Catherine of Aragon – The Boring One?

Posted By on January 20, 2011

A young and auburn haired Catherine of Aragon

I thought that I would write about the six wives and the various stereotypes, labels, myths and falsehoods which surround them by handling each wife in turn, in the order that Henry VIII married them. So, today, I’m going to look at Catherine of Aragon.

Labels, Stereotypes and Representations

I’m not quite sure what reaction you’d get from the general public if you stood in a shopping centre and asked passers-by for their opinion on Catherine of Aragon, I think you’d probably get a lot of “Who?” responses, but perhaps programmes like “The Tudors” and popular fiction have enlightened people about the first of Henry’s wives, but have they been truly enlightened or have they ended up with a rather warped picture of her? It’s hard to say. Some of the stereotype, labels, opinions and myths I see in emails, comments and in my research include:-

  • Catherine was overly pious and religious
  • Catherine was stubborn and was responsible for the Break with Rome and the cruelty of her daughter’s reign
  • She was boring
  • Catherine had loads of miscarriages or she was barren
  • She was much older than Henry
  • Her marriage to Henry was short-lived
  • Catherine was poisoned by Anne Boleyn
  • Catherine was a liar – She lied when she said that she had not consummated her marriage to Arthur
  • She was dowdy
  • She had dark hair and dark eyes, the typical Spanish looks
  • Her marriage to Henry was loveless

So, let’s look at some of these issues and try to unravel who Catherine of Aragon really was…

Catherine of Aragon’s Appearance

Catherine may have been the daughter of the Catholic Reyes of Spain but she had long, auburn or strawberry blonde hair*, fair skin and blue eyes, as can be seen in the portraits of the younger Catherine, rather than the typical dark looks and olive skins of Spaniards. These looks were inherited from her English Royal ancestors, women like her great-grandmother and name-sake, Catherine of Lancaster, and her great-great-grandmother, Philippa of Lancaster. Her figure may have become ‘stouter’ in later years, after her pregnancies, but whose body doesn’t change after at least six pregnancies? She certainly was not dowdy when Henry married her in 1509.

Catherine’s Faith


As, David Starkey points out, Catherine was very much her mother’s daughter as far as her faith was concerned. She had seen her parents expel the Jews from Granada in 1492 and had seen them fight the Moors, so “she was a conventional, fervently pious Catholic”1. She believed in fighting heresy and “undoubtedly embraced the dogmatic attitude to Truth” which underpinned “a policy of aggressive persecution” but there was nothing unusual in that. David Starkey writes:-

“Like all good Catholics, she understood ‘religious belief as something objective, as the gift of God and therefore outside the realm of free private judgement’. She also understood that Holy Church was the exclusive custodian and repository of this objective and divine Truth – and also its appointed protector and defender.”2

Catherine’s Church was committed to fighting heresy which it believed “not only violates her [the Church] but strikes at her very life, unity of belief. Catherine, therefore, believe, as did Thomas More, that the penalties of heresy should be severe and appropriate “a life for a life”3. In our age of tolerance and our multi-cultural and multi-faith world, we see Catherine and Thomas More as intolerant, as bigots even, but they were simply products of their time, people of faith who were doing what the Church taught, God’s work.

Catherine’s faith consoled and sustained her when he husband had his extra-marital affairs and when he abandoned her for Anne Boleyn. We cannot criticise her for turning to God at such a time and at least her relationship with God gave her some comfort in those dark days, particularly the time when she was not even allowed to see her daughter.

Catherine’s Virginity

As David Starkey points out in his book on Henry’s six wives, only God knows what happened between Catherine and Arthur on their wedding night. Sir Anthony Willoughby, a servant of Arthur’s, claimed that on the morning after the wedding night Arthur had said to him “Willoughby, bring me a cup of ale, for I have been this night in the midst of Spain” and he later said to his attendants “Master, it is good pastime to have a wife”4, but was he simply boasting? Was it bravado? We just don’t know for sure, but it was taken for granted at the time that Catherine and Arthur had done the deed. However, Doña Elvira, Catherine’s First Lady of the Bedchamber, wrote to Catherine’s parents after Arthur’s death, telling them that their daughter was still a virgin.

The consummation or non-consummation of Catherine’s first marriage was not an issue when she married Henry VIII in 1509 as the couple were given a dispensation by the Pope, but the topic reared its ugly head when Henry VIII wanted his marriage to Catherine annulled so that he could marry his new love, Anne Boleyn. Henry argued that the dispensation should never have been given and was invalid because marrying one’s brother’s widow was contrary to Biblical law, Catherine, on the other hand, argued that she had never slept with Arthur and so the marriage had never been fully legal. While the Blackfriars legatine court heard how Catherine must have consummated her marriage to Arthur, another court in Zaragoza, Spain, in 1531, heard from witnesses who had travelled to England with Catherine on her initial voyage, and who argued that Arthur was a sickly young man “overwhelmed by his failure to fulfil the mighty, sexual and dynastic obligations present in that big, formal, wedding-night bed”- 5 it had all been too much for him. As Giles Tremlett points out, they could have been lying, but then so could have the witnesses at Blackfriars.

Catherine testified on oath that she had not slept with her first husband, saying that when she married Henry, “I was a true maid, without touch of a man” and she had also told Henry VII that she was still a virgin when he was first thinking of marrying her off to his second son. In her book on Henry’s six wives, Alison Weir argues that Catherine “was a religious woman of sound principles; it is far less likely therefore that she was guilty of deception than that she was telling the truth”6 and I have to agree with her.

Catherine’s Age

Catherine of Aragon was born on the 16th December 1485 making her only five and a half years older than her second husband, Henry VIII. She was just 23 when they married in 1509, but obviously, in 1528 when Henry began his quest of an annulment in earnest, Catherine was 43, compared to her husband’s age of 37. Catherine was old for Tudor times and had also gone through the menopause; Henry, on the other hand, felt that he was still in his prime, and was in love with Anne Boleyn, a woman in her 20s and, more importantly, a woman who was still capable of child-bearing. So, although Catherine was not much older than her husband, she had lost her beauty, her allure and her fertility.

Trivia: When Season 1 of “”The Tudors” premiered on TV, Maria Doyle Kennedy, who plays Catherine of Aragon, was 43 and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played her husband, Henry VIII, was just 30, a 13 year difference!

A Love Match

Although their betrothal had originally been arranged by Henry VII and Catherine’s parents, it was Henry VIII who decided to marry Catherine after his accession to the throne in 1509, it was his choice and I think he saw himself as the chivalrous hero rescuing the damsel in distress, a woman who was living in debt and uncertainty. Alison Weir writes of how Henry, when discussing the marriage with his Privy Council, told of how “he desired her above all women; he loved her and longed to wed her”7 and that his council knew that he had been smitten with her since the age of ten.Weir concludes that “undoubtedly he found her attractive, with her long golden hair and fair skin; he was impressed by her maturity, her dignity, her lineage and her graciousness. Everything about her proclaimed her a fit mate for the King of England, and Henry, who was no fool, realised this.”

Programmes like “The Tudors” do not give us a full picture of Catherine and Henry’s marriage. It was happy in the beginning and they had been married for 24 years when their marriage was finally annulled in 1533. Although Henry was unfaithful to Catherine, for example with women like Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, he loved and respected his wife. Having mistresses was his royal prerogative and was a way of fulfilling his sexual urges when his wife was pregnant or recovering from childbirth.

Catherine loved Henry and thought of him as her true husband and her true love right to the end. Her last letter** to him, written when she was dying, speaks of her tender love for him, the fact that she forgives him and ends with her saying “Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.” No matter how cruelly he treated her, Catherine loved him with all her heart.

Catherine’s Pregnancies

An older Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII believed (or had convinced himself!) that his marriage to Catherine was cursed and that God was not blessing them with a surviving male heir because their marriage was contrary to Biblical law. So, what was Catherine’s obstetric history?

Historian J.J. Scarisbrick wrote of how Catherine of Aragon had had “several miscarriages, three infants who were either stillborn or died immediately after birth (two of them males), two infants who died within a few weeks of birth (one of them a boy) and one girl, Princess Mary”, Hester Chapman wrote of Catherine having a total of seven pregnancies, Neville Williams writes of Henry VIII being “mindful of earlier miscarriages” in his second year of marriage to Catherine, A.F.Pollard suggests around ten pregnancies and John Bowle states six pregnancies. However, in his article “The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn”8, Professor Sir John Dewhurst argues that there is only evidence for six pregnancies:-

  1. 31st January 1510 – Birth of a stillborn daughter. This is reported by Diego Fernandez, Catherine’s chancellor, in the Calendar of State Papers (Spain)
  2. 1st January 1511 – Birth of a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, who died on 22nd February at just 52 days old.
  3. 17th September 1513 – Birth of a son who was either stillborn or who died shortly after birth. The Venetian Calendar of State Papers records that the child was alive at birth: “a male heir was born to the King of England and will inherit the crown, the other son having died.”
  4. November 1514 – The Venetian Ambassador reported that “The Queen has been delivered of a stillborn male child of eight months to the very great grief of the whole court”, the chronicler, Holinshed, wrote that “in November the Queen was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”, and John Stow wrote “in the meantime, to Whit, the month of November, the Q was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”.
  5. 18th February 1516 – The safe arrival of a daughter, Princess Mary.
  6. 10th November 1518 – The stillbirth of a daughter. The Venetian ambassador wrote “The Queen has been delivered in her eighth month of a stillborn daughter to the great sorrow of the nation at large”.

