Catherine of Aragon Biography

Catherine of Aragon

Failure to produce an heir caused Henry VIII to annul their marriage and made way for his mistress. An uncommon public confrontation cost the Queen everything.

Catherine of Aragon was born to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, 'The Catholic Monarchs', on 16 December 1485. The youngest of five surviving children, Catherine, 'the political pawn', was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales and eldest son of Henry VII of England, by the age of three.

Just over a month after arriving in England, just prior to her sixteenth birthday, Catherine and Arthur were married on 14 November 1501 at St Paul's Cathedral and moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales. After only a few months, the sickly Arthur died of a mystery infection, possibly the sweating sickness, and left Catherine alone in the foreign land of England.

For eight years, Catherine's future remained uncertain, as Henry VII's enthusiasm for an Anglo-Spanish alliance waned since he didn't want to return the substantial dowry that was paid on the occasion of Catherine's marriage to Arthur.

However, when the vibrant eighteen-year-old, Henry VIII, came to the throne in 1509, he immediately made full use of the papal dispensation Pope Julius II had issued in 1501, allowing him to marry his dead brother's wife.

She became a devoted wife to Henry and even acted as regent of the country for six months when the king was in France in 1513. She guided English troops to victory at the Battle of Flodden against the Scots while acting as regent.

Catherine's duty as the King's wife was to give Henry a son, a male heir to carry on the Tudor Dynasty. After three miscarriages, one still birth and two infant deaths, Catherine produced only one surviving child - Mary, born in 1516.

A son, prince Henry, was actually carried to term - he was born on 1 January 1511 and christened on the 5th but the baby died after just 52 days of life. Catherine's last recorded pregnancy occurred in 1518.

Unfortunately for Catherine, this did not satisfy the King and, by the age of forty-two, the chances of her bearing another child were slim.

Anne Boleyn, a beauty of the Court, had attracted Henry's attention and despite a seemingly contented 20-year marriage, 'The King's Great Matter' took precedence over Catherine, and Henry VIII declared the papal dispensation of 1501 inadequate, claiming the illegitimate marriage had left her barren.

The king used evidence from Leviticus that his marriage to Catherine was childless because she had been married to his brother. Catherine continued to insist that her first marriage had never been consummated; meaning her marriage to the king was legitimate.

A complicated political and religious struggle ensued and, consequently, Henry VIII rejected all papal authority in 1533, bestowing the title 'Princess Dowager of Wales' on the former queen. She continued to fight not just for her position but for her daughter's too. However, things came to a head when Anne Boleyn announced her pregnancy.

Catherine was separated from her daughter, banished from Court, deprived of luxury and spent the last years of her life unhappy and lonely in damp castles and manors. However, she rarely complained about her treatment and spent her time in prayer. During her marriage to the king, it was thought that she wore a hair shirt to show her devotion to God and the Virgin Mary.

She died in Kimbolton on 7 January 1536 and was buried in Peterborough Abbey. Her funeral ceremony was fit only for the widow of the Prince of Wales, and Henry VIII was notably absent.

The queen was well-loved by the English people as she started an extensive programme for helping the poor and often handed out alms to those in need on holy days.

She also acted as a patron of Renaissance humanism and was a close friend of Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, who was beheaded in 1535 for disagreeing with the king's divorce.

A beloved queen who acted her part as the king's true and loyal wife until the end.

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