29 January 1536 – The Burial of Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon graveCatherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, died on 7th January 1536 and was buried as the Dowager Princess of Wales, the title which she herself had never recognised, at Peterborough’s Benedictine abbey on 29th January 1536.

In his recent biography of Catherine of Aragon, 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.

It seems such a sad end to a woman who was Queen for nearly 24 years. She died away from court and separated from her daughter, and was buried as Dowager Princess, not Queen, and her funeral arrangements were rushed and appeared to be an afterthought. However, Catherine may have been buried as Dowager Princess in 1536 but today she is recognised as Queen. The railings behind the stone slab marking her resting place are decorated with the words “Katharine Queen of England”. According to her biographer, Giles Tremlett, an appeal in the 19th century to women in England named Catherine/Katherine raised enough money to replace the stone slab and in 1986 a wooden plaque reading “A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion” was added.

Each year, the anniversary of Catherine’s funeral is commemorated by a special service at Peterborough Cathedral (the former abbey) attended by the present Spanish ambassador, and her tomb is decorated with flowers and pomegranates. An itinerary of Tudor-themed events is also planned each year and has become known as the “Katharine of Aragon Festival”. 

Notes and Sources

  • Williams, Patrick (2013) Katharine of Aragon, p375-376
  • Tremlett, Giles (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen, p426

Related Post

9 thoughts on “29 January 1536 – The Burial of Catherine of Aragon”
  1. RIP Katherine!
    The last years of her life were so terrible and Henry was a monster for how he treated her (and all of his wives). I’m glad she’s now recognized as a queen though.

  2. Which Duchess of Suffolk attended the funeral? I thought Mary (Henry’s sister, and one of Katharine’s highest ranked supporters) had already died by this point. Or was it her namesake, Maria de Salinas’s daughter, who was, by this time, married to Charles Brandon?

    1. Yes, the Duchess of Suffolk at this time was Catherine Brandon (nee Willoughby), daughter of Catherine of Aragon’s great friend Maria de Salinas. The Duchess’s stepdaughter, Eleanor (daughter of the Duke and Mary Tudor), was also a mourner.

  3. I did not see the name of Mary Tudor among the persons attending the funeral.

    How the death of her mother must have unmoored Mary; she was utterly alone in the world after Queen Catharine’s passing.

      1. There were two Mary Tudors.
        Mary Tudor daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, and Mary Tudor the sister of Henry. This can cause confusion as it has here.

      2. As Howard says, there were two Mary Tudors: Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister-in-law of Catherine of Aragon, who died in June 1533, and Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Mary the Quene in her comment is referring to Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine, who was nineteen years old at this point.

  4. Katherine at least was buried with full honours, maybe of a rank a little below Queen, that of a Princess, a widow and honoured Dowager Queen or Princess. All of her banners and royal badges and family banners hung in the Cathedral and on the route to the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Peter, Paul and Saint Andrew, as the Cathedral was in 1536, dedicated to these three Saints. A monastery had stood here since early Saxon times founded by the pagan King Penda, ironically, but it had been growing in importance over many centuries. Katherine had wanted to be buried in the House of the Greyfriars at Greenwich, with many Masses said by them but this was impossible and the religious orders were being closed. However, it was obviously more practical to bury Katherine in a Monastery close by, one as important as Peterborough, with as many honourable services and mourners as possible for her rank. As a true Queen of course she should have been taken in stages to London and laid to rest in Westminster Abbey or the Royal Chapel at Windsor, as Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves were. Her route should have later been marked by memorial crosses at the places where her coffin rested as with the 19 crosses that commemorate Eleanor of Castile, beloved Queen of King Edward I. There are still a few Eleanor crosses to be seen today. There is one at Grantham and a pillar stands at Stamford, for example. King’s Cross in London is where one stood. However, Katherine was no longer Henry’s Queen, Lady Anne Boleyn was, but as with Anne, Katherine had been crowned, a joint coronation with Henry Viii, just a few months into his reign. To most people at that time, this meant that she was a Queen forever, a sacred person, blessed by God, with the full authority therein and her funeral should have been a full public affair. If anyone recalls Princess Diana’s funeral, moving from one palace to another and the public mourning or the state affair of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, then you have an idea of how Katherine ‘s funeral should have been.

    Still Katherine of Aragon had a proper send off, her body was prepared correctly, she lay in state under the canopy of state, she was prayed for and placed in a coffin and then many Masses are said over many days. The coffin moved to the chapel and more Masses are said. The mourners are gathering and many noble ladies came. A dinner is given in her honour and when she was moved to Peterborough, with many priests and bishops and great ladies to lay her to rest. There were thirty six stewards and heralds, rods of office were carried and broken, fifty six servants, dozens of candles and royal representatives in the person of Lady Eleanor Brandon and the Fourth Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine Willoughby, daughter of her great friend and Lady, Maria de Salinas. The arms and banners of Castile, Aragon, Sicily and John of Gaunt, from whom she was descended and the Imperial Arms hung all around the Cathedral. At court Henry had a Mass for her soul and had official mourning ordered.

    It is very eerie that Anne lost her child on the very day of Katherine of Aragon ‘s funeral. Even more eerie is the story that on the morning of Anne Boleyn’s execution, the candles at the tomb, alter lit by themselves. Today there are the beautiful brass railings as above to commemorate Katherine as Queen of England from the Victorians, a lovely alter and a festival every year in the Cathedral. You see flowers there all the time and there is a portrait and her arms from Spain and England and a small exhibition tells her story. She is remembered as Queen.

    It was sad that her daughter was not allowed to attend and Katherine sent Mary a letter with a box with her fur collar and bid her farewell. Even in death mother and daughter were separated. Mary requested in her will that Katherine be moved to Westminster, but this was ignored by the penny pinching regimes which followed. I am actually pleased she remained in her peaceful haven and have been to her grave. A curious tale emerged last century that when the coffin was examined two female skeletal remains were found. This confirmed an old tradition that Maria de Salinas, her great friend, who rode in the snow to be at her side as she died at Kimbolton Castle, a few weeks earlier, had been buried in the same tomb as her mistress on her own death, some years later. It would be nice to think they kept a merry company in Heaven.

    Rest in peace, Queen Katherine, true wife of King Henry, mother of Queen Mary and a true champion. May Perpetual Light Shine Upon You. Amen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *