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Catherine of Aragon - always a Queen

Portrait of a young Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow c. 1502.  Catherine was considered a great beauty at the time and by Henry VIII.

Portrait of a young Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow c. 1502. Catherine was considered a great beauty at the time and by Henry VIII.

Catherine of Aragon


Arthur, Prince of Wales (1501-1502)

Henry VIII of England (1509-1533)


Mary I of England (only living child)

Henry, Duke of Cornwall (died a few weeks after birth)

Portrait of eighteen year old Henry VIII at the time he married Catherine of Aragon, 24 years old.

Portrait of eighteen year old Henry VIII at the time he married Catherine of Aragon, 24 years old.

Catherine of Aragon 1485-1536

Catherine of Aragon, always the queen, was described by her husband, Henry VIII to always have been dignified, elegant, and eloquent. Although he annulled their marriage, he always respected Catherine and the place she had held in his heart and his kingdom. It was his crazed quest for a male heir that destroyed the life of Catherine of Aragon, who always believed she was the true Queen of England.

Catherine of Aragon was born in Alcala de Henares near Madrid on December 16, 1485 in the palace of the Archbishop of Toledo. This was the same year that Henry VII established the Tudor dynasty in England. Her life was destined to be intertwined with the Tudors for the rest of her life.

Catherine was the youngest living daughter of Queen Isabella of Castilla and King Ferdinand of Aragon, los Reyes Catolicos, (the Catholic monarchs) who unified Spain in 1492 when they pushed the Moors out of Granada and back to northern Africa.

At three years of age, Catherine was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and English King Henry VII's eldest son.

During her childhood, Catherine was highly educated and tutored in religion and the classics and was a pious and devout Catholic all her life. Because of her education she was always described as quite intelligent.

Infanta Catherine's early life promised a bright future of splendor and success.

In 1501, Catherine arrived in England for her marriage to Prince Arthur. She was sixteen years old. Catherine and Arthur were married in old St. Paul's Cathedral. They then moved to and lived in Ludlow Castle, seat of the Prince of Wales, on the Welsh border.

Unfortunately, Arthur died within six months of the marriage from the sweating sickness, but Catherine remained in England and returned to London and Henry VII then betrothed Catherine to Arthur's younger brother, Henry.

Henry, born on June 28, 1491, was six years younger than Catherine and, ironically, had been destined and educated for a life in the Roman Catholic Church. With the death of Arthur, his brother, Henry was now destined to become king.

Catherine and Henry were not immediately married because Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon were in conflict over the marriage contract and Catherine's dowry. Henry VII didn't want to loose Catherine's dowry, half of which she brought when she married Arthur. If Catherine was to return to Spain, the marriage contract stated that the half dowry would return to Spain with her. Also, her inheritance as dowager Princess of Wales, which was substantial, would go with her back to Spain. So Henry VII sought to betroth her to his other son.

Catherine spent the next seven years of her life in a state of political limbo. She was not permitted to leave England, but on the other hand, Henry VII allowed her to live in poverty, despite her royal position. Catherine was treated shabbily and the Spanish ambassador was forced to buy her necessities and she was unable to pay her maids and ladies in waiting.

In April 1509, Henry VII died and young Henry VIII, at the age of 18, assumed the throne. His first official royal business was to marry Catherine, age 24 and at this time he was handsome, proud and romantic. Henry VIII obtained a dispensation from the pope that Catherine's short marriage to Arthur was annulled on the grounds it was never consummated.

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Catherine of Aragon was crowned Queen of England alongside Henry in a magnificent joint coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. The first years of their marriage were a true love match and Catherine proved a competent regent Queen when Henry was campaigning in France (1512-1514). They were a loving and affectionate couple. They displayed public affection toward one another and both made declarations of love and respect for one another. For a long while, Catherine was a close political adviser to Henry.

When Henry was in France trying to claim control of the French throne, Catherine served as regent queen. Two months later, the Scots invaded England and Catherine heralded the troops at the 1513 Battle of Flodden. England defeated the Scots, killing James IV, and Catherine sent the king's banner and bloodied coat to her husband in France. She told Henry the Scottish defeat was really more important than conquering France, and so Henry came home to England.

This would be the last time Catherine would have such influence over Henry. Cardinal Wolsey saw that Catherine was relegated to the domestic life of child bearing. This would prove to be a heartbreaking challenge for Catherine, Queen of England

Henry VIII to King Ferdinand of Aragon

"The bond between them is now so strict that all their interests are common and the love he bears to Catherine is such, that if he were still free, he would choose her in preference to all others."

— written in a letter from Henry VIII to Catherine's father, Ferdinand of Aragon

Anne Bolyn, Catherine's lady in waiting became Henry's second wife.

Anne Bolyn, Catherine's lady in waiting became Henry's second wife.

"If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing...they shall be childless" (Leviticus, XX. 21)

~the Bible passage Henry VIII said should give him an annulment from Catherine.

Portrait of Henry VIII in later years.

Portrait of Henry VIII in later years.

Catherine of Aragon in later years.

Catherine of Aragon in later years.

"In this world I will confess myself to be the king's true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted."

~Catherine of Aragon, 1532


Henry's quest for a son

Catherine had no problem getting pregnant. She bore Henry six children in nine years. Her first child, a stillborn, born January 10, 1510, began Catherine's misfortune. In 1511, a second child was born, Prince Henry, but he died within weeks of his birth. She bore him a third son, who died in childbirth. The only child of Catherine and Henry to survive was a girl, Mary, born in 1516 who would go on to become Mary I of England.

Because Catherine could not bear Henry a living son, Catherine's marriage to Henry began to crumble. Eighteen years into their marriage, Catherine was forty-two and overweight. She was beyond child bearing years, according to the times, and so Henry began to look elsewhere for a wife.

Henry did not have to look far. Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine's ladies in waiting, had captured the interest and imagination of Henry. He had first had a tryst with Anne's sister, Mary, the other Boleyn girl, and now turned his interest to Anne. She was lively, witty, and seductive, and Henry, desperate for a son he thought Anne could give him, turned to Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.

During his marriage to Catherine, Henry had once strayed with an affair with Elizabeth Blount who bore him a son out of wedlock named Henry Fitzroy. Henry was convinced he could have sons, but Catherine could not.

Henry justified his request for an annulment from Catherine centered on the Bible passage, Leviticus, XX, 21. He believed his incestuous marriage had been doomed from the start because he had married his brother's widow which went against biblical teaching. He needed to convince Pope Clement VII that Catherine's original dispensation was inadequate and it directly contradicted the Bible and had no merit.

Pope Clement VII was in a quandary. Catherine's nephew was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and he had no intention of seeing his aunt's marriage thrown aside. After the 1527 sack of Rome, Charles controlled the pope.

Henry's request for an annulment dragged on despite extensive work and pleading from Cardinal Wolsey. During this time, Catherine was aware of Anne and her romance with Henry. Henry avoided Catherine's company, but still attended official functions with Catherine because Catherine was very popular with the realm and the kingdom considered Catherine their right queen.

Henry always respected Catherine and her dignity and eloquence and he did not want to fight Catherine. He desperately wanted an amicable end to their union and he was prepared to be generous. Anne Boleyn was not popular and Catherine was England's respected and loved queen. Henry soon came under popular scorn for his plans.

Catherine, in the meantime, fought back and refused to go along with Henry's wishes for an amicable annulment. She publicly testified that her first marriage was never consummated and that she came to Henry a true and honest maid. Catherine also encouraged her daughter, Mary, to protect her rights as a princess. This enraged Henry and Mary lost her father's favor and subsequently was forbidden to visit her mother.

Catherine gained popular sympathy as she fought for her rights under marriage to Henry and those of her daughter, Mary.

Henry, during all this time, did his homework and debated this annulment issue with prominent theologians with hearings at European universities. Both the king and the pope realized there was a valid basis for an annulment, and Pope Clement VII had no wish to antagonize loyal and devoted Henry, but at the same time he realized Henry could not be helped at the expense of the Holy Roman Emperor.

During the seven years that Henry and the pope went back and forth on this issue, Henry was growing older and Anne was growing impatient and believed her youth was being wasted.

Henry and Anne wed in secret in 1533 and it is believed Anne was pregnant at this time.

Henry's desire to annul his marriage to Catherine brought about the English Reformation.

