What did Catherine of Aragon die of?

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Although it was rumoured that Catherine of Aragon had been poisoned by Anne Boleyn, or even Henry, because of a black patch on her heart, it is now thought that she died of cancer, a disease that was not understood at the time. Another theory is that she died of depression and a broken heart. Catherine was aged 50 at her death.

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30 Responses to “What did Catherine of Aragon die of?”

  1. TudorRose says:

    I feel that even though Anne and Catherine were enemies I do not feel that she would have poisened her or King Henry,I doubt neither would have ordered her to be poisened.I beleive she died of cancer.

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  2. Amber says:

    Do we know the age difference between Catherine and Henry? It seems that since she was previously married to his older brother that she might be older than him. But then again, women were married at such young ages. Queen Catherine certainly looks older than King Henry in “The Tudors” (sorry Maria Doyle Kennedy) but was that merely casting or somewhat acurate portrayal?

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    Carole Reply:

    Catherine was older by a few years. She was about 15 when first bought to England to marry Arthur but the marriage was never consumated and Arthur died. She lived in what was near poverty (for royals) for a few years before the King died and Henry asked her to marry him which was his father’s wish. It is thought that Henry really did love Catherine for the first years of their marriage but with a few pregnancies and miscarriages she aged fast and he soon started to look elsewhere for sexual pleasures and the supposed need for a son.

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    Omaira Reply:

    i think they were six years apart not sure where I heard that though

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  3. Claire says:

    Hi Amber,
    Catherine was born on 16th December 1485 and Henry was born on 28th June 1491 so Catherine was 5 and a half years older than him which I suppose was quite a lot in days when the average age of death was 35. I would have thought that Catherine would have actually looked much older than Henry after all her pregnancies and the toll they took on her body, whereas Henry was a fit, sporty man until his jousting accident. Interestingly, Maria Doyle Kennedy is nearly 13 years older than Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

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  4. Kaatje says:

    I believe Catherine died of cancer, too. I doubt Anne would have had Catherine poisoned, because as long as she was alive, it pretty much guaranteed that Henry would stay with Anne, not wanting to go back to Catherine if he wanted to be rid of Anne. Anne most likely knew this.

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    Saxon Meinard Reply:

    I doubt Ann knew Henry might leave if Catherine died. She more than likely wanted the throne for herself and secure her families interest. Being only his second wife and Henry ripped the country apart and destroyed his alliances with his strongest allies it’s also likely that Ann wasn’t so innocent to be executed along with her family after only three years and still young with plenty of time to have a son. It’s likely Katherine dies of natural causes but I also think its likely the Boylens were involved with the annulment not working out preventing Ann from marrying Henry and as she would see securing her interest with him especially when she would be able to produce a legit heir. She would of had no way of knowing Henry might loose interest she wouldn’t produce a son though she only had a few years to try. I suspect Henry started to regret his decisions he made to be with her and resented her especially after the execution of Moore and loosing the alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. However she couldn’t have known this or suspect after all Henry risked he might move on. She had every reason to eliminate Catherine who had a right to the throne in her own right as Henry could cave and take her back leaving Ann to be cast off.

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  5. Briony Coote says:

    I subscribe to the cancer theory, but I believe the emotional and psychological trauma that Catherine went through after being dumped by Henry and forcibly separated from Mary would have played a huge role in her illness, perhaps even physically manifesting itself as the cancer. It is widely accepted that there is a huge correlation between emotional pain and physical illness.

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  6. Sally says:

    I suspect that she died of metastatic melanoma, one of the few cancer that metastisizes to the heart, and because the tumor found on her heart was described as being black, classic for melanoma.

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    Derek Reply:

    What is your source for the black patch on her heart? I can’t even begin to imagine that any form of an autopsy would have been performed – especially on a former Queen. Also, I find it just a bit lazy to say that she died of depression and a broken heart. She was a strong woman, full of her faith to the very end which certainly would have sustained Katherine (though I do not doubt she was quite pained at the trials she had to endure, namely not seeing her daughter.)

