The 7th of January brought a very sad day for the protagonist of my book, Mary Tudor. The death of her mother Catherine.
She breathed her last at Kimbolton Castle after being deserted there by her second husband, King Henry VIII. She died still refusing to admit that her arriage had been disolved. She died still claiming the title of Queen.
Her daughter Mary had been barred from seeing her mother, even in her final illness.
Catherine had travelled to England in 1501, already promised the title of Princess of Wales. She was married to Arthur Tudor, eldest son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, at the tender age of 15.
Unfortunately their marriage was a short lived one. Arthur died of the sweating sickness only six months after their marriage. Catherine too was ill at the same time as her husband, but she survived. Maybe her constitution was stronger than his? In any case, she accompanied her husband’s body back to London and was housed in Durham House for her grieving period.
Seven long years she lived there, mostly in almost poverty, as her father and father-in-law fought over who should support her and her household. After the death of King Henry VII, Catherine was brought back to prominence when the new King Henry, Arthur’s younger brother came to the throne and decided to marry her. It is said that he adored her from the day that they met and he escorted her to his brother.
She was older than her new husband and had to testify that her first marriage to Arthur had not been consummated in order to get a dispensation from the Pope. But the marriage appeared to be a happy one.
Almost two years after the marriage, she gave birth to a boy on new years day. The baby seemed strong and the country celebrated. Unfortunately he died a little over a month later.
Catherine would go on to have six pregnancies in total to the King, though only one child survived, a daughter, called Mary.
She knew that her husband had mistresses, in that day, it was expected of monarchs. A few years after Mary’s birth, he sired a son on a woman called Bessie Blount, one of Catherine’s ladies. He claimed this son and the child took the name Henry Fitzroy. It was claimed that the King considered legitimising this boy and naming him as heir, it was even rumoured that he would marry this boy to his legitimate daughter for them to rule together.
A favourite mistress of the King was Mary Boleyn. She had also been a Lady of the Queen at one time. It was rumoured that she had also been mistress to the French King while serving as Lady to his Queen.
Mary was married to Henry Carey either shortly before or shortly after her affair with the King began, history is not clear on this marriage date. It was common for mistresses to be married off to nobles, in order to hide any mistake pregnancies. Two children were born during this marriage. The first, Catherine, was said to be the image of the future Queen Elizabeth I, who she would later become a Lady of the Bedchamber for. The second, Henry, was born after the affair is said to have ended, but could still have been the King’s son. Henry never claimed either child but both recieved many honours during the reign of Elizabeth, who if nothing else, was their cousin.
Anne Boleyn, sister to Mary, took the King’s eye around 1526. He chased her, but it is said that she refused to be his mistress. It would take him six or seven years to make her his own. Everyone knows this part of the story.
Catherine would not give up her crown in favour of Anne so was exiled from court, forced to use her former title of Dowager Princess of Wales. The King claimed that God was punishing him with childlessness because he had taken his brother’s wife, even though Catherine claimed to her dying day, that she had been no true wife to Arthur as their union had not been consummated.
Catherine was the youngest daughter of the Spanish Queen Isabella, a strong warrior queen, and she showed signs of her strength at many points of her life. I think she was a far better woman than she is often given credit for. She may not have given the King his heir, but that is not only her own fault. The King would never admit his own part in this failure, but in modern times, we know that fertility issues can come from both sides, man and woman.
I admire Catherine of Aragon for her determination to stand by her rights. She would not give up her place at the King’s side, even when pushed to the limit. I can feel her pain at being banished from seeing her only daughter, Mary. That was a cruel punishment from her husband. Even more so, because he went on to make Mary a bastard and cast her aside. Catherine must have heard about this and despaired.
A largely unknown fact about Catherine of Aragon is that her own descent from Edward III of England gave her at least as good a claim to the English throne than Henry Tudor, if not better. Though her descent came through a female line so in those days was largely discounted.
Would have been interesting to have had her as the Queen with Henry as her consort, don’t you think????