OK, so she hadn’t had much success but it’s not a list of miscarriages and it shows that she did not have fertility problems until after 1518 when she was in her 30s, when it seems that she entered the menopause.

Contrary to popular belief, Catherine did provide her husband with a living son: Henry, Duke of Cornwall. He only lived for 52 days, but was healthy at birth and was christened. Perhaps he was a victim of cot death (SIDS), we do not know.

Boring?


Catherine is often portrayed as a woman with fading looks whose only interest was praying, but she was an intelligent woman who had received an excellent education and she enjoyed hunting (particularly with a hawk), music (listening to it rather than playing), dancing and playing cards, dice, backgammon and other such pastimes, and she took an active part in the masques and entertainments planned by her husband. In his chapter “Party Queen”, Giles Tremlett writes of how Henry surprised his wife in 1524 by dressing up as Robin Hood, dressing his men as outlaws, and bursting in on his wife and her ladies in Catherine’s chambers. A surprised Catherine humoured her husband and threw an impromptu party.

Although she was not a fashion trendsetter, like Anne Boleyn, it is clear that she loved jewels and fine clothes. She was also popular with both her staff and the English people.

Catherine of Aragon was also an active queen, not just an accessory on her husband’s arm. In 1513, when Henry VIII went to fight in France, he left his wife as Regent and she did not fail him. On the 22nd August, James IV, taking advantage of Henry’s absence, took 80,000 soldiers with him over the border from Scotland to England. An English force, led by the Earl of Surrey, travelled north and on the 9th September defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden and killed the King of the Scots. Catherine sent James IV’s bloody coat and banner to her husband in France – she had been victorious and had successfully defended England in the absence of her husband.

Catherine was also active in the organising and overseeing of her daughter Mary’s education. In her biography of Mary, Linda Porter9 writes of how Catherine had “considerable input into her curriculum” and that she commissioned the Spanish humanist, Juan Luis Vives to write a book on female education, “The Education of a Christian Woman”.

Catherine of Aragon Scandals and Interesting tidbits

You may associate scandals with wives like Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, but Catherine’s life too was and is surrounded by scandal and gossip, for example:-

  • Did she have an eating disorder? – In his biography of Catherine and his article for The Daily Mail, “Was Henry Vlll’s first wife anorexic? Catherine of Aragon’s secret problem”10, Giles Tremlett theorises that Catherine’s “disordered eating” could have led to fertility problems which prevented her from producing the much needed male heir. See “Did an Eating Disorder Prevent Catherine of Aragon Having a Son” for further details.
  • Was she rather too close to her confessor? – In the period between Arthur’s death and her marriage to Henry VIII, Catherine was very dependent on and close to her confessor, the young Spanish friar, Fray Diego Fernández. Giles Tremlett writes of how Catherine became “infatuated” with her confessor and let him control her, although she would never have had “a dangerous liaison”11 with him. Gossip surrounded their close relationship, due to the fact that Diego had a reputation as a bit of a womaniser. However, Diego became forgotten when Catherine married Henry VIII, a man she obviously loved and was besotted with.
  • Did she sleep with Arthur? – Did she or didn’t she? Did she lie or was she a maid when she married Henry VIII? This question is still being debated today.

Catherine’s Death – Murder by Poison?

Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador and friend to Catherine of Aragon, had warned “Neither the Queen nor the Princess will be safe for a moment while the Concubine [Anne Boleyn] still has power; she is desperate to get rid of them” and told Catherine that he had heard Anne saying that she “would not be satisfied until both the Queen and her daughter had been done to death by poison or otherwise.”12 When Catherine died in January 1536, the chandler who examined her body found that the heart had “a black growth all hideous to behold”, that the heart was black in colour and did not change colour when rinsed in water. Although most historians today believe that Catherine died of cancer (secondary melanotic sarcoma), it was believed that the black heart was evidence that the former queen had been poisoned and since she had felt sick after a glass of Welsh ale the gossip was that the ale had been poisoned.

A Queen to be Admired

Alison Weir writes:-

“Katherine’s devotion to the King, her single-mindedness, her strength of character, and her courage still inspire admiration, however misplaced they may seem to modern eyes.”13

To our modern eyes, Catherine appears a religious fanatic, a victim, a woman who wallowed in her misery and would not let go of her marriage, and many blame her for the woman her daughter Mary became, an intolerant and cruel queen. People say that she should have accepted the failure of her marriage and gone into a convent, and that doing so would have saved her and her daughter a lot of grief, but, we have the benefit of hindsight; we know how the story ended and what a damaged woman Mary became. We are also looking on the situation with our 21st century eyes and not taking into account the times Catherine lived in or the beliefs that surrounded marriage. As I have said before, Catherine and Henry had made their vows before God and so there marriage was a binding contract for life, something that could not and should not be broken. Catherine would not risk her soul by accepting the annulment and prayed that Henry would come to his senses so that his soul could also be saved. Catherine also believed that her daughter was the rightful heir to the throne and so fought for her claim; accepting the annulment would have meant accepting her daughter’s illegitimacy and her removal from the succession, and Catherine just could not do that.

Catherine stood up to her bully of a husband even when he took her title from her, took her jewelry from her to give to his new love, separated her from her daughter, sent her to a cold, dark castle, reduced her staff, ignored her and tried to bully her and Mary into submission, and for that she should be admired. She stuck to her principles and her beliefs against a man who went on to execute two wives. She was prepared to die a martyr if she had to and I admire her strength and her courage.

So, Catherine the boring wife? I don’t think so!

If you want to know more about Catherine of Aragon I highly recommend Giles Tremlett’s new biography on her (see notes below). He ends his biography by quoting Eustace Chapuys as saying of Catherine:-

“the most virtuous woman I have ever known and the highest hearted, but too quick to trust that others were like herself, and too slow to do a little ill that much good might come of it”

and also the words of the plaque which now marks her tomb:-

“A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion.”

She was popular and loved by her people and she deserves to be today. I hate seeing “Team Catherine” versus “Team Anne” type arguments online, e.g. arguing over how much air-time the ghosts of the two queens had in the final episode of “The Tudors”, how ridiculuous! We can be fascinated and obsessed with Anne Boleyn, but still admire Henry’s other wives and remember them in a right and fitting manner.

What do you think?

*The recording herald at her entry into London prior to her marriage to Arthur described her hair “hanging down about her shoulders, which is fair auburn.”14

**Giles Tremlett doubts the authenticity of this letter, but, in my opinion, it does sound like Catherine and I hope she wrote it.

Notes and Sources

  1. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, David Starkey,
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish QueenGiles Tremlett
  6. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir
  7. Ibid
  8. The Alleged Miscarriages of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Sir John Dewhurst
  9. The Myth of “Bloody Mary”: A Biography of Queen Mary I of England, Linda Porter, Chapter 2 “The Education of a Princess”
  10. “Was Henry Vlll’s first wife anorexic? Catherine of Aragon’s secret problem”
  11. Tremlett
  12. Weir
  13. Ibid.
  14. Quoted in Starkey

124 thoughts on “Catherine of Aragon – The Boring One?”

  1. Nima says:

    My dislike for Catherine has nothing to do with the fact that I like Anne Boleyn.
    But I can only judge her by her actions and her poor decisions.
    Just like you judge Henry.
    I don’t understand her ,she loved God so much yet she would not retreat to a covent even if it allowed Mary to remain legimate?
    She loved her husband so much that she could not understand his scrupules, need and want for a male heir which is something she could not give him since she was menaopausal?
    You tell us to try and think with a different perspective because those where different times, but you seem uncapable of doing so when judging and writing about Henry.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Nima,
      I’m not sure I’ve ever “judged” Henry, I may have explored him and put forward theories but he is such a complex character that it is impossible to understand his psyche. I don’t think there’s any denying that he started off “virtuous” and promising and by the end of his reign had become a tyrant, his own people thought so, but it’s the “whys” that interest me and I have no definitive answer. You keep accusing me of judging and stereotyping him and I don’t think I have.
      As far as Catherine is concerned, why should she go to a convent? I have a strong faith but it doesn’t mean that I want to live as a nun! She was a proud Spanish princess who loved her husband and did not believe that an annulment was lawful. She believed that marriage was forever in God’s eyes and could not abandon her marriage. Just because she was menopausal, it does not mean that Henry had the right to abandon her. She had been pregnant at least six times, it’s not as if she did not try to give him what he wanted and he had other options. He could have bucked tradition and made Mary his heir or Henry Fitzroy (who didn’t die until 1536) or named another relative, just like Elizabeth I had to.
      Anyway, I really don’t know why you keep attacking me about Henry, I’m not sure what I’ve written about him that you find so upsetting. Sorry.

      1. Claire if we are to look at Catherine and Henry Based on the the time period in which they lived. Then Henry asking Catherine for a divorce and for to Join the convent, and live out the rest of her life there. Would seem to be a perfectly normal request.He would have a right to request that of Catherine. In his time, getting a male heir would be his priority, And her being a woman of her time, she would have complied.
        If we are to look at it, based on the 16th century beliefs. Catherine was a disobedient wife.
        So in alot of ways Anne and Catherine were aike in many ways, they were both women beyond thier time.
        Henry considers Jane his best wife and loved her, because she was a product of her time. She complied with everything Henry requested of her.As a sixteenth century woman, she was perfect.. She hated Anne because that what Henry wanted her to do. That was a good wife did. We really don’t know much about her because we haven’t seen anything she did on her own.
        When she ask Henry To bring his daughter Mary to live with them, its because she was now the highest Ranking woman in the realm. She needed some one of the same rank, to be her friend and confidant. Mary fit that purpose. Mary however had
        to sell her soul, in order to get back in Henrys good grace. Jane could not influence Henry to take her back any other way. Much to Marys regret for the rest of her life.

        1. Kara says:

          I think it’s BS that Jane was his true love, many for a moment but I really think he loved Catherine and like a lot of people now days he fell in lust for someone younger that eventually grew to love and he probably still loved Catherine but more as the mother of his child. I think Anne was the true love of his middle-age life as Catherine was in his younger age life. I cant see how Jane was really a “true” love because he didn’t know her that long due to her unfortunate death. I think it was merely love because of a mae heir.
          Who knows really, Henry’s personality was all over the place, especially after his near death accident when Anne was carrying a son that misscarried. If she were to of had that boy, things would of been a lot different…

        2. Claire says:

          In my research for this article, I came across a discussion about the whole convent topic. One person quoted Geoffrey de C. Parmiter’s The King’s Great Matter:-

          “It is true that even had Catherine agreed to enter a convent, the king would not have been free to marry again, but such a course would have removed one of the principal difficulties that faced Wolsey and Campeggio and the marriage suit could then have proceeded in the absence of the queen and judgment by default could have been given against the marriage.”

          and the author goes on to explain that the King’s envoys at Rome were told “to inquire, whether in the event of the queen being induced to enter the religious life, the pope might ex plenitudine potestatis grant the king a dispensation for a second marriage; … and whether, if the queen [in her convent] were still reputed to be his wife, the pope would grant a dispensation to enable the king to have two wives …”

          So, Catherine going to a convent would not have dissolved her marriage to Henry but it would have made it easier for Henry to get the Pope to annul the marriage.

          I can see your point about Catherine being seen as disobedient for not entering a convent but I can see why she fought. Henry was trying to annul their marriage on the grounds that it was invalid, not on the grounds that she had not given him a male heir, and Catherine was arguing that the marriage was valid. If she had been a virgin when they married then he had no grounds and also the papal dispensation covered it if she was not a virgin. Their marriage was valid in her eyes.

        3. Alexis says:

          Hi Veronica. On being a disobedient wife, Catherine followed the beliefs of her religion. Henry and Catherine entered the sacrament of marriage making vows to God and each other. Catherine upheld her vows until her death, no matter the personal sacrifices that accompanied it. As Catholicism dictates, once God has joined two into one, no man, King of England or not, can divide such. Catherine upheld her word as Henry focused on matters of state and personal indulgences.

      2. margaret says:

        well said Claire and so true.

    2. Toia Townes says:

      Retreating to a convent would NOT have preserved Mary’s legitimacy. It would have simply made both their lives simpler…not to mention Henry’s.

      Catherine would have been agreeing that she had never been Henry’s true wife and that her much loved only child was conceived out of wedlock-albeit unintentionally.

      Why should Catherine have sworn to something that she knew or felt was a lie?

      Given her character and upbringing as the daughter of the Warrior Queen Isabella, she could not have behaved in any way other than the way she did, imo.

      1. Liliana says:

        Could not have said it better myself

    3. Catherine says:

      To the original comment here, marriage is not subject to the whims of a man who lives by the impulses of his sexuality instead of the constancy of actual love. The problem with Henry was that he thought himself, as did many monarchs, above the law, and even above God. I believe Catherine was a woman who, at her very core (and by training), gave answers people wanted to hear. No one can judge Henry or any of the wives except themselves. We’re going solely on information provided by biased letters from people that were there, so I’m of the opinion that we do not have all the information need to formulate anything other than our personal opinions on fragmented glimpses of who they presented themselves to be, not who they actually were.

  2. Heather says:

    I used to feel disloyal to Anne by admiring Katherine of Aragon as well but the more I learn about Katherine, the more I realize there is room for both in my devotion. Katherine was not boring at all as evidenced by her success against the Scots. I was sorely disappointed when The Tudors on Showtime started so far into the relationship Henry had with Katherine. Katherine was treated so badly by Henry VII after Arthur died yet she endured and persevered. She showed even more strength when her own husband turned against her and I don’t think she died with any regrets for how she lived her life. She deserves our respect and admiration. Jane Seymour? I still have some growing to do before I can feel the same about her. Looking forward to that article, Claire.

  3. Anna says:

    I totally agree 🙂

  4. Meghan says:

    Agreed, we need to be open minding and look at the facts (not the fiction). Seems the older I get the less black and white these issues appear. Where once I saw Anne as 100% wrongly accused, I now see that she made mistakes which assisted in her downfall. Makes me love her even more now that she is off the pedestal!

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Catherine lately. With so many hard years in England, promises given and broken, it’s no wonder she fought so hard for her marriage. What a strong woman during a patriarchal time! Brilliant article Claire! Thank you for challenging my views and opening them to new ideas.

    1. Meghan says:

      * open minded

  5. mariella says:

    Catherine came from Spain, a daughter of Kings, to marry Arthur and become Queen of England. A young girl with no prospect of seeing her family again. She had courage and suffered the impossible for seven years when Arthur died and Henry VII bullied her, she didn’t even have the money to pay her servants or buy food because of the meanness of her father- in-law, she married Henry (then the fairest Prince of Christianity) and truly loved him (she was going and she wrote “The only desire is that my eyes see you once more”. As Claire writes, she was the product of rigid Roman Catholic faith. But she was honest and brave. R.I.P. Catherine Princess of Aragon and Queen of England.
    Mariella

  6. Sarah says:

    Great article Claire! I completely agree with you on the issue of “Team Kat Vs Anne Vs Jane”
    Although Anne Boleyn is my favorite, I admire Catherine’s strength & courage and although I have less than favorable opinions on Jane I admire how she showed Mary some much needed kindness and also looked out for Elizabeth. So when people say that they are Team Catherine and hate Anne or vice versa, it’s absolutely ridiculous because they are judging women on whom they do not even know.

    1. Emma Ramsey says:

      I agree. You don’t have to be on a team! All of Henry’s wives are interesting and facinating by themselves, without choosing a favorite like a game show!
      While I admire Catherine’s courage, faith, and intelligence, I feel that she was too stubborn – Her only fault! If she had accepted the divorce/annulment gracefully, her daughter Mary I could’ve had a better childhood. I think that the stubborness and Henry’s ego and infatuation with Anne caused the ruin of her life.

      1. Liutgard says:

        I think that we perceive Catherine as stubborn because our 21st century eyes have a different view of religious faith and practice. First off, Catherine believed her marriage to be true, as per the marriage canons found in Gratian. And as per those same canons, to repudiate teh marriage and take the veil would not have been lawful. At the very least, all it would have done would be to put her out of Henry’s reach. It would most specifically NOT free Henry to marry again, not until Catherine died. and making professing and taking the veil would not have been lawful without a vocation, or calling.

        It is clear from her writing, and things written about her, that her faith was deep, and very personal for her, To have willfully broken God’s laws as she saw them would have been incredibly contrary to the emotional and pious makeup of her character. She simply would not have done it. To do so would have endangered her soul. And she was firmly convinced that Henry, persistent in his behaviours, was endangering his.

  7. Professor Hermione says:

    I really admire the complexity of your characterization of Catherine, Claire. Very welcome.

  8. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thank you,Claire, for a well-argued and thorough peek at Catharine of Aragon. While she has never been a favorite of mine, I do admire the way she stuck to her guns-she refused to declare her child, her only child, a bastard for all the world to jeer at. Bastardy lowered one’s standing and marriagability. Plus, to agree to annul her marriage would force Catherine to deny the truth of her own life–that she IS queen, she Is married to Henry in lawful wedlock and that she Loves him, still, in spite of the other women and in spite of his growing cruelty. Her pride and dignity are what I admire. Those very qualities Anne lacked upon occasion. Wonder what kind of friends those thwo might have made, if not for Henry? Of course there were major religious differences…Great piece and thanks!

  9. Christine says:

    Hi Claire,
    A brilliant article on a very well deserved Queen Catherine. I have just finished the book by Tremlett and really came away with a much better understanding of Catherine and appreacation of everything she went through. I have to say I admire her more and more. She managed to best Henry in many ways. The battle of Flodden was on her watch not Henry’s, she was so well educated as well as being politicaly savvy. She was not boring either. I love Anne but there is room for Catherine as well!

  10. Nita says:

    I think Henry bullied her becaues he may have feared her. As you said she was a strong, corageous woman. She was Isabella’s daughter-she was a warrior queen. She proved it in 1513. Had she been so inclined, she, along with Mary,might have been able to take the jewels and raise an army against Henry, dipose him and have Mary crowned. She had tremendous support among the court (even if they couldn’t show it) and the people. What better way to diffuse her influence and make it seem as if Henry had all of the power than to remove her from her daughter (divide and conquer), remove her possessions, and send her to an unhealthy place to live.

    It always puzzled me that if Henry was concerned about her virginity, what better witness than himself? Only two people know what happened on his wedding night and he was one of them. Where were their bloody sheets? It seems like the perfect argument for the king could have been, “On our wedding night, I suspected you weren’t a virgin, but out of my great love for you, I said nothing. Now I see that my suspicions were right. ” Henry said she wasn’t a virgin. Case closed, end of story. In one of his complaints against Anna of Cleves, he said that he suspected her of not being a virgin, either. All of those so-called “learned men” consulted and no none thought of it? Why. Maybe you could add this to another mystery about Catherine.

    1. Toia Townes says:

      That’s just it…Henry NEVER seemed to doubt her virginity publically or privately until he fell in love with Anne Boleyn.

