Catherine of Aragon Sets Sail for England

Posted By on September 27, 2010

On this day in history, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon of the 27th September 1501, Catherine of Aragon set sail for England from Laredo in Spain to marry Henry VII’s son and heir to the throne, Prince Arthur.

Catherine had originally set sail from Coruna on the 17th August, but strong storms in the Bay of Biscay had forced her fleet to land at Laredo, near Bilbao. After hearing of her first failed attempt to reach England, Catherine’s future father-in-law sent one of his best captains, Stephen Butt, to steer her ship through the treacherous Bay of Biscay.

Negotiations for a marriage agreement between England and Spain had begun in 1488 when King Ferdinand of Aragon, Catherine’s father, sent his ambassadors to England. According to David Starkey, Ferdinand saw an opportunity: he had a daughter, Henry VII had a son, and a marriage agreement could united England and Spain against their common enemy, France. In 1489, Henry VII sent his ambassadors to Spain to settle the agreement and in March 1489, in the Treaty of Medina del Campo, the two king agreed to a marriage treaty and alliance. Ferdinand and his wife, Isabella of Castile, agreed to pay Henry VII a marriage portion or dowry of 200,000 (about £40,000), split into 2 instalments, and Henry agreed to settled a third of the Prince of Wales’ lands on Catherine so that she would have income if Arthur died.

Although Henry VII wanted the three year old Catherine sent immediately to England, her parents refused and David Starkey points out that in the 11 years between the signing of the treaty and Catherine arriving in England, there were many times when it looked as if the marriage would be abandoned, for example, in 1492 when Henry VII made the Peace of Étaples with France and when Perkin Warbeck challenged Henry for the English throne. However, on the 18th July 1497, Henry VII ratified new treaties with Spain and at Woodstock, in July 1497, Prince Arthur pledged his troth to Catherine in front of his parents and the court and De Puebla, the Spanish ambassador, acted on behalf of Catherine, pledging her troth to Arthur. The couple were now formally betrothed and wedding preparations began.

After the formal betrothal, Elizabeth of York, Arthur’s mother, started writing to Isabella and Catherine in an attempt to get to know her future daughter-in-law and to establish communications so that preparations could be discussed. As Catherine did not speak English (she spoke Latin and Spanish), it was suggested that she should learn French from her sister-in-law, Margaret of Burgundy, so that there was a common language between Catherine and her ladies in England. Catherine spent the next two years with Margaret and quickly learned French. Elizabeth also made it clear that Catherine’s entourage of ladies should be beautiful and of high birth. Ferdinand and Isabella also had their demands. They demanded that there should be two proxy weddings before Catherine departed Spain for England. On the 19th May 1499 at Bewdley in the Welsh Marches, Arthur and Catherine, represented by De Puebla again, were declared husband and wife. The second proxy wedding took place in December 1500 and this time it even included a wedding feast!

The marriage treaty between England and Spain had specified that the wedding between Catherine and Arthur should take place at the end of Arthur’s 14th year, i.e. September 1500, but although word came that Catherine was to travel in Spring 1500, it did not happen. Isabella of Spain had been grief stricken by the death of her heir and grandson, Dom Miguel, in 1500, just four years after the death of her only son and heir, Don Juan, in 1496. She fell into depression and it is likely that she did not want to be parted from Catherine. Also, in Spring 1500, the Moors of the Alpujarras in Southern Spain rebelled and Isabella and Ferdinand had more pressing things to think about than sending their daughter to England. Catherine’s departure was therefore delayed as the family journeyed south to deal with the revolt.

After the defeat of two rebellions in Southern Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella promised that Catherine would leave Spain for England on the 24th June 1501, the Feast of St John the Baptist. In May 1501, Catherine’s departure was delayed for a few days as the Spanish princess fought off a fever, but she finally left Granada, in Andalucia, on the 21st May to begin her 500+ mile journey to the northern coast of Spain to set sail for England. The extreme heat and the fact that she had to cross mountains meant that the journey was hard and slow. Catherine and her parents did not reach the coastal region of Galicia until early August. A fleet was waiting and Catherine said what must have been a tearful goodbye to her parents and her homeland on the 17th August 1501. I wonder if Catherine realised that she would never see Spain again.


17 thoughts on “Catherine of Aragon Sets Sail for England”

  1. MoonAndStars says:

    Great article!

  2. I think she knew she would never see Spain again, she was going to England to be an English Queen- she had to leave her life behind!

  3. Claire says:

    Yes, I think she knew that too, but I bet she hoped to see it again. It must have been a very upsetting farewell and she must have been so worried about life in England.

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    I cannot imagine leaving my family and homeland at such a young age–even though she had known the day would come and had been groomed to be a queen, it must have been scarey. Imagine marrying a boy you didn’t even know–I wonder what that would be like–just weird to us but normal for them–at least more normal. Poor Catherine. such a sad life for one that must have had great dreams. As much as I adore Anne Boleyn, the older I get, the more I sympathize with Catherine. Wisdom and character are fine traits but they often get overlooked in favor of youth and vivacity.

  5. Rob says:

    Lovely article. I do like the portrait here by de Flandres. The red hair must have given her an unusual appearance.

  6. As always, elucidating! Thank you !

  7. Eliza says:

    Catherine was definately anxious about her new husband, who she didn’t know and had only exchanges letters with.. But she certainly could not imagine at that time that her true husband would be Arthur’s 10 year-old brother!! Life has some turns, doesn’t it?

