21 June 1529 – An incredible speech from Catherine of Aragon

Posted By on June 21, 2018

On 31st May 1529, a special legatine court had opened at Blackfriars, in London, to hear the case for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The court was presided over by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who’d been made the pope’s viceregent, and Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, papal legate.

On 18th June 1529, the king and Catherine were summoned to appear. The king sent proxies, but Catherine appeared in person to make her protest, protesting that the judges were biased and that court proceedings should not even be taking place while the case was still pending at Rome.

On this day in history, 21st June 1529, both Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon attended court to testify in front of the cardinal. Henry VIII addressed the court, giving his side of things. He explained that his conscience was troubled because he had acted contrary to God’s law in marrying his brother’s widow and he believed that the pope should never have issued a dispensation for such a marriage. I’m sure that it was a heartfelt and impassioned speech, but he was to be completely outdone by his wife, Catherine, who definitely stole the show and gave “the speech of her life”.

Click here to read about what happened on that day in court.

Also on this day in history, 21st June 1553, letters patent were issued changing King Edward VI’s heir from his half-sister, Mary, to Lady Jane Grey – click here to read more.

Picture: Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon before Papal Legates at Blackfriars, Frank O. Salisbury (1910).

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13 thoughts on “21 June 1529 – An incredible speech from Catherine of Aragon”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    Katherine of Aragon’s finest hour! Henry’s, naw, not so much. Go Katherine, you tell him!

  2. Michael Wright says:

    Every time I read her speech I am just so proud of her. I’m sure it wasn’t received in that way at the time. She walked out because there was no reason to stay. She said everything there was to say and did it in a heartfelt and dignified manner. At this moment she owned Henry.

  3. Christine says:

    Katherine did steal the show and I think the moment where she knelt before him pleading for justice is very sad and I can well imagine the uncomfortable atmosphere of the court that day, Henry had no idea nor could others that she would walk across the room to him with one sweep of her velvet gown and prostrate herself at his feet, her impassioned face turned upwards to him begging for compassion and concern is very moving, when she said she was a stranger born out of his dominion and she pleads to him as the head of justice within this realm shows her vulnerability, but as we know Katherine of Aragon was not vulnerable she was however at the mercy of the King and his council, she must have felt fear mingled with anger and grief, it was said that Henry looked straight past her possibly he was at a loss for words, and then embarrassingly she spoke of her virginity on their wedding night, Henrys face must have burned, I do not believe Katherine was lying when she stated she had never slept with Arthur, a God fearing extremely pious woman like her would consider it a sin and we can dismiss the brides boast about marriage is a thirsty business and last night he was in Spain, all young lads boast and in an age when virility was much thought of, especially in kings and princes, no doubt he would have felt a bit of a sop if he admitted they had only slept the sleep of the innocent, Henry never bothered about his brothers boast he married Katherine and they were very happy, but then after discontent had settled in he conveniently remembered it, however I do honestly believe that Henry thought his marriage was cursed as his father had no problem in siring sons so why should he, there must be a divine reason behind it, Katherine was the perfect wife and queen consort but the lack of sons was the issue and Henry was troubled, of course he fell for Anne Boleyn but he would have tried to divorce Katherine or anull the marriage if she hadn’t come along anyway, people who say he was being a hypocrite citing the verse from Leviticus are not really being fair, as he for some years was discussing in secret taking a new wife possibly a Frenchwoman, ( Wolsley being an Francophile could well have suggested it), therefore he no doubt genuinely felt that he had committed a sin in marrying his brother’s wife, even though the pope had allowed the dispensation, he was fond of his wife still, he had enormous respect for her, but I do believe he had a very real fear that his marriage was cursed, the lack of sons to Henrys superstitious God fearing mind was proof enough, he and Katherine observed the religious days rigidly and Katherine herself wore a hair shirt under her undergarments, she was at prayer early morning even in the winter, and at midnight, she also fasted when it was necessary so how else had they displeased God? The answer they should never have married, but it all rested on wether Katherine had lied about sleeping with Arthur and she swore she never had, Henrys conscience however made him believe she had and the lack of sons and so many dead children and several miscarriage’s made him believe it, also he wanted Anne, she was young and healthy he was sure she would give him sons so poor Katherine had to go, it was all so sad but in an age when the prime function of a queen was just for breeding, if she could not give the country heirs then she was considered barren and like a cow in the field, put out to grass, daughters were not considered as a possible ruler, their usefulness came as bargaining tools cementing alliances it was kingship that was for sons, Katherine having her own indomitable mother as a prime example of how able a woman could rule saw nothing wrong in Mary becoming queen but Henry wasn’t prepared to risk it, maybe he feared England would become just a vassal if Mary had the throne and her husband was from a foreign power, it was something which parliament was concerned about also hence Marys unwise choice of husband years later, so we can safely say that Henry would have after some planning told Katherine he was determined to take another wife, it would no doubt have been a foreign noblewoman or a lady of the blood Royal of France maybe or Holland, who knows but when Anne glanced his way and he caught a flash of those large dark eyes he was struck, as he later put it, with the dart of love, therefore Anne became the woman he desired to make his queen for he could see her and no one else, Katherine was appalled when she learnt of how he wished to marry her lady in waiting, how could she a Princess of Spain stand aside for a woman who se only claim to fame was that her elder sister had once slept with her husband, she was no princess and Katherine must have hoped that Henrys fancy for her would burn itself it, this was what one of Annes early biographers thought, that she was stalling for time by pleading directly to Rome to handle her case, and the long winded wait would weary Henry and maybe Anne also, sadly Anne was just as tenacious as Katherine and in the end there would be only one winner, after she strode out of the court amid cries to come back in she showed her utter contempt for the proceedings, she also had the support of every woman in the land, from the noblest born to the humblest and she knew like her mother before her that she could not back down before an adversary, she had stolen the show, those watching her must have felt admiration for her but when she returned to her apartments only those closet to her must have seen the tears that fell that day.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Despite Henry’s protests that his marriage was cursed by sleeping with his brother’s wife he conveniently forgot that he slept with the sister of the woman he now wants to wed.

      1. Laura says:

        He used his relationship with Mary Boleyn to get out of his marriage to Anne. I wonder if Mary having children was anything to do with it. Why was being intimate with his brother’s wife a problem if Arthur and Catherine never consummated the marriage. Though it probably was and Catherine was lying to firstly secure her daughter’s rights as Princess and with her love for Henry.

        1. Laura says:

          And yes I am proud of Catherine too. Rather than letting the court decide, Catherine was brave enough to challenge Henry though I think she wanted to communicate directly to him.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          In the Bible in the Book of Leviticus, which is one of the Five Books of Moses, so at the start, there is a law that forbade a brother, who lived with another brother, which presumably was common, to marry the wife of the other brother and it says the marriage is not holy and the couple will have no children. In another case in Deuteronomy, it is given to the surviving brother to take the widow to wife in order to continue the family line. This was held to be more important than Leviticus because it was also about protecting and providing for a widow, especially in a time when women were particularly vulnerable and also property. The rights of a widow had to be preserved. If there was no brother the obligation extended to the nearest male relative, so an uncle or cousin may take the widow to wife. The first born son was accepted as belonging as heir to the dead husband and inheritance rights worked in this way. In later centuries, Deuteronomy took precedence but there are a whole litany of cases when an annulment was granted and the brother and widow scenario questioned by earlier Popes. It was like having sexual relations with your sister, because she was recognised as such in law. Special dispensation were granted according to different circumstances. I suspect the circumstances had much more to them than being related. Katherine and Henry had such a special circumstance.

          If the previous marriage was not consummated, as the evidence suggests and Katherine claimed, then her marriage to Arthur war not only childless but was not counted as a valid marriage. This meant that Katherine was free to remarry and could marry a relative if the Pope gave his blessing. Actually two Dispensations were granted, one which said that it was not consummated and the other was open. It was accepted and Henry and Katherine were legally married.

          Henry didn’t have a problem until he came across the words in Leviticus and as we know Henry was trained in theological matters and he really did look into this. He had a hearing in 1526 but it came to nothing and then the experts got to work. Ironically Henry also needed a Dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn because he had slept with her sister and that also complicated things as and sexual relationship between different relatives could count as incest. Yes, the fact that Mary had children, possibly had some bearing, especially as their was a real possibility that at least one of them belonged to Henry and he was not going to take any chances. However, the request was badly worded and Henry’s argument is said to be very flawed by modern biographies. Henry used his relationship with Mary to get into a marriage with Anne Boleyn and his relationship to get out of his relationship.

