Saturday, 7 January 2012

ON THIS DAY in 1536: The Death of Queen Katherine of Aragon

On this day in 1536, the death of Queen Katherine of Aragon.
Romanticized drawing of Katherine of Aragon at the time of her death
Katherine was the first wife and queen of King Henry VIII. She was born Infanta Catalina de Aragón on 16 December 1485, the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile; the great Catholic monarchs who united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. She was married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son and heir of King Henry VII of England and his consort Princess Elizabeth of York on 14 November 1501. Soon after the marriage Arthur died on 2 April 1502 in Wales.

On the 25th of June 1503, she was formally betrothed to the king's second son, Henry, now prince of Wales, and a papal dispensation for the alliance was obtained. They were married on 19 June 1509 and Katherine was crowned queen on the 24th.

Katherine's marriage to Henry was joyful and happy for more than a few years; but after "her" failure to produce a male heir, Henry started to stray from his wife. On 15 June 1519, Henry's mistress Bessie Blount had given birth to the King's illegitimate child; a boy also named Henry. As the King acknowledged the child he was given the surname Fitzroy (meaning son of a king) and was given numerous titles and estates. For awhile there was talk that Fitzroy might become the heir to the throne, but Henry already had an heir by his wife Katherine; a girl named Mary. By 1526, Katherine's health deteriorated and it was generally accepted that she could not have any more children. [for more info on this topic, click -- Childbearing; A Tale of Katherine of Aragon]

Fast forward, Henry has more affairs and falls in love with an English commoner named Anne Boleyn. Anne was the sister of Henry's former mistress Mary. Henry would go to hell and back just to divorce Katherine and marry Anne. This whole ordeal created friction at the court and abroad; Katherine's nephew was now Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Long story short -- after a trial it was determined that Katherine and Henry had been living in sin and the marriage was null and void.

Henry married Anne and Katherine was titled Princess Dowager while her daughter Mary was bastardized and her status as Princess was revoked. Although the marriage was never seen as valid in the Catholic Church, within Henry's Church of England the marriage was valid. She was kept in strict seclusion, separated from her daughter Mary, and from all outside communication. In December 1535 her health started to deteriorated and on 7 January 1536 she died at Kimbolton Castle. By the King's command she was buried at Peterborough Cathedral.

Tomb of Queen Katherine of Aragon, Peterborough Cathedral
 The following day, news of her death reached the king. There were rumors at the time that she was poisoned[1][2][3], possibly by Gregory di Casale.[4] Rumors also circulated that Katherine had been poisoned by Anne or Henry, or both, as Anne had threatened to murder both Katherine and Mary on several occasions. The rumors were born after the apparent discovery during her embalming that there was a black growth on her heart that might have been caused by poisoning.[7] Modern medical experts are in agreement that her heart's discoloration was due not to poisoning, but to cancer, something which was not understood at the time. According to the chronicler Edward Hall, Anne Boleyn wore yellow for the mourning, which has been interpreted in various ways; Polydore Vergil interpreted this to mean that Anne did not mourn.[5] However, Chapuys reported that it was actually King Henry who decked himself in yellow, celebrating the news and making a great show of his and Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, to his courtiers.[6] This was seen as distasteful and vulgar by many. Another theory is that the dressing in yellow was out of respect for the late queen-princess dowager as yellow was said to be the Spanish color of mourning.

Before her death, Katherine wrote a final letter to her husband the King.

Last Letter to Henry VIII, January 7, 1536 
Written shortly before her death, Katherine of Aragon's last letter to the man she still considered her husband was more a tender farewell than a bitter recrimination. 
M y 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 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.

Katharine the Quene.

  1. Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. X, no. 190
  2. Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. X, no. 59
  3. Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. X, no. 230
  4. Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. X, no. 200
  5. Warnicke, p. 187.
  6. Warnicke, p. 188.
  7. Lofts, p.139.
    © 7 January 2012
    Meg McGath 

    1 comment:

    1. R.I.P beautiful, loving and forgiving Katherine!