Catalina of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon (1452–1516) and Isabella of Castile (1451–1504), was born on 16th December 1485. Catherine was the daughter of not one but two reigning monarchs. She was named after Isabella's grandmother Catalina of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt.
According to her biographer, C. S. L. Davies: "During her early years Catalina followed her parents, and in particular her mother, in their travels through large parts of Spain, as the war against the Muslim emirate of Granada continued. As a small child she was present at the ceremonial conquest of the capital of the former Nasrid kingdom, on 2 January 1492.... Along with her older sisters, Catalina received an education fitting for one who was intended for marriage with foreign rulers, bearing children for them and thus linking Castile and Aragon to neighbouring powers by ties of blood as well as friendship." (1) As a child she was described as "handsome, light-hearted and robust". (2)
It has been claimed that Henry VII first suggested that Catalina might be a good wife for his son, Arthur, when the princess was only two. The new Tudor monarch thought that the marriage would provide him with extra security. In 1487 Ferdinand of Aragon agreed to send ambassadors to England to discuss political and economic relations and to negotiate the marriage of Catalina and Arthur. Henry VII was worried that England might be invaded by more stronger European countries. In 1488 Henry signed a treaty with Ferdinand of Aragon. By this treaty Henry agreed that his eldest son, Arthur, should marry Catherine. (3)
This was a good deal for Henry. At this time, England and Wales had a combined population of only two and a half million, compared to the seven and a half million of Castile and Aragon, and the fifteen million of France. Ferdinand's motivation was that Spanish merchants wishing to reach the Netherlands, needed the protection of English ports if France was barred to them. The English also still controlled the port of Calais in northern France. (4)
However, the marriage was not guaranteed. As David Loades points out: "The marriage of a ruler was the highest level of the matrimonial game, and carried the biggest stakes, but it was not the only level. Both sons and daughters were pieces to be moved in the diplomatic game, which usually began while they were still in their cradles. A daughter, particularly, might undergo half a dozen betrothals in the interests of shifting policies before her destiny eventually caught up with her." (5)
Catherine arrived in England on 2nd October 1501. As a high-born Castilian bride, Catherine remained veiled to both her husband and her father-in-law until after the marriage ceremony. Henry would have been concerned by her size. She was described as "extremely short, even tiny". Henry could not complain as Arthur, now aged fifteen, was very small and undeveloped and was "half a head shorter" than Catherine. He was also described as having an "unhealthy" skin colour. (6)
Arthur and Catherine married on 14th November 1501, at St Paul's Cathedral in London. That night, when Arthur lifted Catherine's veil he discovered a girl with "a fair complexion, rich reddish-gold hair that fell below hip-level, and blue-eyes". (7) Her naturally pink cheeks and white skin were features that were much admired during the Tudor period. Contemporary sources claim that "she was also on the plump side - but then a pleasant roundness in youth was considered to be desirable at this period, a pointer to future fertility". (8)
The couple spent the first month of their marriage at Tickenhill Manor. Arthur wrote to Catherine's parents telling them how happy he was and assuring them he would be "a true and loving husband all of his days". They then moved to Ludlow Castle. Arthur was in poor health and according to William Thomas, Groom of his Privy Chamber, he had been over-exerting himself. He later recalled he "conducted him clad in his night gown unto the Princess's bedchamber door often and sundry times." (9)
Alison Weir has argued that Arthur was suffering from consumption: "There was concern about the Prince's delicate health. He seems to have been consumptive, and had grown weaker since the wedding. The King believed, as did most other people, that Arthur had been over-exerting himself in the marriage bed." (10) Almost thirty years later Catherine deposed, under the seal of the confessional, that they had shared a bed for no more than seven nights, and that she had remained "as intact and incorrupt as when she emerged from her mother's womb". (11)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has argued that she believes the marriage was unconsummated. "In an age when marriages were frequently contracted for reasons of state between children or those hovering between childhood and adolescence, more care rather than less was taken over the timing of consummation. Once the marriage was officially completed, some years might pass before the appropriate moment was judged to have arrived. Anxious reports might pass between ambassadors on physical development; royal parents might take advice on their offsprings' readiness for the ordeal. The comments - sometimes remind one of those breeders discussing the mating of thoroughbred stock, and the comparison is indeed not so far off. The siring of progeny was the essential next step in these royal marriages, so endlessly negotiated." Fraser goes on to argue that the Tudors believed that bearing children too young might damage their chances of having further children. For example, Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was only thirteen when she had him and never had any other children in the course of four marriages. (12)
On 27th March 1502, Arthur fell seriously ill. Based on the description of symptoms by his servants, he appeared to have been suffering from a bronchial or pulmonary condition, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis or some virulent form of influenza. David Starkey has suggested he might have been suffering from testicular cancer. (13) Antonia Fraser, believes that as Catherine was also ill at the same time, they both might have had sweating sickness. (14) Arthur died on Saturday, 2nd April, 1502.