      As for the absence of bloody sheets, I have always felt that that was such an unreliable way to judge whether a woman was a virgin. Catherine was known to have been an excellent equestrienne, maybe due to all the riding she did from a very young age she no longer had a hymen?

      Also, Henry grew infatuated with and married Anne, who probably was NOT a virgin when they met due to the time she spent at the licentious French Court during her girlhood, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered the hypocrite Henry at all!

      1. Claire says:

        I’m pretty sure that Henry had actually been worrying about the Leviticus verse before he fell in love with Anne Boleyn. Also Anne Boleyn was a maid of honour to Queen Claude whose court was known for its strict morality, virtue and chasteness, there was no scandal attached to Anne Boleyn, only her sister Mary.

        1. margaret says:

          queen claude might have run a strict court but im sure anne had a bit of fun ! along the way and as they say you cant watch all off the people all of the time and even though there was no scandal attached to anne ,maybe she was clever enough to hide any affairs she had .

      2. Cherry says:

        Nonsense, they rode side saddle in those days so the hymen could not have broke. I rode horses from the age of eight and was still intact for my first time.

        1. Charlene says:

          Only half of women are born with a hymen and many of those are so small – just a little thin hardly visible crescent of membrane – that they don’t rupture until childbirth.

  11. Amanda says:

    Catherine of Aragon deserves our respect, admiration, and sympathy. She stood up for what she believed was the truth, which was very dangerous for a woman in the 16th century, especially when what she believed contridicted the agendas of many powerful people. It speaks volumes that she was unwilling to yield her position and have her daughter declared illigitimate, which was a much greater burden to bear during Tudor times. I think it is short sighted to assume that she was a religous fanatic, it was a different time, and what is considered insane, fanatical, or downright evil now was not out of the ordinary then. Many of her peers and subjects respected and admired her, and I do not think you would have to look very far to find many much more “fanatical” than herself during that period. As for Mary, most little girls’ first love is their own father. Can you imagine the damage done when she was made illigitimate, abandoned, saw her mother abandoned, and was then separated from her entirely even in sickness and in death? I find it hard to believe that the sole blame for Mary’s cruelty (as we percieve it to be) can, or should, be laid at Catherine’s feet. It was Henry who ultimately betrayed Mary on so many levels.

    Although it was Anne Boleyn that began my obsession with Tudor history, I have discovered that all of Henry’s wives are interesting, worthwhile, and generally misunderstood or victim to stereotype in some form or another. Thanks so much Claire for doing this series!

    I doubt that the enigma that is Henry VIII will every be fully understood, but it sure is fun trying!

  12. David says:

    Catherine was a brave woman, first to come to England and then put up with Arthur, and after his death the horrible way that King Henry VII treated her for 7 years or more. She lived far below her station at that time. Then to marry Henry and having the marriage to last 20 plus years just to go through the whole thing again that she did after Arthur, took a lot of courage once again. So born at the top, fall to the bottom, go back to the top just to fall back to the bottom……I do not think I could have been as patient and strong as she was!! She was small so later in life with age and possible gaining of weight she probably looked like a small butter ball next to Henry. He was ready and going through his mid-life crisis and Anne was beautiful, tall and slender not to mention quite sexy!! Catherine was doomed as soon as Anne came on the scene and down deep she knew it was if anything going to become quite a challenge to deal with. I feel sorry for her, what a waste of life to be treated in the manner she was since leaving her beloved Spain.

  13. Casille says:

    I do admire Catherine, in some ways. However, I do agree that when given the choice to go to the convent and keep Mary legitimate she should have done it, she did know Henry had a cruel streak and she should have swallowed her pride to protect her daughter from it and ensure her legitimacy. She had no way of knowing that once Henry removed her she would ever be reinstated… It just seems like she was putting herself above Mary a little, and besides it wasn’t unprecedented to replace your wife when she became menopausal for that royal. nonetheless she was brave and I admire that. I def think she slept with Arthur though, they were just married to long, and being religious doesn’t mean you can’t lie. She believed that she should be Queen, it’s easy to see how a lie can be ok to make that happen.

    And just a side note, I wouldn’t call Catherine a Bigot, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to call Thomas More one, he wrote Utopia where he praises the ideals of religious yet failed to practice them himself. His attitude about his religion may have been commonplace at the time, but he was known for denouncing that intolerance… and thus should be held to a higher standard, the standard he created.

    1. Casille says:

      religious tolerance*

  14. Rose says:

    Re-visiting the topic of how Anne Boleyn came to be queen, I can totally understand how, although we know her to be so interesting today, most people disliked her…

  15. Sharon says:

    Hi Claire, i don’t understand why Nima has a problem with you and your questions about Henry. I also don’t understand how she thinks that if Katherine had gone to a convent Mary would have remained legitimate? Henry still would not have been able to marry to have a male heir. That was the basic reason he used to put her aside, a male heir. Any Child Anne had out of wedlock would not have been any different than Fitzroy.
    Anyway, I do admire Katherine for her strength of conviction. She stayed true to herself and that says a lot about her character, as people of the court changed opinions and loyalties on a constant basis.

  16. Kara says:

    This was a great article Claire, it really put a new light on some opinions I did have of Catherine. I knew “Hollywood” had botched her personality and age difference and you have confirmed that for me. I am 6.5 years older than my husband and I can relate a little on how she must of felt. I do believe that Henry loved her very deeply for a great many years before he sought after a younger lady to bare him a son. Anne was the unlucky one because not only did he have her killed because she was “supposedly” not faithful, not a virgin when married, but not given the “nunnery” option that Catherine had. If Henry considered the marriage illigidament with Anne because of all that, how could she be found guilty of everything accused? I guess what I’m trying to say is that while Catherine only got exiled from court for illedidemency (sp), Anne was beheaded and again “supposedly” their marriage was never “real” in Henry’s eyes when he wanted rid of her. So how could she have committed treason if she wasn’t truly married? I do feel bad that Catherine’s life was short lived as her daughter Mary, but I am also happy because E.R would never of been able to be such a wonderful monarch for so many years if all this didn’t happen. I hope what I wrote ade sense, lol, I sometimes ave a hard time saying things the way I want to…

    1. Kara says:

      Woops, the last line of the above should read:
      I hope what I wrote made sense, I sometime have a hard time…

  17. Meghan says:

    Just got my BBC History magazine in the mail and there is an article entitled “Spain’s Virgin Queen?” Haven’t read it yet, but what a coincidence to have it come within hours of this post.

    1. Claire says:

      Ha! That’s funny, I haven’t had mine through the post yet but will look out for that article. Has it been written by Giles Tremlett?

      1. Meghan says:

        I believe it is written by him!

  18. Michelle says:

    I’ve been fascinated with Henry’s queens since I was 10 years old. My personal favorite has always been Anne Boleyn.

    That being said, I’m quite interested in his other five queens. They were human with human frailties. Women of that time period has so little recourse. I don’t care if you were a pauper or a queen, women were basically chattel! Catherine was strong when she needed to be strong. It must have hurt her deeply to realize she could no longer provide an heir for Henry. It must have devasted her to realize the man she adored, was planning on leaving her for another, younger woman.

    Probably in her eyes, she couldn’t let go of Henry. He was her world, and, had she agreed she would have bastardized her beloved daughter and that was something she just couldn’t do.

    Henry had no qualms about bastardizing his offspring, but, as a mother, Catherine had to stand by her marriage vows and her child. Most mothers will fight tooth and nail to protect their children. I admire Catherine for her stand. Unfortunately, as in most cases of divorce, the children pay the price. Mary was a casualty of the “tug of war” between her parents.

    To my mind the real “culprit” is Henry. He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it, and, to Hell with the consequences! His queens all suffered in one way or another. My sympathies lay with these ladies and their shattered lives.

    Thanks for your well written and well thought out article Claire. Kudos!

  19. Holly says:

    I have read a book on all of Henry wives and done a lot of thinking on them and now feel slightly ashamed of the way I thought of them previous. Catherine and Jane in particular and I feel as a woman I should and any other women should admire them. I used to for some strange reason hate Catherine but now I admire her almost as much as Anne. Her education being the main reason although it was not what modern women accept in turns of her not being equal to a man but that was the times. Anne fans should love Catherine as much or almost as much as Anne because if you look closely they were so alike yet so different (won’t go into it to long but if you have read about them hopefully you will get it) and as for Jane, please think through her situation. Her church was being destroyed around her, her Queen had been packed off and a new one who she thought was fully responsible for the distress of Queen Catherine had replaced her. Jane had not yet married and did not look like she was going to marry so can you imagine what it would have felt like when the king paid her attention? Put yourself in her shoes you would have done the same if you had been Jane because of your beliefs and passion. Am not saying that I love Jane and just can’t seem to but I do understand. I think we should try to understand all of Henry wives and not gang them up against each other because we have to remember that and the end of this hating of one wife and loving of the other at the end of it is it comes down to a man. A man who is responsible for all of this hate and trouble and we should not put it on the shoulders of the main three wives. It is because of Henry actions that we know of his wives and it is because of his actions that got the ending they did.

    1. Holly says:

      same as Kara I hope I wrote sense.

  20. CONOR BYRNE says:

    I think Katherine of Aragon was an excellent Queen and a true model to others. The admiration, love and loyalty she inspired from so many people, namely the English citizens, is a testament to her qualities and character. In many ways, I believe Queen Katherine, or with her true name Catalina de Aragon, was the most perfect wife and Queen Consort for a King of England, and although many were disgusted at Henry VIII when he claimed that if he could choose a wife again, it would be Katherine, I think there may be a ring of truth in it. She was obviously attractive, religious, intelligent and humble, but full of queenly qualities and regality. Her only fault was that she did not give birth to a son who survived, and that is not her fault at all.