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  7. David says:

    I go with the Cancer theory also. It goes without saying that there was tension between Anne and Catherine, after all they were fighting for the same man, and that can get pretty sticky when both sides have their claws out, however, I do not think Anne would or even thought of knocking Catherine off with poison. I think she knew she was winning the game and well, that was not a necessary option to think about. 50 was old in those days, but when you think about all of us getting old one usually starts to think about the two most common reasons for death now a days, heart attack or some terminal form of cancer. So why not in Catherine’s case. Added to that fact though, I can not even begin to doubt that she was one sad and depressed lady, tired out from the constant fighting and tension not only with Anne but with her husband, Henry. Why should the love game be any different then to now. Depression is a killer also and when added to heart attack or cancer, Catherine did not have a chance so to speak…who would have needed poison….?

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    Saxon Meinard Reply:

    Aside from political pressure on Henry to remain with Katherine. It’s not about personal choice with Nobility , it’s about politics. Threat of invasion, excommunication , ect are all reasons Henry could go back to his wife regardless of his personal feelings. There are poisons that cause cancer and slow acting and Katherine was receiving food donated to her. All she had to do was say the word and Henry could of been forced back with her or be over thrown.

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  8. Carolyn says:

    I don’t believe Anne had anything to do with Katharine’s death. If anyone would gain from her death, it would have been Henry. Not that I think he did, just pointing out that who had motives was murkier than we often suppose. If Henry wanted Anne’s marriage to him recognized, Katharine’s death would free him to do so by making him a widower in the eyes of the Papists. If he wanted out of his marriage to Anne, Katharine’s death opened up the possibility of Anne dying, too, which would make him indisputably single.

    I think Katharine’s death was by natural causes, probably cancer, but it could have been exacerbated by her years of enormous stress, poor living conditions, her separation from Mary, etc.

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    Abigail Reply:

    I believe that she died of a broken heart because he divorced. of course all women are upset when they get divorced, so anne of aragon has died of a broken heart.

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  9. The Grand Duchess says:

    Queen Anne may have been an enemy of Catharine of Aragonbut I have no doubts she would have killed her. I believe she died of Cancer just as Mary I died of cancer.

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  10. Sebastian says:

    I also go by the idea that she had cancer, and I heard that Anne Boleyn grieved for her.

    Supposedly she openly celebrated when news got to her that Catherine was dead, but later on the King and Queen separately broke into tears once they had privacy.

    There is also the story about the two of them wearing yellow. Some say that it was the Spanish color of mourning and therefore the two Were grieving over her death, while other say that their wearing yellow was symbolizing their hap pines and celebration in her death.

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  11. Siobhan says:

    Its an interesting point Sebastian makes that her daughter, Mary I also died of cancer around the same age (maybe 5 years younger or less?). The cancer was different; uterean or ovarian cancer, does anyone know if there is a genetic link to those kinds of cancers? If the cancer metastisized to the heart does that mean it came from elsewhere? Sorry about raising more questions than giving opinions or answers but I am interested :D

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    Omaira Reply:

    lets see mary was seventeen years older than Elizabeth and Elizabeth was 25 when she ascended the throne which makes Mary 42 when she died, so 8 years younger than her mother. And while the two types of cancer may not be strictly genetically related, both mother and daughter were not in the best health generally.

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  12. Olivia says:

    Hi Carole Queen Katherine of Aragon ( real name Catalina)! of Marrige to Auther was actually consummated but was kept a secret by her so she could go on and Marry King Henry Viii ( real name Harry) through history this secret was actually called the great lie. Also Katherine of Aragon her name actually starts with a “K” not a “C” if you go back through history King Henry VIII actually had commissioned banners and badges of H and K entwined for his great joust whe he declared himself as ” Sir Loyal Heart” the restoration of his devotion to and love for Queen Katherine.

