Catherine of Aragon, or Catalina as she was known in her youth, was born on 16 December 1485 as the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. She was the last of her parents’ five surviving children. The young Princess had a maid, Elena de Carmona, whose bed was situated next to her cradle. Her parents were soon on the move again, but it is unclear if Catherine was with them. Over the years, she would sometimes travel with them.1 Catherine’s early years were formed by religion and education, and although she was surrounded by governesses and nurses, her mother would be the most influential person in her life.2 By the spring of 1489, negotiations for Catherine’s marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales, were underway.3 Although negotiations went well, the date of departure had not been fixed.4 Meanwhile, her siblings were also being married off. Her eldest sister Isabella was first married to Alfonso, Prince of Portugal and later to King Manuel I of Portugal. John married Archduchess Margaret of Austria, while Joanna married Margaret’s brother Philip. Maria went on to marry her sister’s widower, Manuel I of Portugal.
The formal betrothal between Catherine and Arthur finally took place at Woodstock Palace on 15 August 1497.5 On 19 May 1499, they were married by proxy at Tickenhill Manor. From that moment on, Catherine was known as the Princess of Wales, and she had not even left Spain yet.6 She would not depart for another year, probably because there were concerns for Arthur’s health.7 In the spring of 1501, preparations were, at last, being made for Catherine’s departure to England.8 On 21 May 1501, Catherine left Spain for good. She never saw her parents again.9
The fleet arrived in the Plymouth harbour on 2 October 1501.10 Catherine requested to be taken to the nearest parish church to give thanks for their safe arrival. She then travelled on to Exeter, where she received a letter of welcome from King Henry VII.11 She headed east and met with King Henry VII and Arthur along the way.12 After spending the evening together, they all departed for London.13 On 14 November 1501, Catherine and Arthur married in person.14 Later that day, the bedding ceremony would follow, and it would become the most famous bedding ceremony in history. If only she had known what was to come.15
At the end of the year, Catherine and Arthur travelled to Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches with Arthur riding on horseback and Catherine sitting in a litter.16 They had separate chambers there, as was the custom.17 At Ludlow Castle, the couple would have meals together, but Catherine was often alone as Arthur went away on government business.18 Catherine made in a friend in the form of Margaret Pole, who was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, a brother of King Edward IV.
At the end of March 1502, both Catherine and Arthur fell ill. Arthur’s last public engagement had been on 24 March, where he had been distributing money to the poor. On the evening of 2 April 1502, Catherine was still ill in bed as her young husband succumbed to the disease. We do not know exactly what Arthur died of and why Catherine survived.19 Catherine may have been protected from the news as she was still ill herself. On 5 April, the news was broken to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Arthur was buried at Worcester Cathedral, and Catherine was not present.20
Her parents, meanwhile, were busy mourning another death. The loss of their young grandson Miguel meant that the new heirs of their kingdoms were their daughter Joanna and her husband, Philip. The news of Arthur’s death did not reach them until 3 May.21 We do not know how long it took them to cook up the idea for a new match, with Arthur’s younger brother Henry. Catherine may have believed that she would return to Spain, like her elder sister Isabella had done, but that would also mean the return of dowry. It was Elizabeth of York who sent for Catherine from London. For the next three years, she would live in Durham House, while a new betrothal hung in the air. Elizabeth of York died shortly after delivering a daughter named Katherine, on her 37th birthday in 1503. Perhaps the young Princess Katherine, who also died, was named for Catherine. The loss of Catherine’s mother Isabella in 1504 meant a change in status for Catherine. Her sister was now the Queen of Castile, and Catherine was no longer the daughter of Castile.
As Catherine waited, Henry VII confirmed a new alliance in 1505, and it concerned the marriage between Prince Henry and Catherine, but as Prince Henry approached his 15th birthday, he repudiated his bride.22Henry was eying a new bride for his son, Marguerite d’Angoulême. He was even in the market for a new bride of his own. But in the end, it came to nothing. Only Catherine’s father remarried that year to Germaine of Foix, who was two years Catherine’s junior. He wanted to save Aragon from the clutches of his son-in-law. As the years went on, Catherine found herself in a dire state. She had little funds and was not supported by Henry VII. She wrote to her father asking for help, but he neglected her.23
Around this time, Fray Diego Fernandez appeared in her household, so at least Catherine had some spiritual consolation, but Catherine was beginning to take her faith to the extreme. In later years, she was known for her semi-fasts, which interrupted her menstruation and she took to wearing a sackcloth shift.24 It wasn’t until the death of Henry VII in 1509, that things finally would change for Catherine. She would now, at last, fulfil her destiny and become Queen of England.
- Amy Licence – Catherine of Aragon p.35-36
- Amy Licence – Catherine of Aragon p.37-38
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- Amy Licence – Catherine of Aragon p.170-174
- Amy Licence – Catherine of Aragon p.175-176