    I love Anne Boleyn, she was so interesting, but I will just agree with Holly, who commented above me. People often criticise, misunderstand and despise Jane Seymour, who actually did nothing different to Anne. As Alison Weir, in my opinion, firmly and convincingly pointed out, Anne had wanted Katherine dead so that she could become queen in her place, and Jane, in reality, did nothing different or worse to her predecessor. She showed excellent qualities as a Queen, and gave birth to a son, which was her principle duty, and also reconciled the Tudor family. Don’t hate her, admire her; she learned her lesson when Henry VIII upbraided her publicly for daring to defy his wishes and disagree with him, warning her ominously of Queen Anne’s awful fate; Jane NEVER argued with him again – or so the sources tell us. Anne did not learn from her mistakes, and rather recklessly continued to argue or upbraid her husband in public. Jane was much more sensible and careful, and in doing so, kept her husband’s love.

  21. Melanie says:

    Glad to see that Claire emphasized Katherine’s Catholicism and Nita her role as Isabella’s daughter. This was an infanta of Spain, an heir to a long tradition of power,* and with a warrior queen for a mother at that! Her pride and sense of self, bolstered by her religious faith, must been tremendous–nothing showy, but rock-solid. A woman of such integrity would have felt she had no moral choice in the matter but to stay by Henry as long as she was permitted to do so.
    *By the way, Isabella was Edward III’s great great granddaughter; so much European royalty seem to have been related, one way or another.

    As a freethinker, I’d choose my daughter over our so-called immortal souls any day, but these are different times.

  22. Rian says:

    This was a great article Claire! Catherine of Aragon isn’t my favorite of Henry’s wives, but you definitely find some interesting tidbits about her.

    I do have one scuple about her though. I think she should have put her daughter first. When she was excilled and was forced not to see her daughter she should have known Mary’s life couldn’t be any better than hers. Even though she saw her marriage as lawful in the eyes of God, she should have stepped aside for the sake of her daughter. If she would have done this i don’t think Mary would have turned out the way she did and they both would have probably had better lives. I don’t think she truly thought about the ramifications of her actions with regards to her daughter until much later in her life when it was too late.

  23. Sherri says:

    I admire Catharine of Aragon for her devotion and her conviction. She stood her ground where others would have given in. She dearly paid for it. I do not feel disloyal to Anne because I admire COA. They were 2 different women with 2 very distinct personalities.
    Similar in many ways but different in most. Two women before their time. I even think that both Catharine and Anne would have made an impact in this time.

    It would not have changed the outcome of Mary’s legitimacy at all if COA had gone into a nunnery. Henry was bound and determined that a daughter would not follow in his footsteps. Only a male was capable of the position of ruler of England. If you look back in English history there has never been an English Queen who ruled on her own before Henry VIII came to the throne. The one time that a female could have ruled was with Matilda (???) and that ended up in civil war with her brother Stephen (???) – not too sure on these points of history.

    COA came from a country that was ruled by a woman and could be ruled by a woman. Catharine’s upbringing and education was by far way ahead of her time. She was taught to be a Queen in her own right. Her role model and mentor was her mother and what a strong woman she was. Isabella even went to war and fought along side her troops.

    Yes, there were Queens that did step aside for the King because they could not produce a male heir. Eleanor of Aquitaine was one – but she went on to produce several sons when she became Queen of England. In France because a woman could not inherit the throne because of salic law several other Queens also went into convents or a nunnery.

    So, when I think of COA I have extreme empathy for her. Henry turned on her and was extremely cruel and evil to her. She held on because she thought that Henry would turn back into the sweet, gentle and loving husband he was in the beginning. Who can blame her or her allies with trying to put the blame on Anne ? Even today, when a husband leaves for a younger woman and turns bitter, cruel, angry and evil we try to blame the woman. That hasn’t changed all that much in today’s world.

    As for Jane Seymour I will hold my thoughts for now until Claire has written about her. There is just something about Jane that doesn’t seem right to me. I just don’t see her (when compared to both Catharine and Anne) as an interesting person. Dull as dishwater and bland as white bread. Jane did nothing as Queen to make her stand out in the short time that she had to make an impression of being a bad or good Queen.

    All in all I believe that the two Queens that he actually loved – Catharine (as a boyish love and infatuation) and Anne ( lust, true love, a man’s love). I think that Catharine and Anne were his intellectual equals and both had a high level of intelligence with an excellent education to grow and enrich those minds. Both of them were also exposed to strong women and women who ruled as their mentors.

    Henry was a complex and difficult man in a turbulent time. He was like a moonstone – constantly changing his moods and behavior. He was searching for his mother and his grandmother – two very different women.

  24. Ceri C says:

    I’ve always thought that British history would have been very different if Katherine had retreated into a convent – but being who she was, I don’t think that was ever an option. She had been brought up from a very young age, knowing she was destined to marry the heir to the English throne; it must have seemed her inevitable destiny. Also, being the daughter of a Queen Regnant in her own right, she was probably one of the few people in England at that time who would have seen no problem in a female inheriting the English throne. With that in mind, she probably believed that Mary should and would rule in her own right and that Henry’s longing for a male heir was rather unnecessary.
    I think her refusal was a mixture of religion, principle and belief, mixed in with personal pride, a clear sense of destiny and love for both Mary and Henry himself.

  25. Robert Parry says:

    She behaved with great dignity. That’s an admirable quality in anyone, at any time. I agree with Amanda ‘she deserves our respect, admiration.’
    Great piece of work!

  26. Rachel says:

    I don’t believe Katherine told the truth about her virginity. When I was first studying the wives of Henry VIII, I naturally took Katherine at her word. But there have been a lot of convincing arguments that sway me to think differently about the trial. It’s not as though Katherine was incapable of lying. She covered her first miscarriage for months, even lying to her father about it. What many people forget was that Katherine was a very capable politician. She represented herself and Spain as ambassador for a time. She knew how to handle de Pueblo and King Henry VII by telling them what they wanted to hear.

    Before Arthur died and for a time afterwards, she never claimed to have been a virgin. It wouldn’t have been wise to, otherwise she would have been sent back to Spain. However, at the first sign of marriage to Henry VIII, she claimed she never consumated her marriage. She was very crafty.

    I respect Katherine for knowing how to play the political game. If she didn’t consumate her marriage, I don’t think it means she was less of a person or even a liar. I think it means that she knew how to get what she wanted. It is no different from Anne Boleyn’s ability to turn a situation in her favor or even Catherine Parr saving her life. It is something to admire and respect.

    Katherine was no saint, but this version of her is far more interesting.

    1. Francesca says:

      Thank you for pointing out that Katherine appears to have lied to both her father and Henry about her first miscarriage. Giles Tremlett documets this well and it does show that Katherine was perfectly capable of lying and decieving. I am surprised that so few comment on this example of her character.

    2. Eliza says:

      I totally agree with you, Rachel, about Catherine’s virgninity. I do think that she must have slept with Arthur, or all the court would know. When Marie Antoinette and her husband didn’t consummate the marriage for years all court knew and they made jokes about it. There must have been bloody sheets on their wedding night, or there would be rumors. As you point out, Catherine was fully capable of lying in order to protect herself and her position.

  27. Fiz says:

    I’ve always admired Catherine, but I don’t think she was a saint. I like four of Henry’s wives, Catherine, Anne, Anna/Anne and Katherine Parr. Very good critique, Claire!

  28. Molly says:

    I don’t know. I realise this won’t be a popular opinion, but why isn’t it okay to simply dislike one or more of Henry’s wives? I’m not talking about bashing them or engaging in absurdly petty arguments like the amount of screentime given to the ghost of each wife in a television show. And I’m cerrtainly not saying it’s okay to continue perpetuating incorrect myths about them.

    But it’s possible and, I think, not unreasonable for someone to have all the facts about someone like Katherine of Aragon and still not particularly like her. People are different. We all value and admire different qualities, and dislike different qualities as well. Just because someone doesn’t like KoA does not necessarily mean they don’t recognize that she had some admirable qualities. It simply means that, on the whole, she was not someone they think they would have particularly liked, or that they simply prefer another of his wives.

    And I must admit, your excellent essay not withstanding, I still personally find Katherine boring. I don’t mean any disrespect to any of her admirers, or even to her, really. Whether or not someone is boring is a very subjective thing. What some people find interesting I might find boring, and vice versa. I find Anne Boleyn endlessly fascinating, but some people find her boring, and while I disagree with them, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them having that opinion.

    I apologise, because this probably seems like an exceedingly silly post. It’s just that in your essay, and in these comments, there seems to be a strong sentiment of “You CAN’T find Katherine of Aragon boring or dislike her, you HAVE to admire her no matter how much you love Anne, and in fact you shouldn’t dislike ANY of Henry’s wives!!” And I don’t happen to think that’s fair. I am wholly in favour of clearing up misconceptions about each of the six wives, and I sincerely you applaud you for your efforts in that regard. But I don’t think it’s right or fair to imply that it’s wrong for someone to dislike Katherine of Aragon or to find her boring.

    Please don’t be discouraged by this comment, Claire. I love this site and visit it every day. I simply felt the need to speak up about this one issue, because I think it’s important that people who dislike Katherine should be able to say so (respectfully, of course) without being labeled as biased or misinformed, or simply as too “Team Anne” to be reasonable about Katherine.

    Thank you for hearing me out.