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  13. Baroness Von Reis says:

    Claire,I think she died of cancer,as Mary 1 died of cancer aswell. Thx Baroness

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  14. sloan says:

    siobhon…ive often wondered if mary may have contracted hpv at some point in her life and whether or not that may have played a part in her feminine troubles/cancer. i have read that hpv has been around for centuries and i know it causes/increases risk of cervical cancers and contributes to others. mary is not a person i have studied much though she does crop up often through the others i do study heavily. also, a little known (seemingly) and silent killer is primary peritoneal cancer which affects the gut lining which also covers the utereus. it goes undiagnosed until late stage when even today there is nothing you can do but marks days off on the calendar out of your last months. until late stage there is usually no sign or ill feelings to the victim. it also looks and acts like ovarian cancer. in late stage it would cause the abdomen to swell like crazy because of the extra fluid it produces into the persons body cavity. enough swelling to make even an old woman who is small or thin look pregnant. this can come and go some, but when symptoms get bad and become very apparent, death is not far off. also, back to the hpv thought, most peoples immune systems would have fought that off with little or more likely, no, discomfort, except for people with poorer immune systems, and by all accounts mary was never blooming with health. i cant offer much past that, but the peritoneal cancer seems pretty likely to me given what i know of it and what i know of mary, which granted isnt huge as ive never set out to atudy only her. hope this ideas help somebody.

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  15. Josbits2 says:

    I personally think Catherine of Aregon Princess of Wales, Queen of England died from loneliness and a lack of honour, (even though she was never honour-less) she grew up with parents of kings and queens at war, and she learnt how to direct an army and a war the hard way!! tbh I do believe her marriage to Arthur was consummated and I do believe he was her great love, How she became betrothed to Prince Henry VIII is down to his father Henry VII, but she fought for England, to honour her husband and prove herself brave and loyal in the face of an enemy and she succeeded!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  16. Terry says:

    Anne Boleyn was a common whore, like many that continue to roam the world in every sector of society. Henry Tudor was a ruthless, selfish, self-centered, egocentric, hedonistic rat who did not care about others’ suffering. He came from a line of bastards (as out-of-wedlock children were called in those days), being a descendant of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, his mistress, whom he later married. Although John of Gaunt legitimized his children by Swynford, the fact remains that they were born illegitimate, and as such, NONE of their descendants should have been a monarch, including Henry Tudor.

    Catherine of Aragon, on the other hand, was the daughter of the great warrior queen, Queen Isabella of Castile and her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon. She was also a descendant of John of Gaunt by both of his wives, Constance of Castile and Blanche of Lancaster. As such Catherine had a greater claim to the English throne than the putrid Henry.

    What Catherine should have done, had she not been such a devout Catholic, was to have Anne killed in order to save England, the Roman Catholic Church in England, her daughter Mary and herself!

    By the way, the average lifespan in the Tudor period was not 35 years of age. I have never heard or read that before. If some source indicates 35 as the expected life span, it must be for the poor and lower classes, who had a very harsh and difficult life. During the Tudor period, Wikipedia indicates that if a person made it to 15 years of age, he could expect another 40 to 50 more years of life (citing Richard Grassby), and Tudor blog indicates that at 21, a male would have 48.11 years of life left (citing H.O. Lancaster).

    May good Queen Catherine be in God’s loving light eternally – and Anne Boleyn rotting in hell!

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    msu Reply:

    I have to agree with you about all you wrote. Most people these days praise Anne Boleyn, they say Anne Boleyn was their favorite queen and that she was innocent, when in reality she was not innocent, she stole a man who was already married and celebrated when Catherine died which is terrible, and she was money and power hungry. In the end Anne she got what she deserved. Henry also was an awful man as well, he was just as bad as Anne, Henry dumping Catherine like that and going from woman to woman for queens and sleeping with many whores. Both Anne and Henry disgust me by how ruthless and terrible they were.

