Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon]
- C. S. L. Davies
- and John Edwards
Katherine [Catalina, Catherine, Katherine of Aragon] (1485–1536), queen of England, first consort of Henry VIII, was born in the archbishop of Toledo's palace at Alcalá de Henares, north-east of Madrid, on 16 December 1485.
The youngest daughter of the ‘Catholic monarchs’, Ferdinand of Aragon (1452–1516) and Isabella of Castile (1451–1504), she was named after Isabella's grandmother Catalina, or Katherine, of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and his second wife, Constanza, and wife of Enrique III of Castile. Both her parents were descended from Enrique II of Castile, the founder of the Trastamaran dynasty. A contemporary chronicler, Alfonso de Palencia, commented that they would have preferred a son, as they feared the consequences of depending for the future of their dynasty on the life and health of their male heir, the Infante Juan, and on the fecundity of their daughters, Isabella, Juana, Maria, and now Catalina.
During her early years Catalina followed her parents, and in particular her mother, in their travels through large parts of Spain, as the war against the Muslim emirate of Granada continued. As a small child she was present at the ceremonial conquest of the capital of the former Nasrid kingdom, on 2 January 1492. The pomegranate (‘Granada apple’, in Castilian granada) later became her personal emblem, ironically symbolizing fertility. Along with her older sisters, Catalina received an education fitting for one who was intended for marriage with foreign rulers, bearing children for them and thus linking Castile and Aragon to neighbouring powers by ties of blood as well as friendship. Isabella was especially conscious of her own educational limitations (she learned Latin only as an adult) and was especially insistent on a proper education for her daughters. The team of scholars chosen by Isabella and Ferdinand to educate their children included the notable Dominican reformer Pascual de Ampudia, his fellow Dominican Andrés de Morales, and, in the case of Catalina, the Italian humanist brothers Alessandro and Antonio Geraldini. In accordance with the principles of Spanish scholarship in the period, emphasis was placed on Latin, as well as modern languages, but always within a Catholic Christian context, based on the Bible and liturgical texts. In addition to her acquisition of the domestic arts thought suitable for a princess, Catalina's skill in Latin, and knowledge of classical and vernacular literature, brought her the admiration of the Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives and of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who regarded her as a model of Christian womanhood.
Negotiations with England, 1487–1489
The notion of a marriage between Catalina and the heir to the English throne, Arthur, prince of Wales (born on 19 September 1486), seems to have originated in the mind of Arthur's father, Henry VII, when the princess was only two. Like his predecessors, the new and insecure Tudor monarch needed Spanish friendship, although relations between the two countries had never been entirely untroubled. Ferdinand and Isabella, meanwhile, had already begun, in 1481, to arrange marriages for their son and daughters in order to raise the prestige of their Castilian and Aragonese monarchies in Europe. In the latter part of 1487 they agreed to send ambassadors to England, not only to discuss political and economic relations but also to negotiate the marriage of Catalina and Arthur. First to arrive was Rodrigo (Ruy) Gonsales Puebla, a doctor of civil and canon law who possessed a solid record of achievement in local government in Castile, as did a number of Jewish Christians (conversos) in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella.
The Trastamaran dynasty largely owed its royal status to the French, and the Castilian rulers had subsequently looked to their northern neighbour for support. As late as 1487 Ferdinand and Isabella still secretly hankered after a marriage between their eldest daughter, Isabella, and Charles VIII of France. It was only when the French regency government spurned the suggestion that negotiations were begun to marry Isabella to Alfonso of Portugal and Catalina to Prince Arthur. In these circumstances, France was the main enemy and, despite the help he had received from that quarter during his exile under Richard III, Henry VII responded with alacrity. On 10 March 1488 he appointed representatives to negotiate with Castile and Aragon on three issues: trade, a political alliance, and the royal marriage.
Isabella and Ferdinand gave priority to the marriage because they regarded it as the best cement for a political relationship, and on 30 April 1488 they gave Puebla power to negotiate on the subject. The relevant document was brought to England by a second ambassador, Juan de Sepúlveda, who arrived in London on 1 June, to promote a political alliance against France. Puebla agreed with his colleague's objective, but his greater experience of English politics led him to urge that if the marriage were arranged first, political and economic benefits would quickly follow. On 6–7 July a draft agreement was duly reached concerning Catalina's dowry, fixed at 200,000 Spanish escudos. Ferdinand and Isabella undertook to send Catalina to England at their own expense, with an adequate wardrobe, and to pay the dowry in two instalments, the first on her arrival in England and the second when the marriage was solemnized.
Almost at once Anglo-Spanish mistrust and misunderstanding emerged. The Spanish rulers wanted to pay less, and found the English offers for Catalina's maintenance (a third of the rents from the principality of Wales, the duchy of Cornwall, and the earldom of Chester) inadequate. Nevertheless, the desire of both parties for an alliance against France overcame these objections and negotiations continued for the rest of the year. In spring 1489 Henry VII's ambassadors spent a month at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella in Medina del Campo. The result was the treaty agreed at Medina on 27 March 1489, which replaced the century-old Franco-Castilian alliance by a link with England which was to be almost as long-lived. Many of the twenty-five articles concerned international politics and trade, while the marriage of Catalina and Arthur was deferred until the two children came of age.
