27 September 1501 – Catherine of Aragon Leaves Spain for England

On this day in history, 27th September 1501, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the 15 year old Catherine of Aragon made a second attempt at sailing from Spain to England to marry Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. Her first attempt on the 17th August had been a failure: strong storms in the Bay of Biscay had forced Catherine’s fleet to land at Laredo, near Bilbao.

Catherine had left her home, the Alhambra Palace in Granada, on the 21st May 1501 to travel over 500 miles to the northern coast of Spain to set sail for England. I thought of Catherine in July this year when I did a similar journey, travelling from near Granada, through northern Andalucia and the regions of Castilla la Mancha, Madrid, Castilla y Leon, and finally to Cantabria and the port of Santander, where I too set off for England. It took me and my family about 10 hours by car and 24 hours on the ferry, a tiring journey, but as I travelled I thought of Catherine doing it on horseback in the heat of the summer and then coping with the Bay of Biscay on a 16th century ship without stabilising equipment! Awful! I hope she had some sick bags!

Catherine arrived at Plymouth, on the south-western coast of England, on the 2nd October. She must have been exhausted and I wonder if she was swaying for days like I was in the summer! I bet she was a sickly green colour!

The journey I did in the summer, driving in the footsteps of Catherine of Aragon and passing places like Medina del Campo where the marriage treaty was signed in 1489, made me feel very close to Catherine of Aragon. The more I read about her, the more I admire the woman who Henry VIII chose to marry and who he was married to for over 20 years. Anne Boleyn may be the focus of this website but Catherine deserves to be admired for her strength, courage, intelligence and faith. An amazing woman.

You can read more about her journey in “Catherine of Aragon Sets Sail for England” and more about her as a woman and queen in the following articles:-

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10 thoughts on “27 September 1501 – Catherine of Aragon Leaves Spain for England”
  1. I agree that Catherine deserves our admiration. IMO, she showed great compassion in begging Henry to spare the lives of 400 young men involved in the “Evil May Day” riots.

  2. Thank you for this lovely post! I’ve always admired Catherine of Aragon, and the more I read about her, the more I like her.

  3. I read about the May day riots recently in a biography of Catherine. Catherine followed by her sister in laws Mary and Margaret, who was on a visit from Scotland, threw themselves in front of the King and begged mercy for the prisoners. However according to contempary witnesses this was not a spur of the moment act of charity but had been planned by Henry and the royal ladies to foster popularity amongst the people.

    1. According to the books that I read (notably, Mattingly’s biography of Catherine), Catherine was asked for help by the wives and mothers of the rioters … she secured the help of her sisters-in-law and got Henry to agree to be merciful first … and then Wolsey staged the public “show”. Certainly, the Londoners gave Catherine most of the credit.

  4. Goodness, what a journey to have to under take, 500miles on horseback across rough terraine in the heat, then a rough sea crossing, hard to imagine the toll it must have had on her.
    The ‘bumpy’ ride didn’t seem to stop there though, it carried on through the rest of her life. Being quickly widowed, fighting to become Henry’s Queen, fighting to remain Henry’s Queen, losing all but one of her children, and battling to keep her daughters inheritance. In my mind from the minute she left home her life became just one long arduous journey, most of it up hill… in retrospect it makes the 500mile and that bad sea crossing seem like a walk in the park. She certainly seemed to have inherited her mother’s strong will and stamina.
    It is a pity that the journey she set off on didn’t have the happy ending she would have expected… poor lady.

    1. …enjoying looking at your website! One can only imagine how the poor child left the beautiful Alhambra Palace, bathed in the gorgeous Andalucian sunshine, then after her arduous journey was expected to come through the horrors and ups and downs of life with the Tudors, ending her days in damp, cold rooms, separated from her daughter and the man she still loyally considered to be her life partner and King, making do with mending her clothes and keeping her complaints to an absolute minimum! Even in death her modest burial place in Peterborough Cathedral (which I have visited three times) belies her true standing in the English Monarchy and the important Royal family that she came from! It brings a lump to the throat every time!!!

  5. I love that picture of Catherine. Do you what museum it is in or is it part of a private collection? She looks so young.

  6. I forgot to give Wolsey his credit for the role he played. How succesful the “show” turned out to be certainly should have reminded me. That’s to take nothing away from Catherine. She was as clever and astute a politican as Wolsey was, every inch her mother’s daughter.

  7. Catherine of Aragon was my first love, and I only read more and more about Anne Boleyn to find out who this ‘utter bitch’ was…. As I found that the real story was more complex, I was aghast to myself drawn away from Catherine’s camp. Anne got deep under my skin, and continues to fascinate me.

    They were both very strong and determined women who upheld their views passionately. Catherine was the epitomy of a perfect queen/ wife/ woman (except alas, in child-rearing) according to the values of the time, and her steadfast loyalty to her traditonal beliefs was awesome.

    However, Anne’s nature looks utterly modern by comparison, as she boldly cut her own path through life, indeed leaving a legacy of new traditions behind her.

    Neverless, the sincerity of Catherine cannot fail to move one, especially when one thinks of her setting out on that journey with such optimism.

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