25 June 1503 – Betrothal of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Henry

Jun25,2015 #Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of AragonOn Sunday 25th June 1503, seventeen year-old Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, was formally betrothed to the nearly twelve year-old Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII and the second son of Henry VII, at the Bishop of Salisbury’s palace in Fleet Street, London.

According to the marriage treaty, which had been signed on 23rd June 1503, the couple would marry when Henry “shall have completed the fourteenth year of his age”, i.e. when he turned fourteen on 28th June 1505, and only after a papal dispensation had been issued and the second instalment of Catherine’s dowry, which amounted to one hundred thousand crowns, had been paid. Catherine had previously been married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry VII’s eldest son, but Arthur had died in 1502 after only six months of marriage. A dispensation was needed because of the impediment of affinity. Although Catherine later claimed that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, the treaty signed in 1503 stated that a dispensation was needed “because her marriage with Prince Arthur was solemnised according to the rites of the Catholic Church, and afterwards consummated.” You can read the full terms of the treaty in the Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 1, 1485-1509 at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol1/pp306-308.

Although Henry and Catherine did indeed marry, it wasn’t until 11th June 1509. Henry actually renounced his betrothal to Catherine of Aragon on 27th June 1505, claiming that it had been contracted without his consent. It was the day before the marriage was due to be solemnised.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1533 – Death of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister of Henry VIII and wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Click here to read more about her.

Notes and Sources

  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 1, 1485-1509, p. 306, Treaty Between Ferdinand and Isabella and Henry VII.
  • Loades, David (2009) The Six Wives of Henry VIII, p.18.
  • Tremlett, Giles (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, p. 112.
  • Fox, Julia (2011) Sister Queens, p. 102.

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16 thoughts on “25 June 1503 – Betrothal of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Henry”
  1. I have understood that it was his father who made Henry to renounce his betrothal. Whatever the formal age of consent was, Henry could not disagree with his father.

    As a shrewd man, Henry VII evidently had a possibility to renounce the betrothal in his mind even in the beginning if it no more was a benefit to England. Because Henry was not of age, the betrothal did not bind him as it did Katherine who was.

  2. The dispensation as such was quite common. Katherine’s sisters had needed such, too.

    Yet, the wording of the two bulls shows that there was at least confusion both in England and in Spain whether the marriage between Katherine and Arthur was consummated or not.

    It may be that at that time Katherine did not know the truth herself but only after her wedding night with Henry.

    As for Henry, he seems have had poor information about virginity even in his old age. He believed that Anne of Cleves was not, but Catherine Howard was.

    Of course there are means with which a bride can deceive her husband.

  3. Imagine being Katherine, in bed with a boy who was not fully a man and was very ill, having to pretend by her silence that they did the act or she would be considered a failure as a bride. She could not come out and say, oh no we didn’t then or later as the dispensation wording was there to protect the appearance of virility of the Tudor men, No, I don’t mean the Pope put it there for that reason, but that the Tudor King would see no benefit in publicizing that his son was in no shape to have had intercourse because he, Henry VII, already looked bad having that son look like a sick weakling all his life and then die so young.

    1. There is no evidence that Arthur was either sick or a weakling all his life. He was not ill at the time of his marriage to Katherine, he became ill or began to show signs of illness after being in Ludlow for a time. Katherine was also sick after they were in Ludlow. There is no evidence that either were sick before they went, nor during the early weeks yhere. As usual you spout nonsense without anything to back it up. The marriage was not consummated as much because of youth and inexperience than anything else. Yes I am sure Katherine felt worried but kept silent, she also probably had reason to think the marriage would be consummated had both she and Arthur lived.

      Katherine seems to have been happy to be betrothed to Henry, who showed great potential. The dispensation is actually somewhat ambiguous, leaving the question of consummation open, although a second one said that the Princess was still a virgin. Her parents, Katherine and others all took a sacred oath to this confirming that she was. Such an oath for their Catholic Majesties was sacred, true and on their immortal souls, they could not lie. For Katherine it had the same meaning. Of course one can be cynical here and say that Spain needed to keep the alliance with England, just as England wanted and desired the financial benefits of the Spanish marriage, but this does not mean that the oath that all of them swore was not true or serious, with good intentions. I must also point out that both Tudor brothers needed a dispensation, not withstanding Katherine being their sister by law or wife, as she was a cousin in any case. The newly formed Spanish nation was related via two marriages to John of Gaunt, a marriage via a sister and daughter of Edward Iii, plus several other royal connections, with Castile. Henry was a member of the House of Lancaster, this related Henry Tudor to Castile.

