Catherine Blackfriars TrialOn 21st June 1529 King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon appeared in front of Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars. In 1528, Cardinal Wolsey had been made the Pope’s vice-regent in order “to take cognisance of all matters concerning the King’s divorce” and Campeggio had been made papal legate and sent to England to help Wolsey with the case.

George Cavendish, Wolsey’s gentleman-usher, described how the King sat under a cloth of estate and Catherine “sat some distance beneath the king”.1 Also present were Stephen Gardiner as “scribe”; the Archbishop of Canterbury (William Warham), Richard Sampson and Thomas Abel as counsellors for the King, and John Fisher (Bishop of Rochester) and Cuthbert Tunstall (Bishop of St Asaph) as counsellors for the Queen. The papal commission was read out to the court and the crier officially summoned the King to court, crying “King Henry of England, come into the court.” The King rose and responded “Here, my lords.” The crier then called, “Catherine, Queen of England, come into the court.” Rather than simply confirming her attendance, Catherine got up, approached the King and knelt at his feet. In “broken English”, she then made what David Starkey calls “the speech of her life”:2

“Sir, I beseech you for all the loves that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice and right, 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 friend, and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you as to the head of justice within this realm.

Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure? Have I designed against your will and pleasure; intending (as I perceive) to put me from you? I take God ansd all the world to witness, that 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 discontentation. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or my enemies. This twenty years I have been your true wife or more, 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.

And 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 and receive justice at your hands. The King your father was in the time of his reign of such estimation thorough the world for his excellent wisdom, that he was accounted and called of all men the second Solomon; and my father Ferdinand, King of Spain, who was esteemed to be one of the wittiest princes that reigned in Spain, many years before, were both wise and excellent kings in wisdom and princely behaviour. It is not therefore to be doubted, but that they elected and gathered as wise counsellors about them as to their high discretions was thought meet. Also, as me seemeth, there was in those days as wise, as well learned men, and men of as good judgment as be at this present in both realms, who thought then the marriage between you and me good and lawful. Therefore it is a wonder to hear what new inventions are now invented against me, that never intended but honesty. And cause me to stand to the order and judgment of this new court, wherein ye may do me much wrong, if ye intend any cruelty; for ye may condemn me for lack of sufficient answer, having no indifferent counsel, but such as be assigned me, with whose wisdom and learning I am not acquainted. Ye must consider that they cannot be indifferent counsellors for my part which be your subjects, and taken out of your own council before, wherein they be made privy, and dare not, for your displeasure, disobey your will and intent, being once made privy thereto.

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 advertised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much indifferent favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause!”3

With that said, Catherine rose to her feet, curtseyed to the King and walked out of the court, ignoring those who tried to make her return to her seat and saying, “On, on, it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.”

After a few minutes of stunned silence, Henry VIII had his say, simply repeating what he had said at Bridewell Palace in 1528 about his concerns over the marriage:

“For as much as the queen is gone, I will, in her absence, declare unto you all my lords here presently assembled, she hath been to me as true, as obedient, and as conformable a wife as I could in my fantasy wish or desire. She hath all the virtuous qualities that ought to be in a woman of her dignity, or in any other of baser estate. Surely she is also a noble woman born, if nothing were in her, but only her conditions will well declare the same.”4

Cardinal Wolsey then asked the King to confirm that Wolsey was not “the chief inventor or first mover of this matter” and the King replied, “Nay, my lord Cardinal, I can well excuse you herein. Ye have been rather against me.” The King explained that his doubts about his marriage had been sparked off during negotiations over a potential marriage between his daughter mary and the Duke of Orleans. The French ambassador had apparently wanted assurance that Mary was legitimate, considering that the Queen had formerly been married to Henry’s brother. This query had then made the King begin to doubt the validity of his marriage and ponder whether it was better for the country for him to take another wife.

After hearing from both side, the court was then adjourned for the day.

Also on this day in history

  • 1494 – Birth of George Cavendish, Cardinal Wolsey’s gentleman usher and the writer of “The Life of Cardinal Wolsey”.
  • 1553 – Letters patent issued changing Edward VI’s heir from his half-sister, Mary, to Lady Jane Grey.