Marriage settlement, 1489–1501
During the early 1490s the projected marriage of Catalina and Arthur was overshadowed by the eruption on the European scene of a pretender to the English throne who claimed to be Edward IV's younger son Richard, duke of York, generally held to have perished in the Tower of London in 1483. Edward IV's sister Margaret of York, the dowager duchess of Burgundy, was determined to do all in her power to remove the Tudor ‘usurper’, Henry VII, and may genuinely have regarded the pretender as her lost nephew. Continuing support from Margaret and her Habsburg relatives for Perkin Warbeck, as various witnesses stated that he was in fact called, played a significant part in delaying implementation of the treaty of Medina del Campo. At various times between November 1491, when he landed at Cork, and October 1497, when he was finally captured and imprisoned by Henry, the supposed ‘duke of York’ was exploited by the enemies of the house of Tudor. Warbeck received support from Ireland, Scotland, and France, and above all from Maximilian, king of the Romans, and Archduke Philip of Austria. But Isabella and Ferdinand showed no such credulity; indeed they played a vital part in exposing the false ‘duke of York’. Anxious to secure the alliance with England, and Catalina's marriage to Arthur, her parents reacted sharply when accused by Henry of harbouring Warbeck. They obtained a Portuguese investigation into the pretender's true identity, dated 25 April 1496, which supposedly revealed his Flemish origins, and used the document to reassure Henry; they also gave their daughter Juana the task of weaning her new husband, Archduke Philip, away from Warbeck, and thus neutralizing the anti-Tudor fervour of Margaret of York.
Anglo-Spanish discussions became more intense at this time, until a new agreement was reached in London on 1 October 1497. The marriage would not take place until Arthur reached fourteen, though either side might request it up to two years earlier. The papal dispensation, which would in that case be required because of the prince's youth, would be requested jointly by the English and Spanish. The dowry remained at 200,000 escudos, the trousseau consisting of 15,000 escudos in gold, gold and silver plate to a similar value, and precious stones worth 20,000 escudos. Catalina would receive the revenues from Arthur's lands as soon as the marriage took place. The revised treaty was confirmed on 1 January 1497. Ratification by Ferdinand and Isabella was kept secret and, as a second option, Catalina was offered to James IV of Scotland, to whom Pedro de Ayala was sent as ambassador. Nevertheless, on the same day, Catalina empowered Puebla to act as a proxy in her marriage to Arthur, which was evidently still her parents' real aim. The threat of the Scottish marriage was not removed for several years, however.
Ferdinand and Isabella were sufficiently concerned, both with Henry VII's attitude to the marriage and with Puebla's conduct as ambassador, to send further ambassadors to England, Sancho de Londoño and Tomás de Matienzo. While the new envoys took a hostile line towards Puebla, they failed to speed the negotiations with Henry, though in 1499 Catalina's departure for England appeared to be imminent, after a proxy marriage ceremony between herself and Prince Arthur had taken place on 19 May at Tickhill Manor, near Bewdley. Isabella and Ferdinand were still insistent that Catalina would be sent to England only when Arthur reached fourteen. Final agreement on the dowry, which would amount to 200,000 escudos in cash and plate, was made at this time. During 1500 disputes continued over the valuation and payment of the dowry and the timing of Catalina's arrival in England, which was being delayed on the Spanish side. In October a list of the princess's proposed Spanish household of about fifty was sent to England, where King Henry tried to reduce it. But in March 1501 serious preparations at last began for Catalina's journey from Granada to England, and after delays caused first by the uprising of the Muslim Alpujarras in Spain and then by bad conditions at sea, the princess landed at Plymouth on 2 October. Catalina's arrival evidently took Henry VII by surprise, for it was not until 7 October that the lord steward, Baron Willoughby de Broke, was ready to receive her at Exeter. Then began a ceremonious progress to London, during which Henry and Arthur intercepted her at Dogmersfield, near Farnborough in Hampshire, on 4 November. Overriding the (probably feigned) insistence of ambassador Ayala that Catalina should observe Spanish etiquette and remain secluded until her wedding, Henry insisted on seeing her 'even if she were in her bed', before introducing his son to her (Mattingly, 32–7). King and prince then departed and Catalina continued her journey. She was greeted in London on 12 November with a lavish series of pageants provided by the city authorities. Two days later her marriage was solemnized at St Paul's, after which there followed another week of unprecedentedly elaborate banquets and tournaments.
Marriage and widowhood, 1501–1506
There was some discussion of whether Catalina, or Katherine, as her name was invariably spelt in England in accordance with contemporary usage, should accompany her husband on his return to his duties as prince of Wales at Ludlow. Puebla and some of Katherine's entourage would have preferred her to stay in London and not begin full marital relations immediately. Her former tutor, now confessor, Alessandro Geraldini, thought otherwise. Katherine refused to give an opinion; Henry VII eventually took the decision, and the couple set off for the marches on 21 December. Almost thirty years later Katherine deposed, under the seal of the confessional, that they had shared a bed for no more than seven nights, and that she had remained 'as intact and incorrupt as when she emerged from her mother's womb' (Brewer, 2.303). Arthur died, still aged only fifteen, on 2 April 1502.
As soon as the news of Arthur's death reached Katherine's parents they mooted the possibility of her marrying the new heir to the throne, Arthur's younger brother Henry [see Henry VIII (1491–1547)]. The English were equally eager. Inevitably both sides resumed the hard bargaining which had characterized the original negotiations; neither, however, seems to have had doubts about either the legality or the feasibility of a marriage 'in the first degree of affinity' between brother- and sister-in-law. In spite of complaints about Henry VII's niggardly treatment of his daughter-in-law and threats by the Spanish monarchs to take her home, a draft treaty was ready by September 1502, and a formal treaty was concluded in June 1503. The treaty specified a betrothal ('matrimonium per verba de praesenti') to take place within two months, while the marriage would be solemnized following receipt of the necessary papal dispensation, the payment of the second portion of the dowry agreed for the first marriage, and Henry's reaching fifteen, in June 1506. (Interestingly, this was one year older than in Arthur's case and perhaps resulted from the discussions of December 1501.) The betrothal followed immediately on the conclusion of the treaty, on 25 June 1503.