      The thing I find most curious about the whole affair is the on off again betrothal with Henry and Katherine, complicated by the failure to pay dowry, Katherines jointure and dower lands and other financial matters. When Spain defaulted Henty told his heir to renounce the contract. This left poor Katherine in limbo, she was forcrd to complain about the relative state of living she endured and she was only really delivered when the new King Henry Viii announced that he would marry her, because he wanted to and the Treaty was honoured. On that day in 1509 as far as Katherine was concerned it was the happiest day of her life. Henry’s letters show that he too was very pleased to be married to Katherine.

      1. I have understood that Arthur was very short, even shorter than Katherine who was very short. That would mean that Arthur had not reached puberty.

        Regarding the vow of Katherine’s parents, it has no value because they were not present in Katherine’s wedding nor in Ludlow, so they could not know anything of the matter, save what Katherine, her chaplain, governess and ladies told them.

        Besides Katherine, the people who best knew the matter, were her ladies who changed the linen of the bed and her chaplain to whom she made her confession.

        Of course nothing is still 100%-sure. A woman can be a virgin although she has earlier broken her hymen when f.ex falling from a hose, so she does not bleed or a she can have have earlier experiences but pretend to be a virgin by making a wound elsewhere on purpose (the latte is not likely in Katherine’s case as she as a princess was strictly guarded). Maybe Katherine did not talk to her priest, or maybe she had no exact knowledge about the matter. Or maybe, like Starkey said, her governess lied because she wanted to keep Katherine in her power as an adolescent.

        I visited in the webside of the Catholic Church and noticed that the marriage is valid only if the intercourse can lead to begetting children. That means that the decisive factor is not penetration but ejaculation. What if Arthur, like the future Louis XVI with Marie Antoinette according to Antonia Fraser, did the former but not the second?

        1. Hello Hannele, yes, indeed the only people to know for sure of course are Arthur and Katherine and her confessor. However, Arthur was long deceased when this became an issue many years later; so he could not give testimony. Katherine, of course swore to her confessor who was released from the seal of the confessional that when she married Henry she was a virgin, pure and intact, as when she came from the womb of her mother, an oath that has to be taken seriously as it put her soul in peril if she swore falsely. Isabella and Ferdinand as you say cannot know what went on other than what Katherine or others told them, but they are said to act in good faith as they are taking a holy oath, have no reason to disbelieve Katherine and are not seeking to deceive; the Church would have accepted their testimony on this basis, even though it was hearsay. Holy oaths were taken at face value, even though the person had no first hand knowledge as long as the information they gave was in good faith and they were of good character. The couple who had done so much to promote the interests of the Catholic Church were bound to be believed, even if today their testimony may be excluded under hearsay rules. Katherine’s oath and affirmation to her confessor is very important as this was a very religious age, when such an oath would be regarded as proof of truth and if the person swore falsely, they could be excluded from the sacraments, and their immortal soul, which many looked after better than their bodies, was in danger. The word of her confessor, this was also very much regarded.

          We don’t know much about the bed linen as we don’t have information about the tradition of showing the bed linen after the wedding night, this was not always done or recorded. In the case of Isabella and Ferdinand they apparently hung the sheets over the balcony for the entire world to see; we are not told anything about this with Katherine or Arthur. We are told later at the Legantine Court that a heady young Arthur came out of the room boasting that he had been “in the midst of Spain” and called for wine, claiming it was good to have a wife. Just how this should be interpreted is anyone’s guess. Was he a fourteen year old boasting and did he really understand if full intercourse had taken place? As you say, Hannele, he may not have reached puberty yet; he may not have fully penetrated; so Katherine could still be a virgin. In any event, this was almost third hand testimony many years later; so how seriously could it be taken. The man who gave this account did so in good faith; but it really was hearsay. The court still took it into consideration. A person’s word was highly regarded in those days; even the most ridiculous testimony was listened too, often as fact. We have much stronger standards of evidence; but as people took an oath, which was regarded as sacred, all evidence and testimony was taken very seriously and as if true. Evidence that proved that it was not so, more people than you giving evidence in other words, and if you were found to be perjured, this was as serious as the crime; you could be fined, beaten or face the death penalty. Oaths of all kinds were taken as so, people of integrity were regarded as being especially honest; they may not know anything about the events that they heard off’ but as long as they spoke in good faith, their witness was believed. This seems to have been the case of Isabella, Ferdinand and Katherine.

