martes, 21 de mayo de 2013

Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England

Versión en español

In the post The House of Trastamara we said that Catherine of Aragon was the unhappy first wife of King Henry VIII of England. Now we will give a quick view to Catherine’s history, the most important Spanish Consort Queen of England.

Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536) was the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs. She was an intelligent, cultivated, pious and passionate woman.

At an early age, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. At that time, the House of Trastámara was very prestigious; on the contrary, the new Tudor monarchy was not accepted by all European kingdoms. Henry VII of England saw in Catherine a way to legitimate his dynasty due to the English ancestry she inherited from her mother Queen Isabella I (see Catherine of Lancaster, Queen of Castile).

The very young Catherine and Arthur married at Old St. Paul's Cathedral in 1501. A dowry of 200,000 crowns had been agreed, and half was paid shortly after the marriage. Unfortunately Arthur died only five months later.

Catherine of Aragon as a young widow, by court painter Michael Sittow, circa 1502. Source: Wikipedia
At this point, Henry VII faced the challenge of avoiding the obligation to return the dowry to her father. To settle the matter, it was agreed that Catherine would marry Henry VII's second son, Henry, Duke of York, who was five years younger than she was.

However, the death of Catherine's mother Isabella of Castile in 1504 meant that her "value" in the marriage market decreased. The marriage was delayed until Henry was old enough, but Henry VII procrastinate so much over payment of the remainder of Catherine's dowry that it became doubtful that the marriage would take place.

She lived as a virtual prisoner at Durham House in London. She had little money and struggled to cope, as she had to support her ladies-in-waiting as well as herself.

In 1507 she served as the Spanish ambassador to England, the first female ambassador in European history. While Henry VII and his councillors expected her to be easily manipulated, Catherine went on to prove them wrong.

Marriage to Arthur's brother depended on the Pope granting a dispensation because canon law forbade men to marry their brother's widow. Catherine testified that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated as, also according to canon law, a marriage was not valid until consummated.

Finally, Catherine's wedding took place on 1509. She married Henry VIII, who had only just acceded to the throne, in a private ceremony at Greenwich Church. She was 23 years of age. The King was just days short of his 18th birthday.

Few days later, Henry VIII and Princess Catherine anointed and crowned together at a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Catherine made a fine impression and was well received by the people of England.

Henry was charismatic, tall, athletic and confident. Ambassadors wrote of his golden hair and his fair skin. He also had a beautiful new wife, money and ambition. He wanted to be the most influential and impressive prince in Europe.

It was Catherine’s duty to support her ambitious husband. This came quite naturally. Catherine was not stranger to the importance of conquest: she had grown up on the battlefield of Spain. Henry trusted her. They were a team.

In 1513, Catherine served as regent of England for six months, while Henry VIII was in France. During that time, the English won the Battle of Flodden against Scots, an event in which Catherine played an important part.

Catherine had political influence. In 1520, she urged Henry to enter an alliance with her uncle the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, also known as Charles I of Spain (see The House of Trastamara) rather than with the King Francis I of France.

Furthermore, Catherine won widespread admiration by starting an extensive programme for the relief of the poor. She was also a patron of Renaissance humanism, and a friend of the great scholars Erasmus of Rotterdam and Saint Thomas More.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon portraits c. 1520. Unknown artists. National Portrait Gallery. London. A recently re-identified portrait of Catherine of Aragon, which is on long-term loan to the Gallery from Lambeth Palace, is displayed alongside a portrait of Henry VIII from the same period.

Catherine knew that it was a queen’s responsibility to provide as many children as possible, preferable boys. Female rulers were relatively unknown. But by 1520, eleven years of marriage had produced only one surviving child, the Princess Mary, the future Mary I, born in 1516.

Henry VIII became desperate for a son and heir. He knew that the survival of the Tudor dynasty depended on it. By 1521, aged thirty five, it was difficult for Catherine not to fear the worst. She would never provide her husband with another boy.

In 1526 Henry was thirty five years old. He was still jousting and hunting by day and was surrounded by temptation. Perhaps a new wife might provide him with a son? Catherine would have to understand. Henry was infatuated with his mistress Anne Boleyn.

He sought to have their marriage annulled, setting in motion a chain of events that led to England's break with the Roman Catholic Church.

By 1527, Pope Clement VII was a virtual prisoner of Charles I of Spain, whose troops had just sacked Rome. When the Pope refused to annul the marriage, Henry defied him by assuming supremacy over religious matters.

In 1533 their marriage was declared invalid and Henry married Anne on the judgment of clergy in England, without reference to the Pope. Catherine refused to accept Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and considered herself the King's rightful wife and queen, attracting much popular sympathy.

Despite this, Catherine was acknowledged only as Dowager Princess of Wales by Henry. After being banished from court, she lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle.

Henry never permitted to Catherine see her daughter Mary again. Nevertheless, they managed to keep in contact through letters carried by their supporters.

Catherine of Aragon died on 1536. Catherine's English subjects held her in high esteem, thus her death set off tremendous mourning. Such was Catherine's impression on people that even her enemy, Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, said of her "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History”.

She was buried in the Peterborough Cathedral. Her grave can still be seen and is nowadays honoured by visitors and often decorated with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol). It carries the legend "KATHARINE QUEEN OF ENGLAND", a title she was denied at the time of her death.

Grave of Catherine of Aragon inside Peterborough Cathedral. Source: Wikipedia
Main consulted sources
The really useful guide to Kings and Queens of England. Historic Royal Palaces. 2011
Hampton Court Royal Palace
Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). Wikipedia (English)
Catalina de Aragón (1485-1536). Wikipedia (Spanish)
National Portrait Gallery. London. Henry and Catherine reunited
Peterborough Cathedral. Wikipedia (English)
Catedral de Peterborough. Wikipedia (Spanish)
Catherine of Aragon. BBC
Catherine of Aragon Biography. The Biography Channel

Related posts
La Casa de Trastámara / The House of Trastamara
Catherine of Lancaster, Queen of Castile
Catalina de Lancaster, Reina de Castilla