The treaty assumed that Katherine's first marriage had been consummated. This was apparently reported by Puebla, on the authority of Geraldini, but it was vehemently denied by Katherine's duenna, Doña Elvira Manuel, in a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, and Geraldini was hurriedly recalled to Spain. Ferdinand, however, accepted the English position, that the papal dispensation should cover all eventualities. The dispensation was held up by the deaths of popes Alexander VI and Pius III (on 18 August and 18 October 1503). In spite of pressure from both Spain and England, no document was made available by the new pope, Julius II, until one was sent to Isabella shortly before her death on 26 November 1504. This 'brief' was dated 26 December 1503, but this may well represent a subsequent back-dating. A copy may have been sent by Ferdinand to England, to Julius's displeasure; if so it was subsequently lost. The eventual papal bull, also dated 26 December 1503, did not arrive in England until March 1505. (Historians have generally accepted the date 26 December 1503 for both bull and brief, but that they were back-dated is borne out by Castellesi's report of 4 January 1504 that the matter was still under consideration.) The reason for papal procrastination is unknown. It may indicate caution about the canonical issues involved. Immediately after his election Julius had indicated that 'prima facie, he did not know if he had power to dispense in this case' (Pocock, 1.1–4). Perhaps more plausibly, the dispensation was a useful card in Julius's diplomatic game against Ferdinand's control of Naples. The 'brief' stated bluntly that Arthur had consummated his marriage. The bull was more circumspect, granting dispensation for the new marriage 'even if' ('forsan') the previous one had been consummated.
By this time the international situation had changed once more. Isabella died on 26 November 1504. The heir to Castile was Katherine's elder sister Juana, married to Archduke Philip, the ruler of the Low Countries. Juana and Philip had aroused some antagonism on a visit to Spain in 1502. Isabella left a will naming her husband, Ferdinand, as governor of Castile, so excluding Juana and Philip from rule in that kingdom. Opinion in Castile rapidly polarized into anti-Habsburg and anti-Aragonese factions. In these circumstances there was no point in Henry VII's tying himself too closely to Ferdinand. Indeed in February 1505 he lent Philip £108,000 'for his next voyage to Spain' (Chrimes, 289). On 27 June 1505, just before his fourteenth birthday, Prince Henry formally repudiated his betrothal to Katherine, alleging lack of necessary consent on his part. Neither she nor the Spanish representatives were informed of this development. The English were not intending a final repudiation of the marriage. Rather the manoeuvre was designed to keep options open, at least until the situation in Castile was clearer, and to preserve the valuable diplomatic card of the prince's marriage.
The Castilian question divided Katherine's own advisers; Doña Elvira worked for an alliance between Henry VII and Philip, involving Katherine in the plot, until Puebla persuaded Katherine to write to Henry repudiating her expressed wish for a meeting with Juana, in August 1505. In November Doña Elvira was banished from Katherine's household. In January 1506, however, Philip and Juana were forced by a storm to land in England while on their way to claim their rights in Castile. Katherine met Juana, while Henry VII and Philip concluded a close alliance. Ferdinand bowed to circumstances and welcomed Philip and Juana to Castile. Philip's sudden death at Burgos on 25 September 1506, however, restored Ferdinand's rule, Juana being sidestepped on the grounds of her apparent mental instability. But Henry VII continued to cherish his diplomatic freedom. Invoking Ferdinand's failure to pay the second instalment of the dowry, he continued to offer Prince Henry's hand on the international market, as well as his own (which included a proposition of marrying Juana himself), and to court a Habsburg alliance with Maximilian rather than an Aragonese one.
Katherine had been allocated Durham House, the bishop of Durham's house in London, to live in as dowager princess of Wales, with an almost entirely Spanish entourage under the direction of Doña Elvira as duenna. Her parents and Henry insisted she should keep 'rule and observance and seclusion', though Katherine herself hoped for some lightening of the regime (CSP Spain, 1485–1509, 420). She was frequently ill, probably with tertian ague, at least until the spring of 1507. Curiously, there is evidence that she was thought by the English court to be indulging in religious austerities in a way likely to damage her health and capacity for child bearing. A papal letter of October 1505 empowered her 'husband' to curb these proclivities; he was described as Arthur, prince of Wales, so presumably the complaint had originated in 1501–2. Her knowledge of English was still imperfect in 1505, to Ferdinand's displeasure; she could speak 'some' and understand 'more' (Scarisbrick, 437). Since only part of her dowry had been paid before her marriage, Katherine could not claim the dower, a third of Arthur's lands, to which she would otherwise have been entitled. In any case her rights were explicitly repudiated in the treaty of 1503 for the second marriage. Instead she was allocated an allowance of £1200 p.a. by Henry VII. When Doña Elvira was banished in November 1505, Henry withdrew the allowance; Puebla, presumably backed by Henry, persuaded Katherine to give up Durham House and to lodge at court, adducing the impropriety of her keeping a separate household without proper chaperonage. Her regular allowance gave way to spasmodic payments by Henry VII.
Katherine complained volubly to her father about her poverty and shabby treatment, her inability to pay her servants, and her demeaning dependence on Henry's charity. She went so far as to pawn some of the plate and jewels which, on some interpretations, were to form part of the second instalment of her dowry. She was kept apart from Prince Henry, complaining in 1507 that she had not seen him for four months, although they were both living in the palace at Richmond. At the same time Henry VII told her that he no longer regarded his son as bound by the earlier betrothal; Puebla and Katherine's confessor conceded that Henry's position was justified. Katherine complained bitterly of Puebla. Ferdinand decided to involve her directly in negotiations, in parallel with the ambassador, and she received formal credentials. She was provided with a cipher, painfully deciphered Ferdinand's letters, and eventually managed to encipher her own replies, although with so little confidence that she also sent the same letter en clair. She evidently lacked any sort of confidential secretary, at least one she could trust, and her letters to Ferdinand are in her own hand.
This curious arrangement came to an end in February 1508 with the arrival of a new ambassador, Gutierre Gómez de Fuensalida, sent to join Puebla with specific instructions to conclude the marriage, bringing the means to pay the remainder of the dowry. Henry VII's eyes were still on a Habsburg alliance (especially through a marriage of his daughter Mary to the future Emperor Charles V). The English council quibbled over details of the payment, and especially the question of Katherine's plate and jewels. By late 1508 both Fuensalida and Katherine's household were convinced that her marriage would never take place, and plans were made for her return to Spain. Only Katherine, supported by her confessor, Diego Fernández, was adamant that it was her duty to remain in England and marry Prince Henry. By March 1509 even she despaired, asking to return to Spain to lead the religious life. Henry VII, however, died on 21 April 1509. Before 8 May Fuensalida was summoned and told that the new king wished the marriage settled quickly, without quibbles. Possibly Henry VIII was acting, as he alleged, in obedience to his father's dying wish. But more likely the new policy was his own. On 11 June Henry VIII and Katherine were married at the Franciscan church at Greenwich. Katherine's persistence in discouraging, even at times humiliating, circumstances had triumphed. Her experience in these vital years, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four, may well explain her reluctance in later years to yield her position as queen of England.
