30 November 1529 – Catherine of Aragon Confronts Henry VIII

Katherine of AragonOn this day in history, St Andrews Day (30th November) 1529, Queen Catherine of Aragon confronted her husband, Henry VIII, about his treatment of her.

Eustace Chapuys gave a full report of the meeting between Catherine and Henry in a letter to Charles V, writing that Catherine said “that she had long been suffering the pains of Purgatory on earth, and that she was very badly treated by his refusing to dine with and visit her in her apartments.” The King replied that she had no right to complain, “for she was mistress in her own household, where she could do what she pleased” and explained that he had not dined with her because he had been busy with “affairs of government”.

He then went on to address her complaint about not visiting her apartments, saying that “she ought to know that he was not her legitimate husband, as innumerable doctors and canonists, all men of honour and probity, and even his own almoner, Doctor Lee, who had once known her in Spain, were ready to maintain” and that “should not the Pope, in conformity with the above opinions so expressed, declare their marriage null and void, then in that case he (the King) would denounce the Pope as a heretic, and marry whom he pleased.”

According to Chapuys:-

“The Queen replied that he himself, without the help of doctors, knew perfectly well that the principal cause alleged for the divorce did not really exist, “cart yl l’avoit trouvé pucelle,” as he himself had owned upon more than one occasion. “As to your almoner’s opinion in this matter,” she continued, “I care not a straw; he is not my judge in the present case; it is for the Pope, not for him, to decide. Respecting those of other doctors, whether Parisian or from other universities, you know very well that the principal and best lawyers in England have written in my favour. Indeed, if you give me permission to procure counsel’s opinion in this matter I do not hesitate to say that for each doctor or lawyer who might decide in your favour and against me, I shall find 1,000 to declare that the marriage is good and indissoluble.” “

What a speech!

After further words on the matter, the King then “left the room suddenly” and Chapuys describes him as “very disconcerted and downcast”. Unfortunately, worse was to come as the King was then reproached by Anne Boleyn, who said:-

“Did I not tell you that whenever you disputed with the Queen she was sure to have the upper hand? I see that some fine morning you will succumb to her reasoning, and that you will cast me off. I have been waiting long, and might in the meanwhile have contracted some advantageous marriage, out of which I might have had issue, which is the greatest consolation in this world; but alas! farewell to my time and youth spent to no purpose at all.”

Oh dear, Henry was really getting it in the neck on that day! Well, according to Chapuys anyway!

Also on this day in history…

1554 – Cardinal Pole absolves Parliament and England is restored to Rome. See 30th November 1554 – The Return to Rome

1554 – Birth of Philip Sidney, the poet, courtier and soldier, at Penshurst Place in Kent. See Birth of Philip Sidney 1554

P.S. Happy St Andrew’s Day to those in Scotland or with Scottish origins!

Notes and Sources

  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1: Henry VIII, 1529-1530, pp. 337-363, note 224, Letter from Eustace Chapuys to the Emperor, 6 December 1529

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30 thoughts on “30 November 1529 – Catherine of Aragon Confronts Henry VIII”
  1. Henry was really getting it in the neck? Couldn’t happen to a “nicer” guy.

    I love the pic of Katharine you are using here, Claire. I wonder if there are any plans, now or for the future, to restore it to its full glory, and get the dirty splotches off of it.

    1. The picture is a miniature attributed to Lucas Horenbout (or Hornebolte) c1525 and is watercolour on vellum. It is part of the National Portrait Gallery collection and perhaps this is the best it could be restored to, being done on vellum, I’m not sure.

  2. Catherine certainly could speak her mind and I love the fact that Henry left in a tail-between-his-legs sort of way and sought consolation from Anne, who then let him have it again! I feel so sorry for both women–Catherine, who was being asked, really, to declare herself a whore and her daughter a bastard and Anne, who truly had waited her youth away. Very tough situation for both women with Henry in the middle. I also like the miniature–C looks sweet and kind I think. Thanks!

  3. Yes, but always remember that Chapuys was writing to his employer and telling him what he wanted to hear. Who was Chapuys’ source for the information he ws passing on to Charles V?

      1. His letters are an invaluable source of contemporary information but he was rather good at adding much gossip and jumping to conclusions.

