499.
The couple met on 4 November 1501 at Dogmersfield 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”. The couple had corresponded in Latin, but found that they could not understand each other, since they had learned different pronunciations.
Ten days later, on 14 November 1501, they were married at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.A dowry of 200,000 crowns had been agreed, and half was paid shortly after the marriage.
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. The couple stayed at Castle Lodge, Ludlow. A few months later, they both became ill, possibly with the sweating sickness which was sweeping the area. Arthur died on 2 April 1502; Katherine recovered to find herself a widow.
Katherine & Henry
Katherine stayed on in England and was betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry. However, they weren’t married straight away due to wrangling between King Ferdinand and King Henry VII over Katherine’s dowry. In April 1509 Henry assumed the throne on the death of his father, married Katherine in a private ceremony in June after receiving a dispensation from the Pope, and Katherine’s short marriage to Arthur was annulled.
Weeks after their wedding Katherine was crowned Queen of England alongside Henry in an extravagant joint coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. For the first few years accounts suggest they lived happily together, and Katherine proved a competent regent when Henry was campaigning in France from 1512 to 1514.
In January 1510 Katherine gave birth to a daughter, but she was stillborn, marking the start of Katherine’s misfortune. While there was great celebration over the birth of Katherine’s second child, Prince Henry, in 1511, this male heir died soon after. In all she bore Henry six children, including three sons, but all of them died except for one – their daughter, Mary (later Mary I), born in 1516.
Unable to produce a male heir, Katherine’s marriage to Henry began to sour and Henry began pursuing her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. In 1527 Henry, still desperate for a son, asked the Pope for an annulment of his marriage so he could marry his new mistress. He claimed that the marriage was cursed as it went against the biblical teaching that a man should never marry his brother’s widow.
However, Katherine refused to give in to Henry, saying her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. She attracted much popular sympathy as she fought for her own rights and those of her daughter Mary. For seven years the Pope refused to annul their marriage, as he was afraid of angering Katherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V.
With Anne Boleyn already pregnant with his child the couple wed in secret in 1533. He then passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring that he was the head of the English church, and appointed Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, who annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine.
Katherine was forced to leave the court and live in far reduced circumstances in damp castles and manors. She was also denied access to her daughter Mary. She continued to reject the annulment and her new title of Princess Dowager. Katherine died on 7 January 1536 at Kimbolton House in Cambridgeshire. She was given a small funeral and buried in Peterborough Abbey.
Anne Boleyn files
Freelance History writer
Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen by Giles Tremlett