By 1533, the only thing Henry could do to end his marriage with Catherine was break with Rome and declare himself Supreme Head of the new Church of England. With this, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer issued the long awaited annulment that proclaimed Henry's marriage to Catherine null and void.

Catherine was no longer Queen of England, but now titled, Princess Dowager of Wales, a title she refused to accept. This annulment also made their daughter Mary illegitimate. By this time there were rumors among the court that Anne was pregnant.

Catherine was exiled from court and her last years were lonely and sad. She refused to be called anything but Queen of England in her exile and refused to respond when anyone called her Princess Dowager. She was moved from one damp and musty castle to another and she was often ill. She died at Kimbolton Castle, January 7, 1536, three weeks after her fiftieth birthday.

Her lingering illness and psychological effects of her exile are said to be the reasons for her death. She was buried at Peterborough Abbey. Henry did not attend her funeral.

Four months after Catherine's death, Henry would execute his second wife, Anne Boleyn.


Catherine's plea to Henry


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 16, 2015:

chelsea: Thank you so much for reading this and I am glad you enjoyed it. That she stood up to Henry is why I have always liked Catherine of Aragon so much. To me his other wives are just blips in history, but Catherine remains as an important figure in history and in Henry's history. I am glad you appreciate her too.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 16, 2015:

Martie: I have been substitute teaching and not on HP much, but thank you so much for reading this hub. I am so glad you find this interesting and that I did well with the relationship. So sad that Catherine had such an unhappy life. Not quite fair to her, but then life is not fair. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 16, 2015:

Kim: Thanks so much for reading and for you lovely comments. Long time no see! LOL! I have been substitute teaching and have not been on HP very much. Thanks for always reading my hubs. How are you doing?

Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 06, 2015:

Suzette, I enjoyed this hub tremendously. At a time I was totally obsessed with the history of the British monarchy. I've read more than 120 biographies, the one more interesting than the other. You have described Henry VIII and Catherine's relationship perfectly.

chelseagirl74 on September 23, 2015:

She was the one true queen of England.She stood up to Henry and fought for her rights and those of her daughter when others would have rolled over.

ocfireflies from North Carolina on September 11, 2015:


I am on a quest to catch back up on my reading. And what a read this was. Totally enjoyed. Shared and Pinned. It has been too long. I hope all is well with you and have missed you.



Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 01, 2015:

lady: Yes, Henry certainly was a jerk. I have always felt sorry for Catherine, although I admire her for not giving in to Henry and insisting on being addressed as queen. Henry was a spoiled brat.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on June 30, 2015:

Henry was a very ungrateful person. It was very sad to see how Catherine ended up alone and sick. It is still a common story with some women today.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 19, 2015:

Hi Genna: Thank you so much for stopping by to read this. I am glad you enjoyed it. I have always felt sorry the most for Catherine because she was thrown aside after 24 years of marriage and her daughter made illegitimate. That was a hard pill to swallow and lead to her early death. Once banished from court, she was sickly the rest of her life.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on April 18, 2015:

Of all the figures that loomed large during the reign of the Tudor dynasty, I thought the long suffering Catherine was a person to be admired for her elegance and character. You write well of the history surrounding those times. I hope you write future installments on the Tudors; they have always fascinated me, especially Elizabeth I.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 15, 2015:

lawrence01: That is so interesting that your local grammar school was founded during Henry's reign so long ago. Henry lived large and spent large and so he wanted that money and land from the Catholic church in England. Yes, he did loot the monasteries and that was still not enough money for him. To lavish his six wives took quite a bit of money. Of all of Henry's wives, I have always felt sorry the most for Catherine.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 14, 2015:

Thoroughly enjoyed this. There's so much that was going on at the time that we'll never fully know all that was happening. Henry was also known as s 'big spender' who pushed Britain to the brink of bankruptcy.

The break with Rome gave Henry the excuse he needed to loot the monasteries despite some of them doing great work among the poor.