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    AM Reply:

    Henry was indeed a ruthless man – ruthless enough to take what he wanted and destroy not only those who denied him but their families as well. What choice do you suppose Anne had when he made advances towards her? Go the same way as Bessie and Mary? Have an intimate relationship outside of marriage? Give up her body and honour to a man who could destroy her family otherwise?

    Did she scheme against Katherine? Yes, probably. Much as Katherine will have schemed to get her throne when all hope seemed lost after Arthur’s death. Did Anne utilise Katherine’s failure to give Henry a son to persuade him to annul their marriage? Very possibly, much as Katherine may well have lied about not having consummated her marriage to Arthur in order to claim a throne. Both women did what they could to protect themselves and their families, both suffered because Henry cared little for the lives of others. She most certainly didn’t ‘get what she deserved’ though. No one deserves that.

    Aside from that, a number of books I’ve read indicate that Anne was very devout, that the standard she had for her maids we very high and she wanted them to behave in a christian manner. She was also involved with bringing English bibles into England on the belief that everyone should be able to read the bible, rather than relying on the interpretations of a power hungry church. She cared for a people who didn’t care for her, and she did her best in an impossible circumstance driven by Henry, as well as her uncle and father.

    Was Henry ruthless?
    Yes.

    Was Anne?
    Only as much as Katherine, but during their battle Anne had Henry’s favour. Afterwards she had her life ripped apart as well.

    Henry was arranging his marriage to Jane on the day of Anne’s execution, which is pretty horrific for someone who supposedly loved her and had forced her into a position where she could only try to make the best of a bad situation. On top of that, the charges against her were false, she was in entirely different towns to many of the men she was supposed to have bedded on the nights she was charged with being unfaithful. It is more likely that Katherine had bedded Arthur, therefore making her marriage to Henry invalid, than it was that Anne had committed any treason. In that sense Katherine was far more likely to be ‘deserving’ of her fate, legally speaking, than Anne was. Although truthfully I doubt either deserved Henry’s wrath.

    Henry forced Anne to either become his mistress, against her christian teaching, or do something remarkable in order to save herself and her honour. Meanwhile her uncle and father forced her to try and gain power for them. In many ways she was a pawn, just a strong one who hoped to carve a life for herself too. At the time it was Katherine or her, and naturally Anne chose to protect herself.

    Unfortunately for her it took Henry years to get rid of Katherine, so by the time he married Anne she was heading out of her prime childbearing years and he was already becoming an infertile, disease ridden mistake. That may have had a lot to do with why she never bore a living son, and therefore fell out of favour. That could be blamed on Katherine as if she’d bowed out gracefully and Anne had married Henry sooner she may have stood a better chance as bearing a living son.

    They were both unfortunate to marry Henry. That’s pretty much the top and bottom of it in my opinion. But legally speaking I think it’s more likely that Katherine should never have married Henry, than that Anne did anything remotely illegal.

    Personally I love that it was Anne’s daughter, not Mary or Edward, who ruled the longest and most successfully out of Henry’s children. It doesn’t make up for what he did to Anne, but he pretty much killed her over heirs so having her daughter become the strongest heir he had seems fitting.

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    Aud Reply:

    You can not compare Anne Boleyn scheming against Katherine to Katherine and her life before she became Queen of England. Firstly, you don’t know if her marriage to Arthur was consummated, I say she was telling the truth, which would mean she wasn’t a liar. Another fact, Katherine didn’t help tear down another woman to get to her place as Queen of England, again I’m not sure how your even comparing these two women, entirely different circumstances.

    Katherine definitely didn’t deserve her fate, if she consummated her marriage (and I say she didn’t) the dispensation for her marriage to Henry VIII covered whether it was consummated or not. Secondly if Katherine shouldn’t have married Henry, then Henry definitely had no business marrying Anne, for he had slept with her sister putting them in the same degree of forbidden affinity, just like his first marriage. He even applied for a dispensation for his marriage to Anne! Major hypocrisy!

