14 November 1501 – The Marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales

Arthur Tudor and Catherine of AragonOn 14th November 1501, Catherine of Aragon married Arthur, Prince of Wales at St Paul’s Cathedral. Giles Tremlett,1 author of Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, writes of how a huge wooden stage, measuring twelve feet by 350 feet, had been erected in the cathedral. It stood on four foot struts and its railings were decorated with “say”, a fine wool or silk twill cloth. The stone walls of the cathedral were covered with tapestries and there was a red carpeted raised circular dais. It must have looked amazing.

Catherine, dressed in a white satin wedding dress was escorted from the Bishop’s Palace to the cathedral door by the ten year old Prince Henry, who would later become her second husband, and Lady Cecily of York carried her train. Catherine’s dress was Spanish in style with a farthingale and “many pleats” and her face was covered with a white silk veil decorated with a border of gold, pearls and gemstones. Her bridegroom, Prince Arthur, was also dressed in white satin.

Tremlett describes how the beginning of the wedding ceremony “was about politics and money”, with the marriage agreements being read out and Catherine’s dowry being announced. The bride was also given letters patent detailing her endowment and surety. After that, it was time for the religious part of the ceremony: the vows and mass. Catherine was then escorted out of the cathedral, to the sound of trumpets, by the young Henry while Arthur got himself ready to welcome her at the door of her chamber.

While the people of London enjoyed a pageant with a fountain running with wine, Catherine and Arthur enjoyed a sumptuous wedding banquet. Tremlett writes of how this was only the start of the celebrations and that the partying went on for a fortnight, consisting of jousts, masques and banquets.

After the feasting, it was, of course, time for the wedding night, the consummation of their marriage. The question of whether this marriage was ever actually consummated is still debated today. When Henry VIII was trying to annul his marriage to Catherine in the late 1520 and early 1530s, Catherine vowed that she had never slept with Arthur and this is backed up by evidence heard in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1531. There, Juan de Gamarra, who had been a boy in Catherine’s service at the time of her wedding, told of how the Prince had got up early the morning after and that when he, Gamarra, had entered Catherine’s rooms her ladies were concerned for Catherine and disappointed with the Prince. Gamarra stated:

“Francisca de Cáceres, who was in charge of dressing and undressing the queen and whom she liked and confided in a lot, was looking sad and telling the other ladies that nothing had passed between Prince Arthur and his wife, which surprised everyone and made them laugh at him.”2

English witnesses, however, tell of Arthur demanding ale the next morning “for I have been this night in the midst of Spain!”

We just don’t know for sure what happened that night and during their short marriage.

(Extract taken from a previous post)

Notes and Sources

  1. Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, Giles Tremlett (2010), p86
  2. Ibid., p89

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16 thoughts on “14 November 1501 – The Marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales”
  1. It is sad that Prince Arthur had to die at all, and so young. Had he only died before the marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry the VII would have married her off to Henry VIII, and none of what succeded would have happened, and Henry VIII would not have had a leg to stand on. He didn’t anyway which is why he broke with the church and named himself “Defender of the Faith”. It didn’t help Catherine of Aragon’s cause that Henry VIII wanted to enrich himself with the wealth and treasures of the monasteries.

    1. While everything you say is correct, Henry didn’t make himself Defender of the Faith. This was the title given to him in 1521 by Pope Leo in reward for his defence of the traditional Catholic faith in response to the teachings of Martin Luther in his book Defence of the Seven Sacraments. He gave himself the title Supreme Head of the Church in England, after he broke from Rome in 1534.

  2. I think what Catherine should have done is go back Spain.
    She would have a better life or better husband than Henrry viii
    But she was hurt head like her mother 🙂

    1. Well, the thing is………..that she wasn’t allwed to go back to Spain!!!

      Henry VII needed the money of her dowry and if he would have let her go, he would have had to give it back to the Spanish Catholic Kings! And that wasn’t an option for Henry.

      1. Why do people assume Katherine of Aragon would have have had a better life anywhere else and what evidence are people using to assume Henry wasn’t the best she could get in a husband?