Henry VII was keen to maintain his alliance with Ferdinand of Aragon and recently widowed, offered to marry Catherine of Aragon himself . As he was 46 years-old and in poor health, this idea was rejected and on 23rd June 1503, he signed a new treaty betrothing Catherine to his surviving son, Henry, then aged twelve. The treaty also contained an agreement that, as the parties were related, the signatories bound themselves to obtain the necessary dispensation from Rome. At that time, Christians believed it was wrong for a man to marry his brother's wife. It was also agreed that the marriage would take place as soon as Henry completed his fifteenth year. In the meantime Henry allowed Catherine £100 a month, and appointed one of his own surveyors to oversee the management of it. (15)
Ferdinand wrote on 23rd August 1503: "It is well known in England that the Princess is still a virgin. But as the English are much disposed to cavill, it has seemed to be more prudent to provide for the case as though the marriage had been consummated... the dispensation of the Pope must be in perfect keeping with the said clause to the marriage treaty... The right of Succession (of any child born to Catherine and Henry) depends on the undoubted legitimacy of the treaty." (16)
Catherine was allocated Durham House in London. She was frequently ill, probably with tertian malaria. Her knowledge of English was still imperfect in 1505, which upset both Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII, who reduced her allowance. Catherine moved to Richmond Palace but complained to her father about her poverty and her inability to pay her servants, and her demeaning dependence on Henry's charity. She told her father she had managed to buy only two dresses since she came to England from Spain six years earlier.
Catherine was kept apart from Prince Henry, complaining in 1507 that she had not seen him for four months, although they were both living in the same palace. (17) It has been argued that it was Henry VII who was keeping his son away from Catherine: "Observers were indeed struck by how Prince Henry existed entirely under the thumb of his father, living in virtual seclusion; the King, either out of fear for his son's safety or from a testy habit of domination, arranged every detail of his life". (18)
King Ferdinand feared that Catherine would not be allowed to marry Henry, who was growing into a handsome prince. Rodrigo Gonzalez de Puebla told Ferdinand: "There is no finer youth in the world than the Prince of Wales". He told him of his startling looks, including his strong athletic limbs "of a gigantic size" was already beginning to arouse the admiration of the Royal Court. (19)
Henry VII died on 22nd April, 1509. Six weeks later, on 11th June, 1509, Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon. It has been argued that since the age of ten "Henry had looked up to and admired his pretty sister-in-law; and, as he had grown to manhood, and had seen how well Katherine had coped with the adversity and humiliations she had suffered, his admiration had deepened, not to passion - it would never be that - but to love in its most chivalrous form, blended with deep respect." (20) He was just about to be eighteen (on 28th June) and she was twenty-three. The ceremony was small and private. Describing the wedding night which followed, liked to boast that he had found his wife a "maiden" (virgin). Although years later he would attempt to pass off these boasts as "jests", there seems little doubt that he had made them. (21)
According to letters to her father, Catherine was very happy during the first few months of marriage. She enjoyed wandering in leisurely stages from "palace to palace and park to park". Catherine explained how Henry "diverts himself with jousts, birding, hunting and other innocent and honest pastimes, also in visiting different parts of his kingdom". (22) It was claimed that they were a well-matched couple. Their intellectual tastes and educational background were similar and they both rode well and hunted with enthusiasm. (23)
In November, 1509, Henry informed Ferdinand of Aragon that his daughter was pregnant: "Your daughter, her Serene Highness the Queen, our dearest consort, has conceived in her womb a living child and is right heavy therewith." (24) On 31st January, 1510, Catherine miscarried a daughter. Her confessor, Fray Diego reported that the miscarriage was kept a secret "that no one knew about it... except the King... two Spanish women, a physician and I". According to Diego the "swelling continued and increased enormously". This was probably the result of infection, but her physician persuaded himself that "the Queen remained pregnant of another child". However, this was untrue. (25)
Queen Catherine was soon pregnant again and a son was born on 1st January, 1511. The child was christened Henry, and his proud father took him to Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to give thanks for the greatest gift that a king could receive. A mighty tournament was staged, not only to celebrate the birth of an heir, but also "to demonstrate that loving accord between Henry and Catherine which promised a bountiful harvest for the future". (26) Just seven weeks later the latest Henry Tudor died in his nursery at Richmond Palace. Henry and Catherine were devastated. The customary wisdom of the time suggested that infant mortality was punishment for sin.
