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Catherine of Aragon
(1485-1536)

Born: 1485 at Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain
Queen of England
Died: 7thJanuary 1536 at Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire


Catherine of Aragon, first Queen of Henry VIII, was the youngest child of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile & Leon. She had an excellent and learned education and was married, in 1501, to Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, but she never lived with him as his wife. The Prince died in the following April at the age of sixteen and Catherine was betrothed in 1503 to his brother Henry. A Papal dispensation was procured from Pope Julius II to hallow this more than doubtfully lawful union. In 1505, when the marriage was to have taken place, Henry, then aged fourteen, registered, by his father's advice, a protest against its completion; and it is clear that Henry VII's main object in the whole business was to retain possession of one half of the very considerable dowry of the Princess. Ferdinand, on his side, was anxious not to have to pay the other half, which, however, Henry at last extorted from him.

Catherine's life must have been a very miserable one until 1509, when Henry VII died, and Henry VIII, who seems to have been really fond of her, married her two months after his accession. He left her as Regent when he went to fight in France, in 1513, and during her regency the Battle of Flodden was won against the Scots. Her father's continuous treachery towards his English allies may have weakened the King's affection for Catherine, but it seems more probable that it was the successive deaths of four children, and the fact that only one girl - Queen Mary Tudor - survived from their union, that gradually cooled her husband's affection and led him to question the original validity of his marriage.

At all events, in 1526, the question of a divorce began to be secretly mooted and Wolsey was in favour of it. Catherine maintained from the first a dignified and active resistance to any such suggestion: her best counsellor in the matter was John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. In 1528, the Pope sent over an Italian Cardinal, Campeggio, nominally to hold a joint inquiry with Wolsey into the validity of the marriage, but with secret instructions to avoid pronouncing a decision. After various shifts, in which neither King nor Pope appears with such credit as the injured Queen, the case was revoked to Rome and this practically terminated all Henry's hopes of a divorce by Papal authority.

In July 1531, Henry finally left Catherine's society. She was bundled off to Easthampstead in Berkshire and he never saw her again. Meanwhile, Parliament had met, in 1529, and had commenced to pass the series of Acts which effected the final breach with the Papacy. As soon as the Act of Appeals had become law, the Archbishop of Canterbury held a court at Dunstable and pronounced in favour of the divorce. Catherine then became, so far as English law could make her, merely the 'Princess Dowager,' but the people of England, with whom the divorce was most unpopular, continued to salute her as Queen.

Catherine was removed to Moor Park (Herts), then Bishop's Hatfield (Herts) and Kimbolton Castle (Hunts). Her household was much reduced and severe pressure was put upon her, though in vain, to induce her to acquiesce in her changed position. Long after it was too late (1534) the Pope pronounced in favour of the validity of her marriage, but this could now do Catherine no good, for Parliament had already recognized Anne Boleyn as Queen and withdrawn England from obedience to the Pope. Catherine utterly refused to take the oath attached to the new Act of Succession, though the penalty for refusing was death, and though she lived long enough to hear that her saintly friend, Bishop Fisher, and Sir Thomas More had been beheaded for refusing. She died at Kimbolton, firm to the last, praying for forgiveness for her enemies, and forgiving the King for all his cruelty towards her. She was honourably buried at Peterborough Cathedral.

Everything that we know of Queen Catherine is to her credit: she was a loyal and grossly injured wife, an affectionate friend and mother, and a faithful subject of her adopted country. In the exercise of the strictest piety according to the practices of the Roman church, she found, in the days of her misfortune, her only consolation.

Edited from Emery Walker's "Historical Portraits" (1909).


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