Queen and mother, 1509–1525
The first years of her marriage saw Katherine's hold on her husband, and her political influence, at their height. Henry was ostentatious in his attentions. Katherine was frequently pregnant, though her gynaecological history is uncertain, reports of miscarriages and stillbirths being largely derived from ambassadorial reports. She miscarried a girl on 31 January 1510. A boy, named Henry and created prince of Wales, was born on new year's day 1511, but died on 22 February. There is an unsubstantiated report of a live birth shortly after the battle of Flodden in September 1513; if this happened the child must have died almost immediately. A male child was stillborn in November or December 1514. Only on 18 February 1516 was a healthy child born, Princess Mary. Katherine's last delivery, on 9–10 November 1518, was a stillborn daughter.
Katherine played some part in foreign affairs. She engineered the recall of the Spanish ambassador Fuensalida in August 1509, and received a commission from Ferdinand to be his official channel of communication with Henry. She evidently reported in cipher. A new ambassador, Don Luis Caroz, arrived in March 1510. He, too, incurred Katherine's wrath. He blamed Katherine's confessor, Diego Fernández, for this, accusing him of exercising undue influence over her. How far, in fact, Katherine influenced English policy is hard to judge. The alliance with Ferdinand was a natural consequence of Henry's enmity towards France. It culminated in Henry's joining the Holy League in November 1511 and in plans for joint military action. An English army was shipped to the Basque country in May 1512 to join with a Spanish force to reconquer Guyenne for England. Ferdinand, however, used his army to conquer Navarre for himself, and failed to support the English, until Henry's troops mutinied and sailed home in October. Katherine played a part in smoothing over the resulting recriminations. But the English belief that they were tricked by Ferdinand in 1513 and again in 1514 made Katherine's position difficult. In December 1514 Caroz reported that she had been persuaded by Diego Fernández 'to forget Spain and everything Spanish to gain the love of the King of England and of the English' (CSP Spain, 1509–25, 201).
Katherine was governor of the realm and captain-general during Henry's absence on campaign in France between 30 June and 21 October 1513. She had authority to raise troops and to make appointments, and was provided with a council headed by Archbishop Warham, the lord chancellor. None the less, a good deal even of routine business was handled by Henry's council in the field. Katherine wrote letters to Wolsey (but not to the king), giving some news, but mostly expressing her anxiety about Henry's welfare and safety, and apologizing for intruding on Wolsey's valuable time. She did refer to being 'horribly busy with making standards, banners and badges'; the level of irony in this perhaps self-deprecating reference to traditional feminine pursuits is hard to gauge (LP Henry VIII, 1/2, no. 2162). (Isabella supervised the making of banners on campaign.) She faced a crisis when James IV of Scotland invaded England on 22 August. On 9 September Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, appointed to the command of the north by Henry before his departure, defeated the Scots at Flodden, leaving James and a large number of Scottish nobles dead on the field. Katherine was heading a reserve army on its way north; news of the victory led to its disbandment at Buckingham. A Spanish source credits Katherine with a rousing speech to the troops, but there is no English evidence in support. She did, however, write triumphantly to Henry, in her own hand and in English: 'In this your grace shall see how I can keep my promys, sending you for your banners a King's coat. I thought to send himself unto you, but our Englishmen's hearts would not suffer it' (ibid., no. 2268).
A new Anglo-Spanish alliance was concluded in 1515. In January 1516, however, King Ferdinand died, effectively succeeded by his grandson Charles, Juana's son. Charles was too busy establishing his position in Spain to pursue an English alliance, while Katherine's relations with her nephew were inevitably less close than they had been with her father. She ceased to be either an informal or a formal channel of communication. From 1514, if not earlier, there was talk of Henry having a mistress, while by 1519 Elizabeth Blount had borne him an acknowledged son, Henry Fitzroy. His marital relations continued with Katherine (witness her 1518 pregnancy), but the five-year age gap between husband and wife was becoming more significant; a Venetian ambassador thought her 'rather ugly than otherwise' in 1515 (CSP Venice, 1509–19, 248). Certainly the undated National Portrait Gallery portrait shows her as a rather substantial lady, by contrast with the youthful prettiness depicted by Michel Sittow in 1505 in a portrait now in Vienna (though the identity of the sitter is not entirely certain). Perhaps Katherine, at thirty, was settling into dignified early middle age, presiding over court ceremonial, supervising her household, attending to her considerable powers of patronage as queen. In 1517 she took the role scripted for her when she publicly pleaded for pardon for prisoners accused of taking part in the ‘evil May day’ riots in London.
Katherine had already been fluent in French and Latin when she arrived in England, and she now became proficient in English. She built on and developed the interest in Latin education she had acquired at Isabella's court, more than fulfilling what was expected of her in the field of scholarly patronage. She defended the interests of Queens' College, Cambridge, and interceded with Henry to protect Lady Margaret Beaufort's benefaction to St John's College. She visited both Oxford and Cambridge, and received the plaudits habitually bestowed on royal visitors by the universities. She provided exhibitions for poor scholars and contributed to the support of lectureships. She may have been involved in trying to persuade Erasmus to prolong his stay in England beyond 1514, and was habitually praised by him; he dedicated his Christiani matrimonii institutio (1526) to her. Her patronage included Richard Pace, Thomas Linacre, and John Leland. She asked Sir Thomas Wyatt to translate Petrarch on 'Ill fortune'; he produced instead a version of Plutarch as Of the Quyete of Mynde.