Henry VIII recovered more quickly than Catherine from the shock of losing a son. He was only 21-years-old and was considered the most attractive young man in Europe. Sebastian Giustinian, a Venetian diplomat, commented that Henry "is the handsomest potentate I have ever set eyes on" and had "a round face so beautiful that it would become a pretty woman". In a later dispatch he wrote: "Nature could not have done more for him. He is very fair, his whole frame admirably proportioned." (27)
It is claimed that Henry resembled his grandfather Edward IV, being measured at a height of 6 feet 2 inches, with a waist of 32 inches. "He could dominate any gathering and was extrovert, affable, and charming. Full of energy and proud of his athleticism, Henry cast himself above all in a military role and had a passion for weapons and fortifications. A fine horseman and an excellent archer, he was an enthusiast for those two substitutes for war: hunting and the tournament." (28)
Catherine on the other hand was 26-years-old and people feared that she would be unable to have anymore children. Henry also became involved with other women. In 1513 he met Bessie Blount. As a young girl she came to the Royal Court as a maid-of-honour to Catherine. It is believed that she became his mistress in about 1514. It has been claimed that the fifteen year-old Bessie was a superb dancer and had a pretty voice. Above all, with her high spirits and energies she matched Henry sense of fun. (29)
Henry continued to try to produce a male heir. She miscarried in the autumn of 1513, and in December 1514 another boy was born, but born dead. (30) In the summer of 1515 he discovered that Catherine was pregnant again. On 18th February 1516 she gave birth to a daughter, Mary. (31) Henry and Katherine gave Mary "unusually close attention during her early years because she was the only survivor of Katherine's many pregnancies and because the pretty and precocious child obviously delighted both parents". (32)
While Mary was not the desired male heir, she was still a valuable asset in the dynastic marriage and diplomatic power game. Mary's godfather, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Henry used the two-year-old to seal the new alliance with France embodied in the Treaty of London (1518). This was followed by the Treaty of Bruges (1521) provided for the future marriage of Mary and Charles, a man sixteen years her senior. In 1522 Charles visited England and this afforded him some opportunity to observe his six-year-old cousin. At one court occasion Mary danced for him. (33)
When Charles subsequently announced he would marry Isabella, the daughter of the king of Portugal, the English and French responded with a proposed universal peace reinforced by Mary's marriage to either François I or his second son, Henri, duc d'Orléans. Mary's biographer, Ann Weikel, has pointed out: "Many problems arose during subsequent negotiations in 1527, not the least of them Henry's refusal to allow Mary to leave the realm because she was only eleven. To impress the French envoys Mary again demonstrated her skills in language, music, and dancing, but her small stature made them hesitate about the viability of an immediate marriage." During these negotiations one report said they found her "admirable by reason of her great and uncommon mental endowments; but so thin, sparse, and small as to render it impossible for her to be married for the next three years". (34)
Catherine made sure Mary received a good education. This took the form of supervision and appointment of teachers such as Richard Fetherston rather than direct teaching. When she was sent to Wales to live Catherine wrote to her: "As for your writing in Latin, I am glad that you shall change from me to Master Fetherston, for that shall do you much good to learn by him to write alright." Catherine also asked her to send her the work she had produced in Latin after Fetherston had corrected it. (35)
Queen Catherine invited the celebrated Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives to come to England and commissioned him to write a treatise on the general education of women, and an outline of studies for Mary. Her biographer, Ann Weikel, has pointed out: "Vives delivered a mixed message, for while he advocated the education of women, an advanced idea at that time, he still saw women as the inferior sex. The list of acceptable reading included scripture, the church fathers, but only a few pagan classics, and no medieval romances, because he believed women could be led astray all too easily..... Vives recommended that Mary read the dialogues of Plato, works that endow women with the same virtues as men and develop a notion of women as guardians or governors.... Thus while Mary received an exceptional humanist education for a woman of her era, marriage negotiations and court appearances reinforced the conventional belief that her true destiny was to be a royal wife and mother, not a ruler in her own right." (36)
