Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Wives of King Henry VIII - Chapter I: Queen Katharine of Aragon

King Henry VIII is undoubtedly one of the most scandalous Kings ever. When beginning a blog about scandalous historical figures, the story of this licentious King is not that bad of a start. So let us begin.
Katharine, c. 1500

Little Henry was the third kid of King Henry VII, the first Tudor King. His older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, was heir to the throne. Arthur was betrothed to a beautiful princess named Katharine of Aragon, the daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Not only was she beautiful, but she was very well-educated. On the 14th of November, 1501, they were married. This created a great Anglo-Spanish alliance.

As for the marriage itself? Unfortunately, it did not last very long. The young couple were both ill from what is suggested to have been the sweating sickness, a strange disease that had outbreaks during that time. Katharine recovered, but for Arthur, that was not to be. The 15-year-old prince passed away, leaving Henry to be the new heir to the throne.

Although Henry was too young to be married at the time, 14 months after the passing of his brother he was betrothed to Katharine. However, by the time when Henry was old enough to marry, his father then disagreed, not being on good terms with the princess's father. Thus ended the betrothal—at least until 1509.

Henry at the time of his marriage
That was the year King Henry VII, the first Tudor King, was reunited with Arthur. The younger Henry was now the King of England. One of his first kingly doings was to marry Katharine and make her his Queen. The wedding ceremony was humble. Their joint coronation, to the contrary, was magnificent. Katharine certainly thought so; she wrote to her father that “our time is spent in continuous festival.” However, the merriness and joviality of the newly married King and Queen was not to last happily ever after.

Katharine sadly gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1510. In 1511, on New Year's Day, she gave birth to a beaming baby boy named Henry. Hope was not lost; the royal family rejoiced and held festivities in celebration. Seven weeks later, the child passed away. The King was grieved and frustrated; the marriage grew tense. After a miscarriage in 1514, Katharine gave birth to a beautiful and healthy daughter named Mary. The King and Queen were both happy, but in the back of Henry's mind he knew he needed a son. The last pregnancy was recorded in 1518, and no other child was surviving except Mary.

In 1526, the King became infatuated with an attractive and charming woman named Anne Boleyn. She was a lady-in-waiting to Katharine and sister of one of his mistresses, Mary Boleyn. Anne was around 25, pretty and enchanting. Katharine was 42, and she could not have children anymore. Henry desperately needed a legitimate son, and he felt that Anne would be a perfect mother. Anne repudiated his attempts to solicit her, but that made Henry all-the-more enamoured with her.

Henry was reading the Leviticus, and something struck him. It said “if a man marries his brother's wife, the couple will be childless.” (Never mind the fact that they had a lovely daughter.) Henry desperately wanted to annul his loveless, barren marriage. He even began to believe the Queen was cursed. Katharine herself was appalled and insulted at the way her husband acted. (And who can blame her‽) She was a religious woman; divorce was disgraceful. She wrote to her nephew, Emperor Charles V, about it in 1531:
My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the King’s wicked intention, the surprises which the King gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine."

Katharine, c. 1520
The King petitioned to the Pope for annulment while the Queen appealed to the Pope. The battle lasted for six years. Katharine pleaded that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage—and to her dying day insisted she hadn't—to prove that they were not truly married, in response to Henry's finding in the Leviticus.

In 1533, Anne was pregnant. He could not bear to have another illegitimate son, as it was very difficult for them to succeed their fathers. He went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and he granted the annulment of the miserable marriage. Katharine was now considered the Princess Dowager of Wales, and treated like her marriage to Henry never happened.

The Princess Dowager was banished from court. For the rest of her life she lived in very humble castles. Although now officially acknowledged as nothing more than Prince Arthur's widow, she still believed she was the true wife of Henry. Her servants still referred to her as the Queen. When she lived in Kimbolton Castle, she only resided in a single room, which she left only to attend Mass. There she fasted alone. She was forbidden to see or even to send messages to her daughter. The child was officially recognized as illegitimate after the divorce. In 1535, she felt she was going to die soon. She wrote to her nephew, Emperor Charles V, asking him to protect her daughter. Mary was betrothed to him, but the betrothal was broken off later in life and she married his son, Philip II, instead.

To her ex-husband she wrote:
My most dear lord, King and husband,The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene."
She passed away not very long after. It is said that Henry and Anne wore yellow in celebration of her death. Whether or not they wore yellow in celebration, the King did not attend the funeral and did not allow Mary to go. Today we can conclude that Katharine probably died from cancer of the heart.

Thus passed the faithful first wife of many of the licentious King Henry VIII. I believe her motto, “Humble and Loyal,” really describes her marriage to him. “Nature wronged her in making her a woman,” Thomas Cromwell said of her, “but for her sex she could have surpassed all the heroes of history.” I always think of her as the true wife of Henry.


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