          By the time Henry and Katherine found themselves in this dilemma, they had been married for almost twenty years. They didn’t know of any problems before 1526, although Henry may have had suspicions back in 1518, but didn’t act upon them. Katherine wasn’t aware of any such problems and obviously didn’t accept any problems. The Church would make provision for the children of a couple who married in good faith and didn’t know they were not free and Mary was born before this problem. This good faith clause meant that Mary’s legitimacy would be protected. Katherine could not be guaranteed this, although the Church would have done so had they made the decision. The problem was it was Henry who finally made the annulment happen independent of Rome and by legislation he declared his daughter illegitimate. The good faith clause was nullified by Henry and Cranmer’s break from Rome and use of English laws instead.

          Katherine could not surrender because she was the true Queen and she thought Henry had lost his mind and soul and was being poorly advised. She believed she was his true wife and as you say fought for her own rights and those of her child. She saw Mary as a perfectly acceptable future Queen and of course Henry’s argument didn’t hold water anyway because he had no sons, not no children. A perfectly good dispensation had been granted and because Katherine was a virgin she was free to marry Henry, who according to the Book of Deuteronomy was obligated to marry Katherine.

          Henry used the argument that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was not valid just before he executed her on false charges by using Mary Boleyn as a convenient excuse. He tried first of all to say Anne had been betrothed to Henry Percy, but this was denied by the Earl before Henry married Anne, in front of two Archbishops and two Dukes and he swore on the Eucharist. This was a holy vow and he was being truthful. He told Cromwell the same thing again in 1536 and would not budge. Henry had to find another excuse. He wanted to make his marriage illegal because he was removing Elizabeth from the succession and Anne’s execution wouldn’t do that. Henry merely wanted the succession to be fully invested in the marriage he was about to make with Jane Seymour. There would be no more two Queens left alive to cause him problems and no further disputed succession. As David Starkey remarked in The Last Days of Anne Boleyn “People don’t understand Henry , do they? The best liars in history are the ones who believe their own lies. Henry wanted to believe these charges because it was convenient and Henry believed anything which was convenient.” Henry also believed his own cause in the annulment because it was convenient and he was by now he was enamoured of Anne Boleyn . However, Katherine countered because she genuinely felt she was right and had been crowned and was Henry’s true wife.

    2. Esther says:

      According to JJ Scarisbrick, Katherine of Aragon had no motive to lie about her marriage with Arthur. That first marriage created two impediments to the later marriage to Henry … affinity, which was mentioned in the dispensation (but existed only if the marriage to Arthur had been consummated) and public honesty (created by the public wedding) which was not mentioned in the dispensation — and did not depend upon consummation. If her marriage to Arthur was consummated, the problem of “public honesty” would be included in the dispensation, but if it was not consummated, the dispensation issued would not apply .. and so there was grounds for an annulment right there.

      However, I think it very significant that Henry didn’t say anything when Katherine “put it to [his] conscience”.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Katherine caused total disquiet by this famous act. It was absolutely out of order and the Court didn’t know what to do because it went outside of the procedure of the Court. Just as Henry when called upon had made his case and laid out his brief before the Court, Katherine was also called upon to accept the authority of the learned judges at the Court and to respond via her representative. However, Katherine didn’t trust her learned representatives and she had a plan. She would denounce the hearing in Blackfriars and she would first challenge the authority of the Court, because she declared she had no faith in the process and would receive no justice there. She secondly turned to her husband, the King, whose lawful authority gave him the right of judgement in matters of public and private justice and who was the last resort for seeking justice or mercy. It was the right of every citizen to petition the King and to have any legal case referred to him for his impartial justice (in theory). Katherine took advantage of this right and ignoring the calls to respond to the Court and she walked straight to the front, turned and walked to stand before her husband. Then, most likely to the gasps of the male judges and clergy and public watching, she knelt before Henry and made her famous speech.

