21st June 1529 – Catherine of Aragon and the Legatine Court

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”

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18 thoughts on “21st June 1529 – Catherine of Aragon and the Legatine Court”
  1. I visit this site all the time and am an avid fan of the historical times of the ‘Tudors’ I feel so sorry for Catherine, whether or not she was ‘untouched by man’ I think being pushed a side after 26 years of marriage I can’t imagine what it must be like and although the reason in question is Catherine’s virginity it really came down to the fact that she did not provide Henry with a male heir. That must have hurt her very much as the pain for a mother losing her children then knowing that is this is the hiden reason for her marriage failing, it must have been heart breaking. I don’t hold Anne Boleyn responsible for these events, I do believe that if it was not Anne it would have been someone else, it is just by chance that Anne was a extraordinary women of her time and was able to make such an impact on history and ironically produce one of the most influencial females in English history……

    1. Kelly, I could never have put this so well if I tried! Your comment shows both mercy for Katharine and Queen Anne. I have always felt sorry for her myself. The way you describe Queen Anne is just a nice flowing shift to the truth. Thank you, WilesWales!

  2. I pity Catherine from the bottom of my heart and believe Henry’s treatment of her was callous and cruel.

  3. Thank you WilesWales, Catherine speech to me really shows she was trying to address Henry as her Husband rather than him as the King in his court. The words in which she uses shows that the pain was coming straight from her heart. I find King Henry VIII fascinating not only because of his 6 wives but the fact that all 6 wives were so different in personalities which I can only think shows how changeable King Henry VIII truly was, yes we all change through time, but how many of us can really believe that if the impossible was possible would we really kill someone who we once loved to create that world? Henry chose this and I can only imagine the fear in which the Lords and Ladies must have felt. I think unfortunately King Henry really did believe his own hype; the saying “King of his castle” couldn’t ring more true, and fortunately for Henry but unfortunately for so many others no was able to tell Henry “No”. But history has shown time and time again that a dictatorship has never worked effectively. I believe if Catherine gave Henry 4 strong boys, I don’t think anyone would know who Anne Boleyn was and Catherine would have been one of the most prolific Queens, unfortunately fate decided this wouldn’t be her path.

    1. Very well put on both comments Kelly. Both Katherine and Anne were used and disregarded when they were unable to do what was expected of them, which was to provide the King with a nursery full of ‘lusty lads’ to continue the line. Both of their ends were cruel, and all emotional pleas fell on deaf ears. Heartless…

      1. agree totally with remarks above .if is was not anne it would have been someone else .and indeed there was anne after katherine but after anne there was jane and on and on .all these women did nothing wrong except originally they should have stayed well away from henry .they should have realised what he was like and that they could and were discarded without a thought by henry

  4. I agree with WilesWales. Kelly’s post treated both Catherine and Anne with dignity and mercy. And I agree that if it wasn’t Anne, it would have been someone else. Henry went beyond the question of virginity and rewrote the script basing it on scripture. And when that didn’t work, he found another way….breaking with Rome. He was determined to win and what ever the cost.

    1. According to JJ Scarisbrick’s biography of Henry VIII, you are more right than you know. Henry could have had a much stronger case if he took Catherine at her word (her public wedding to Arthur created an impediment called “public honesty” to her marriage with Henry that was not metniioned in the dispensation; if her marriage to Arthur was not consummated, then “public honesty” was not necessarily implicated by the dispensation given); Henry was so enamored of his “Leviticus” theory that he ignored Wolsey’s letter pointing out a critical technicality … even though the Catholic church had long recognized the “Deuteronomy exception” (whereby Henry was obligated to marry Catherine because Arthur died childless)

      Also, I sometimes wonder if Henry would have known if Catherine was or was not a virgin. He is reported to have said that he thought Anne of Cleves was no maid because of her breasts and belly, but he seems to have thought Catherine Howard was a virgin.

      1. Kelly, thank you for expanding on the issue of “public honesty”. I have struggled with that concept until now. It’s much clearer to me. Interesting thought regarding Henry’s knowledge of Catherine’s virginity. Did he change his standards according to his own whims?

      2. Thank you, Esther! I wanted to bring this up, but could not find a way to put it as succinctly you have. You are right on target, and I could add more, but I’m sure you could have as well. This comment is complete for this article and I really appreciate it! Thank you, WilesWales

      3. That is a good point there Esther, about whether Henry would know who was a virgin and who wasn’t…when it comes down to it I think he said what suited his cause, most of the time he deluded himself about what he was saying than any other around him, and I honestly do not think he was ‘experienced’ enough about women in that sense, inspite of his reputation as a womaniser.

