Catherine of Aragon was born on 16 December 1485 as the daughter of Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. She was their youngest and last child. She was considered as a bride for Arthur, Prince of Wales from an early age and the two were wed on 14 November 1501. They were at Ludlow Castle when both fell it. Catherine survived, but Arthur did not. He died on 2 April 1502. Catherine was in political limbo and had little money to support herself. She was an ambassador of Spain in 1507, the first female ambassador in history. As Catherine testified her marriage to Arthur was not consummated; she received a dispensation to marry Arthur’s brother Henry. They married on 11 June 1509. She was 23, Henry almost 18.
Two weeks after the wedding, Henry and Catherine were crowned and anointed together at Westminster Abbey.
Catherine was pregnant a total of six times.
- Just two months after the wedding a pregnancy was announced, on 31 January 1510, she gave birth to a premature stillborn daughter.
- Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was born on 1 January 1511. He survived for just 52 days.
- In November 1513 Catherine was left in charge as regent when Henry went to France. She went into premature labour and gave birth to a son, who was also named Henry, Duke of Cornwall. He died shortly after birth.
- On 8 January 1515, Catherine gave birth to a stillborn son, also named Henry, Duke of Cornwall.
- On 18 February 1516, Catherine gave birth to a healthy girl at Greenwich Palace at 4 AM. She was named Mary and would become England’s first queen regnant.
- On 10 November 1518, she gave birth to a daughter who was weak and lived for a few weeks to a week. She did not even receive a name.
Around 1525 Anne Boleyn caught Henry’s eye and believing that his marriage to Catherine was cursed due to her marriage to his brother Arthur he set about divorcing Catherine. He underestimated Catherine, and she put up a brilliant fight. She refused to go into a nunnery, as God had not called her. Mary had been living at Ludlow Castle as an unofficial Princess of Wales (she was never granted the title). She spent three years there before returning permanently to the area of London in the middle of 1528. She probably saw her mother last in 1531.
Catherine was banished from court and was banned from called herself Queen, though she never ceased to do so. Anne and Henry were married on 25 January 1533. By then, Catherine was already banished. She lived at The More Castle from the winter of 1531/1532. She was transferred to Kimbolton Castle in 1535. Though both Mary and Catherine were frequently ill during this period, they were not permitted to see each other.
Catherine confined herself to one room at Kimbolton Castle, which she only left to attend mass. By December 1535 Catherine was very ill and near death. She wrote one final letter to Henry,
My most dear lord, King and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.
Catherine was visited by Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, shortly before her death. He reported:
‘After I had kissed hands, she took occasion to thank me for the numerous services I had done her hitherto and the trouble I had taken to come and see her, a thing that she had very ardently desired, thinking that my coming would be salutary to her, and at all events, if it pleased God to take her, it could be a consolation to her to die under my guidance and not unprepared, like a beast. I gave her every hope, both of her health and otherwise, informing her of the offers the King had made to me of what houses she would, and to cause her to be paid the remainder of certain arrears, adding, for her further consolation, that the King was very sorry for her illness, and on this, I begged her to take heart and get well, if for no other consideration, because the union and peace of Christendom depended upon her life.’
At the end of her life, her lifelong friend Maria de Salinas, who had come with her from Spain and had married an Englishman, forced her way into Kimbolton Castle and Catherine was to die in her arms on 7 January 1536.
Mary and her mother were never able to say goodbye. Catherine left Mary her furs and a chain and cross brought over from Spain. She never received the furs, and after some argument over the cross and chain, they were finally Mary’s.
Mary never recognised Anne as Queen, even after Catherine’s death and after Anne tried to offer friendship. After Catherine’s death, all hope must have faded for Mary. Even Emperor Charles V, Mary’s cousin, wrote to his wife that Mary was inconsolable, especially when she thinks of her father’s past behaviour towards herself and of the little favour she can expect for the future. 1
Catherine’s funeral was meagerly arranged. She was buried as a Dowager Princess of Wales at the distant Peterborough Cathedral. Mary was kept away from the funeral, as royal protocol dictated. The chief mourner was Frances Brandon.
With Catherine gone, Mary now became the focus of opposition to Anne, or as Chapuys reported, Anne said ‘She is my death, and I am hers.”