21 June 1529 – Catherine of Aragon steals the show

On this day in history, 21st June 1529, Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, appeared at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars, London.

The purpose of this court, which was presided over by Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio, was to listen to the testimonies of both the king and queen regarding the validity of their marriage and to rule on the marriage.

Henry VIII wanted the marriage annulling so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He addressed the court speaking of his love for his wife, but also of his troubled conscience regarding the fact that he had acted contrary to God’s law in marrying his brother’s widow. He felt that a dispensation should never have been issued for such a marriage. It may have been an impassioned speech, but it was not a patch on Catherine’s speech and it’s safe to say that she stole the show that day.

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

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10 thoughts on “21 June 1529 – Catherine of Aragon steals the show”
  1. Henry was a jerk to Katherine. If one of the male children with Katherine had survived then Anne would have just been another mistress. Katherine was a class act all the way. I think Henry was wrong in assuming Mary could not rule in her own right. The thing is if he had stayed with Katherine she probably would have still died around the same time but in less miserable conditions and with out creating so much ill will among his nobles, the common people, the clergy, and internationaly with emperor and the Pope over his great matter. He could still could have married a second wife, Jane Seymore, and had Edward VI anyway. Mary would not have been delegitimized and suffered all the trauma she experienced from being seperated from both parents so cruelly and would have not been “Bloody Mary”. Granted that means no Elizabeth I but I counter there would be no need for her. If Mary had been allowed to marry at an earlier age of say 18-20 years old instead of having to wait till her very late 30’s she likely would have had at least one or two children of her own surviving to rule. Even if Jane Seymore as 2nd queen to Henry had still died of similar circumstances and timing, choosing of a 3rd wife would have been less problematic as there would have been a larger pool of Catholic candidates to select from. The possible union of Mary, Queen of Scots and Edward VI may have been succesfull too if Henry had remained fully Catholic under the Pope, instead of Mary QOS being shunted off the France thus avoiding that whole debaucle.

    Also, consider that if Henry had taken the course I have espoused he would not have likely arrested Cardinal Wolsey thus possibly prolonging Wolsey’s life, would have retained the council and friendship of Thomas More to the end of his natural life, not allowed Thomas Cromwell to have so large an influence and dissolution of the monasteries may not have happened, and retained the good will of the Pope and Catholic Europe.

  2. I should also like to comment that if a 3rd wife for Henry was selected more carefully the whole Anne of Cleves/Catherine Howard mess would been avoided too.

    1. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Jane would die so soon after becoming queen and it was Henry that picked her.

      I think Anne of Cleves was the perfect wife and queen for Henry, and I think if he’d given the marriage time then it would have been successful. She was a good choice in many ways, and it was an important alliance. Unfortunately, Henry wanted to be in love with Anne and his humiliation at their first meeting had got in the way of that. If he’d treated it like the diplomatic marriage it was, where affection would have grown given time, then it probably would have been a great success. He and Anne became good friends later and everyone who met her seemed to like and respect her. Such a shame Henry didn’t give her a chance.

  3. Sorry if I’m asking a stupid question — does anyone know how accurately Catherine of Aragon’s speech was reported? I followed the link to your 2014 entry, and I see that the source for the text is Cavendish. It’s a lovely and eloquent speech — was it taken down word-for-word in a Tudor equivalent of shorthand (since this WAS after all a court hearing, and I assume there were clerks/scribes for that purpose?) Or was Cavendish reconstructing a speech based on what Wolsey told him? Perhaps he was present and was reporting from memory?

    I also find it a bit odd that it refers to Catherine as speaking in “broken English”. Again, it’s an eloquent speech, nothing “broken” about it at all. Perhaps the writer meant she retained a strong Spanish accent?

    I don’t always trust reported speeches — after all, there’s the long-standing story that Catherine Howard said she’d “rather die the wife of Culpeper”, and I am pretty sure historians have determined she never said that…

    1. Her speech was witnessed by an entire large court room, opened to the general public and reported in more than one source. What strikes odd to me is saying she spoke in “broken English” when Katherine learned fluent English within a few years . However, it is considered to be accurate.

    2. Hi Lou Rae,
      Events like these were recorded, but, yes, the “broken English” comment is odd and I wonder if it’s a reference to her accent, or perhaps that it was broken due to emotion. It’s hard to know.

      The Catherine Howard/Culpeper comment isn’t actually from an eye witness report of her execution, it’s from the notorious Spanish Chronicle, which also had Cromwell(!) taking part in the interrogations of 1541. We have an eyewitness account of her execution and it contradicts that account. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/13-february-1542-catherine-howard-jane-boleyn-didnt-say/

  4. I think by saying her speech was in broken English was just a comment on her accent, also the fact that she was distressed would perhaps have made it more noticeable.