  4. WOW!!! What a interesting day that must have been. I love Anne, but always felt bad for what happened to Queen Catherine. As a married woman that must been the hardest thing to go through. Being queen for 20yrs n a woman trying to take over!. I always felt bad for her. Like I said I do love Anne! Even though it happened 500yrs ago she was a woman n felt as we women feel. She was extremely strong person I honor her as I do Anne. She tried her hardest to please him. I just feel bad. Thank you,Jessica

  5. Both women dealt boldly and courageously with difficult situations.

    I’d spent this grey November afternoon doing boring paperwork, and your article certainly gave me a better sense of perspective! Thanks :>)

  6. Catherine was treated horibly by the King long before Anne entered into the Kings life,he had many other women.Where they truely married of croase,what I would like to no is how many children did the King father?Claire do you have a head count?

    1. Catherine and Anne had quite a few pregnancies each ( at least six for Catherine and 3 for Anne) which resulted in two surviving children, Mary and Elizabeth. Then there was Edward VI. As far as illegitimate children are concerned, the only one Henry recognised was Henry Fitzroy, but some people believe one or both of the Carey children were the King’s and some believe that Ethelreda Malte was the King’s daughter. See http://www.elizabethfiles.com/elizabeth-is-early-life-illegitimate-siblings/4797/

      Henry actually wasn’t a womaniser, not compared to the likes of Francis I, but seems to have had mistresses when his wives were pregnant and therefore ‘off limits’. This was pretty much expected.

      1. Katherine wasn’t “treated horribly before Anne Boleyn came along” by Henry. In fact he was a good husband and the couple were devoted to each other. The loss of their children was a tragedy which after eighteen years of marriage would cause Henry to agonize over his marriage being legitimate in the sight of God. Every King and probably every married nobleman and gentleman slept with other women when their wives were pregnant because sex during pregnancy was believed to harm the baby and it was considered healthy for men to release their sexual tensions. We have to remember this was the sixteenth century, not the 21st and we can’t bring our stuff to their world. Katherine and Henry had a good relationship and he wouldn’t have even blinked and eye at marriage with another woman if they had even one living, healthy son. It was merely this that caused him to look for another wife whom he hoped could give him a much-needed male heir. It wasn’t Anne who caused the annulment, that is true, because Henry asked a commission to examine his marriage to Katherine. Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn who in 1526 or 1527 agreed to be his wife, having rashly promising him sons. Henry was not a horrible husband to Katherine of Aragon, despite his treatment of her after 1533 when she continued to hold out and call herself Queen and certainly not when they were the power couple of the tournament and of chivalry in the first two decades of their reign.

        Henry was also discreet about his occasional mistress and it is certain that he kept them mostly out of sight, to protect his wife and his own reputation. Henry probably had very few illegitimate children. He recognised one only, Henry Fitzroy born after the last of his six or seven legitimate children. As Claire says he may have had more, a Thomas Stuteby was one and possibly Catherine Carey the daughter of Mary Boleyn. Henry wasn’t as discreet when married to Anne, who didn’t turn a blind eye as Katherine had done. His cruel nature came out sometime during his second marriage, he became worse after his fall in January 1536 and went into a paranoid decline from then onwards, in which Anne and his friends became his victims.

  7. Someone once said of Henry ‘ he was a very considerate husband until he cut your head off’. Henry seems to have had something of a split personality when it came to women. Having two wives executed and discarding two others on one hand and yet being so considerate and gallant in his everyday dealings with the court ladies. Certainly he never dragged any of his wives or mistresses out hunting whilst they were pregnant as Francis had a habit of doing.

  8. Emma,I had to laugh at your comment about how considerate Henry was until one lost there head! He seemed to be a very nice gent ,until you crossed him or he was just board with you. Today he would be most likely called a sereal killer.thank god they still don’t practice hacking ones head off.Claire thx for the info on Henrys children as I was’nt really sure how many he had.

  9. Interesting that Catherine was considered dominant, at least according to Chapuys’ account of Anne’s opinion. And Anne’s opinion suggests she was dominant too.

    It casts a different light on the triangle, with the highly intelligent and forceful Henry at the bottom.

    I put together a reverse-order slideshow of portraits of Catherine a couple of weeks ago – couldn’t find any better image of the miniature than the one you have in this post:


  10. I agree with Claire and David, how would Chapuys know what was said at that confrontation unless he was present at the time. Even if he was, or Katherine relayed details to him, would he report anything but in the Queen’s favour, I doubt it, he was very loyal to her.
    Though I can imagine Katherine berating the King like that, she was a strong, proud Lady, who was protecting her own and Mary’s position and honour, which she wasn’t going to have taken away from them without a fight, as we know. On the other hand, would Henry have let her get away with speaking to him in that matter without reprocussion, with his temper getting shorter as this situation grew longer, especially as Anne seemed to be in a less accommodation mood also, that day,(if that recorded conversation has any truth to it). It is a wonder both women didn’t feel his wrath that day…

  11. What a courageous woman Katherine must have truly been, to so speak her mind to her husband, as that certainly doesn’t seem to have been the norm for the time.

    And to turn him over on his own arguments, well she got him there. What does the phrase “cart yl l’avoit trouvé pucelle” mean?

    Anne was Anne as we can see from her comments. Still, I can’t help but smile at the thought of these two getting the best of him. At least at that moment, score one for the women!

    1. Kim, the French means that he found her a virgin, so Catherine is saying that Henry’s argument for the divorce did not exist as she had never slept with Arthur.

  12. I don’t think Henry would’ve been a serial killer in the present day. He just lived in a more primitive time when it was acceptable for a king to dispose of people by having their heads cut off. Add onto that that he was the king and believed it was always right for him to have his way. You know the saying: why does a dog lick his own balls? because he can.. (Sorry about the language) I think nowadays Henry would just be the kind of selfish guy most women run into at least once in their lives. He would probably just stop answering your textmessages 🙂 Also if we’re gonna look at it with our eyes from the future. How ridiculous would you find it if a friend told you his wife just wouldn’t give him a divorce and he already had to deal with that for years when he didn’t want to be with her anymore and was in love with someone else? I would probably feel sorry for him.

  13. Dear Claire
    I love your site!My mother got me interested in English history.Our family tree goes back to 11th century England.Found out we had a relative who was a noble in king Henry’s .Our family name f.Cottrell.Now on to Anne,I do believe she knew what she was getting herself into.She knew what the King was capable of.I think she had m.alot of confidence

    Cottrell.William Brewster was our12th great grandfather.William was one of. the leaders on the Mayflower.

    Now to Anne and King Henry,You wer

    1. Arthur was very weedy and weak. It would probably been recommended that the marriage wasn’t consummated on the night for the sake of his health. Of course, we know that they were not married for long before he died.
      as to how many children Henry had, while we consider his 3 legitimate children, do not forget Henry Fitzroy who was acknowledged as his son, and showered with titles and privileges..

      1. Arthur was not weedy and weak. This imyth has been dispproved many times. Whilst not as sporty as his younger brother, Henry, Arthur was known to be quite strong and healthy up to and including the time of his marriage to Katherine.
        His illness was very sudden and it shocked everyone that he died so quickly.

  14. I believe that in such times women were all treated like possessions either by family or by their husbands. Katherine was defending her right as the wife of the king and the mother of the only legitimate child of Henry, to that date. But as a woman, I would had rather take my girl and move back to Spain and stay with her nephew. The poor Anne was in love with the king. Is tragic to love so much for 6 years then after two more, lost her life to the wish of the king.

    1. Henry would have seen the removal of Mary as treason. Children were as much property as were wives.

      Given how Katherine was unprepared to go to war with the Emperor’s backing against Henry, I doubt that fleeing England would be a move Katherine was prepared to make.

  15. Oh my….this is my favorite episode in the saga of Henry, Anne, and Catherine please don’t tell me it didn’t happen! This conversation so rings true that I would be really disappointed if it wasn’t. The only problem I have with Anne is the way she treated Mary, she had the upper hand the whole time and still chose to persecute her. That does not prove to me she was any kind of a good woman. Staying away from her yes but her treatment was uncalled for. Catherine was one tough woman, she refused to budge. I myself would have granted his divorce after he gave me a home and my daughter and servants to take care of me. But she was too religious for her own good. Good article!

  16. I find this argument that Henry had with Katherine fantastic. She really gave him what for, she had more scholars than he could find. I love it. Then he thought he would find sympathy with Anne, but she just moaned at him for almost giving in to the Queen, her lost youth, not having a husband and children and said she was going home. The poor man couldn’t win. Henry was caught between two strong, intelligent and determined women and both of them wanted him to be completely theirs and both fought with him, in the same day. Poor Henry. Good on you, Katherine.

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