In 1523 Katherine brought the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives to England to finish his commentary on Augustine (dedicated to Henry VIII), and commissioned him to write his De institutione foeminae Christianae (presented to Katherine in 1523, printed in 1524). She was praised in Vives's preface as a model of maid, married woman, and widow. The book advocates a classical education for noblewomen (the education of Isabella's daughters and their ability in Latin was mentioned), although, since women would not have to devote themselves to business, and having due regard to feminine modesty, only a selection of classical writings is recommended. The scriptures, the church fathers, Plato, Cicero, and Seneca are thought especially suitable. Women should be prepared to converse, although not to thrust themselves forward, and should submit to the precepts of fathers and husbands. Nor are they to neglect needlework, household management, or the nurture of children. Given Vives's subsequent involvement with Princess Mary's education, it seems reasonable to assume that Katherine shared these views. Vives reported a conversation with Katherine in January 1524 as they returned on a boat from Syon to Richmond. The talk was of the vicissitudes of life. Katherine claimed to have experienced many turns of fortune. If forced to choose between bad fortune and good, she would prefer the former: 'faced with disaster men need consolation, but excessive prosperity undermines their character' (McConica, 53–4).
Katherine was concerned with the education, in the widest sense, of her daughter, although since Mary was heir apparent and a valuable piece in the international dynastic game, its direction was largely out of her hands. She commissioned from Vives in 1524 a supplementary treatise, addressed to the particular problems faced by Mary as a princess and possible ruler (De ratione studii puerilis, 1524). Vives's solution was the mixture as before, modified only by the inclusion of more political texts and histories. When in 1525 Mary was dispatched, at the age of nine, to keep a princely household at Ludlow, Katherine wrote that she was glad that in future 'Master Federston [Richard Fetherston]' rather than herself would be teaching her Latin, although she hoped that Mary would continue to show her mother her Latin letters, 'for it shall be a great comfort to me to see you keep your Latin and fair writing and all' (Ellis, 1st ser., 2.19).
Diplomacy and divorce, 1525–1527
Charles V's election as Holy Roman emperor in 1519 had simplified the international scene by creating a polarization between the French and (imperial) Habsburg interests. English policy in the next ten years played off the parties against each other. Katherine naturally sympathized with the imperialists, but her influence was muted and hardly significant among the contending factors which determined policy. She played her due part in the Field of Cloth of Gold of 1520, the ceremonial meeting between Henry and François I. But she had also pleaded family reasons for the brief English visit by Charles V which preceded that event, and which led to a further meeting between Henry and Charles at Gravelines, at which an Anglo-imperial alliance was forged. In 1521 Charles was betrothed to the five-year-old Princess Mary. In 1522 and 1523 English armies invaded northern France, to little effect. In spite of a second English visit by Charles in 1522, English policies were moving in favour of France when, on 24 February 1525, Charles's forces took François prisoner at Pavia. Henry's attempt to take advantage of this situation by mounting an immediate invasion of France foundered on the difficulty of funding it, and on an unwillingness by Charles to play things Henry's way. Instead England and France made peace at the treaty of The More in August 1525. Katherine was powerless to influence events. Indeed she complained about never hearing either from Charles or from Spain. Charles's ambassador Iñigo de Mendoza reported that he was not allowed to see Katherine on her own, nor to communicate with her on anything except family matters. Even if they did set up a secret channel of communication it would, she thought, do more harm than good. 'She will do her best to restore the old alliance between Spain and England but though her will is good her means are small' (CSP Spain, 1527–9, 37). An Anglo-French treaty was concluded on 30 April 1527, and in January 1528 England was formally at war with Charles.
The first moves in the procedure to annul Katherine's marriage took place in 1527 (the convenient, if inaccurate, term ‘divorce’ will be used hereafter). The specific problem was not merely that Henry and Katherine were related in the first degree of affinity, but that sexual relations with a brother's wife were among those specifically forbidden in Leviticus 18: 1–19; while Leviticus 20: 21 threatened that no children would be born to such a union. However, according to Deuteronomy (21: 5) it was the duty of a man to generate a son by his brother's widow if the marriage had not produced a son. This duty of the 'levirate' did not apply to Christians, but did at least call in question the absolute nature of the prohibition in Leviticus. The question of whether a pope could dispense from the Levitical prohibition may have explained the apparent reluctance of Julius II to grant the bull in 1504. In 1509, in the immediate aftermath of Henry VII's death, the Spanish ambassador was told by an English courtier that Katherine's marriage to the new king was unlikely since Henry VIII himself had a difficulty in conscience about marrying his brother's wife. Ferdinand wrote back in alarm, invoking the papal bull to counter the objection, and instancing the marriage, in 1500, of Katherine's sister Maria to Manuel, king of Portugal, who was the widower of her elder sister Isabella. Ferdinand added encouragingly that the couple had numerous progeny, a possible reference to the Levitical curse. Of course Ferdinand's letter was overtaken by events. Katherine had married Henry, with, apparently, no mention of the affinity problem. A rumour circulated in Rome in 1514 that Henry meant to repudiate Katherine; this was probably unfounded, but significantly gave as a reason Henry's inability to have children with his brother's widow. An awareness of the Levitical prohibition and of doubts about the papal right to dispense from it was known in diplomatic circles from 1503 and, probably, equally known to Henry.