        For one thing, Katherine was very pleased to marry the highly intelligent, sporty, six foot two Henry Viii and he was devoted to her. He was knightly, generous and he shone at everything, he was good looking and he was the man who practically rescued her from the luxurious, but lonely existence that her father in law, Henry Tudor kept her in. Katherine continually moaned about being impoverished but that is comparable to her life as Princess and she was most likely exaggerating. When she married Henry he was everything she wanted and for many years as a couple they were good together. It was the tragedy of the loss of their children which led to their marriage failing and particularly the lack of a male heir. After years of wondering, Henry came to the conclusion that his marriage was not blessed by God and that he could only have a son by another wife. Katherine may not have had sons, healthy ones by anyone so her future may not have been any different.

        Henry changed after years of Katherine’s opposition and his marriage to Anne, accident and other factors hardened him. That had consequences for how he treated Katherine and Anne, but he treated Anne of Cleves differently after the annulment because she agreed to it. He gave her wealth and three palaces and several homes and she was prominent in the life of his Court and that of his daughter, Mary. He changed for a variety of reasons into a much harsher man and ruler, but for more than two decades he was an excellent husband to Katherine of Aragon. There is no evidence that anyone else would have given her a better life.

  3. Diane, I believe it was the Pope who named Henry Defender of the Faith BEFORE he made that break. He had written a book. Ana, poor Catherine couldn’t go back to Spain. There were arguments over the dowry. That penny pincher Henry VII wouldn’t let go of it. Her father Ferdinand more or less told her she was on her own. He certainly didn’t want her back. The man was unfit to be a father, IMO!

    As for what Arthur said, if I were a teenage boy who had just disappointed his bride – and with a father like Henry and the hole country listening in – I wouldn’t be telling anyone about it, would you? I’d be bullshitting everyone and hoping things would work out later. I think that’s what Arthur was doing.

    1. I firmly believe Catherine came away from her marriage to Arthur a virgin because Catherine declared under oath that this was so, and the “night in Spain” testimony an unconvincing concoction arranged for by one of Henry’s minions for his later marriage annulment hearings.

    2. Sue, From my readings on the Tudors I believe your history of this also coincides with that which I found. You seem quite the historian. I look forward to further posts. As for Arthur, I agree – boys will be boys – royal or otherwise. I’m new to this website & it’s absolutely fascinating. Also, I’m inclined to believe that Catherine was a virgin, i.e. marriage never consumated, as having lived in Old Castille(Salamanca) Spain & got an understanding of their culture – very Catholic.

  4. Catherine and Arthur must have been looking forward to some months of happiness and according to the records at Ludlow they found some at their early weeks there at least; for it was some time before they both fell ill and they were meant to have both a honeymoon and to be in Ludlow to show the people royal authority as Prince and Princess of Wales. The royal chaple still exists were Katherine and Arthur would have heard Mass, although the round tower alone still stands and the chancel of the church has long gone. From their royal apartments they could have also have seen the Mass being said or sung. Although the ground around the castle did have a tendency for dampness and cold at that time; contrary to popular myth, Ludlow was not a damp drafty castle; far from it. Henry Tudor had spent a fortune on it making it warm and comfortable. The royal apartments were luxurious and in fact most of the time Katherine and Arthur did not actually live in the castle. They had a seperate home in the town, opposite the royal park around the castle in what today is Castle Lodge, a beautiful home, famous for its Tudor pannelling sent there after the death of Henry VIII.

    It was sad that within a few months of their shor marriage that both Katherine and Arthur contracted a severe viral illness that made them seriously ill; causing the death of the Prince in whom England and Wales had all hope for the future of the new dynasty. The country was plunged into mourning and Henry Tudor never really recovered from the death of his eldest son. The heart of the Prince, 16 was buried at Ludlow, but for three weeks his body made its way through the Marches, Worchestershire and Herefordshrire country roads to the Cathedral at Worchester, where a beautiful and extremely elaborate chantry chapel was built around his tomb. Arthurs tomb was traditional, with all the heralditary expected from his ancestors; but it is the chapel that is amazing. Originally intended for Henry VII, the marble was shifted from Westminster to Worchester and carved on site. There are the normal feathers of the Prince of Wales; the symbols of royalty and some of the pomagranates of Aragon, but lacking are the symbols of Katherine. More of the Tudor Beautfort Plantagenet symbols; the portcullis, lions and lilies and fleus de lieus, and so on abound all over. The future expectation of the Prince of Walses is evident. The royal Tudor claim is made clear: the symbols of the King rather than the joint symbols of bride and groom, Prince and Princess.

