Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)
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Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)

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Catherine of Aragon was the widow of Prince Arthur. In 1509 she married his brother the future Henry VIII. She and Henry had eight children, but only one survived infancy, a girl who was later to become Mary I. Henry was by all accounts very fond of Catherine, but her failure over the years to produce a male heir led him ultimately to annul their marriage in favour of Anne Boleyn. Catherine died in 1536.

The portrait is based on a contemporary miniature.

Henry's wife never laughed, seeing she was the heavy and rather torpid Spaniard, immersed in Saints' days and expert in indulgences, grave in her communication with servants and rustling with her crucifix and keys.
Francis Hackett, Henry the Eighth, 1929.

(2) Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)

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Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)

Daughter of the ruthless Ferdinand and Isabella who were in the process of uniting Spain by conquest during her childhood, Catherine's value as a potential wife to Arthur, the son of the ambitious Henry VII, was enhanced by her parents' success and by the potential of the discovery of America by Columbus a few years before, counterbalancing her own lack of glamorous attributes. To ensure her father's acquiescence in the match, Henry had to execute Warwick, the legitimate heir to the throne, but Catherine did arrive with a substantial dowry of 200,000 gold crowns.

Sadly, Arthur was in such a weak state from tuberculosis when she reached England that he only survived their wedding by five months, dying in her arms in 1502. A key question remains open as to whether the marriage was consummated or not, (Arthur boasted that "I have been in Spain all night", after his wedding night, but Catherine always denied it). During the next few years, she was betrothed to Prince Henry, having obtained a Papal dispensation, necessary because of - as the marriage treaty stated - her earlier consummated marriage to Henry's brother. But she was left in limbo until the death of Henry VII in 1509, after which the young king married her, with some show of enthusiasm.

Although she was pregnant seven times with stillborn or short-lived children, Catherine only succeeded in producing one strong daughter, Mary in 1516, and by the time she passed child-bearing age in 1525, Henry had started to execute any likely Plantagenet rivals, a policy which was actively supported by his wife.
He also trusted her to deal with the Scots, who invaded while he was away in France, and her army, led by the Howards, defeated them at Flodden Field in 1513. The 'King's Great Matter', the search for a son and heir, came to completely obsess him and, with the active assistance of Cardinal Wolsey, he tried to obtain an annulment on the grounds of Catherine's first marriage to his brother. However he was determinedly opposed by Catherine and the Pope's resolve was stiffened by the presence of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V, who had captured Rome in 1527.

Cromwell, who replaced the failed Wolsey (as Chancellor), suggested that this stalemate could only be broken by Henry declaring himself independent of Rome and consequently head of the English church. Henry backed off from this unprecedented step until it became apparent that his mistress, Anne Boleyn, was pregnant in 1532. He then installed Cranmer, who was Protestant, as Archbishop of Canterbury and they were married the next year and his marriage to Catherine annulled. Henry and Anne treated both Catherine and her daughter Mary badly, denying Catherine any visitors. After she died in 1536 an autopsy revealed a 'black and shrivelled' heart, which could indicate poisoning, but probably not at Henry's orders.


She was rather staid than stately; reserved than proud; grave from her cradle, insomuch that she was a matron before she was a mother.
- Thomas Fuller, Church History of Britain.

I have done England little good, but I should be sorry to do it any harm.
- Herself.

She had married Henry VIII in the course of dynastic duty. Had Arthur survived Catherine would have marshaled her fidelity and her devotion with the same cruel thoroughness, and entombed him under the same mound of obligation.
- Francis Hackett, Henry the Eighth, 1929. Advanced Category Search

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