  5. Katherine made her most famous speech to challenge the court’s authority and appeal to Henry, who respected her and for twenty years and was not annulling their marriage because he didn’t find anything attractive in her personality. Henry, as King was the head of justice and any subject could appeal directly to the King with their case. Katherine was magnificent and she was also desperate, as by now the annulment had taken on a new look. Henry wanted an annulment as he was convinced by the arguments in the Hebrew Bible Book of Leviticus, that as he had married his brother’s widow, he had “uncovered his brother’s nakedness” which is a fancy term for having sex with hid brothers wife, which was considered wrong . This was a sin and the marriage of the couple was cursed. The Bible goes on to define the Curse as childlessness. However, of course Henry and Katherine were not childless, as Mary was their very happy and healthy heir.

    Mary was thirteen in 1529 and in her own establishment in Ludlow where she ruled as Princess of Wales, with her own council and full authority based on that council. Henry had treated her no differently than a male heir in this respect and had been a loving father. Nobody expected anyone else to rule, not until news of his seeking a divorce and a new wife came out. Katherine had to defend her own position as the true wife and her child as heir.

    Katherine was correctly advised that the Book of Deuteronomy, also one of the Five Books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible takes precedence if the wife is left a widow and childless as it is then the duty of his brother to take her as his wife, or by default, her nearest, eldest male relative. Katherine also maintained that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated. The Church as maintained that her marriage could be made good and her children protected as both parties had entered into their marriage in good faith, having the permission of the Holy Father at the time and without knowing this was imperfect. The Church also provides after time to make the marriage good. This was well argued and Katherine was a crowned and annointed Queen. She was of the firm opinion that her duty was to be and stay as Queen. However, there was a problem and Katherine was now aware of it: Henry was manipulating the Court for his own ends.

    Katherine spoke of her faithful love for Henry, the sad loss of their charges, their shared friends and pleasure and appealing to Henry as a husband, she implored him to know how she had displeased him. It was brilliant and Henry was silent. As she put it to him, like some canny barrister, that she came to him without touch of man and as his true wife and dared him to state if it was not so, he was dumb. Henry knew the truth and dare not say otherwise. Katherine knew she could find no justice from the Court and sent her Appeal to Rome. Campaggio was under strict instructions to raise the court after all of the evidence was heard if Katherine did this. Henry would have to wait for Rome.

    Henry was also in a more desperate state now and it was no longer about his desperate need for a son, which was sincere and we cannot put modern ideas on this need and how he knew only a male ruler could secure England for the Tudors. We are less than 50 years since the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors were usurpers based on battle. Henry Viii was secure on the throne, but he appears to have had a deep set fear that he wasn’t. However, now things had changed. Anne Boleyn gave Henry the opportunity for a new wife and sons, Henry was in love with her and he wanted to marry her. They had been an item for three years and hoped the Court of Blackfriars would bring their wedding day closer. Katherine may have believed Henry would see sense, but his determination was too far gone to turn back now.

  6. His need for a son was urgent and overrode any appeal made by Katherine, yes he respected her still, he had admiration for her, she was a high born princess and an intelligent woman, she was brave and tenacious she had been a good wife and queen, he had loved her dearly in the early days as sources testify, and he meant no ill will towards her or disrespect but he genuinely needed a son, many people think it was Henry V111’s blind obsession with Anne Boleyn that made him want to put Katherine aside but more than anything it was the fact that she was much younger than his first wife and exuded fertility, he found her beautiful and fascinating and loved her, but yes he did want a son and as BQ says, this was quite possibly based on the fact that the Tudors hold on the throne was shaky, Henry V11 had been fortunate, he had two sons though Arthur had died young, but he had Henry, now he was concerned about the future of his realm, a man could sire children at any age but a woman had to be young and we have to remember that in those days a person was considered middle aged when they were in their mid thirties, for women it was far worse as childbearing was so dangerous that the younger the mother the better, Katherine had in a sense outlived her usefulness, it was paramount that queens gave their husbands healthy heirs, the more the better and it was her sad childbearing history that finished her marriage, Anne gave Henry the excuse he needed, here was a young woman whose mother had produced a child every year for her husband, some of them died but as we know, Anne and her two siblings survived, one a brother, Thomas Boleyn himself came from a fertile family, he had numerous siblings, his daughter was in her twenties and healthy, therefore Henry decided she would be his next queen, the fact that he had fallen head over heels for her was a bonus, in secret several years before he had fallen for Anne Wolsley was making plans for a French marriage, he and Wolsey had had discussions about his lack of a son before she had arrived on the scene, whether Katherine was aware of this is unknown but she mistrusted the cardinal and resented the influence he had over Henry, in this speech which came purely from the heart she was fighting for her marriage, her child, her very status as queen consort and she took centre stage, Henry it was noted stared straight ahead, she was fighting like her grandmother did Isabella when she did battle against the moors, her Castilian courage did not desert her and then she swept out of the room in a dignified exit, her words were brave when she said to Henry about her wedding night, It was highly embarrassing for a woman to mention that in front of a packed courtroom and I can imagine quite a few red faces and bent heads, Henry knew he had a tough adversary in his wife and could only pray that she would come round to his way of thinking, alas for him and Anne it was going to be one long battle before she wore Katherines crown on her head.

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