Henry VIII had several mistresses. The most important was Bessie Blount and on 15th June 1519, she gave birth to a son. He was named Henry FitzRoy, and was later created Duke of Richmond. After the child's birth, the affair ended. This is probably because he had a new girlfriend, Mary Boleyn. The historian, Antonia Fraser, has argued: "The affair repeated the pattern established by Bessie Blount: here once again was a vivacious young girl, an energetic dancer and masker, taking the fancy of a man with an older, more serious-minded wife, no longer interested in such things." (37)
In 1526 Anne Boleyn become a maid of honour to Catherine. She was a good musician and a talented singer. She was also extremely intelligent and her time in the French court provided her with a great deal of interesting conversation. Anne was according to contemporary sources not a conventional beauty. One member of Henry's court wrote that Anne was "not one of the handsomest women in the world" she had a "swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact had nothing but the king's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect".
Boleyn's biographer, Eric William Ives, has claimed: "Her complexion was sallow and she was noted only for her magnificent dark hair, her expressive eyes, and her elegant neck.... The reason why she was such a sensation was not looks but personality and education. Having been brought up in the two leading courts in Europe she had a continental polish which was unique in the provincial court of Henry VIII. She could sing, play instruments, and dance and she led female fashion." One member of court claimed that "no one would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but a native-born Frenchwoman". (38)
Henry VIII seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (39)
For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (40) Henry wrote Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he told her: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets ... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (41)
Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that refusing to become his mistress was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (42) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (43)
Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary (wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey), who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (44)
Catherine was in a difficult position. Now aged 43, she found it difficult to compete with Anne. "Now her once slender figure was thickened with repeated child-bearing, and her lovely hair had darkened to a muddy brown, but visiting ambassadors still remarked on the excellence of her complexion. A dumpy little woman with a soft, sweet voice which had never lost its trace of foreign accent, and the imperturbable dignity which comes from generations of pride of caste, she faced the enemy armoured by an utter inward conviction of right and truth, and her own unbreakable will." (45)
It was suggested that Catherine should agree to annul the marriage. Alison Weir, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2007) believes that if she agreed to this measure Henry would have treated her well. "Yet time and again she had opposed him, seemingly blind to the very real dilemma he was in with regard to the succession, and when thwarted Henry could, and frequently did, became cruel." (46) Alison Plowden argues that for Catherine it was impossible to accept the deal being put forward: "Henry's partisans have accused his first wife of spiritual arrogance, of bigotry and bloody-mindedness, and undoubtedly she was one of those uncomfortable people who would literally rather die than compromise over a moral issue. There's also no doubt that she was an uncommonly proud and stubborn woman. But to have yielded would have meant admitting to the world that she had lived all her married life in incestuous adultery, that she had been no more than 'the King's harlot', the Princess her daughter worth no more than any man's casually begotten bastard; and it would have meant seeing another woman occupying her place. The meekest of wives might well have jibbed at such self-sacrifice; for one of Catherine's background and temperament it was unthinkable." (47)
Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (48) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (49) Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, Wolsey might have been executed for treason.