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Molly,
      Thanks for your comment. I really didn’t mean it to come across as me telling people what they should think about Catherine or any of the six wives. My aim in the article was to challenge popular views of Catherine which are proliferated by fiction, TV and bad history. Some people just label her as boring because of what they’ve seen on programmes like “The Tudors” and some Anne Boleyn fans dislike her because they like Anne. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and views but I like to challenge opinions that are not educated, that are not based on the facts. That’s what I’m about, debunking myths and hopefully making people stop and think. You obviously know a lot about Catherine and you have made an educated opinion of her so I would not dream of criticising you for that so I’m sorry of the article came across like that, perhaps I got overly passionate! I do have a tendency to get on my soapbox!

      So, I really wasn’t trying to attack people like you or trying to label all people who dislike Catherine as biased or misinformed. I hope you understand where I was coming from and sorry if I offended you.

      1. Molly says:

        No need to apologise; in fact, I should be apologising to you, because after re-reading your essay this afternoon, after having a good night’s sleep, it’s obvious that you were indeed merely trying to challenge popular views of Katherine. I think I was just in the wrong mood when I read it yesterday evening, and I reacted oversensitively!

        I stand by what I said about everyone being allowed to have different opinions of the six wives, but I wholeheartedly support your efforts in making sure that those opinions, whatever they are, are based on accurate information and not on misconceptions. Your hard work on this site and your passion for this subject are greatly appreciated!

        1. Claire says:

          That’s ok, there’s no need for you to apologise either. Thank you for your very kind words xx

  29. Amanda-Leigh says:

    I adore Katherine – this might sound pretty corny, but sometimes on my bad days, I think about both her and Anne to draw some strength – they were both such amazingly strong women. In a society that didn’t hold women in super high regard, the fact that both Katherine and Anne were able to be the influences that they were is so inspiring. Jane backed down from Henry, but they stood up to him, and that in itself is worth admiration.

    As to Katherine choosing her soul rather than her daughter; I always try to remember that the worst possible thing for someone in that time was the damnation of their soul. And even when I try to put myself in that position, I know that what I imagine I’d feel isn’t even a fraction of what they felt. Mary didn’t sign the act until she was guaranteed salvation from the Pope. For Katherine to capitulate to Henry would have been going against the Pope, and damning herself in the process. I honestly don’t think she expected him to follow through with his promise to divorce her; I’m sure she felt that if she could just hold out, his love for Anne would fizzle out – after all they had been married for 24 years, and Henry did reach his divorce through very radical means.

    I also really believed that since she so obviously loved him so much, she wouldn’t have imagined how harshly he treated their daughter.

    Great article, Claire! I can’t wait to read about the rest of the women!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Amanda-Leigh,
      I don’t think that’s corny at all, I think we can all learn something from historical characters and be inspired by them. G W Bernard wrote in his book on Anne Boleyn that he found it disturbing that women were seeing historical characters like Anne as role models but we all look up to people and I don’t think there’s any harm in being inspired by their achievements and the way they lived.

      I agree with you about the whole damnation of the soul idea. Catherine wanted to save her soul and Henry’s.

  30. Marie says:

    A very well written and unbiased account of Catherine’s life. I found it very interesting. I don’t belong to any” team” anything but instead I take an objective view on all of Henry’s wives.
    I do though object to the theory that Katherine should have ceded to Henry and languish in a nunnery even though she did not feel ‘called’ to such a life. Though the historic period was much different from our own. I don’t believe human reaction has changed that much.
    Picture it this way. You have been relatively happy in your marriage for over 20 years then one day your husband comes home and informs you that he has decided to take a new wife. He does not want to go through a messy divorce so he’d like it if you would simply disappear into a convent for his convenience and then he will quietly divorce you and put his mistress in your place. As for your daughter, forget about her, he’ll have her adopted out because only the children from his second marriage count.
    What woman would accept that?
    Going back to your piece. I do not blame any of the six wives of Henry VIII but I do hold Henry himself accountable for his lamentable treatment of women. I don’t believe Henry loved any of his wives. I do believe, however, that Henry was in love with love and when that tingly, mad, rush of feelings was over then so was the marriage. He had no idea how to have a relationship and make it work because there is give and take, and Henry only ever took.
    There is also the pain that Henry began to suffer after his marriage to Jane Seymour and the pain from his leg ulcers must have been almost unendurable in a time where pain killers were nonexistent. I think this played a leading part in turning Henry from handsome and charismatic king into a tyrant…But not everyone was blind to his faults, was it not Sir Thomas More who made reference that Henry would have his head lopped off if it gained him a castle somewhere(my paraphrase)?
    Henry was a fickle friend, a fickle husband and a fickle king who rarely kept his word to anyone. I admire different aspects from all the women he married, even if I don’t always approve of the way they went about things.

    A very interesting piece. Well done.

    Marie

  31. carlypink says:

    A very interesting article. Catherine stood up for what she believed in and we have to admire her strength and determination. My favorites are Anne B and catherine Howard but i do respect Catherine and Henrys other wifes too.

    PS What has happened to the article about Catherines eatting disorder? Not though i think from pictures of her she looked annexic! But it would be interesting to read.

    PPS The jewelery is lovely in the shop and i cant wait for the ghost set to be back in so that i can order it!!!!!! (HURRY UP LEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!)

    1. Claire says:

      Hi carlypink,
      The article on Catherine’s alleged eating disorder is at https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/did-an-eating-disorder-prevent-catherine-of-aragon-having-a-son/7338/

      Daniela is in the middle of redesigning the ghost queen jewelry set. She ad to redesign it because the parts were discontinued. She’s working on it as quickly as she can as we’ve had lots of enquiries about it.

  32. Marina says:

    A very interesting article, which made a fascinating read. I think you may have wrote about this before Claire but every year at the end of January, there is a procession and a service to commemorate Catherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral? I come from Peterborough and often visit the cathedral but I’ve never had the opportunity to go this service but when I was at secondary school, my friends who did Spanish would do readings at the Cathedral in honour of Catherine. Just a bit of information! Thanks again for the article – I could spend hours on this website!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Marina,
      There’s a section on this year’s Peterborough Cathedral service in my post https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-death-of-catherine-of-aragon/8005/ with a link to the Cathedral website. They’ve got quite a programme of events planned for this year so I hope you can go to it.
      I’m so glad you like the site x

  33. Claire says:

    Thank you so much for your comments, everyone, I really appreciate the feedback and I’m so glad that you all enjoyed the article.
    My aim with this site is to debunk the myths and to challenge misconceptions, not to tell you all what to believe, so I apologise for being too much on my soapbox at times!

  34. Excellent article. I suspect that Katherine may have been one of the most fun of Henry’s wives, at least in the beginning. Perhaps that is why he seemed to have so many guilty feelings attached to his marriage with her. Just speculating…….

    1. Claire says:

      I too think she was a fun loving girl at the start and I think she and Henry were very much in love and that she saw him as her knight in shining armour and he saw her as the damsel in distress. It’s so sad that the marriage ended the way it did.

  35. Rosina says:

    Hello all,

    This is my first time contributing… I have been subscribing to this site for a few months now. I would like to respectfully request that people not attack each other and please check their posts for spelling and grammar before hitting the “submit” button.

    Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoy with relish these lively conversations/speculations about the Tudors. I became interested in the subject back in 1970-71 when our local public television station premiered “The Six Wives Of Henry The Eighth” with Kieth Mitchell. I was only 11-12 years old but remember the impact it had on me.

    Claire, you provide an invaluable service with this blog…this article is wonderful. I look forward to more. I find myself in agreement with you!!

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Rosina,
      Thank you for your comment and kind words about the article and the site, I really appreciate them. Wasn’t Keith Michell wonderful as Henry VIII? Brilliant!

      Regarding attacks, I don’t think people do attack each other on this site, everyone is very polite and friendly even when they don’t agree and I would step in if it was necessary. Also I really don’t mind about spelling and grammar. My aim with this site was to make it friendly and welcoming and not “academic” in feel, more of a community than a website, and I really want people to feel free to write comments on here without worrying about spelling and grammar or their level of knowledge. Many people on here do not have English as their first language and I don’t want them to feel that they have to be perfect in what they say. I hope you understand what I’m getting at.

      1. Rosina says:

        Thank you Claire, I do!

  36. Valerie says:

    I don’t think Catherine could have gone to a convent – she believed that her destiny was to be Queen of England and she may have felt that if she stepped away from this role she would incur the wrath of God. We have to remember that in those days there was a real fear of damnation and we in the twenty-first century can’t fully understand what that would have been like or how it would have affected someone’s decisions. I personally find it easy to admire Catherine because she was a strong woman who stood up to Henry – not an easy thing to do. It is sad that she was seperated from Mary at the end of her life, at the end of the day though Henry was responsible for his own actions and for how Mary was treated and none of it was Catherine’s fault.

  37. Tthanks Claire, I love going to my mail box and see the Eamils form you, I know it is going to be afun read. I have been glued to everything about Henry V111 and his family. this is a great way of learning, some thing new about them everday from you.
    Thanks
    veronica

  38. Juanita says:

    I admired Queen Katherine and her strength, but I would not have wanted to cling to a man who didn’t want me. Also I would not have allowed anything to affect my precious daughter or cause her to lose the love of a powerful and sometimes vindictive father. I would have tried to find an alternative to going to a convent. And I would have been so nice and accommodating to King Henry he would have felt guiltier by the day. I don’t believe Katherine was boring at all, but Henry got bored with any woman after a while…if they didn’t shaft him first like Katherine Howard!

