Roderigo de Puebla was born in Castile in about 1450. Little is known of his early life but according to his biographer, Stella Fletcher, "he was a doctor of civil and canon law" and his first public office was as "corregidor of Ecija in Andalusia". (1) Over the next few years he developed "a decent record of government service in Spain, and an excellent grasp of languages". (2)
In 1587 Puebla was sent to England by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile (1451–1504), to negotiate a treaty with Henry VII. At the time, Spain, along with France, were the two major powers in Europe. Henry constantly feared an invasion from his powerful neighbour. Ferdinand and Isabella were also concerned about the possible expansionism of France and responded favourably to Henry's suggestion of a possible alliance between the two countries. (3)
In March 1488, Roderigo de Puebla, was instructed to offer Henry VII a deal. The proposed treaty included the agreement that Henry's eldest son, Arthur, should marry Catherine of Aragon in return for an undertaking by Henry to declare war on France. Henry enthusiastically "showed off his nineteen-month-old son, first dressed in cloth of gold and then stripped naked, so they could see he had no deformity." (4)
Puebla reported that Arthur had "many excellent qualities". However, they were not happy about sending their daughter to a country whose king might be deposed at any time. As Puebla explained to Henry: "Bearing in mind what happens every day to the kings of England, it is surprising that Ferdinand and Isabella should dare think of giving their daughter at all." (5)
The Treaty of Medina del Campo was signed on 27th March 1489. It established a common policy towards France, reduced tariffs between the two countries and agreed a marriage contract between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and also established a dowry for Catherine of 200,000 crowns. 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. (6)
Stella Fletcher claims that Roderigo de Puebla success upset some leading figures in the Spanish government and "he was accused of being Jewish by aristocratic Spanish detractors". (7) He developed a close relationship with Henry VII and DS has pointed out that "his many enemies in the Spanish diplomatic service whispered - become more English than Spanish". The truth is that he "had come to think that English and Spanish interests were so closely interwoven that by serving the one he automatically advanced the cause of the other". (8)
While visiting Cork in December 1491 Perkin Warbeck was persuaded to impersonate Richard, Duke of York, second son of Edward IV, who had disappeared eight years earlier together with his elder brother, Edward. In 1492 King Charles VIII of France began funding his campaign. This included being sent to Vienna to meet Emperor Maximilian. He gave his support to Perkin Warbeck but spies in the Maximilian's court told Henry VII about the conspiracy. As a result, several people in England were arrested and executed. (9)
In July 1495 Warbeck landed some of his men at Deal. They were quickly rounded up by the Sheriff of Kent and so Warbeck decided to return to Ireland. (10) However, on 20th November 1495 he went to see King James IV of Scotland in Stirling Castle. On 13th January 1496 James arranged for him to marry him to Lady Katherine Gordon, a distant royal relative. He also provided funding for Warbeck's 1,400 supporters. When Henry VII heard what was happening he began to plan an invasion of Scotland. (11)
Roderigo de Puebla agreed to visit Scotland in order to persuade King James to cut off support to Warbeck "by offering the king a marriage with Ferdinand's daughter Juana. The ambassador omitted to explain that this was an illegitimate daughter and not the Infanta Juana who married Philip the Fair, son of Emperor Maximilian, in 1496." (12) Warbeck was defeated on 21st September, 1496. Henry wrote personally to "our most beloved De Puebla" to give him the good news. He was so grateful for the help De Puebla had given he asked Ferdinand of Aragon if he could reward his ambassador with an "English bishopric". The request was denied. (13)
In August 1497, Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were formally betrothed at the ancient palace of Woodstock. Roderigo de Puebla, standing proxy for the bride. "De Puebla's own role, a conventional one by the standards of the time, was that of the bride; as such he not only took the prince's right hand in his own and was seated at the King's right hand at the subsequent banquet but also inserted the statutory symbolic leg into the royal marriage bed." (14)
Catherine left the port of Corunna on 20th July 1501. Her party included the Count and Countess de Cabra, a chamberlain, Juan de Diero, Catherine's chaplain, Alessandro Geraldini, three bishops and a host of ladies, gentlemen and servants. It was considered too dangerous to allow Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to make the journey. The sea-crossing was terrible: a violent storm blew up in the Bay of Biscay, and the ship was tossed about for several days in rough seas and the captain was forced to return to Spain. It was not until 27th September, that the winds died down and Catherine was able to leave Laredo on the Castilian coast. (15)
Catherine arrived in England on 2nd October 1501. Arthur was just fifteen, and Catherine nearly sixteen. (16) 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. (17)
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". (18) 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". (19)
Roderigo de Puebla authority was seriously undermined by the arrival of Don Pedro de Ayala, bishop of the Canaries and Spanish ambassador to Scotland. The aristocratic Ayala's contempt for the lowly born De Puebla. This view was shared by Catherine of Aragon. (20) David Starkey points out that De Puebla relationship with Catherine became poor after the death of Prince Arthur and despite all of his efforts she "regarded him with suspicion, even contempt". (21)
Elizabeth of York died on 11th February 1503. Henry VII was keen to maintain his alliance with Ferdinand of Aragon, 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. (22)
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. (23) 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". (24)
Ferdinand of Aragon feared that Catherine would not be allowed to marry Henry, who was growing into a handsome prince. Roderigo 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. (25)
Catherine of Aragon was constantly complaining about Roderigo de Puebla and told her father, Ferdinand of Aragon, that he was "spineless", "dishonest" and too close to Henry VII. "He was also of the wrong rank and (though the words were unspoken) of the wrong race. Let her father send a real man and real Spaniard as ambassador". She asked him to send a man "who will dare to speak an honest word at the right time". (26)
Roderigo de Puebla was dismissed as ambassador in June 1508. He was in poor health and died in the spring of 1509. (27)
There was something that Ferdinand desired very much, and that was military assistance against the French. In March 1488, the Spanish ambassador at the English court was Dr Roderigo de Puebla, an unscrupulous diplomat of Jewish origins. Ferdinand had instructed him to offer Henry an infanta for his son in return for an undertaking on Henry's part to declare war on France. The King of England had reacted enthusiastically to the proposal, and promptly despatched his ambassadors to Spain to view the sovereigns' youngest daughter, Catherine.
The first overtures concerning the marriage of Henry's son Arthur Prince of Wales to Ferdinand's daughter Catherine probably came as early as 1487 when Arthur (born in September 1486) was under a year old, and Catherine not yet two. On the surface there was steady progress. In April 1488 a commission was given to Dr Roderigo Gonzalva de Puebla, a middle-aged Castilian with a decent record of government service in Spain, and an excellent grasp of languages. Together with an assistant, he was to draft a treaty of marriage with the commissioners of the English King.