Catherine of Aragon tells Henry VIII to quit his evil life

Katherine of AragonOn this day in history, Sunday 12th June 1530, Queen Catherine of Aragon got rather cross with her errant husband, Henry VIII, telling him to “quit the evil life he was leading and the bad example he was setting”. Here is an account of the confrontation from Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador:

“On this same Sunday the Queen spoke for some time with the King, exhorting him to be again to her a good prince and husband, and to quit the evil life he was leading and the bad example he was setting, and that even if he would shew no regard for her, who was, as he well knew, his true and lawful wife, that he should at least respect God and his conscience, and no longer ignore the brief which had been executed in Flanders. The King, after many words and much commendation of those who had written in his favour, said that the brief was of very little consequence, and that even if it were he should not heed it much, because the Pope was compelled to act as the Emperor wished, and with that the King left the room abruptly without saying another word.”1

Regarding the “brief” mentioned above, Catherine had applied to the Pope for a brief “to the effect that nobody shall, under pain of excommunication, judge, allege, counsel, procure, solicit, or otherwise speak “á complacentia o gratia,” of this matter of the dissolution of matrimony between the King and Queen, unless it be as God and his conscience may dictate.”2 As we can see from Chapuys’ account, Henry VIII was happy to ignore the brief and carry on with his quest for an annulment. Although he was still appearing at state occasions with Catherine, as king and queen, he was of the opinion that their marriage had never been valid.

But it wasn’t just the annulment proceedings that were upsetting Catherine of Aragon, it was also the way that Henry was treating Anne Boleyn. Although Chapuys felt “that if the Lady [Anne] could only be kept away from Court for a little while, the Queen might still regain her influence over the King, for he does not seem to bear any ill-will towards her”,3 Anne was on the rise at court and there was no way that Henry was setting her aside. In December 1529, Chapuys had reported to the Emperor how Anne had taken precedence over all the other ladies at “a grand fête”, even over Mary Tudor, Queen of France (Henry VIII’s sister), the Duchess of Norfolk and the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Chapuys stated that Anne occupied “the very place allotted to a crowned queen” and that it was like a wedding banquet: “it seemed as if nothing were wanting but the priest to give away the nuptial ring and pronounce the blessing”. While Anne and Henry were celebrating and act like king and queen, Catherine “was seven miles away from this place holding her own fête of sorrow and weeping”.4

Also on this day in history, 12th June 1540, Thomas Cromwell wrote to Henry VIII from his prison in the Tower of London, following his arrest on 10th June. Click here to read his letter.

  1. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1, Henry VIII, 1529-1530, 354.
  2. Ibid., 318.
  3. Ibid., 354.
  4. Ibid., 232.

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8 thoughts on “Catherine of Aragon tells Henry VIII to quit his evil life”
  1. Catherine really could not see that she and Henry had grown apart and in some way she was to blame for that, over the years she had put on weight and spent more of her time in prayer, she had in a modern sense let herself go, it may sound harsh but if you stop fancying some one you cannot help that and her personality was more that of an old matron than the captivating girl she had once been, over the years she had retired early to bed leaving Henry to preside over the court entertainments and she even wore a hair shirt under her gowns, it’s as if she had given up trying to be alluring and that combined with her extreme piety made her appear old and unappealing to Henry, even the King of France had called her old and deformed, depression over her dead children may have been the reason she spent more time in the chapel yet she was so different from the other women at court it was small wonder Henry had chosen not to sleep with her anymore and they had just drifted apart, I believe Henry loved Catherine still but was not in love with her anymore and he had respect for her but found her dull, possibly she seemed more like a mother to him than a wife, he would have treated her kindly had she not been so obstinate about the anullment but because of her character Catherine could not give in and that was her undoing, she underestimated entirely her husbands feeling for Anne possibly thinking she was a five minute wonder yet as the years passed she realised he was hell bent on marrying her which made Catherine dig her heels in even more tenaciously, had Catherine been more understanding of her husbands need for a son instead of thinking of her own position( which after all was entirely understandable and that of her daughters) I think she could have been more gracious in defeat as history shows she was not the first Queen to be put aside wether because of age, childbearing being the issue, or consanguinity and in some cases because they had fallen for another woman, those women before her had not put up a fight but accepted the situation, wether most of them went graciously we don’t know but King John had his first marriage annulled because they were cousins, the difference with Catherine was she was in love with her husband and could not bear to let him ago but that only made Henry more than ever determined to rid himself of her, the opposition he faced from Catherine as well from abroad and within his own clergy possibly tested his own patience to the limit where he wanted to flaunt Anne all the more as the woman he intended to marry, he was saying, ‘ this is the woman I am going to marry you will treat her as my chosen wife’ hence the presiding over the court and taking precedence over the Queen and his own sister, it’s very sad to imagine the discarded wife with her own rather cheerless court in some castle or palace somewhere with her devoted servants and followers, and the other more brilliant court of Henry with the fun loving Anne enjoying all the masques and banquets.

