Catherine of AragonOn this day in history, 21st June 1529, Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, appeared in front of Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars.

The purpose of this court was to listen to the testimonies of the King and Queen regarding the validity of their marriage and to rule on the marriage, although we know that Campeggio had been ordered to drag things out as long as he possibly could, giving Catherine the opportunity to appeal directly to Rome.

Giles Tremlett, author of “Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen”1, writes of how there is confusion regarding the order of events that day, but that it appears that Henry VIII was the first to speak to the court and people, who had cheered his Queen when she entered. Henry spoke of his love for his wife and of his troubled conscience over the fact that he had married his brother’s widow, but it was Catherine’s impassioned speech that day that had the most impact. It was, quite literally, the speech of her life, given on her knees in front of her husband in “a posture of absolute submission”2:-

“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel…

Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did any thing to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me…

When ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here, I most lowly beseech you, let me remain in my former estate… Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God – who is the just judge – to spare me the extremity of this new court, until I may be advised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much impartial favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause!”

Henry VIII tried to raise Catherine up twice from her knees during her emotional and defiant speech, but she would not budge. This was her one chance to fight for her marriage in public and she was going to take full advantage of it. It was also an opportunity for her to back “an unsuspecting Henry into a corner”3 and seek his permission to appeal directly to Rome. With his wife on her knees in front of him and a crowd of onlookers sympathetic to Catherine’s plight, Henry had to agree. Catherine had got what she wanted so she stood up, curtseyed to the King and then instead of returning to her seat she strode out of the court ignoring calls for her to come back, saying quite clearly, “On, on, it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.”4

Catherine was victorious – she had won this battle, but would she win the war?

Notes and Sources

  1. Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, Giles Tremlett, Chapter 37 “Defiance”
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid

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14 thoughts on “21 June 1529 – Catherine of Aragon’s Speech at Blackfriars”
  1. Poor Catherine! I think she made a fatal error here. She embarrassed Henry in public. I think she must have been speaking the truth, too – here was a perfect time for him to speak out and call her a liar, but he didn’t.

  2. What a strong woman she seems to have been! It’s a pity she had to channel that into an (more or less) unsuccessful attempt to stay married to someone like Henry.

  3. I’m not sure that the speech was a mistake; by granting her requests, Henry did provide some semblance of decency or fairness to the proceedings.

    I do believe that Catherine of Aragon was extremely well loved, and, her popularity lasted a long time after her death. For example, I have read that one reason why so many Protestants supported Mary Tudor over Lady Jane Grey was the love they had for Catherine of Aragon. I wouldn’t be suprised if this was one reason why Shakespeare made Catherine look good in his play, “Henry VIII” .A great lady (IMO) and one who deserved better in marriage than Henry

  4. I have always loved Catherine in this moment–she is smart and uses public sentiment against the king and Anne B. This was a very public forum and he must have been quite embarassed by the spectacle of her on her knees to him. And of course, he must have felt guilty, too. For I don’t think he wanted to hurt her–he just wanted a divorce or annulment. I think he was always somewhat under her power–she was older, a true princess from Europe, very well-educated…she was just in the way of his desire for Anne and a son. Catherine is so strong in this moment–admirable!

    1. I think it showed courage and intelligence for her to see this for the opportunity it was. Henry was already determined to get rid of her. She’d tried “playing nice” and it wasn’t working. I think she saw this as one last opportunity to turn Henry around; and if it didn’t work, she’d go down swinging, calling Henry out publicly for lying about his motives and impugning her honor.

      I remember a story from when Katharine and Anne were coexisting uneasily at court. Henry had gotten into an argument with Katharine, and she’d gotten the better of him. He came sulking back to Anne looking for sympathy, only for her to rip him a new one, too, telling him something to effect of “Didn’t I tell you not to get into a war of words with her, because she will always win?”

      I think Henry thought he controlled the proceedings and that Katharine wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Silly man.

  5. I have always thought that Catherine was better schooled in the art of being regal, which she was taught in Spain from being a very young child, than any one of that era And what ever troubles she encounted when she came to this country, she never forgot her training and always behaved in a way that put others to shame, especially her husband. Never letting her emotions take over the standing of a princess and queen. Through her time she could get across what she needed to say, and bring about the out come without throwing a ‘Right Royal Tantrum’ as of some we know about. She always kept her dignity, even when she was on her knees in front of this court appealing for a fair hearing and compassion. I would have thought at this time Catherine was more popular, with the people than Henry himself. She has my admiration.

  6. I have to agree with Fiz and Dawn. My admiration and feelings for Katharine have always gotten me, as it was by her fall, that Anne came to light, and such is my extreme love for Anne and Elizabeth. They both, one a Royal Princess of Spain, and Anne a commoner, were in the long run ways of Henry begetting of a son. There was still time with Anne, and that and her wit, intelligence, etc. could have had a son, but in those days no one knew that the man carries the child’s sex. This is what draws me so much to Anne, and then Elizabeth I, “Gloriana,” the greatest ruler that England (as England added Scotland upon her death in March 1603), ever had. Thank you! WilesWales

  7. She’s eloquent. But I wonder why could she not counter-sue sue him for divorce herself? It seems to me, that would have been a far more assertive act than being humble & a martyr.

    1. She was a strong Catholic, and Catholic don’t believe in divorce, which is what led to all this in the first place. Second, she wasn’t about to give up what she believed was her God given position and duty as the Queen of England. Doing so would’ve jeopardized her future and her daughter’s future (Not that it made much of a difference but still…). Finally, to her dying day, Catherine still loved Henry and wanted him as her husband…for some reason. Why this woman hasn’t been canonized yet is beyond me.

  8. I believe in my heart that katherine stood up for herself with poise and grace but she stood up for something that was a great importance to and that was her honor and her validity i mean they said her marriage to Arthur. Was concumated and that was not true arthur died before the consumation even got to take place henry was the only one to break her virginity
    She did what any woman from our time would have done….

  9. I understand what Catherine went through, especially when she said, “…wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true,…wife,…ever…to your will and pleasure…I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies.”

    To this day, my husband’s family will have little to do with my children or me, even though he has been gone 15 years.

    Read more:

    1. Hi Ren, I hope things have improved for you and your children since you made this poignant reply.

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