While the negotiations concerning her divorce were going on, Queen Catherine was exiled from the Court and was refused permission to see or communicate with her daughter. In April 1533 she was told that she had to renounce her title of Queen and would in future be regarded simply as Arthur's widow, with the rank of Princess Dowager. Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk informed her: "She need not trouble any more about the King, for he had taken another wife." Catherine wrote to King Charles V of Spain warning of the great dangers facing the Catholic faith. She told him that "what passes here every day is so ugly and against God and touches the honour of the King my lord so nearly, that I cannot bear to write it." (50)
George Cavendish was an eyewitness to the submission of Catherine of Aragon during divorce proceedings. He quotes her saying: "Sir, I beseech you, for all the loves that hath been betrayed us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as the head of justice within this realm. Alas, Sir, where have I offended you? Or what occasion have you of displeasure, that you intend to put me from you? I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever conformable to your will and pleasure. I have been pleased and contented with all things wherein you had delight and dalliance. I never grudged a word or countenance, or showed a spark of discontent. I loved all those whom you loved only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years and more I have been your true wife, and by me you have had many children, though it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no fault in me." (51)
Anne Boleyn had strong opinions about religion that were in direct contrast to those of Catherine. She tried to persuade Henry to give permission for bibles to be published in English. Anne also introduced Henry to the books of Protestant writers such as William Tyndale. She pointed out that in Obedience of a Christian Man, Tyndale had argued that kings had authority over the church. Anne also became close to Thomas Cromwell, who supported the ideas of Tyndale. (52)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has argued: "The truth can never be known for sure. One can only say with certainty that Henry VIII made love to Anne - fully - some time before the end of 1532. All the rest is speculation. As to the act itself, was it a success after so many years? Once again we have no means of knowing... As has been suggested, matters had probably been going in that direction for some years, with Anne the sole focus of the King's lust, by whatever means she satisfied it." (53)
Henry discovered that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.
Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (54) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (55)
Although Anne Boleyn visited her daughter, for most of the time she was cared for by a large staff. Lady Margaret Bryan was Lady Mistress, the governess with day-to-day control of the nursery. Lady Margaret had also cared for Princess Mary, Elizabeth's elder half-sister. Elizabeth's earliest portraits suggest that she resembled her father in the shape of her face and her auburn hair, but had inherited her mother's coal-black eyes. (56)
The 17-year old Mary was declared illegitimate, lost her rank and status as a princess and was exiled from Court. She was placed with Sir John Shelton and his wife, Lady Anne. It has been claimed that "Mary was bullied unmercifully by the Sheltons, humiliated, and was constantly afraid that she would be imprisoned or executed." (57) Alison Plowden has concluded that the treatment Mary received "turned a gentle, affectionate child into a bigoted, neurotic and bitterly unhappy woman." (58)
In March 1534 Pope Clement VII eventually made his decision. He announced that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of the Church of England.
Rumours began to circulate that Catherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary would be executed. The English ambassador in Spain reported that "people expected to hear every day of the execution of Queen Catherine, and that the Princess Mary was expected soon to follow." (59) However, by December 1535, Catherine was dangerously ill and any plans for her execution was postponed. She was suffering from severe pains in the chest and her physician doubted that she would recover.
Catherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton Castle on 7th January, 1536. She was just over fifty years old. Her doctor claimed that she had been suffering from "slow poisoning". Antonia Fraser dismisses the idea: "The deaths of prominent persons whose removal was thought to be rather too convenient for their enemies were generally accompanied by such suspicions. The charge is ludicrous... God was likely to carry off Catherine soon enough without extra help. There is also the question of the character of Henry VIII. He regarded poison with moral repugnance: it was alien to him. The axe and rope, wielded in public, not secret poison were the weapons of his authority against those who defied the royal will, preceded if possible by the culprits profound repentance at having crossed or betrayed him." (60)
Catherine was was buried at Peterborough Abbey on 29th January 1536. Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V: "The King dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot, with the single exception of a white feather in his cap. His bastard daughter Elizabeth was triumphantly taken to church to the sounds of trumpets and with great display. Then, after dinner, the King went to the Hall where the Ladies were dancing, and there made great demonstrations of joy, and at last went to his own apartments, took the little bastard in his arms, and began to show her first to one, then to another, and did the same on the following days." (61)
In an age when marriages were frequently contracted for reasons of state between children or those hovering between childhood and adolescence, more care rather than less was taken over the timing of consummation. Once the marriage was officially completed, some years might pass before the appropriate moment was judged to have arrived. Anxious reports might pass between ambassadors on physical development; royal parents might take advice on their offsprings' readiness for the ordeal. The comments - sometimes remind one of those breeders discussing the mating of thoroughbred stock, and the comparison is indeed not so far off. The siring of progeny was the essential next step in these royal marriages, so endlessly negotiated.
Where an heiress was concerned, her "spoiling" by being obliged to have sex and bear children too young might have important consequences. The physique of the great heiress Margaret Beaufort was considered to have been ruined by early childbearing. She bore the future Henry VII when she was only thirteen, and never had any other children in the course of four marriages. Henry survived, but the existence of a single heir was in principle a great risk to any family in this age of high infant mortality, as the shortage of Tudor heirs would continuously demonstrate.
Within weeks of his accession to the throne in 1509, the teenage Henry had married a pre-used bride. Katherine of Aragon had originally been brought to England to marry his elder brother. But some four months after the marriage, Arthur died. For seven years Katherine lived neglected in London, her splendid title of Dowager Princess of Wales disguising her frugal housekeeping arrangements and dwindling hopes. Henry was her rescuer; he was in love with her, he told everyone, this was no cold political arrangement. Katherine was the daughter of two reigning monarchs: educated, gracious and regal, she had been trained for queenship and saw it as her vocation. She had been a tiny auburn-haired beauty when she came to England. Seven years older than Henry, she was shapeless and showing her age by the time Anne glided on to the scene. Katherine had many pregnancies, but her babies died before or soon after birth. Only one child survived, a daughter, Mary; but Henry needed a son. Private misfortune, by the mid-1520s, was beginning to look like public disaster. Henry wondered if he should marry again. Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's chief minister, began to survey the available French princesses.
It was only in theory, and for humble people, that marriage was for life. The rulers of Europe could and did obtain annulments, for a price, from sympathetic popes. Henry failed not because of papal high principles, but because a series of political and military events put Katherine's nephew, the Emperor Charles, in a position to thwart him. While his canon lawyers and courtiers cajoled and bribed, sweating blood to make Henry a free man, the king had already come up with an unlikely replacement for Katherine. We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life.
Two more dissimilar women than these two deadly adversaries can hardly be imagined. In 1527 Catherine was in her forty-second year. As a girl she had been pretty, small and well made, with a clear pink and white skin and quantities of russet coloured hair, which the chronicler Edward Hall had specially noticed as being "of a very great length, beautiful and goodly to behold". Now her once slender figure was thickened with repeated child-bearing, and her lovely hair had darkened to a muddy brown, but visiting ambassadors still remarked on the excellence of her complexion. A dumpy little woman with a soft, sweet voice which had never lost its trace of foreign accent, and the imperturbable dignity which comes from generations of pride of caste, she faced the enemy armoured by an utter inward conviction of right and truth, and her own unbreakable will.
Henry's partisans have accused his first wife of spiritual arrogance, of bigotry and bloody-mindedness, and undoubtedly she was one of those uncomfortable people who would literally rather die than compromise over a moral issue. There's also no doubt that she was an uncommonly proud and stubborn woman. But to have yielded would have meant admitting to the world that she had lived all her married life in incestuous adultery, that she had been no more than "the King's harlot", the Princess her daughter worth no more than any man's casually begotten bastard; and it would have meant seeing another woman occupying her place. The meekest of wives might well have jibbed at such self-sacrifice; for one of Catherine's background and temperament it was unthinkable.