    1. This is a very modern way of looking at things and one that would never have occurred to Henry, let alone Katherine.

    2. Anne turned out to be not even a three year wonder. Like many men ,Henry held the view that another woman might provide greater pleasure. This is a rather shallow view of what is meant to be something greater than self-centered physical pleasure. Henry was a devout narcissist.

  2. Also, it is very difficult for me to reconcile Henry’s actions with his claimed concern for the succession. After all, a female ruler hadn’t been attempted in England for 400 years, but there was plenty of experience that child rulers brought disaster. Also, when Matilda was fighting for her throne, there wasn’t much experience with female rulers anywhere since ancient time, but Tudor England had the example of what a woman ruler did in Castile. Despite this history, what does Henry do? He dumps a marriageable daughter Mary in favor of the infant Elizabeth. If he had died in the Jan 1536 jousting accident, the only thing that would have prevented civil war and invasion (before Anne came to term, assuming no miscarriage) was that no one would have fought for Elizabeth. Also, Henry never had to attack Mary’s legitimacy as a condition of annulling the marriage to Katherine; he could have claimed “good faith” instead. It is possible that Mary might have reacted differently if her legitimacy and her rights were not at stake. Furhtermore, if Henry had gotten Mary a husband while she was younger, she might have had a son — Henry could have masculine succession through his grandson, if he had no son. I think that Katherine recognized the fundamental dishonesty in Henry’s claimed “concern”.

  3. Iv never understood why she wasn’t married as she was certainly a sought after Princess and there were plenty of eligible nobleman at his court who he could have choosen as her husband if he was against a foreign marriage, he did mistrust a lot of the nobles which I think was the problem here as they were of the old Plantagenet blood and Henry was very jealous of his rather shaky claim to the throne, yet his own mother was a Plantagenet and through his daughters son he would have had his heir apparant, maybe he feared her husband would have tried to rule through his grandson yet really had Henry chose to go down that road his succession would have been assured and with it no threat of civil war of possibly foreign invasion, he himself worsened Mary’s prospects when he had her bastardised which made her totally unmarriageable, maybe he thought it was too much of a risk to rely on Mary having a son yet she could have had a healthy brood, sadly it was not to be and In later years she experienced what doctors call phantom pregnancies having an illness which caused her belly to swell giving the appearance of a pregnancy when instead it was probably cancer, Elizabeth for what reasons we will never know but can only speculate chose not to marry, ( possibly her mothers death had a traumatic effect on her making her deplore marriage ) and Edward died young therefore the Tudor dynasty which Henry had tried so hard to continue was doomed to die out, even though the Tudor lineage continues in the present Queen and her heirs it was the end of Henrys line as we know it.

    1. Marrying Mary would have been ideally a solution for Henry Viii as he could have granted the crown to his grandsons. Also Mary was indeed a great catch, England held the balance of power and had always been seen as an alliance worth having. England was a power again, she had prestige and cash as well as a decent navy, had made a show of power and strength in Europe, showed her grandeur at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and was now stable and peaceful. Henry and Katherine were popular at home and respected abroad. The duplicity of Francis and Charles made alliances hard, but if England was good enough for the young nation of Spain and the older nation of Scotland, she was good enough for France, a duchy in Europe, a German Prince or even the kingdoms of Portugal, Denmark and Sweeden. I don’t believe that a match with the older noble families in England was feasible. For one thing there were few of sufficient rank, for another, they were not to be trusted as many had supported the last of the White Rose, they were not good enough for Mary. I am not sure about the reality of some alliances but whatever her status Mary Tudor as a King’s daughter should have been married. The change of mind Henry was possibly the biggest obstacle to her marriage.

  4. Katherine clearly loved Henry and cared about him in every way, including caring for his immortal soul. She knew Henry was a deeply passionate, deeply feeling, deeply religious and deeply conscientious person, his inner conscience, his inner voice was of great trouble to him as was his honour. It was to this delicate inner man, the real Henry that she knew that Katherine appealed. Henry Viii had moved away from Katherine, however, due to that same conscious, ironically. Henry was troubled by the reading of Leviticus which seemed to tell him that his marriage to Katherine, his beloved wife, was cursed as he had married his brother’s widow. The loss of six children seemed to confirm this, but Katherine remembered the husband who had been a good husband to her, loving, courteous, gallant, her beloved protector and champion, faithful to the Church, who had mistresses yes, but returned to her all the time. As far as Anne Boleyn was concerned, Katherine still believed that Henry had lost his mind, but could be persuaded to give her up, that he would return to the Queen as he had with other women. Katherine had not accepted that Anne Boleyn was going to be Henry’s wife as she was in love with Henry, as he was with her and had promised him a son, so Henry was determined to marry her for that purpose. Katherine was clearly fed up with his behaviour, treating Anne as a Queen and was angry. She hoped that Henry would see sense, answer her appeals and that by telling him his behaviour was foolish and outrageous, he may see sense. Henry, however, was just as stubborn as Katherine and when he made up his mind to do something he went at it full steam ahead, regardless of the consequences. Henry needed a son, Katherine could not give him one, Anne offered him a pleasant alternative, there was no going back. I don’t know if Katherine was in denial or just refused to believe Henry had chosen Anne, but she did know that she was Queen by right and would not give up without a fight.

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