    Yes, I would agree that there is something sad as well as deeply moving about this powerful but humble woman and Queen, kneeling to beg Henry to hear her pleas and to return to her as his wife, especially when we know that her words failed. However, it was also a power play, because Katherine knew her husband, or at least she believed she did and he was sought to rule on these matters and not the Court appointed to try her marriage. Every word is a challenge for his attention and his compassion and to recall to remembrance the love between them and the children they had lost. She reminded Henry that they had suffered together, that she had come from a foreign country and had loved all of his friends and of everything as husband and wife they had shared and that they had had many children, but God had taken them away ( this is really heart breaking) and that she had been a faithful and dutiful wife. Katherine asked Henry how had she offended him and for justice. Finally, she reminded Henry that she was his true wife and had come to him as a virgin and placed on his conscience the charge to deny it if he dare. To both his credit and his embarrassment, Henry remained silent because only he and Katherine knew the truth. Then in a moment of final defiance and triumph Katherine rose and declared her final intent. If there was no justice from the King, she would seek it elsewhere, commending herself and her cause to God and appealing her case to the only authority above everyone, to the only Court she would recognise, to the Pope and to the Rota/Curia theological Court in Rome. Henry would have to wait for his annulment and Katherine walked from the Court as his wife. She refused to return.

    Can you imagine how this went down? Katherine had this well worked out. She had been advised by Cardinal Campeggio that such an Appeal would be granted. For now the business of Blackfriars continued on and witnesses still gave their evidence and the learned men made their grand speeches and Katherine waited. The King was silently embarrassed and well annoyed. He sent the Duke of Suffolk to the Court on the last day of the hearing when the decision was expected, but to the surprise of all there and especially the King and even to that of Cardinal Wolsey, the co leader of the Court, Campeggio raised the hearing and adjourned it until the pleasure of His Holiness be known. Blackfriars never sat again. Katherine’s Appeal was heard and Henry was summoned to Rome to place his case before them. Of course, he didn’t go but sent representatives as did Queen Katherine. Four years of backwards and forwards negotiating and claims and counter claims followed, demanding a decision be made with every trick in the book being used to stop a decision in favour of Katherine, until as we know, Henry lost patience and took matters into his own hands, broke from Rome, made himself head of an English independent Church and by hook and by crook created a new legislative framework which allowed him to gain an annulment from Katherine via Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell and end his marriage. It was with great irony that a few months later Clement declared the findings of the Curia and issued a Bull declaring the marriage of Henry Viii and Queen Katherine valid. He followed this with a warning letter, threatening a Bull of Excommunication ( being cut off from the Christian Church and Salvation) unless by a certain date Henry abandoned Anne Boleyn and returned to Katherine. It made no difference to Henry who had married and crowned Anne and was hoping for a son by her and poor Katherine was banished to exile in luxurious, but not very healthy castles and palaces. She continued to call herself Queen until her death but her daughter was also a casualty and Mary was estranged from both parents for four years, although communication allowed her to remain close to what was going on at Court.

    One other casualty of this failed hearing was Cardinal Wolsey who lost the Kings favour, lost much of his property and was banished from Court. Henry and the nobility blamed him for it going wrong and Anne’s father made certain charges of embezzlement and fraud were stacked against him. He was found guilty but he worked out a deal and was allowed to retire to York where he was Archbishop with a generous pension. However, late in 1530 he was charged with treason and in November died at Leicester Abbey en route to London. He had simply been doing the King’s work but his enemies conspired to bring him down and he lost Henry’s favour and friendship, although I believe the King regretted his demise.

  5. Christine says:

    It was unprecedented the King and Queen of England appearing in court, both citing their reasons for the legality ( Katherine ) and the reasons for it to be dissolved ( Henry), and there was Canpeggio no young man but suffering from gout travelling over to England where the weather probably made him feel worse, there was Wolsley as mentioned who failed to get his masters divorce and he ended up disgraced and some say, died of a broken heart because of it, the pope himself was in the middle of it all with Katherines nephew on one side who he dare not offend, it did drag on for years and then Anne fell pregnant, whatever Rome decided Henry had to shake himself free of Katherine forever and before the eternal city had come to any conclusion, Henry married Anne and forever after the legality of their marriage was a matter of dispute, many believed he had committed bigamy and although Anne was crowned and she was wafting around having people bowing and curtsying before her, their furtive hasty marriage was not seen as lawful, she was not seen as the true queen it was still Katherine the wronged wife who had all the support, at the wedding ceremony Henry bullied the priest when he asked to see the dispensation from the pope and had no choice but to bind them in holy wedlock, Henry had had enough from now on the pope had no authority over England and he would set up his own church, he would be answerable to no one except God, there was nothing Katherine could do except what she had always done, pray for strength and the salvation of Henrys soul.

