Saturday, 9 February 2013

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine as a widow
Catherine of Aragon was born on December 16th 1485 to the royal couple of Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. As a child she received one of the best education Europe had to offer; speaking, reading and writing Spanish and Latin and speaking French and Greek. During her upbringing she was greatly influenced by her very devout parents and was brought up believing that God had created a special destiny for her.

And that destiny was to be Queen of England. When she was three years old, she was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales. They were married on November 14th in 1501. The couple soon realized that they could not communicate with each other because they had learned different pronunciations of Latin.
They moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales as was customary for the Prince of Wales. But after only a few months of marriage, Arthur died of the sweating sickness and Catherine was a widow.

Catherine was now in a difficult position. Henry VII hated spending money and was reluctant to return Catherine's dowry. The possibility of marrying the newly-widowed Catherine to her late husband's younger brother, Henry of York, soon occurred but was stopped temporarily. Catherine's mother had died and the crown passed on this Catherine's sister. This meant that Catherine was no longer as desirable a bride since the Kingdom of Castile was far greater than that of Aragon and Henry VII hesitated.
Catherine was now literally a political prisoner and often wrote to her father, complaining of the conditions she was living under. Since she no longer had any right to the money usually given to the Princess of Wales, the Spanish Princess was soon running out of money. She even had to sell some of the things she had brought with her from Spain in order to keep a respectable living standard.

But then Henry VII died and Henry VIII ascended to the throne. He decided to marry Catherine (she was 23, he was just short of 18) and she was soon after crowned Queen of England. She was well-liked by the English people and she soon became pregnant. But the child was a stillborn girl born in 1510 and the son she gave birth to only lived for 52 days. Hopes for a son was soon afterwards crushed again when she either miscarried or gave birth to another stillborn son - and then another. After four dead children hopes were low but Catherine finally had child that survived - but it was a girl who was named Mary. Her last pregnancy resulted in a weak girl who also died.

When it came to political influence Catherine had some power. Henry appointed her Regent during his military campaign in France. She would soon need the military experience from her childhood when a war broke out England and Scotland. The Queen herself rode out wearing heavy armour - despite her being heavily pregnant - and addressed the troops. The English won and Catherine sent her husband a piece of the bloodstained coat that the King of Scotland had worn when he was killed during the battle.

Her religious beliefs grew even stronger over the years. She made education for women fashionable by her continuous expansion of her own knowledge. But Henry was still in desperate need of a male heir and time was running out since Catherine was nearing the age where she could no longer bear children. When Catherine's nephew the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, visited the English court, Catherine worked hard on trying to get Henry to create and alliance with her nephew instead of the French king. But soon after the emperor's visit, Henry went to the Field of the Cloth of Gold where he signed a treaty with France.

Catherine begging Henry
But Catherine's greatest struggle was just beginning. Henry had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn and wanted a divorce from his wife. In order to get it he had to get a dispensation from the Pope and that meant going through several trials. The entire issue rested on whether Catherine had consummated her marriage with her first husband, Arthur. If that was the cause then her marriage to Henry would be invalid because it was considered incest to marry your brother's widow. Catherine fought for herself and even went so far as to break protocol in an incident that shocked the court. The dignified Queen rose from her seat and threw herself at the feet of her husband and begged him not to leave her.

But he did. Catherine was formally divorced and stripped of the title of Queen of England. She was sent to the More and was now to be greeted as the Dowager Princess of Wales. But Catherine refused to accept the verdict and continued to belief that she - and not Anne Boleyn - was the wife of Henry and the Queen of England. She was forbidden to see her daughter Mary - an attempt to force Mary to accept her new position as a bastard. Catherine only left her room to go to Mass.
Catherine fell ill and - knowing that she was dying - wrote a final letter to Henry in which she forgave Henry everything and swore that she desired nothing but seeing him again.
Catherine died on January 7th 1536. At first it was suspected that she had been poisoned but we know now that she died of cancer.

Motto as Queen: Humble and Loyal
Motto as Princess of Wales (before her marriage to Henry): Not for My Crown

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