Catherine Of Aragon
Born: 16 December 1485
Place: Alcala de Henares, Spain
Father: Ferdinand II of Aragon
Mother: Isabella I of Castile
1. Prince Arthur (1486-1502)
2. Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Queen Of England: 1509-1533
Children: Mary I (1516-1558)
Religion: Roman Catholic
Died: 7 January 1536
Place: Kimbolton Castle
Buried: Peterborough Cathedral
Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII's first wife. Henry, however, was not Catherine's first husband. She was first married to Henry's big brother, Prince Arthur. Arthur was heir to the throne, being Henry VII's eldest son, and was just fifteen at the time of the marriage. Catherine was also just fifteen. The two teenagers were married in the summer of 1501, Catherine being escorted up the aisle by ten year old Henry, and then they went to live in Ludlow Castle. But less than six months later, Prince Arthur fell ill and died. For the next few years, Catherine's future was uncertain. There was talk of her marrying Prince Henry, as her family was keen for her to be Queen of England, but the fact that she was Henry's brother's widow complicated things. Henry was a Catholic, as was Catherine, and marrying a brother's widow was forbidden in the Bible. The only way Catherine and Henry could marry was with the Pope's permission. This was granted through a Papal Dispensation, which annulled Catherine's marriage to Arthur on the grounds that the couple had never consummated their union, and the two were finally married when Henry became king in 1509.
The marriage, at least in the beginning, was a happy one. Catherine was a devoted wife, loyal and dutiful, and Henry was a very different man to the moody, obese, tyrant he later became. He was charming, athletic, clever and brave, and, at least by the royal standards of the day, was a good husband. Had Catherine borne him a son, a prince to one day rule, then Henry would never have considered replacing her. But Catherine did not bear him a son. The only child of theirs to survive infancy was a daughter, the future Mary I. Henry felt he was failing in his duty if he did not provide the country with a male heir. England had just emerged from the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic squabble for the crown that had lasted years and claimed many lives, and without a male heir, Henry feared his only legacy would be civil war. For years he had prayed for a son, hoping with all his heart that God would bless him with a healthy boy, but his prayer was not answered. Deeply religious, like most people of the time, Henry feared this meant he had offended God. His offence? Marrying his brother's widow!
Convinced this was the reason for his lack of a son, Henry petitioned the Pope to have his marriage to Catherine annulled. By now he had fallen head over heels in love with Anne Boleyn, one of Queen Catherine's ladies in waiting, and he hoped to make her his wife instead. Catherine, however, was not willing to be brushed aside after twenty years of marriage and opposed Henry at every turn. She believed with her whole heart that she was Henry's true wife, and that their daughter, Mary, was his true heir, and petitioned the Pope accordingly. This put the Pope in a great dilemma. Catherine had powerful relatives, her nephew being the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the Pope did not want to offend him by granting Henry his annulment. But, on the other hand, he did not want to offend Henry either by refusing the annulment. So, in the hope of buying himself some time, he decided there should be a trial. This trial, giving both sides the opportunity to be heard, would determine whether or not the marriage was valid.
The trial went ahead in 1529 and Catherine was brought before the judges. Before everyone she swore she was a virgin when she married Henry so their marriage was holy and binding. Henry was confident that the court would rule in his favour, but the Pope, still not wanting to take sides, had given orders to prolong the trial as long as possible. When the King realised he was not going to get his way, he was furious. He fell out with the Pope and set up his own Protestant Church of England instead. As head of the church he was able to secure his own divorce and his marriage to Catherine was finally declared null and void in 1533.
Catherine, now ill and living in confinement away from court, was heartbroken. To make matters worse, she was forbidden from seeing her beloved daughter, Mary. Henry married Anne Boleyn, who was now Queen of England, but neither Catherine or Mary acknowledged her as such. Catherine did not hate Anne, however, and even felt sorry for her when she too began to suffer miscarriages. Like Catherine, the only healthy child Anne gave the King was a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Perhaps Catherine knew that unless Anne gave the King his all important son, she too was doomed.
After years of isolation and suffering, Catherine died on the 7th of January of 1536 at Kimbolton Castle. She is buried in Peterborough Cathedral.