Henry later claimed that his conscience was first pricked by a French embassy raising the question of Mary's legitimacy during negotiations for her possible marriage; but since the embassy concerned seems to have been that of April 1527, this is too late to explain the sequence of events, although again testifying to the knowledge in diplomatic circles that the validity of Henry's marriage was open to question. It seems more likely that Henry had been brooding on the subject since it became apparent that he would have no son from his marriage to Katherine, especially as the possible strategy of marrying Mary to an acceptable husband could not take effect until she was fourteen, in 1530. Henry said in 1531 that he had not slept with Katherine for seven years. He may have been keeping his options for the succession open in 1525, when his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy was created duke of Richmond and sent to keep his household in the north, at the same time as Mary was being sent to the Welsh marches. The first move towards a divorce was the examination, on 5–6 April 1527, of the elderly Bishop Richard Fox about Katherine's marriage to Arthur, the papal bull, and Henry's repudiation of his betrothal in 1505. On 17 May 1527 Wolsey, as papal legate, summoned Henry before himself and Archbishop Warham to defend the validity of his marriage. The trial was adjourned on 31 May while expert opinion was consulted; it was never resumed. The popular assumption is that the intention was to rush through a verdict against the marriage and so face Katherine with a fait accompli. This is unlikely. Since Katherine had not been summoned as a party to the proceedings (though by 18 May she was aware of what was happening), she would have had unimpeachable grounds for an appeal. More probably, the intention was to establish the foundations of the case for further proceedings. On 22 June Henry told Katherine personally of his 'scruples', and demanded formal separation; faced with her fury, he retreated, assuring her that his hope was that his scruples would be set at rest. Katherine immediately sent to Charles V in Spain, asking him to intervene personally with Henry, to rouse the pope to summon the case to Rome, and to revoke Wolsey's legatine authority in England. She continued to preside at court and to occupy her apartments as queen. Anne Boleyn was also for much of the time prominent at court. On at least one occasion Katherine and Anne are said to have played cards together, Katherine allegedly remarking 'You have good hap to stop at a king, but you are not like others, you will have all or none' (Ives, 119).
Appeals to Rome and the legates' court, 1527–1529
Charles V's troops had sacked Rome and, effectively, made the pope a prisoner, on 6 May 1527. This was known in England by about 1 June and offered Henry both an obvious obstacle, and an opportunity. Wolsey was sent to France in July 1527 with, among other aims, the hope of convening a meeting of cardinals to run the church during the pope's incapacity. At the same time the king sent William Knight to Rome with various suggestions, to be kept secret from Wolsey. The document does not survive, but it seems to have included a request that Henry be permitted to marry immediately, presumably in confident expectation of a subsequent annulment of the first marriage; in effect it amounted to a dispensation for bigamy. That document was countermanded while Knight was travelling through France. Under new instructions he was to procure a bull allowing Henry to marry within the first degree of affinity, whether that resulted from licit or illicit intercourse (provided it was not to a brother's widow). The dispensation was also to cover the possibility that the bride had already contracted marriage to another man, provided that the marriage had not been consummated. The intended bride was plainly Anne Boleyn, to whom Henry was related within the first degree because her sister had been his mistress.
Meanwhile Henry's case was also being set out in papers by various scholars. In part, these took a ‘high’ line, that the marriage to Katherine being against divine law, Julius II had had no power to dispense. To the objection that he had not been punished by childlessness, as threatened in Leviticus, Henry's party argued that, correctly interpreted, the Hebrew referred to male children. In part, more modest, technical objections were canvassed, such as the argument that since there had been no prospect of war between England and Spain in 1503, the 'preservation of peace' was not an adequate ground for a dispensation; or that while the bull did indeed cover a consummated marriage between Katherine and Arthur, it had omitted to deal with the issue of 'public honesty', which even a non-consummated marriage required.
Katherine's position seems to have been much simpler than Henry's. She contended that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, that she had come to Henry a maid, that her marriage to Henry was therefore valid in the sight of God and man, and, moreover, that Henry knew this. She argued this at her confrontation with Henry on 22 June 1527, and stuck to it unalterably thereafter. In fact this argument undercut the arguments of her advisers and defenders of the papal cause, who had to support the view that Julius II had not exceeded his powers in dispensing for a possibly consummated marriage. For them Katherine's position was unprovable and irrelevant to the real issue. It was clearly, however, the emotional core of her position.
Early in 1528 the papal brief, issued to Isabella in 1504, surfaced in Spain, and it was cited by Katherine's counsel from October onwards. The brief, in fact, pointed in a different direction from Katherine's own tactic, in that it assumed unequivocally that the marriage to Arthur had been consummated. Katherine gave notice that, in propounding the brief, she did not admit this assumption. Rather she intended to use it to throw dust in the eyes of her opponents, by making it impossible for them to be sure that any technical objections they might produce against the bull were not guarded against in the brief. It was impossible for the English to argue that the latter was a forgery, since the Spaniards refused to let them have the original.
Pope Clement VII had been released from captivity in December 1527, though with Charles dominant in Italy, he was still liable to imperial pressure. Through 1528 Henry's agents agitated for a 'decretal' commission, to examine the case in England without the danger of its verdict being appealed to Rome. The commission was eventually brought to England by the specially appointed papal legate, Cardinal Campeggi, in October 1528, empowering him and Wolsey to try the case. Campeggi, however, had orders to prevaricate, and to find another solution. To that end he and Wolsey saw Katherine on 24 October. Three days later she sought Campeggi under the seal of the confession. She told him that she had shared Arthur's bed on up to seven occasions, but that she had none the less remained a maid. She rejected utterly the suggestion that she might enter the religious life, and affirmed 'that she intended to live and die in the estate of matrimony, to which God had called her'. Henry, worried at reports of popular support for Katherine, called a meeting of courtiers and prominent Londoners to Bridewell on 8 November. He expounded his case of conscience. According to Edward Hall he also professed his admiration for Katherine's noble qualities, so that 'if I were to marry again, if the marriage might be good, I would surely choose her above all other women' (Brewer, 2.306–7).