  8. Calista12 says:

    Very good article about Catherine and I love the portrait of her. I am a major Tudor history fan and though I also like Anne Boleyn I can’t help but sympathize with Catherine. I know that at some point she must have realized that Henry wasn’t coming back and that though he loved Anne, he really did need a male heir. Still it must have hurt. I was wondering, I know she had one son who lived for only about two months and that the rest of her children where dead-accept for Mary I of course-if she didn’t have a living son then why is she holding one in the portrait? Is it because that is what she wanted most? She does almost look envious, even a little resigned to her defeat on that front.

    1. Samantha says:

      She is holding a boy because it is a portrait painted of Catherine as the Virgin Mary.

  9. Anne says:

    I wonder if she knew what exactly was awataing her and the pain she was going to endure…I admire her deeply and I feel that she had transferred all her pain of parting with her family and country into a sense of duty and destiny…And all her later troubles kind of proves that it was her destiny to be the Queen of England.In fact,she had fought for this place and had gone through many hardships…

  10. Thaïs says:

    I think she knew she would not see Spain and her family again. However I think she would have kept some hope to see it again. Unfortunatelly, she came to England to suffer on Henry’s hands and see her husband (ex-husband, although she believed she was the only queen) getting married to another woman – Anne Boleyn. I can imagine how she suffered without support (she didn’t have anyone from her family near her – even her daughter Mary was sent apart from her) and the love of her husband. Poor Catherine! She set sail from Spain, where she was loved and well-treated, to England, to face her suffering.

  11. Jeannette says:

    A very courageous lady, what a sad life, to have borne so many dead babies, then been discarded when she was no longer young and beautiful.

  12. Catalina says:

    That is the way it was back then. Princesses left their homeland to wed in other countries. They knew all about it and were groomed from when they were very, very young. We can not compare ourselves to them. Not in the least. They were special and knew that they were special. I would love to have been a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon or Jane Seymour or Catherine Parr or even Anne of Cleves. Adore Anne Boleyn? How could anyone in their right mind do so. She was maniputlaive and convining. She wanted to be Queen very, very badly and she used every means at her disposal. The Denial of Sex, being the very best weapon. Oh, Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk may have orginally advanced his niece, the daughter of one of his favourite sisters, the Lady Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire but in the end, she is the one who went forth and carved her own destiny and destroyed the life of two of the best woman in history. Catherine of Aragon and Mary the First. Mary the First would never have been so bitter and destroyed so many Protestants, if what Henry the Eight did, he would not have done. In fact, if Henry the Eight did not do what he did, there would not have been Anglicanism. He should have stayed with Catherine of Aragon until either he or she died and I am glad Mary the First became Queen because it only showed us and everybody else in history that what Henry the Eight did was absolutely unneccessary. He did not need a son because both his daughters by Catherine of Aragon and the horrid Anne Boleyn, Mary the First and Elizabeth the First became Queens of England.

  13. Claire says:

    Hi Catalina,
    What you’re forgetting is that Henry had been considering annulling his marriage to Catherine years before he even met Anne Boleyn so he would have divorced Catherine anyway and probably broken with Rome to do so. I’m not sure what evidence you feel that there is for your view of Anne Boleyn and I would actually say that Jane Seymour was the one who played games with Henry. She was coached in how to behave and withheld sex and rejected his presents so that he would chase her. Anne’s reason for not sleeping with Henry was that she did not want to end up with a reputation like her sister and did not want to be a King’s mistress, not because she wanted to be queen, how could she have any idea that Henry would offer her that instead of simply moving on to the next woman.
    Although Mary I suffered very cruel treatment at Henry’s hands and that must have affected her psychologically, I’m not sure that Anne can be blamed for Mary’s later behaviour. People have to take responsibility for their own actions and also it was after Anne Boleyn’s death that Henry and his men threatened Mary into signing the oath.
    Just my opinion!

  14. Catharine says:

    I love Anne Boleyn… no wonder they called her a witch- what power she has to still captivate people to love her even centuries after her death! (I mean that in the best way, of course) But I still feel horrible for Catherine. I do. Henry wanted to get rid of her when she lost her youth and beauty, and most importantly, when it was known she would not give him more children. As a woman who is no Angelina Jolie (no dog either though) and has fertility issues- I am so grateful for my husband who loves me for me. Who married me for me, not just the children I might bear forth. The pain of an empty womb is too much to bear sometimes, and the thought of a husband who would blame me and leave me for it…. my heart breaks. My heart breaks for Catherine. And when Anne had her miscarriage… when I had mine, after three years of trying to conceive I got pregnant, and lost it… I thought I would couldn’t bear to go on. I had my family, friends and social groups online to support me. Anne had none of that when she lost her boy. My heart goes out for her too. Gosh darn it, Henry! Make me all sad thinking abotu things I shoudln’t be! I’m gonna go get some ice cream.

  15. Deborah says:

    I wonder if Catherine and her family had someone traveling with them that kept a daily diary on the journey to the coast ?

  16. Maryann Pitman says:

    Anne Boleyn could have ended up in Ireland, married to the Butler heir. Marriage for the higher classes was for the advantage of the family, not the happiness of the individual. Catherine would surely have been aware of her father’s infidelities, no question. He and Isabella crossed swords over their advancement. We don;t know all that much about the marriage of Anne’s parents really, but this was also a marriage made for the advantage of the Boleyns, not spoken of as a love match anywhere.

    Companionate marriage is a relatively recent phenomenon, and let us all be grateful it is so.

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