In May 1534, Catherine of Aragon – who had been set aside by her husband King Henry VIII so he could marry Anne Boleyn – was moved for the final time. Her destination was Kimbolton in Huntingdonshire. She spent her days with her women, her confessor and her doctor. She continued with her needlework and her devotions.
She fell ill in the winter of 1535, but she appeared to have recovered. However, by late December, she relapsed, and her apothecary wrote, “She gets worse every hour.”1 On 2 January 1536, the Spanish ambassador Chapuys was allowed to see Catherine, and she thanked him for his services. She appeared to be a little better and managed to hold down some food. He later wrote, “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.”2
On the night of 6 January, she managed to prepare herself for the night, “without any help, [she] combed and tied her hair and dressed her head.”3 However, when she woke the following morning, she was clearly dying. When dawn broke, her confessor sang the office and Catherine took the sacrament. She then prayed and asked those around her to pray with her for her soul and that of Henry’s. She also received the last rites.
Before her death, she dictated one last 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 to 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.”4
Catherine died in the arms of Maria de Salinas, who had come over with her from Spain and had forced her way into the castle when she heard Catherine was dying. Catherine passed away a little before 2 P.M. on 7 January.
Catherine had requested that she would be buried in the convent of the Observant Friars, but that wish was not honoured. Neither were the 500 masses she requested said for her soul nor was a pilgrimage made on her behalf to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
An autopsy was performed, and all her organs were “as sounds as possible except the heart”, which was “quite back and hideous, and even after he had washed it three times, it did not change colour.” This immediately led to rumours of her being poisoned, but after so many years, her actual cause of death cannot be established. After the autopsy, her body was handed over the embalmers, who disembowelled it and enclosed it in lead.
Thirty miles north of Kimbolton, preparations were being made to inter Catherine as the “Dowager Princess of Wales.” Torches were to be lit in all the towns through which her body would pass, there would be nine lights in the cathedral while her body was attended by three mutes, several noblemen and four knights to bear a canopy over the body. She was to lie under a pall but without a wooden effigy. The chief mourner was Henry’s niece, Frances Brandon – the daughter of Henry’s sister Mary. She was not to receive a place of honour and was instead buried far from the high altar and even Chapuys complained, “They could not have given her a less honourable place, as I am told by men acquainted with those matters.”5
Catherine’s funeral took place on 29 January 1536. Chapuys did not attend as he refused to attend a service where Catherine was not honoured as a Queen. Her daughter Mary was forbidden from attending. The funeral sermon was preached by John Hilsey. Four centuries later Queen Mary, the wife of King George V, gave orders that symbols of Queens were to be hung above Catherine’s grave and there are still two banners bearing the royal arms of England and Spain.6There is now also golden letterings denoting her as Queen of England and a black slab now covers the grave. This was placed there during Victorian era renovations of the cathedral.
Peterborough Cathedral still celebrates Catherine’s life every year with the Katherine of Aragon Festival.
- Six wives: the queens of Henry VIII
by David Starkey p.543
- England’s Queens from Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II p.17
- Six wives: the queens of Henry VIII
by David Starkey p.547
- England’s Queens from Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II p.17-18
- Catherine of Aragon by Amy Licence p.500
- The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir p.301