  6. Banditqueen says:

    I don’t believe Katherine lied either because of her constancy in this matter. She had never wavered from this assertion and she swore under the seal of confession that she ” was a virgin as from her mother’s womb” when she married Henry. She would not have challenged Henry over this in front of the entire Court and the public if she were lying. There was another long term investigation in Spain and witnesses called before their equivalent of a Commission from the time of the first marriage to Prince Arthur and what they had to say makes interesting reading. The maids who attended Katherine were called, her page was called and the groom from outside her door the next morning. They gave a different testimony to the youthful bravado by Arthur. They testified to Katherine being quiet and sullen and even weeping and voices whispering about the wedding night in hushed and sympathetic tones. It seemed the boasts of the young man had been empty. He had been clumsy and it was more of a fumble in the dark than full consummation. Arthur might have believed he had been in the midst of Spain, but in fact he had sunk of the coast and he had been wide of the mark. The Archives in Spain have been made more available to modern authors and there is a lengthy discussion in Amy Licence. Both were young, inexperienced people, about sixteen and they probably didn’t even know what they were doing. They were only married for about seven months or so and for much of that time they spent long periods apart in separate apartments or they were both ill for several weeks. There was concern over whether or not the couple should live together which went on for a few weeks so they didn’t get another chance to consummate their marriage for some time. They lived together for a brief time and it is very possible that Arthur and Katherine could not get their love making right. I believe her when she said she was a virgin when she married Henry, who certainly didn’t feel he was going to be cursed if the speed and enthusiasm with which he resolved the diplomatic problems his father had created in order to marry and crown Katherine. Henry may have believed his marriage was cursed or it might have been an excuse but he was serious about the need for a son. I definitely believe Henry knew Katherine was telling the truth, which is why he said nothing. Along with everyone else, though, I bet he was gobsmacked.

    1. Banditqheen says:

      I am definitely proud of Katherine and feel her motivation was also the love for Mary, England and Henry.

    2. Christine says:

      Today young people experiment at a shockingly early age and there are several dreadful cases where girls of twelve or thirteen have given birth, but amongst royals and nobles in early times daughters were carefully guarded, their mothers would have told them about what to expect on their wedding night, apart from Anne of Cleves whose own mother obviously failed her daughter in that one, but sons were different and were expected to sow their wild oats as the saying goes, John of Gaunt as a young lad had an affair with a servant woman and she became pregnant, and many Kings had sired bastards before they took the crown, but with daughters it was different as chastity meant everything to her future in laws indeed she was seen as damaged goods if she did not come to her bridegroom a virgin, unless she was a widow, it has been suggested that Henry V111 was most likely a virgin to when he married Katherine, his father had wrapped him in cotton wool after Arthur’s death fearing he may lose him too and it was something the young prince hated, when he became King he delighted in his new found freedom and promptly married his charming sister in law, I agree Henry must have known his wife was a virgin and their coupling together was more successful than his elder brothers awkward fumblings had been, Arthur has always appeared less robust than Henry who from a young age had stealed the show from his elder brother, in early portraits there is a strong likeness between them but there was always something about Henry that made people notice him more, more fairer than Arthur with a rosy complexion he was also an extrovert, a show off who delighted in dancing and riding and as we know later on, he was expert at the joust, people commented on his presence, he had a King like aura about him and he was so forceful a personality that Arthur must have paled in comparison, both brothers had survived the perils of childhood but Arthur’s health was not so much a course for concern till the day of his wedding drew near, it was said of him then he appeared sickly and could have been suffering from a lung infection, there are many theories about what ailed Arthur but six months into his wedding he caught what was possibly the sweat or maybe malaria, the possibility’s are endless but in his delicate condition it was enough to kill him, Katherine also fell ill but her strong constitution saved her and there are no records of her thoughts on this sad time, but I believe she had come to feel affection for Arthur, they were of an age and had been thrust together in the time honoured tradition of the day, when she married Henry of course he knew she was a virgin, they both knew it and that was why she was determined Henry would not succeed in his quest for the divorce, to her it was sheer hypocrisy on his part, but in Henrys defence he could see no other way out of his marriage, but it was an insult to not only Katherine his own parents to who had approved of his marriage, the pope himself who had granted the dispensation, and to Henry also who knew he was lying when he claimed that Arthur’s boast must be taken seriously, no wonder Katherine was determined to fight, Henry would do absolutely anything for a son, in the end he would resolve to even murder to achieve that end.

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