Thursday, December 16, 2010

On This Day in Tudor History

On December 16, 1485, Katherine of Aragon was born near Madrid, Spain.

Although I am an acknowledged fan of Katherine's nemesis, Anne Boleyn, I fondly view Katherine of Aragon as the matriarch of the Tudor Era. She certainly came to represent the first fully-educated female royal consort of the time and was, in her way, a true Renaissance woman. She would prove a ruthless regent in a time of war and, in my opinion, be Henry VIII's most formidable foe.

The youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, Katherine was quite short in stature with long, golden, auburn hair, wide blue eyes, a round face, and a fair complexion. She was descended, on her maternal side, from the English royal houses of John of Gaunt and Edward III.

At an early age, she was considered a suitable wife for Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Henry VII of England and heir to the throne, due to her overwhelmingly prominent English ancestry inherited from her mother Queen Isabella I of Castile.

The couple met on November 4, 1501, at Dogmersfield in Hampshire and ten days later, they were married at St. Paul's Cathedral. A few months later, they both became ill, and Arthur died on April 2, 1502. Katherine recovered to find herself a widow.

Not wanting to return her dowry to her father, it was agreed she would marry Henry VII's second son, Henry, Duke of York, who was five years younger than she was. However, the death of her mother meant that Katherine's 'value' in the marriage market decreased and Henry VII kept procrastinating. She lived as a virtual prisoner at Durham House in London.

In order to marry Henry, Duke of York, they needed a dispensation from the pope. To obtain this, Katherine testified her marriage to Arthur was never consummated. This would later become the keystone in her fight to keep Henry from divorcing her to marry Anne Boleyn.

Katherine's second wedding took place on 11 June 1509, seven years after Prince Arthur's death, at Greenwich Church. She was 23 years of age. The new Henry VIII was just days short of his 18th birthday. They would be crowned together Sunday, June 24, 1509, by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Of Katherine's six pregnancies, only Mary I, would live to adulthood to rule England.

After an (approximately) seven year battle to hold on to her marriage and remain Queen of England, Henry VIII had Archbishop Cranmer declare their union null and void and his marriage to Anne Boleyn valid. Katherine's daughter Mary was declared a bastard and removed from the succession.

Katherine died at Kimbolton Castle, on January 7, 1536, estranged from her husband and daughter. According to the chronicler Edward Hall, Anne Boleyn wore yellow for the mourning, which has been interpreted in various ways; Polydore Vergil interpreted this as an insult and celebration of her death. However, Imperial Ambassador Eustace 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. This was seen as distasteful and vulgar.

Rumors circulated that Katherine had been poisoned, as Anne had threatened to murder both Katherine and Mary on several occasions. The rumors were born after the discovery of a black growth on Katherine's heart during her embalming. Modern medical experts are in agreement that this was likely to have been cancer, something which was not understood at the time.

On the day of Katherine's funeral, Anne Boleyn miscarried the son that probably would have been her savior, as Henry was already courting Jane Seymour and tired of Anne.

Katherine was buried in Peterborough Cathedral with the ceremony due to a Dowager Princess of Wales, not a queen. Henry did not attend the funeral and refused to allow Mary to attend.

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