  39. lisaannejane says:

    Wow, what a lot of interesting ideas and opinions! I have a bad cold and have not looked properly at this site for awhile. I must say this was a good read when I finally have Friday night and no work to do for the next day. Just my opinion, but I think all of the women that Henry wed had interesting qualities and their faults just like anyone else. They were all married to a difficult man and as time went on, that became even more obvious over his quest for a male heir and possibly another son as his back up. Each wife faced problems in a marriage with Henry and since he had all the power, each one faced a difficult situation in their marriage. I admire Catherine for doing what she thought was right. I am not sure if I would have trusted Henry to keep his word about keeping Mary legitimate if she entered a convent. He was so against a daughter inheriting the throne. I thought that maybe she should have entered a convent but now I am not so sure if that really would have worked out. Mary still could have ended up being declared a bastard and would have still had the same problems even if Catherine agreed to the convent. I think she made the best choice that she could at the time based upon her beliefs and her knowledge of Henry. As I get older, I am beginning to realize that sometimes there are no good decisions and you have to make one that you will not really be satisfied with. You just have to do the best with what you have. I also think all of us have good and bad traits. I know I can be stubborn and this is both good and bad. Sometimes it would have been better just to agree with others and take a different path. I guess I have learned to pick my own battles and not expect to get my way all the time and not to lose sleep over it. So I do find that Catherine and Henry’s other wives all had their good and bad points and that I do think they were all placed if a difficult situation whose outcome seems to depend more on Henry’s mood and frame of mind at that time.

  40. Lady Kateryn says:

    I always find it fascinating that both Katherine’s early life in England and her final days in England were so similar. In both cases, she was rusticated from court, her household reduced to penury and her main link to the outside world was writing letters. They act as bookends to her happy days she had with Henry VIII.

    I have to agree with you, Claire on the subject of her final letter to Henry VIII as it has the stamp of her personality right the way through so I’m convinced it’s genuine!

    Looking forward to Anne Boleyn – and the comments!

    1. jenny says:

      The children of Isabel and Ferdinand and the children of H7 and Elizabeth Plantagent were “stooges” on the political world stage of the time. Isabel (I think that was her name) was married to two Kings of Portugal and died in childbirth (and then was replaced by the “spare” whose name if I recall was Maria). Juan the only son was married into the Hapsvurg family but he died early, his wife being preganant and she and teh child died in childbirth, Juana (aka teh Mad) was Marired to Philip of Hapsburg which left the youngest Catalina up for grabs and it initially looked as if the Tudors were going to be in power for a long time as the married between H7 and Elizabeth produced 4 living children.

      Arthur aho was trained to be King had an early “espousal” with Katherine of Aragon although it was years later that she actually went to Britain but from an young age she expected to be Queen of England. Margaret was married to Scotland in teh attempt to seal “peace”, Mary was iniitially married to the King of France to cement yet another alliance and spare future “HVIII” was destined to be a cardinal.

      The kids had not choice in the matter – parents decided –

      In the case of COA, from what I understand, it was suggested that she stay on in England with the idea of marrying the new future KIng and agreed by her parents. NO ONE had Katheriine’s interest at heart – She was a political pawn who had been bred to think of herself as future Queen of England whoever she married – But she always obeyed her parents – During those years political alliances were shifting in any case which is why she was “in” one day and “out the next”. It has been said that the 10 year old Prince Henry adored her but later on he was forced to sign a “get out clause” just in case – However, Father and son did not seem to get on well, plus the glamour of Catherine was still around so naturally it was two fingers in the air to his father when H8 married COH. And it also seems that she had him “tagged” – knowing how spoilt he had been and plying to his whims – She turned a blind eye to his pecadillos as they would not be long lasting – Problem was really the heir!!!!! as the Tudor dysnasty was very new and not stable.

      If KOH had been younger, I wonder with Anne B, would have had the hold on H8 that she is supposedly to have had.

      In the end, H( sowed the seeds of the Tudors disappearance within a very dshort time in comparison with other dynasties.

      COH and her daughter???? Well if she had been educated well by her parents, then the question of poor Mary would have been low on the list…….

      1. jenny says:

        In addition to what I have wriiten, I did say in one post in reply to Giles Tremett’s book that I could imagine COH suffereing from “SAD” (Sunshine aquired deficciency) as she spent most of the time in teh south of Spain and even if she were in Madrid, although in Winter it can be extremely cold as it is this week, we have bright blue skies and light. This particular disorder has only relatively recently been acknowledged.

        And with regards eating dosorder (and I think I read in in Alison Weiir’s Six wives) before she went to England COH was advised not to drink the water (as it was putrid) but ale or something similar instead. Whilt I think philippa Gregory’s book “The Constant Princess” is so off the mark when COH talks about Muslim ways which would have been banned by her parents, I do believe that the diet here in Spain would have been less heavy that that of England. And I know that I cannot take heavy foods and some of the ones that are offered in central to the North of Spain just will not go down. Does that make me anorexic? No, of ourse not. IN the same book COPH talks of bathing (a moorish custom) which if followed until the reign of Isabel and Ferdinand was a way to be tortured by the Inquisition. Personal hygiene as praticed by the Muslims was frowned upon by the Inquisition!

  41. Jill says:

    A fascinating article and an excellent demolition of some of the myths about Catherine.

    Just to correct another myth mentioned in one of the replies – Catherine’s mother Isabella never fought in battle alongside her troops, that was her father’s job. However, Isabella occasionally reviewed the troops in armour and she was very good at organising supplies, the experience of which probably influenced her daughter in the run-up to Flodden.

    And Catherine’s sister-in-law Margaret did not die in childbirth – she survived the stillbirth of her daughter to become Regent of the Netherlands and a likely role-model for one of her ladies-in-waiting, the young Anne Boleyn.

  42. Eliza says:

    Congratulations on your excellent piece, Claire!! I can’t wait for the next 5 of the series.

    Personally, I can’t get myself to like Catherine or admire her, but I respect her for her strengh and courage. She had a life full of ups and downs as someone here already commented. My only objection is about her virginity, as I agree with Rachel, because Catherine was indeed capable of lying, despite her piety. Of course, we can’t be sure of the truth..

  43. Noelle7 says:

    I admire Katherine’s strong conviction and her profound strength and dignity. She handled the divorce “trial” with extreme grace, presence of mind and also with a great deal of power. If that is the right word. I love the way she defended herself to Henry and the court and then walked out with her head held high. The way she was treated was appalling; to be separated from her daughter was so cruel. And yet, even in spite of everything, she never lost her faith. I wish I could do that.

  44. Fran says:

    Dull people do not own monkeys for pets! Over at the Showtime Tudors Wiki, there’s an article about pets. C of A had a monkey, as did many of the people in the Spanish court.

  45. Ingrid says:

    I think that Catherine and Anne were too strong and advanced woman. And Henry just hated this. It’s a fact. I like Catherine because she had been a really Queen. She died defending her beliefs. But Anne it’s just an amazing woman, she’s a kind of mistery and fails, victorys and luxury. It’s just like what every woman dremead in her life hihihi. Anne was just a woman that had not fears, not aparentely. She lived as she deseread. She paided with the life, but she was ‘the most happy’ ;D

    I do not Think that Catherine was boring. She was really a beloved person, and there are good reasons for this. We have to respect this. She was a kind of perfect person, in this way she was what the people expect from a queen.

    The only guilt in this history is the bipolar feelings of the King; Henry!

  46. DeAnn says:

    I love that you are doing these perspectives on each of these wives.

    I couldn’t stand Catherine of Aragon when I was younger because of the Team Anne v Team Catherine concept.

    But as I have grown older and matured, I have found much to admire about Catherine. I also think there is much not to admire. She is certainly a fascinating and strong woman who changed history.

    I am out of town so unfortunately I don’t have David Starkey’s book on the Six Wives with me. He helped contribute to my changing opinions of Catherine. I really admire the poise and resilence she showed when she first came to England.

    Again, I don’t have his book with me but my recollection is her initial departure from Spain was delayed due to bad weather and she had a really rough crossing in part because it took months. I do recall that Starkey wrote about how she was scheduled to land in one spot in England and was blown off course and landed miles and miles from where she was due. That location was Plymouth. The town was of course not prepared for such an auspicious arrival but quickly scurried to make do. Catherine was incredibly gracious about the whole situation even though it wasn’t the opulence she may have expected. Just like a modern day princess, she won the hearts and minds of the Englishmen and women by the way she conducted herself in those initial days.

    As she slowly moved her way to London, reports arrived back to Henry Tudor. He along with Arthur hurried to meet Catherine ahead of schedule. Henry wanted to make sure she was attractive (much like his son wanted Francis to bring French beauties to Calais for him to inspect in 1538-1539). Again, all reports are she conducted herself with graciousness and dignity when the king of England unexpectedly rushed into her lodging and demanded to see her under less than ideal circumstances. How can you not admire a woman like that?

    I often wonder what life would have been like for Catherine if Elizabeth of York hadn’t died in February 1503. I also wish Margaret Beaufort would have taken more of an interest and carrying for her. You don’t mention this but I also thought at one point that Henry VII himself wanted to marry Catherine in an attempt to set another son but outrage and other issues led to the scuttling of that issue. My recollection on this could be wrong since as I said I don’t have my books with me.

    I cannot imagine the loneliness and trauma she went thorugh from 1501 until 1509. I also recall that Henry was forced to disavow his pledge to marry her (I do like the ideas of historical fiction books that he privately told her in some fashion not to believe it and he would marry her when he became king).