The local grammar school in my hometown was founded in Henry's time and is still known as the 'KINGS SCHOOL '

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 14, 2015:

Anne: Thanks so much for your visit and comments. Catherine is the one I feel the most sorry for. She did remain dignified and elegant to the end just as you say. It must have been heartbreaking to have Henry annul their marriage and make her daughter, Mary illegitimate. Thanks so much for your interest and for reading this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 14, 2015:

travmaj: This is the queen I always felt so sorry for. To come from Spain and become queen of her adopted country and then have Henry just discard her like he did. The other women, I fault them for thinking Henry would remain loyal and loving to them after seeing what he did to Catherine. The old adage is true, if he would treat Catherine that way, he would treat the other ones that way, too. At least Catherine didn't lose her head! Money and power taking precedence over love always brings tragedy in the end.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 14, 2015:

Nell: lol! that happens to me all the time. These darn computers try to 'correct' our comments. It drives me batty sometimes!

Anne Harrison from Australia on April 14, 2015:

Such a sad and tragic life. She must have been a remarkable woman indeed, to have remained dignified and elegant to the end. Voted up

travmaj from australia on April 13, 2015:

Catherine of Aragon deserves remembrance, what a complicated life she lived and she remained most royal even through her sadness and misery at the hands of Henry the v111. Silly to think but I can't help but wonder what would have happened had one of her sons lived. Would Henry have remained faithful? What complex lives they lived. All money and power and deceit. Still, nothing beats reading about the Tudors.

Nell Rose from England on April 13, 2015:

Sorry meant to say, glad she wasn't called Anne bolleyn! LOL! darn computer!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Nell: Thanks so much for reading this. You are probably the expert on this topic being from England, but I always felt sorry for Catherine of Aragon. To have her see her daughter become illegitimate in the eyes of Henry, his court, and his realm must have been heartbreaking. I'm sure it did contribute to her death. Yes, I think a kiss from Henry VIII was more like the kiss of death.

Nell Rose from England on April 13, 2015:

Hi Suzette, great hub, yes she was definitely unlucky in love, but thank goodness she was called Anne Bolleyn, lol! I often watch the programs about her and the whole Henry 8 story, and shudder to think what that poor woman and the others went through, interesting stuff, nell

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Zelda: I am a history buff and especially find this time in the history of England so interesting. Henry's and Elizabeth's reigns are especially interesting to me. And, then there was Shakespeare who came along. A very powerful time in English history both literary and monarchy wise. It is good to know a fellow teacher. I was an English/Spanish teacher so I was into the history and literary talents of both England, Spain and Latin America. Thanks so much for your visit and insightful comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Thank you, Bill and I am pleased you enjoyed this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

peoplepower: Yes, you hit the nail on the head. So many lives were expendable to him. He was obsessed with women and with having a male heir. Ironically, it was his daughter Elizabeth that became the best monarch in English history and she ruled even better than Henry did. Can you imagine being betrothed at three years old? I find it amazing that Catherine and Henry in the beginning were a true love match. Thank goodness arranged marriages have gone by the wayside. Everything in that era was about land, money and power. Thanks so much for your visit and insightful comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Thelma: Thank you so much and I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. When Henry tired of a wife, that was it, he was ready to move on and move on he did. Thanks so much for your visit.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Audrey: Thank you so much for your comments. I find Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to have such interesting lives and monarchies and this is a favorite time in English history for me. Henry and his wives certainly did not have boring lives.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on April 13, 2015:

Vellur: Thank you so much for your encouraging comments. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. Yes, she had a sad fate at the whim of Henry VIII. He was such a mercurial tyrant.

Zelda Mes from South Africa on April 12, 2015:

Very interesting. Thank you. I used to teach history (but obviously South African history) so I am finding your history hubs very informative and well done.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 12, 2015:

Another wonderful history lesson, Suzette. Well done!

Mike Russo from Placentia California on April 12, 2015:

Suzette Walker: Very well written. I think if Henry the VIII didn't like you, your life was expendable to him. He purged so many people from his court and caused the reformation. It's also interesting how it was all about land. Children were betrothed to monarchs when they were barely old enough to talk. This was done so the kingdom could acquire more land and power.

Voting up interesting and sharing.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 12, 2015:

I love reading about the British history. You have written this very well. It was sad about how King Henry Vlll badly treated Queen Catherine of Aragon. Thanks for sharing. Happy Sunday!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 12, 2015:

I love English history--and the women in the Tudor's lives especially--sad and lonely is a good way to describe Catherine's later years

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 12, 2015:

You have written about Catherine of Argon so well, I was drawn in from beginning to end. Sad that fate never favored her and she died lonely and sad. A great write.

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