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- Family and background
- Queenship (1509-1533)
- Annulment of marriage to Henry VIII
- Banishment and death
Key Facts And Information
Let’s know more about Catherine of Aragon!
- Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII's first wife. She had an influential role in the court and advocated for education and religion. She was briefly appointed as the regent in England in 1513 whilst the king was in a military campaign in France. During that time, she raised an army that succeeded at the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scots. In 1516, she gave birth to a healthy female child, Mary, following several unsuccessful pregnancies. Her marriage to Henry VIII was put into question when the king sought an annulment with the intention of marrying Anne Boleyn.
- Whilst the annulment initially failed, it was pushed through in 1533 when Thomas Cromwell orchestrated England's break with the Church of Rome. Consequently, Catherine was banished from the court and was separated from her daughter until her death in 1536.
Family and background
- Born on 16 December 1485 at the Archbishop's Palace of Alcalá de Henares near Madrid, Catherine of Aragon was the fifth and youngest surviving daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. She descended from the House of Lancaster and was the third cousin of Henry VII of England who would become her father-in-law.
- Under the guidance of a clerk in Holy Orders, Catherine was well-educated with studies including canon and civil law, classical literature, philosophy, theology and arithmetic.
- Furthermore, she learnt to speak in various languages such as Spanish, Latin, English, French and Greek.
- She was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and was taught domestic skills.
- At age three, it was arranged that she would marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to the English throne.
- This marriage was one of the terms of the Treaty of Medina del Campo of 27 March 1489 along with the alliance of the two royal houses against their common enemy, France.
- Henry VII hoped to strengthen the Tudor dynasty with this alliance.
- He was promised a large dowry from Catherine's father, Ferdinand II.
- Catherine and Arthur were married by proxy on 19 May 1499.
- In 1501, Catherine was sent to England to fulfil the previously arranged marriage.
- She was accompanied by an impressive retinue including the ambassadors Diego Fernández de Córdoba y Mendoza, 3rd Count of Cabra, Alonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, and Antonio de Rojas Manrique, Bishop of Mallorca.
- The marriage ceremony took place on 14 November 1501 in Saint Paul's Cathedral, London.
- Half of the promised dowry was paid shortly after the marriage.
- Now teenagers, the young married couple resided in Ludlow Castle, Wales since Arthur was responsible for presiding over the Council of Wales and the Marches.
- However, the union did not last long as Arthur died on 2 April 1502.
- Following the death of her husband, she was assigned a house in London, the Durham House, where she was surrounded by Spanish servants and could live as Dowager Princess of Wales.
- Henry VII, already a widower, considered marrying Catherine to avoid the obligation of returning the paid dowry but was met with opposition.
- On the other hand, Ferdinand II still wanted to widen the Spanish influence on England’s foreign policy.
- Consequently, it was agreed that Catherine would marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, Duke of York, who was nearly six years her junior.
- The union had to be delayed due to the following reasons:
- Henry, Duke of York, had to be old enough.
- A papal dispensation had to be obtained. Canon law forbade a man to marry his brother's widow, however, a marriage was dissoluble if it was not consummated. Catherine testified that her first marriage was never consummated.
- Whilst in London in 1507 and before the union with Henry, Catherine served as the Spanish ambassador to England, the first known female ambassador in European history.
- Seven years after Arthur's death, Catherine's second wedding was solemnised on 11 June 1509 in the church of the Observant Friars outside Greenwich Palace. Henry VIII had recently ascended the English throne aged eighteen.
- The marriage was followed by the coronation ceremony on 24 June 1509 at Westminster Abbey, where Henry VIII and Catherine were anointed and crowned together by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
- The new queen was well received by the people of England.
- Henry VIII's objective of producing a male heir had not been successful with his marriage to Catherine.
- Throughout their marriage, Catherine was able to fall pregnant six times but only one survived infancy.
- In fact, she gave birth to two sons in 1510 and 1513, both of whom died shortly after birth.
- It was her fifth pregnancy that was successful, in which she gave birth to Mary on 18 February 1516.
- Princess Mary, a healthy girl, was christened three days later.
- Catherine was not only confined to the upkeep of the court.
- In fact in 1513, she was the regent in England with the titles 'Governor of the Realm and Captain General', whilst Henry VIII was in a military campaign in France.
- When the Scots invaded, she commanded Thomas Lovell to raise an army in the midland counties.
- She addressed the troops in full armour despite being pregnant at the time.
- The Battle of Flodden Field resulted in the English victory and the death of King James IV of Scotland.
- In 1520, it was Catherine who urged the king to enter an alliance with her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V rather than with France.
- Within two years, war was declared against France and plans were ongoing to betroth the emperor to Mary.
- When it became clear that Catherine would be unable to provide a male heir, the king sought another solution to accomplish his objective.
- By 1525, the king was pursuing Anne Boleyn, one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting.
- Believing that his first marriage was cursed and had been wrong based on the Bible, he asked for a declaration of nullity from Pope Clement VII.
Annulment of marriage to Henry VIII
- Catherine was already forty in 1525 and her failed pregnancies had taken their physical toll on the queen. She had aged, lost her figure and become more pious. Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, was young and a more suitable option for the king to achieve his desire of a male heir.
- At the time, only the pope had the authority to dissolve marriages.
- Henry VIII sought the annulment of his marriage on the grounds that the papal dispensation of Pope Julius II was attained by false pretences.
- When he failed to consult with the pope, he commissioned Cardinal Wolsey to secure the annulment.
- Whilst he was determined to marry Anne Boleyn, Catherine was strongly against their separation.
- In fact, in the speech Catherine gave at her trial at Blackfriars in June 1529, she recalled their relationship and pleaded the king to reconsider his decision.
- The trial concluded in favour of Catherine.
- Pope Clement VII, who was under the power of Charles V, declined the king's request and forbade him to marry again before a decision was reached in Rome.
- Catherine gained considerable support whilst the king was pushing for annulment.
- She had her most trusted counsellor John Fisher and was backed by Thomas More, Henry's own sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France, María de Salinas, Charles V and Pope Paul III.
- However, the annulment succeeded when Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chief minister, orchestrated the break of England with the Church of Rome by passing significant acts that asserted the king's royal supremacy.
- It was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who declared the marriage of Catherine and Henry null and void in 1533 and made way for the marriage of the king to Anne Boleyn.
Banishment and death
- Catherine believed that their marriage had always been valid and would refer to herself as Henry's only lawful wedded wife and England's only rightful queen even after the annulment was declared. On the contrary, Henry refused her the right to any title except the Dowager Princess of Wales in recognition of her position as Arthur's widow.
- Catherine was separated from her daughter and went to live at The More castle in late 1531.
- This was followed by numerous shifts in residence including the Royal Palace of Hatfield, Elsyng Palace, Enfield, Ampthill Castle and Buckden Towers.
- Finally, she was moved to Kimbolton Castle where she mostly stayed in her room leaving only to attend mass.
- She remained forbidden from seeing or communicating with her daughter.
- Henry promised her and Mary more favourable quarters and permission to see each other if they would accept Anne Boleyn as the new queen, which both refused.
- Catherine fell ill in late 1535. With failing health, she made her will and asked her nephew, Charles V, to protect her daughter.
- It was also believed that she wrote one final letter to Henry, in which she still addressed herself as the queen.
- She died on 7 January 1536 and was buried in Peterborough Cathedral after a ceremony.
- The people of England, who held the queen in high esteem, mourned her death.