    Katherine must have been devastated, but she was now living in political limbo. without status; a widow, but not a mother, a Princess but not a bride and no second marriage was arranged for her. Her future would remain uncertain until her marriage to Henry VIII in 1509. Katherine must also have expected at first that she would return home; her days of mourning over, if a new marriage was not arranged this certainly should have been the thing to do, but the young Tudor dynasty needed the alliance with Spain; they needed justification and legitimacy. This was gained when they made a grand alliance with Aragon and Castile; this was an alliance that Henry Tudor could not afford to lose. He was just about secure on the throne at this time, but this marriage had been negotiated back in 1497-9 when his throne was under duress. In 1503; Katherine became less valuable as a wife when her mother Isabella died; but for now in 1502 she was valuable and Henry did not want to let her go.

    Over the next few years Katherine went from being valauble as a bride to a pawn in a political game and argument over money, her dowry payments, and she has written several letters to her father complaining about her lack of service, money, servants, provisions, and so on. Although still living a life of luxery compard to the hardships of most people; Katherine lived in conditions that were an insult to her status as a royal Princess and had reasons to complain that she and her household went short. At some point her status again changed and Henry was chosen for her husband to be. The contracts were drawn up and negotiated and Katherine was again looking forward to a new status and future. The issue of her first marriage arose of course to decide if she was free to marrry Prince Henry or whether or not she was a virgin; the Spanish marriage contracts claim that she was. The dispensation actually leaves the question open. In 1505 and 1507 her status changed again; with a denouncement of the marriage by Prince Henry who did so under duress. But by 1508 it was again clear that dispite all of the money issues Katherine still had hopes of marrying Henry, even though the issue remained an open one. Finally after the death of his father in April 1509, Henry settled the issue in days and Katherine and Henry were married a few weeks later. They were formally married on 11th June and crowned together on 24th June 1509. At this point all seemed well and Katherine had reason to be happy and optomistic for the future. In fact until 1526 they were happy and it was only then that Henry had doubts about the marriage: he had a new reason: he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.

      1. It couldn’t have been that passionate, it wasn’t even consummated. Henry and Katherine’s marriage, however, was passionate. His relationship with Anne was also passionate.

        No doubt Katherine and Arthur began to learn to live with each other but that doesn’t mean there was any passion between them. I think people forget this was a dynastic marriage, they were not about passion. If the bride and groom eventually got on well and had a reasonable sex life and became fond of each other it was a bonus. We have no way of knowing how Arthur and Katherine’s marriage would have developed. Trying to put our own “happy ever after” nonsense onto the past, especially one which never happened is actually wrong.

  5. So the few months they were married they never consummated there marriage kind of hard to believe. It was expected of them to do so and to conceive a child. In my opinion I honestly think it was. Might be wrong be it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t.

  6. Katherine and Arthur had the potential to be a contented couple but unfortunately his health was affected by sudden illness and their “honeymoon” was interrupted by the fact that she also became ill in Ludlow, for several weeks. Arthur and Katherine arrived and were well and happy. She moved into the Castle Lodge with him for more privacy but their official residence was in the luxurious Royal Apartments that were not damp and cold, as myths say, but well built, beautifully decorated, covered in warm fabrics and with large fireplaces. They were on the second floor and well aired. They were beautifully furnished and below they had a round chapel for private Mass which originally had a long nave attached which was destroyed years ago. There was a great chamber and they were waited on hand and foot and everything was done for their comfort. Henry Tudor had spent money on the old Ducal apartments of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily his Duchess, which were grand enough, transforming Ludlow into a palatial home for his son as his representative in Wales and the Marchers. However, none of this could protect the young couple from the deathly infection they both fell victim to in March 1502.

    Within a couple of weeks Prince Arthur was dead and Katherine was still ill but would recover. It is unlikely Arthur died of tuberculosis, which would have been noticeable and could kill the servants and others in his household would have caught any infectious form of tuberculosis and died. The information about the type of illness he had was very vague and a form of sweat is possible, in fact according to Sean Cunningham it was rife in the area. Being in close proximity during the Winter when outside activities were limited made contamination more likely. Katherine was probably also infected and may still have been recovering when Arthur’s body was prepared for his funeral.

    Katherine and Arthur possibly had communication problems even though they wrote in formal Latin as their common language. Neither spoke the others languages although Katherine began to learn. Some historians have also speculated that Arthur had developed testicular cancer, which would limit his ability to have sex as it would be painful. Much of this may well have limited their relationship, in addition to their decline in health in March 1502.

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