Notes and Sources

  1. Cavendish, George (1827) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, 2nd Edition, p211
  2. Starkey, David (2003) Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, p241
  3. Cavendish, p214-217
  4. Ibid., p218

Picture taken from John Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Volume II (1856), p193.

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12 thoughts on “21 June 1529 – And to God I commit my cause!”
  1. In light of the part of the speech where she puts the question of her virginity to Henry’s conscience, I think it very significant that he never said anything … even after if she says she will depart if he can allege anything against her of dishonesty.

  2. It is a very heart wrentching speech; tender and the references to the children being lost is heartbreaking and so sad. But Katherine also gives a very passionate appeal, one that cannot be denied; she puts all to his conscience and it is very telling that Henry remains silent on this point, save he does confirm she has been a true and obedient wife to him. Henry knows that the Queen has engendered a great deal of sympathy with this speech and his cause is lost if it goes to Rome. It must have shocked and roused up feeling amongst the people watching in the public parts of the court and you can almost hear the place shaking with the reverbaration of her speech. She is a popular Queen; the entire athmosphere is heated and the crowd are expecting something to happen; her speech must have sent shockwaves in the gathered court, the public, the capital and as word got out through the country and abroad. I can just hear the applause! For me, this is Catherine of Aragon’s finest hour.

    1. Yes me to she was a very courageous woman it’s very sad what happened to her, her only crime was that Henry fell out of love with her and she couldn’t give him healthy sons.

      1. It was more the lack of a son than anything else really. I doubt Henry would have bastardized legitimate sons to get Anne, and I doubt she’d have tried for the crown if Henry had legitimate heirs. Both Anne and Katherine were vulnerable on the same score-no sons. Anne saw the problem, Katherine not so much. Katherine believed Mary could succeed without a problem, Henry certainly did not think so. I would not be completely surprised to learn that Anne’s fall and the death two months later of Fitzroy were not entirely coincidental, but we may never know.
        What is surprising is Katherine’s lack of insight-especially given her intelligence. She remained entirely Spanish in her outlook, and her understanding of the English was seriously lacking. In the 1520’s Mary would not have been able to succeed Henry. It was not until he dominated the country and his daughters were adults that this became possible, and still, with Mary, there was the attempt to place her cousin on the throne.

        I believe Katherine always saw Henry from a maternal viewpoint as well as the hero who rescued her from poverty. Denial and pride kept her from doing what Anne of Cleves did. I am pretty sure Campeggio would have arranged for Mary to be legitimate, as a trade off for Katherine retiring to a nunnery. He could easily have told Henry to take it or leave it. The Pope would have signed off on any deal that got Henry his annulment and would satisfy Charles V. Pretty sure Charles had enough on his plate, he would have signed off on that deal.

        It is all a tragedy, all around. No one came out of this well, least of all, England.

        1. There was nothing in England to prevent Mary from succeeding but Henry’s denials of the legitimate status of his marriage. No law prevented a legitimate daughter from the succession and unless the Court or Rome, backed by Parliament said otherwise Mary was his only legitimate heir. All of this fuss was being caused because Henry had doubts about his marriage and wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. Katherine had been crowned Queen and to her there was no question over the legal status of her marriage. For Katherine of course Mary was their heir and would be Queen. The myth has been made that in England at this time no woman could rule, but where does this come from? Answer..Henry Viii. Is Henry Viii a reliable source? No. It is how he saw things but it is not necessarily a reflection of reality. Princess Mary was accepted by everyone and her and her mother were popular. Mary, contrary to myth was raised to be Queen, her education and status prove this as does the fact she was at Ludlow with a ruling council, learning to be Princess of Wales and ruling in the name of her father. Henry knew he didn’t have an alternative heir, he treated Mary as a male heir and no different. He now thought a new wife, that is Anne Boleyn could give him sons, so he wanted a divorce as soon as possible. Mary was not barred from the succession until the Act of Succession 1534 and 1536.