Eventually the legatine court met at Blackfriars on 31 May 1529. On 16 June, in the presence of Archbishop Warham and six other bishops, Katherine appealed formally to the pope for the case to be heard in Rome. On 18 June she appeared in person at the legatine court at Blackfriars to read a protest to be entered on the record, indicating her denial of the impartiality of the legates and her appeal to Rome. On 21 June she and Henry both appeared. The sources differ considerably in their accounts of what happened, but it is clear that Henry, Wolsey, and Katherine all spoke, Henry setting out his case, Wolsey defending his own impartiality, and Katherine appealing to her honour and that of her daughter and of the king to justify her appeal to Rome. It is clear that she knelt before Henry, and that she protested that she had lived twenty years as his lawful and faithful wife. Whether or not she went on to assert that she had been 'a true maid' at the time of their marriage, and to challenge Henry to deny it, as so vividly presented by Shakespeare, must remain in question. The earliest source is George Cavendish's life of Wolsey; although Cavendish was an eyewitness, he did not write until 1556–8. Katherine then left the court in spite of a summons to remain. On 25 June she was declared contumacious. This was known in Rome by 9 July. By 16 July Clement VII had issued the advocation to Rome. There may have been (again Cavendish is the source) a further attempt by Wolsey and Campeggi to persuade Katherine to co-operate. Wolsey meanwhile feared that the advocation would be granted before the court could come to a verdict. On 23 July Campeggi, with Wolsey's agreement, adjourned the court, following the Roman custom, for the summer vacation. Clearly there was no intention of reconvening it.
Last years as queen, 1529–1533
Formally, Katherine's position was unchanged by these proceedings. She remained at court, though she and Henry rarely dined together except on great occasions, and Henry was frequently elsewhere, in the company of Anne Boleyn. On one occasion when they did dine informally, on 30 November 1529, there was a blazing row; Anne pointed out subsequently that 'whenever you disputed with the Queen, she was sure to have the upper hand' (Ives, 154–5). In June 1530 Henry was still having Katherine make his shirts, to Anne's fury. Henry's case ground interminably on as he collected opinions from foreign universities, organized a petition to the pope from peers and a selection of leading clergy, and began to press the clergy to agree that the English church was self-sufficient and could proceed in the case regardless of the pope. Katherine meanwhile pressed Clement through Charles V's agents (and especially through Charles's new ambassador, Eustache Chapuys) to settle the case quickly in her favour, trusting, so she claimed, that Henry would thereby see the error of his ways. Clement, however, prevaricated; the furthest he would go, in January 1531, was to forbid Henry to remarry before the case was settled at Rome, and to forbid English authorities, ecclesiastical or secular, to meddle.
Following the acknowledgement by the clerical convocations in February 1531 that Henry was 'Supreme Head' of the English church 'as far as the law of Christ allowed', Clement offered Henry a compromise to allow the trial to take place on supposedly neutral ground. A deputation of some thirty councillors saw Katherine on 31 May 1531, but she refused any compromise and spiritedly defended both the papal supremacy and her marriage, citing, as always, her maidenhood in 1509. In a story related by Chapuys, perhaps too good to be true, the duke of Suffolk reported to Henry that Katherine was ready to obey 'but she owed obedience to two persons first'; to Henry's supposition that these were pope and emperor, Suffolk retorted 'God was the first; the second her soul and conscience' (CSP Spain, 1531–3, no. 739; Katherine certainly used this formula in a later exhortation to Mary). On 11 July 1531 Henry and Katherine saw each other for the last time. The queen and her daughter were also separated; Katherine was ordered to The More in Hertfordshire, where, however, she continued to keep considerable state, Mary to remain at Windsor. Mother and daughter never met again (suggestions that they did so in September 1534 derive from a mistranscription).
In October 1531 Katherine faced another conciliar deputation to persuade her to agree to a trial in England. She was forbidden to write to the king, and her new year gift was brusquely refused. Further pressure was put on the English church early in 1532, with the passing in parliament of the supplication against the ordinaries and the threat to cut off the payment of annates to Rome. Yet another weak papal admonition to Henry, in January 1532, led Katherine to appeal for help from God's vicar to God himself. Then the death of Archbishop Warham on 22 August opened the way to a settlement in England. Henry took Anne Boleyn to meet François I in October 1532. Katherine, meanwhile, had left The More and seems to have been leading a peripatetic life from August to November 1532, moving between Hertford, Hatfield, and Enfield. By the end of the year Anne was pregnant, and Henry married her in January. On 9 April 1533 the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk waited once more on Katherine, now installed at Ampthill, in Bedfordshire, to tell her that Henry and Anne were already married and to require her to give up her title as queen. On 8 May Thomas Cranmer, the new archbishop of Canterbury, summoned Katherine to his court at Dunstable, close to Ampthill. She refused to appear and was declared contumacious. On 23 May Cranmer pronounced her marriage null, finding that her marriage to Arthur had been consummated, and that no dispensation could remove an impediment resulting from divine law.
In July 1533 Katherine again refused to accept the title ‘princess dowager’; the same month she moved, with a much reduced household, to Buckden in Huntingdonshire. She urged Chapuys to press for a definitive papal sentence; however, while Chapuys hoped to stimulate rebellion in England, Katherine refused to countenance resort to force. She also avoided entangling herself with Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent, whose treasonable prophecies about Henry's marriage were revealed in November. There was clearly a good deal of sympathy for Katherine in England as wronged wife and rightful queen, as numerous indictments and reports to Cromwell make clear. Support for her seems to have been particularly marked among women, whether they were great ladies like Henry's sister Mary, duchess of Suffolk, or ‘gossips’ in London and elsewhere. But it is difficult to assess the extent or the potential political significance of such apparent goodwill. There were reports that Londoners showed themselves sullen or even disrespectful to Anne Boleyn during her coronation procession, refusing to cheer or even pull off their caps. But these stories derived from imperial sources. Chapuys's belief that were Katherine to give the signal England would rise in revolt to defend her rights was never put to the test.
A mission by Suffolk in December to remove Katherine to Somersham in Cambridgeshire foundered on her obduracy and Suffolk's reluctance to carry out a forcible removal, although he did imprison some of her English household. On 23 March 1534 Rome at last pronounced on Katherine's marriage, decisively in her favour, but too late to influence events in England. In May Katherine declared that she would refuse to swear the oath recognizing Anne Boleyn's children as Henry's legitimate succession, professing her readiness to accept the capital penalty for refusal, and advising Mary to do likewise, to Chapuys's disquiet. In the event the oath was not pressed on either Katherine or Mary, although their servants were sworn. In May 1534 she was removed to the more secure house at Kimbolton, also in Huntingdonshire, described as smaller but more convenient than Buckden.