    I am stunned that you would even try to blame Katherine for Anne’s inability to bear a son. Let’s see, his all started in 1527 where Anne would be 25-26 years of age considering she was born in 1501. Katherine didn’t have to bow out for this woman, nor should she. The fact that it took so long is Henry’s fault, and something Anne should have considered and most definitely Henry. They miscalculated big time when it came to Katherine and again that’s on them, not Katherine, who was looking after herself and her daughter’s rights.

    Again, if Katherine legally shouldn’t have married Henry, then Anne shouldn’t have married Henry either as he had slept with her sister Mary Boleyn and they couldn’t marry without a dispensation!

    Jessie Reply:

    Of course Katherine’s marriage to Arthur was consummated. In those days you were supposed to be chaste before marriage and fully submissive after legal union. Henry VII Mother had him at 13 and your trying to tell me that a 15 & 16 year old were married & together for 5 months over, at a time when it was essential to start producing children as soon as possible … and they did not have relations, oh! please. A young man would be eager to prove himself, those ages would be considered just right at that time. The marriage bed was strewn with roses & blessed with holy water, it is one of the few royal unions recorded at the time. Arthur himself boasted how he spent the wedding night in the midst of Spain.

    Katherine too just did what she had to for her own protection – They all had a part to play in the unfortunate situation.

  17. Aud says:

    Of course it was? No it wasn’t, and Maraget Beaufort is a bad example to use, as she nearly died from giving birth to Henry VII and she herself asked for delay in Maragrets marriage as she considered her granddaughter too young. As for Arthur words, sound like nothing more than boasts, and ridiculous ones at that.

    The original plan was that Katherine was to live separate from Arthur. If they were in a rush to have children then why was this the original plan? It only changed because of the situation with the dowry and plate. Both parents were in no hurry and during this time period there was a fear of people dying from too much activity in the bed. So yes, I am saying a 15 year old and 16 year old who didn’t know one another and were only married for six months didn’t consummate their marriage! Let me give you some examples of teens who didn’t consummate their marriage or waited a while: Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard, Henry Howard and Frances de Vere. People are acting like Arthur and Katherine were married for years, it was months and as such I find it entirely plausible hat the marriage was not consummated. Katherine herself said multiple times and swore to it that she didn’t and she knew her should would be in danger for repeatedly telling lies. There is also the fact to consider that she didn’t become pregnant during her first marriage, and she has never had an issue with becoming pregnant (her issue was keeping pregnancies). She said she was a virign as early as 1502 and I believe her because she didn’t need to lie.

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  18. Aud says:

    Edit:
    She knew her soul would be in danger for repeatedly telling lies,

    That is how that should be read! Sorry!

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  19. Aud says:

    You mention Margaret Beaufort, who was traumatized by the consummation of her own marriage and the difficult birth of Henry VII. She was known to have asked for a delay in Margaret Tudor’s marriage to James IV of Scotland, because she feared her granddaughter was too young.

    And I want to point out that what was supposed to happen didn’t always work out like that. Henry Fitzroy was fourteen at the time of his marriage to Mary Howard who was 13/14, and their marriage was never consummated. Fitzroy died at the age of seventeen, a year older than KOA and two years older than Arthur.

    The next couple I am going to mention is Henry Howard and Frances de Vere. Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey married Frances de Vere when they were both fifteen/sixteen in 1532 and didn’t live together and consummate the marriage until three years later in 1535. Henry would have been 17/18 and Frances would have been 18/19.

    And as for your argument about the goal of producing heirs, the original plan was for KOA to remain at court separate from Arthur, which would certainly impede and delay pregnancy but neither sets of royal parents were in a rush. The only reason KOA went to live with Arthur in Ludlow had to do with the fact of her dowry plate and that if it were used, then Henry VII would be able to reject the plate and ask for coin from Ferdinand and Isabella.

    Anyways my earlier point wasn’t really about the consummation of the marriage but the comparison between KOA and Anne Boleyn.

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