          It is perfectly true that Campaggio had made the offer to Katherine to go to a convent to retire and her daughter would have remained legitimate and a Princess. There has always been a part of the religious life open for lay people to retire, even without full vows. Several Saxon and Frankish Kings and Queens retired this way. Eleanor of Aquitaine retired thus near the end of her life. However, Katherine had said no thanks and saw herself as the true wife and Queen. She believed her case would be made in her favour and but for the problem in Europe at the time, with the Emperor and Clement Vii, the manoeuvres within Rome and England, her case would have been quickly settled, most probably in Katherine’s favour. Her case was far stronger than Henry’s and she was the Emperor’s Aunt. The Church in England had also provided lawyers who argued that her marriage would be made good through good faith, also protection her daughter’s rights. Henry was having none of it and made a great noise and accused Katherine of pride and being too popular to which she laughed and sent Cuthbert Tunstall away with a flea in his ear. Henry got more than he bargained for and tried to manipulate the courts. Katherine was also warned by Campaggio that he had secret orders to raise the court as it was a farse which is why she was advised to and did appeal to Rome. She would get no justice from the Court but now it actually looked as if nobody would either. Henry was also duped. Katherine may have been better off accepting the offer and up to 1533, Henry still asked her to see sense. However, in 1529 she still had a good chance to win and couldn’t see the future. When Henry and Anne married it was with the knowledge of her pregnancy and the submission of the clergy plus the start of a Tudor Brexit. The Reformation Parliament (1529 to 1536) had begun a legislative programme to make Henry Supreme Head and to make Anne his legal wife and change the Succession. It would have been sensible for Katherine to accept the inevitable and cut a deal then, but in 1529 she was right to fight.

          We can now know how tragic this decision was, but it was Henry who was cruel, not her pride. Nobody told Henry to treat his daughter as a servant or her mother as an abandoned wife or to keep them apart. He didn’t need to be so ruthless because they refused him. They made the wrong choice by modern reasoning but they couldn’t lie about their marriage and status. I am certain a compromise was possible which would have seen Katherine retire in honour and Mary remain at court, but we know that the situation for them was different than for Anne of Cleves.

          Anne of Cleves at a personal level still saw herself as Henry’s true wife and we know this due to her complaints when he married Katherine Parr. However, she was married to an elderly Henry, with many health problems, not a man in his prime, for six months, not 24 years. There were no children, she had seen his history, a history which didn’t exist in 1529, and she made certain she came out better. She had good advice and her case was hopeless. Henry was not happy and she probably realised she wasn’t either. She was a good choice for Henry, but they both showed common sense and there was no children to consider either. Katherine had a daughter to fight for. There were no living sons for Anne Boleyn or Katherine, but wouldn’t Anne have fought for Elizabeth, given the chance? Instead poor Anne was snatched up, put in the Tower and brutally executed. She had no choice but to sign her daughter’s rights away with a sword to her neck. It’s like Mary Queen of Scots having to sign the document of abdication because the big Scottish Lords had knived to her throat. Henry couldn’t put a knife to Katherine’s throat, but he could keep her daughter from her and make threats. It was a very sad state of affairs all round.

        1. Or she couldn’t give him healthy sons. Nobody knows whose genetics had the problem within them or if it was just coincidence, diet, fasting, problems in the delivery or what. We can’t put the blame on either party because neither was to blame and we can only theorize as to the cause. Some have suggested a rare blood disorder, some that Katherine fasted, some a genetic disorder on either side, some just a mystery. Today we know that genes become broken and change on their own without any history of disorders in the family of either parents. Therefore there could be nothing wrong and still a genetic problem emerge. The couple were closely related as were most of the Plantagenets and aligned families and this increased the chances of genetic anomalies. Therefore we don’t know who was unable to give the other healthy sons, or if it was just coincidence.

  3. Katherine was a general, marshaling her forces. She conducted a campaign. You have to admire her even knowing the epic disaster it would become. She truly was Isabella’s daughter.

  4. This was Katherine of Aragon’s most famous and greatest hour. What a woman and Queen and what a speech. Katherine was also sad as she spoke of the heart of the matter, the children who had died and their lost sons. She had been a true and faithful wife and Henry declared her fine and true qualities as well. She was talking of everything. It was heartbreaking to hear of her love for him and care for his friends and pleasure. Henry must have needed to be made of cold steel not to be moved by such a plea from his wife of 20 years.

    1. Her eldest living, and second pregnancy, (the first, a girl, she miscarried), Henry Duke of Cornwall died after 52 days, the longest lived of her children besides Mary, her fifth pregnancy out of seven.

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