On June 11, 1509, Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon. She was 24-years-old at the time of the marriage, which was actually quite old for women in Tudor England. She had been married before though, to Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur Tudor, but was widowed just six months into the marriage. She didn’t know it then but this would cause problems for her later in her marriage to King Henry.
Catherine of Aragon: Daughter of a Spanish King
Catherine of Aragon was the youngest daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and his wife, Isabella. She became a political pawn for the ruling monarchs, as did all daughters for the people of the 16th century. This was the best way to create an alliance with other countries and Ferdinand had his eyes set on England.
The King of England at the time, Henry VII, had two living sons – Arthur Tudor was the eldest and the heir to the throne. It made sense to arrange a marriage between the two youngsters. Catherine was only three-years-old when the marriage to the young English heir was arranged, who wasn’t even two at the time!
The future Queen of England didn’t make her journey to the country until she was 16-years-old. She spoke very little English upon arrival and it took three months to finally reach land.
Catherine of Aragon Marries Arthur Tudor
The two married on November 14, 1501. Her future husband, Henry VIII, escorted her down the aisle as her father was not there. The wedding was uneventful, apart from the traditional lavish display for the future King and Queen, and the two moved to Ludlow Castle.
It was during the next six months that affect Catherine’s second marriage. It is unknown whether the marriage was consummated. According to Tudor tradition, it is unlikely that it wasn’t but there is speculation over the health of the couple. Within six months, both had fallen ill and Arthur died. Catherine found herself as the Dowager Princess of Wales at just 17-years-old.
Henry VII Seeks a Papal Dispensation
The following events are extremely important for the actions of Henry VIII in later years. Henry VII did not want to lose the dowry and did not allow Catherine to return home to Spain. Instead, he arranged for a papal dispensation so that Catherine of Aragon could marry the new heir to the throne – his second son, Henry Tudor.
Catherine swore on oath that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. While it is possible that at 17-years-old she may have lied to please her father and father-in-law, she was a devout Catholic in later years and would not have died without confessing the truth. Historians debate whether Catherine really did consummate her marriage to Arthur but, with that in mind, I don’t believe she did.
After the pope granted a dispensation, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Henry Tudor. However, he was still too young to marry. This gave Henry VII’s alliance to change and he started looking elsewhere for a bride for his son. After the death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s wife, he also started looking at getting a dispensation to marry the Spanish princess, but again, this came to nothing.
Henry VIII Marries Catherine of Aragon
Henry VII died in 1509 and Henry VIII took the throne. One of the first things he did was marry his betrothed. The two were crowned together just a few weeks later and everything seemed happy for the couple. Catherine found herself pregnant quickly but she has a stillborn daughter on January 1, 1510. Exactly a year later, Catherine gave birth to another child, this time a son who was named Henry, after his father and grandfather.
Unfortunately, this boy died during infancy. Infant deaths, stillborn children and miscarriages were common in Tudor England. Henry VII actually had seven children but only four survived, so Henry VIII would have known the chances. He wasn’t worried at first; in fact, he comforted Catherine with the line that they were still young. There was plenty of time for more children.
This is when the trouble started. Catherine failed to provide Henry a living heir. It wasn’t until 1516 that she finally gave birth to a child who would reach adulthood but this was a girl, Mary Tudor. By 1523, Henry VIII started to doubt that his marriage was valid. He started to suspect that Catherine of Aragon had lied about not consummating her previous marriage to Arthur.
Question for the Readers
The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon, Part 1
Was Catherine of Aragon the Reason for the Religious Reformation?
While many people blame Anne Boleyn for the religious reformation – after all, she refused to sleep with Henry until she was crowned Queen – there is the question of whether it was actually Catherine’s fault. Catherine of Aragon loved her husband. She continually stood by her oath that her marriage to her first husband had not been consummated.
She refused to an annulment and to live the rest of her years in a nunnery. This meant that Henry had to take other action to gain his divorce. He had to seek help from the Pope. However, the papal dispensation and Rome’s close alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, Catherine’s nephew, meant that the Pope was more likely to favour Catherine.
She also caused more trouble for herself. It is worth looking at Henry VIII’s second divorce for evidence of this. Henry wanted to divorce Anne of Cleves after just six months of marriage. There were easily grounds for annulment but Henry didn’t have to fight – Anne quickly agreed and soon became one of the wealthiest women in the whole of England for her agreement.
Catherine could have had the rest of her years provided for by Henry but she fought him every step of the way. Some historians believe that she did the right thing – she stood up for what she believed in – while others believe she was petty and a silly old woman. She should have thought of the best thing for her daughter, Mary. Yes, opting for the annulment would have removed Mary Tudor from the throne but Henry VIII got his own way in the end. Instead of living in a nunnery and able to see her daughter, Catherine lived in a cold home and died painfully without being able to see her daughter for years.
Alexandria Ingham (author) from Canada on June 11, 2013:
You're welcome. I really love this part of history so I'm really glad you enjoyed the hub.
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on June 11, 2013:
These were fascinating times in English history. Thanks for covering this part of it in so much detail. Looking forward to reading more on this subject.