29 January 1536 – Burial of Catherine of Aragon at Peterborough Abbey


Catherine_of_Aragon_with_a_monkey_HorenboutOn this day in history, 29 January 1536, Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was laid to rest at Peterborough Abbey (now Peterborough Cathedral). She had died on 7 January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle.

Catherine had left instructions for her remains to be buried in a Chapel of her beloved order, The Observant Friars, but the recent dissolution of the monasteries meant that there were none left. She was buried in Peterborough Abbey as the Dowager Princess of Wales, having been stripped of the title of “Queen” in 1533 after Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine. However, her grave is now marked “Katharine Queen of England”.

In his recent biography of Catherine of Aragon, historian Patrick Williams gives details of the preparations for Catherine’s burial. After her body had been disembowelled by one of her servants, her body was taken to the Privy Chamber at Kimbolton, the castle which had been Catherine’s home since May 1534, where it was placed under a canopy of state. It remained that way until 15th January when it was finally encased in a lead coffin, in preparation for burial, and taken to the castle’s chapel, where it stayed until 27th January.

Williams writes of how solemn masses were said while Catherine’s remains were in the chapel and that these masses were attended by noble ladies like the Duchess of Suffolk and the Countesses of Worcester, Oxford and Surrey. On 26th January, a formal dinner was held with the Countess of Surrey acting as chief mourner. On 27th January, a mass was celebrated and then Catherine’s coffin began its journey to Peterborough. Williams describes how the procession consisted of a crucifer, sixteen priests and gentlemen, Catherine’s chamberlain and steward carrying their rods of office, around ten heralds wearing mourning hoods, the wagon bearing the coffin and escorted by thirty-six maids and fifty servants of the gentlemen all carrying torches, seven ladies acting as chief mourners, and nine ladies who were the wives of local knights.

The procession halted at Sawtry Abbey, nine miles from Kimbolton, and Catherine’s coffin was taken to the choir of the church there and placed under a canopy. Williams describes how Abbot William Angell burned 408 candles in an overnight vigil.


On 28th January, a mass was led by Thomas Goodrich, Bishop of Ely, before the coffin set off on the last leg of its journey to Peterborough. At Peterborough Abbey, Abbot John Chambers and the Bishops of Lincoln, Ely and Rochester greeted the procession at the abbey door and then the coffin was processed to the mourning chapel which was “lavishly hung with eighteen banners which emphasised Katharine’s status in the royal families of England and Spain: among them were those of Charles V, Henry VIII, Queen Isabella and Prince Arthur, Katharine’s sister, the Queen of Portugal; those of Castile, Aragon, Sicily and England; and that of John of Gaunt.” There were also pennants displaying the arms of Catherine and her father, Ferdinand II of Aragon, and golden letters spelled out her motto “Humble and Loyal”.

Catherine was buried on 29th January with Eleanor Brandon, daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, acting as chief mourner and Sir William Paulet representing Henry VIII. John Hilsey, Bishop of Rochester, preached the homily “speaking against the power of ‘the Bishop of Rome’ and the marriage of Katharine and Henry VIII” and “insisting that she had never been Queen of England”. Catherine’s chaplain, George de Athequa, Bishop of Llandaff, was, however, allowed to serve one of the masses said at Peterborough as deacon.

Rest in Peace Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Peterborough Cathedral commemorates her death and burial, and celebrates her life on an annual basis with a special programme of events known as the Katharine of Aragon Festival. Here is the programme for this year’s festival:

  • Friday 30th January – 10.30am Service of Commemoration at Peterborough Cathedral, followed by a Tudor history day for schools.
  • Friday 30th January – 2pm Guided Tour of the Cathedral.
  • Friday 30th January – 7.30pm talk by Alison Weir: The Exile of Katharine of Aragon
  • Saturday 31st January – 10.00am–5.00pm: At home with the Tudors, at Peterborough Museum
  • Saturday 31st January – 2pm Guided Tour of the Cathedral.
  • Saturday 31st January – 7.30pm Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, sung by The Sixteen at Peterborough Cathedral.
  • Sunday 1st February – 10.00am–5.00pm: At home with the Tudors, at Peterborough Museum
  • Sunday 1st February – 2pm Tudor Peterborough Walk, starts at Peterborough Museum.

See http://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/katharine-of-aragon-festival-2015.html for more details and to buy tickets.

Notes and Sources

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4 thoughts on “29 January 1536 – Burial of Catherine of Aragon at Peterborough Abbey”
  1. There’s something to add to my bucket list – take a trip to England to attend the Katharine of Aragon Festival at Peterborough Cathedral! Maybe next year 🙂

  2. Chapyus makes much of the quick burial and lack of ceremonies for Katherine of Aragorn, but it was neither swift or without due ceremony. Yes it was not the great state ceremonial the Queen of England would have had, but it was still a proper service, it followed the ceremonial laying out, the proper Catholic services and prayers, made progress in state, she was mourned officially, she was correctly and fully laid to rest with mass, several celebrants, official mourners from the court and so on. It was 22 days between her death and internment. Yes she probably should have been buried by right in Saint Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, but in fact Katherine herself wished to be buried simply in the Greyfriars convent in her will. The Cathedral in Peterborough is worthy of royal burials and Katherine was not the Queen at this time, no matter how much she may have wished to be. The Cathedral was then the Abbey of the Benedictine Order, Katherine was given the burial of an ex queen, and the proper services were observed. It could also be argued that the funeral was quickly done and did not take the time of a royal funeral, there is no evidence that it was done in haste or without care. Chapyus was emotionally suspicious, but remember how devoted to Katherine he was. The autopsy gives rise for concern as it was not carried out by a professional, giving rise to rumours that a cover up had prevented evidence of poison. The autopsy was lacking in care and planning, the funeral was not.

    Katherine as the true queen should in our eyes and those who supported and loved her. This should have been enough to give her a full royal state funeral and this was her right had her status remained the same. But in Henry’s eyes, Katherine was not his wife, not his Queen, even though she had been crowned as such at his side. In the eyes of the man she loved still and saw as her husband, Katherine was not even an ex queen. She was the widow of his brother, Arthur, thus she was buried as Dowager Princess of Wales. In fact Katherine may have been buried with Arthur had she not married Henry. There is a chamber in the chapel where Arthur is buried in Worchester Cathedral. Henry Viii chose to lay his first wife to rest as the widow of his late brother. Was it a funeral worthy of Queen Katherine of Aragorn, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, Queen of England, no: was it worthy of Katherine, Princess of Wales, of Katherine as a royal princesses, yes, in that little was missing.

    Today the burial place of Katherine of Aragorn has been lovingly partially restored, but in a much simpler way, the reformation having taken its toll, with the Victorians erecting the rails and stone slab and lettering, giving her her full true title….Katherine the Queen. There are royal arms now on the pillars at each side of England and Wales, and Spain, her personal arms and a display about her life. Finally Katherine has the status wrongly taken from her and denied her, but which she bravely refused to relinquish in life until the day she died.

  3. We visited Worcester earlier this year and found a tomb marked Catherine of Aragon. What is going on, and who is in this grave?.

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