Katherine's household had now been reduced to a core largely made up of Spaniards: her confessor, her maestresala (hall-steward), physician and apothecary, two grooms of the chamber, three maids of honour, and six to eight other women. Even so, her yearly expenses came to rather over £3000. Katherine kept to her apartments, including a private garden, perhaps to spare her servants embarrassment, since she insisted on being addressed as queen. Sir Edmund Bedingfield and Sir Edward Chamberlayn acted as steward and chamberlain, with instructions to allow no visits without Henry's licence. In July 1534 Chapuys, despite having been refused permission to visit, nevertheless took a large retinue, including many Spaniards, to make a demonstration outside the walls. In his dispatches Chapuys mentioned possible threats to Katherine's life, especially by poison. Written communication, however, seems to have been maintained relatively freely. Mary was ill in September 1534 and again in February–March 1535; Katherine pleaded that she be allowed to nurse her daughter, or at least that Mary should be moved closer to her. Henry refused; in part, at least, because he feared that Mary might be spirited away to Charles V's dominions, a suspicion justified where Chapuys, though not Katherine, was concerned.
In March 1535 Henry called Katherine 'a proud and intractable woman' who might, in her daughter's interests, 'carry on a war against him as openly and fiercely as Queen Isabella, her mother, had done in Spain' (CSP Spain, 1534–5, no. 142), and throughout that year she continued to urge the new pope, Paul III, to publish the excommunication Henry had incurred by his non-compliance with papal directions; whether because she still believed that Henry would eventually recognize his sin, or to justify rebellion or intervention, is a moot point. The move was sabotaged by Charles V's ambassador in Rome. At the end of December Katherine was dangerously ill. Chapuys was allowed to visit her at Kimbolton. She seemed better when he took his leave on 4 January 1536, but sickened during the night of Thursday the 6th. She heard mass in the morning, dictated letters to Charles V and to Henry, the latter as always protesting her continued love, her anxiety for her daughter, and concern for her servants. She died at Kimbolton about 2 p.m. on Friday 7 January 1536.
The chandler whose duty it was to embalm the body reported to Katherine's physician that the organs were sound, except for the heart, which was black all through. It has been suggested that this was a secondary from a melanotic carcinoma, but the physician deduced 'slow poisoning', and her friends needed little persuading. The precise cause of death is probably now beyond investigation. Henry greeted the news of Katherine's death with relief, regarding it as ending the risk of war with the emperor. Next day he and Anne, dressed in yellow (for mourning, according to Hall), paraded the infant Elizabeth around the court. Katherine was buried, as princess dowager, at Peterborough Abbey on 29 January 1536. No monument was ever erected.
Katherine has enjoyed a good historical reputation. The tragic heroine of Shakespeare's Henry VIII is ultimately derived, through Holinshed, from the publication in Mary's reign of the final part of Polydore Vergil's Anglica historia and also of George Cavendish's Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey: both feature her speech at the Blackfriars court and her interview with the two cardinals in 1529. The picture was enhanced by the publication in the nineteenth century of Chapuys's extremely sympathetic and admiring dispatches covering the period from autumn 1529; Chapuys, indeed, appointed himself her champion not only with Henry but also with the emperor. Undoubtedly from her late teens Katherine displayed a tenacious will, to the annoyance of successive Spanish ambassadors. Before 1509 she was heavily influenced by close friendships with members of her household, most notably Doña Elvira, her duenna, and her confessor Diego Fernández. As queen she performed her role with dignity, presiding at court functions, dispensing patronage to churchmen and writers; while Vives was perhaps of these recipients the closest to Katherine herself, the flavour, even in his case, was more international-humanist than specifically Spanish, although Katherine evidently took pleasure in speaking Spanish with him. Although she was perceived in diplomatic circles as a symbol of Anglo-Spanish alliance against France, her direct political influence was limited, even in the early years of Henry's reign, and from about 1514 minimal. Indeed her views on the public role of a great lady would have precluded any different stance as long as she was under the authority of a husband. She was convinced from 1503 that it was her duty to marry Henry. The sudden turn in her fortunes in 1509 must have confirmed her sense of providential mission. She believed to the utmost of her being that she was Henry's wife, and that belief helped her cut through the legal complexities of the divorce proceedings.
Although Katherine became fluent in English, circumstances after 1529 drove her increasingly into the Spanish core of her household; she always confessed in Spanish. She was meticulous in her observance of public worship, as befitted her position. When she gave birth to a son in 1511 she promised to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (Henry made the pilgrimage immediately), but did not fulfil her vow until after the victory at Flodden, almost three years later. She repeated the visit in 1517, and in her 'will' asked that a representative be sent there on her behalf after her death. In the same document she requested 500 masses for her soul. But while honouring conventional religious practices, Katherine seems not to have displayed the credulity so often associated with the cults of saints, nor to have been concerned with such manifestations of devotion as the collection of holy relics. She had a keen eye for the failings of churchmen, including those of popes and cardinals. The Spanish atmosphere of her private devotions may have accentuated the essential inwardness of her piety, which revolved around mass, prayer, confession, penance, in a manner characteristic of the Spanish court and especially of her mother, though also found in some great English ladies like Lady Margaret Beaufort. Her conversation with Vives in 1524 suggests Christian resignation, even Christian stoicism.
Among the religious orders Katherine especially supported the Observant Franciscans; she was a member of their third order. Popular in Spain, the Observants were established in England from 1482 under the auspices of the court, as an élite group of mature and well-motivated religious. Her marriage to Henry had taken place in their church at Greenwich. She asked to be buried in one of their churches, but by the time of her death the order in England had been dissolved.
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- oil on panel, 1530, NPG; version, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; many later versions
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- miniature, 1530–1536, priv. coll.
- attrib. L. Horenbout, miniature, NPG
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- two miniatures, Buccleuch estates, Selkirk, Scotland
Wealth at Death