          Whatever the truth, the fact that the Pope gave a dispensation, the fact that the marriage had lasted for twenty years, that both, or one party had entered the marriage in good faith, believed it to be valid; that it did not bother Henry for many years; and the fact that at least one party seems to have believed that there was nothing against the marriage as the Pope had blessed it and believed Katherine to be a virgin; the marriage was in fact held as valid; there was a term which allowed the provision of a new dispensation: let the church provide. This allowed a couple who had been married for some time and had at the time of the marriage not acted wrongly, had believed they were free to marry; it only needed one partner to be innocent of wrong doing; to be granted a new leave to marry and the marriage declared valid. Another thing was that had one party acted without good faith, known they had another marriage or had a former contract; but kept this from his spouse, then if the marriage was declared invalid, the children were still regarded as legitimate. I know that all sounds very complex; but in the case of Katherine and Henry it basically means that as Katherine believed she was a virgin and swore to this, as Henry had no reason not to believe her and knew nothing other than this; as a dispensation had been granted; the marriage was in good faith, the couple innocent of any wrong doing; then the marriage should be seen as valid, but if it was dissolved, the children were not to be seen as illegitimate. Nothing Henry wanted could make his marriage to Katherine invalid due to it meeting all of these conditions. That, however, would not stop him later on; for now it was all he wanted. The testimony of Katherine that she had not had sex with Arthur added weight to her legal argument and the conditions in the Book of Deutamonamy that demanded a man whose brother had died childless married his widow all helped her cause.

          Arthur as you say was a young forteen year old; I agree, he may have believed that he had succeeded in full intercourse but not really have been aware of all this entailed or he may not have yet been fully capable of consumating the marriage. I think that Katherine was also more aware than he and knew she was still a virgin; I also believe she was very understanding and hoped that she may have better luck once they were in the more relaxed court at Ludlow. She had every reason to see this marriage as being long term; the downturn in their health ended this tragically.

  4. I didn’t realize the treaty in 1503 stated the marriage had been consummated. I wonder how Catherine felt about the validity of the dispensation if it truly had not been, as she later swore? Interesting.

  5. In his biography of Henry VIII, Scarisbrick points out that there were two impediments to Catherine’s marriage with Henry: (1) affinity, which applied only if the marriage with Arthur was consummated and (2) public honesty, which was not addressed in the dispensation at all, and sprang out of Catherine and Arthur public wedding, followed by publicly holding themselves out as marriage. If the marriage to Arthur was consummated, however, the impediment of public honesty was “necessarily implicated” in the dispensation for affinity, and the marriage was valid — hence the reference in the dispensation.

    When Catherine began to claim that it wasn’t consummated, Wolsey wanted to get an annulment based on “public honesty”, but Henry vetoed that idea.

    1. Yes, Henry was complete stuck with his Leviticus whether it was the best premise or not. The result was that he challenged the Pope’s authority by claiming that he, a king but still a layman, could understand God and Bible better than the Pope depending on the Church’s centuries-old traditions.

    2. I have understood that there were two different concepts of marriage.

      The Romans thought that the decisive factor was that both parties consented to marriage. “Nuptias consensus non concubitus facit”, not intercourse but consent makes a marriage.

      The barbarians who broke up the Roman world had an opposite concept: laying together continually was a marriage if the man regarded it as such.

      The church fathers agreed with the Romans. Not even a longtime cohabitation was regarded as a valid marriage by them.

      During the centuries-long struggle the Church took the power to decide whether the marriage and children were legal were taken from the hands of the family and the secular law and also made strict rules who could not marry whom (or not).

      It seems that in the 16th century England, the development was only halfway as the ecclesiastical law acknowledged that a priest was not needed but a promise to one another sealed with intercourse was enough to make a valid marriage.

      On the hand, because the Church allowed the annulment of marriage, it was moderately easy to find a reason, f.ex. a former betrothal or a forbidden affinity. In many cases one did not care to get dispensation before the marriage as so long both parties agreed that they were married, it did not matter.

  6. Poor Catherine of Aragon ! It is distressing to modern times to think that a woman depended so much on her ” virginity ” ! Also surprising to me in modern day standards is to think that Henry the VIII a man who had obviously gone to bed with many women could not know if the woman he was with was or was not a virgin !

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