On the 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, which Henry VIII wanted annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.
Henry VIII addressed the court speaking of his love for Catherine but also of his troubled conscience regarding the fact that he had acted contrary to God’s law in marrying his brother’s widow. Henry, as always, would have been eloquent and persuasive, but it was Catherine who stole the show that day. She sank to her knees in front of her husband and gave the speech of her life:
“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!”
After her speech, Catherine got up, curtseyed to her husband 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.”
You can read more about the legatine court in my article Cardinal Campeggio and the Legatine Court.
Notes and Sources
- Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, Giles Tremlett, Chapter 37 “Defiance”