        1. When it comes down to it – they had one incredibly crude way of knowing and that simply was whether the hymen was intact or not. Of course we know now that many virgins have broken that body part through entirely innocent activities like horse riding (and although they rode sidesaddle I’m sure it was still possible) and using sanitary products. It was basically seen as there should be blood on the sheets on the first night after a royal wedding. I hate to think what it would have been had the poor princess or queen failed to do so and the ridiculous conclusions the people of the time would have jumped to! Im somewhat surprised that that testimony (going either way) was not discussed in the long legal battle. False negatives are commonplace (virgins not having bleeding) but false positives (non virgins bleeding on a second, third, twentieth instance of intercourse) would be extremely uncommon. Since Henry didn’t appear to argue this point I assume it was obvious Catherine was a virgin on her wedding night which makes the whole story even sadder if possible! If this were the case, Henry would knowingly be lying and questioning his own wife of 20 years on totally false grounds and being possibly the only person to know she’s telling the truth. It fits with his personality.

  5. Thank you, Kelly and Deborah Braden! I once again thank Kelly for such a wonderful flow from Queen Catherine to Queen Anne! It is the best writing on this shift, and giving both Queens dignity that I’ve ever read! We can’t rewrite history, so Kelly made the most perfect and eloquent transition on what really happened!

    I will, though, defend Queen Anne as long as I am around. She was innocent of all charges! She gave England one very special gift, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I the greatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

    This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:…” ~ Psalms 118:23

    1. I have a friend who whenever the subject of Anne Boleyn comes up says ‘she was a b:&tch!’ and says her mother taught her so (her mother is English born and were Australian). It makes me so annoyed because everytime she says it I try to correct her and point out that history is always, always written by the winners and poor Anne was executed, hardly a winner – so the story has been twisted to justify her execution when really there was no justification. Anyway, though I love my friend she always dismisses it and says no, her mother knows best because after all, she’s the Brit! I suppose when it comes to Anzac history I’ll be worth a listen, but apparently us silly Aussies can’t grasp British royal history! I’ll have to direct her to this site next time!

  6. Tan, I must applaud you on your reply about how to tell a virgin, and I do really believe that Catherine was. I also have wanted to say what you did about virginity, the hymen, etc. I just thought explaining it in a comment by a man, that it woudl cause contraversy. I, and, please corret me if I am wrong, that England, and now Great Britain, has something on the books about this very thing. I believe firmly that Queen Anne was a virgin as well.

    Even Princess Diana (then Lady Diana) had to have a “checkup” before she married Prince Charles before the marriage could be approved for the one who was going to mother of the Prince of Wales son(s). Just a note, Prince Charles, and Diana, Princess of Wales (her title when they were married), were 16th cousins, once removed, and both descendants of Edward III. Thank you, WilesWales

    1. I agree it was a very basic and crude way to judge if a woman was a virgin, and in those times the medical knowledge was also basic, and decided by men!. And as said the hymen can be broken through horse riding, but bleeding through intercourse at later times can happen, without going into too much detail, a man being rough, a woman not ‘willing’ or aroused enough etc. There is a book that I have, and I can not at the moment think of the title, (which is realy annoying) or get to it as it is packed in a box some where, but it is about Elizabethan women and their lives, and social aspects, and the author says that because of poor hygene/sanitary wear etc it is highly probable that most women had sores/fissures/infections of some type around the vigina, even before intercourse started to take place, suggesting that sex for alot of females could be uncomfortable, or at worst a painful experience at most times, pregnancy being a respite from it, even though that had many dangers in itself.
      Henry not arguing the point, could be that he hadn’t a clue, he didn’t notice or he was lying, who knows, but it would never stand up in this day and age.
      But I will say this, and I know it may rile some of you, Katherine had been in bed with Arthur on numerous times can we honestly know she remained a virgin…I know she was deeply religious, and lying was a sin, but the poor lady had been messed about so much in her widowhood, the chance to have it come to an end would have been a relief, then 20 years later add the fact that her daughter would be declared a bastard and lose her inheritance, it would be hard not to fib, and her religious conviction does enable her to seek and receive forgiveness through her confessor.
      I admire Katherine, and think she was treated badly on many occassions, by the Tudors and her own father, she was loving, kind and strong, who suffered many sadnesses courageously and with dignity, but I can not believe 100% she was a virgin, sorry…

  7. Thank you so much for this site. These entrys are fantastic, especially this one. Catherine’s story always saddens me so much. She was such a brave woman and very ahead of the times. I enjoy reading! Thank You!

  8. I do agree..poor Catherine! But, she was a royal princess brought up to obey her royal parents, taken away at an early age and maybe councilled when Arthur died to never admit she was not a virgin [better in the remarriage market], from her parents, but also for the plans of Henry vii. What do you think?

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