    As far as Robin Hood, I think that was a motiff that Henry employed on more than one occassion with Catherine. I think the first occurred in 1509 shortly after their wedding.

    I do disagree with saying that’s a myth that Catherine was a liar. She may not have been the compulsive liar that her husband was but she certainly was capable of lying. I think David Starkey makes a convincing case that she lied about her first miscarriage. If she could lie about that, why not lie about Arthur? For folks like Alison Weir and others to say she was this principled woman who is incapable of lying doesn’t square wtih history. Perhaps my judgement is clouded because I do think she and Arthur did consumate their relationship whether on their wedding night or in Wales I do not know. But I do agree in that ultimately only God knows. And Arthur LOL. And I don’t think her willingess to lie makes her a bad woman. I actually think under those circumstances to lie and for these reasons it makes her a more intriguing woman.

    I also think it’s admirable what Catherine did to prepare England against an invasion by the Scots. She didn’t just sit around and wring her hands. To say she successfully defended England is to me an exaggeration of the facts and actually what she did (more to come). Who successfully defended England was the then Earl of Surrey (who became the second Duke of Norfolk because of Flodden Field) and his sons and their troops. Thomas Howard I was a proven soldier. He was a veteran of the Wars of the Roses. He was wounded while battling for Edward IV. His father was one of the greatest soldiers/generals of his day. Thomas Howard I nearly died at Bosworth Field. Gilbert Talbott refused to slay him when he begged him to do so. He was locked up for more than three years in the Tower of London. When Henry tried to set him up to escape and he didn’t and the Scots became a nuisance, Thomas Howard I was released. He wasn’t released to return home. He was released to go to the border to defend England. He spent most of the 1490s living with his wife and family (first wife died in 1497, he promptly remarried) at Sheriff Hutton protecting England from the Scots. He and his entire family escorted Margaret Tudor to Scotland for her wedding. This was a man and family who knew the enemy quite well. Catherine wasn’t on the battle field that day.

    But I think she took a lot of credit for Flodden Field, flaunting and exaggerating her victory. And I think Henry’s oversized ego couldn’t handle it. I think his accomplishments in France being overshadowed by Flodden Field and Catherine caused the bloom to fall off his eyes. I think that’s when their relationship began to sour, not because she hadn’t produced a son. Obviously that was the final issue and the catalyst. But I think when love began to slowly turn to contempt can be dated from this time.

    The biggest issue I have with Catherine is her failure to understand the history of her adopted country. She had to know about the Wars of the Roses. She may have been right that England would have accepted a female ruler but she had to understand Henry’s unwillingess to risk civil war again and that it was unprecedented. In that sense I think she put herself above her country and its needs. And ultimately her daughter’s needs. She wanted her daughter to be queen, period. She wanted Henry to have just one legitimate child, a daughter, and that daughter to be queen. I think it was unrealistic to think Henry would meekly accept that. She could have protected her daughter but allowed him to try for a male son that yes superceded that daughter but kept her daughter legitimate and in the line of succession. I don’t see why she couldn’t have brokered that deal.

    She didn’t have to enter a convent but to answer your question Claire for the good of her adopted country she should have stepped aside with the undestanding that Mary stayed in the line of succession. French queens had done it. Not all had gone well of course. I’m sure Henry had the example of Louis XII in mind. It was a messy unseemly annullment but he got it and the first wife had to slink off. I’m sure Henry was stunned that he wasn’t getting the annulment. I just don’t agree that to say that Catherine should have accepted an annullment is the benefit of hindsight. It was certainly accepted and occurred in medieval times and early Renaissance times. And I’ve never before heard that any of those cast off queens were believed to have souls condemned to hell as a result.

    I certainly don’t know all the ins and outs like you do but I’ve always assumed that Henry was trying to declare their marriage invalid because she wouldn’t step aside. My assumption has been if Catherine had stepped aside because of the lack of a male heir that he wouldn’t have raised the issue about Arthur. I think he only did so because she forced his hand and he had no other choice (see Louis XII). How Henry treated Catherine in the last years of her life was deplorable and makes my heart hurt.

    I appreciate you giving us this wonderful website with so many thoughtful pieces and a wonderful place to discuss, dissect and thoughtfully debate these fascinating women and men. Thank you.

  47. burcu says:

    Well, in my opnion Catherine lied when she said that her marriage with Arthur was invalid. She was not virgin when seh was married to Henry. However, that was not very crucial, I guess. Only when Henry wanted to get rid of Catherine, this situation became the prior topic in the kingdom. Also, I think Catherine was not the suitable woman type for Henry because if we look at Henry’s choices (such as Boleyn, Parr and Howard) he prefered elegance, attractive,charming and lively women. Neverthless, as far as I read from the novels Catherine of Aragon was brave, cool, stubborn woman who was also really religious. I mean, I think there wasn’t any great love or physical attraction between her and henry. Maybe Henry just wanted to have what Arthur once had. Or since he was very young, a mature woman like Catherine aroused his interest. Of course, these are just my opinions…

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Burcu,
      Catherine was only 23 when she and Henry married and she was described as a beautiful woman then and it seems that Henry had admired her since the day that he gave her away at her wedding to Arthur. I do think that there was love and attraction between them in the early years of their marriage and they were often described as happy and merry, and they both enjoyed the same pastimes. You have to remember that Catherine was not “a mature woman” when they first met or even married.

  48. burcu says:

    Oh by the way, that was a great article, I liketo read your articles Claire…:)

  49. Karol says:

    Amazing article!!

  50. Annette says:

    First of all I have never came across the stereotype “boring” being referred to Katherine of Aragon but have come across it many times being labeled on Jane Seymour and Anna of Cleves, with Katherine of Aragon I think shes more stereotyped as “Stubborn and extremely catholic”. Great post by the way! I love your articles.

  51. tioedong says:

    Catherine appeared with Henry shortly after her wedding dressed in white, signalling to all of England she was a virgin in her second marriage. and later swore she was a virgin, and dared her husband to say otherwise. He never did. End case.

    However, even today the case wouldn’t have allowed a true annulment, because it would have required her to say under oath she had lied and committed fraud before her marriage. Perjury under oath is still a major sin and indeed a crime.

    finally, given Henry’s poor luck with his other wives, one wonders if his children miscarried or were born early or died soon after birth from congenital syphillis.

  52. Helen Reynolds says:

    Why do they always show her as being dark and sallow. She was a red head.lol.

    1. Alison says:

      yes very true, she was fair and more typically “English” to look at than Anne who was dark and olive skinned with black eyes .

  53. Toia Townes says:

    Thank you for this excellent article about Hennry VIII’s underrated(in my opinion) first wife and queen. There is not word I disagree with. I have read many books about Catherine as she is my favorite of Henry’s wives.

    Like you, I cringe when I read the silly, vulgar TEAM ANNE vs TEAM CATHERINE bleatings on the Internet. As if we were discussing Jennifer Aniston and Angelie Jolie!
    It’s not a contest, both women were admirable in their own right without trivializing history in that manner.

    And also thank you for making me aware of the new bio by Giles Tremlett-I can’t wait to read it!

  54. Lilly says:

    A brilliant article which does justice to Catherine of Aragon – she was the bravest and the most admirable queen by far and had to deal with things the other queens would never had the courage to do, and even after the king’s great matter, she still loved him. She was a truly amazing and inspirational woman. I am fed up of people only seeing the unrealistic and fictionalized portrayals of her in shows like the Tudors and so on… She is my favourite of the wives and she cannot be compared to Anne Boleyn in my opinion, because Anne never really did much good for England, whereas Katherine defended England from the Scots, was a good wife to Henry, a good mother and remained unwavering in her piety. Anne, however, had it easy in comparison, but she was still so cruel to catherine and mary – she was not a nice person at all.

  55. Mari says:

    I have only just discovered this website – and read the comments with interest. I am surprised, however, how the series ‘The Tudors’ seems to figure so regularly in the comments. The series is modernised rubbish with twisting and omition of facts. A more interesting, accurate and better acted series about the six wives of Henry VIII is the BBC series starring Keith Michelle from 1970ish. On the other hand if the modern series ‘The Tudors’ has whetted people’s appetites for real history then it has served some sort of purpose I suppose.

  56. Anthojy says:

    Awesome article. I may share it on my blog site, hope you don’t mind. Of course, you will get all the credit! Thanks for the article!

  57. Katherine says:

    I loved this article. Personally, Catherine of Aragon is my favourite (if you are allowed to have favourites!) wife because she was dignified and forgiving while also being strong and stubborn in the face of being thrown aside for a “younger model”. I’ve never understood why people chastise her for refusing to step aside. She was an anointed Queen, why should she have stepped aside? Very few Queens, even if they were barren, were pushed aside. Certainly, Catherine was the first one. In spite of open rebellion Eleanor of Aquitaine was never cast aside, while Isabella of France succeeded in throwing her husband aside! Even Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, in spite of being never being able to have children (Unlike Catherine) was never divorced. There was therefore no precedent, at least in England, of a king divorcing his wife. She had given Henry an heir, and Henry could easily have done what Henry I did in 1120 when his only legitimate son died. He could have proclaimed his daughter his heir and made the aristocracy swear loyalty to her. Times had changed from the 1100s, and I believe it would have been more acceptable to have a woman on the throne than when Matilda’s throne was usurped in 1135. Mary was therefore a legitimate claimant and Catherine had every right to defend what was rightfully hers and her daughter’s. I concede, she did have her flaws; maybe it would have been beneficial for the realm, and in the long term, for her daughter to stand aside, and she could be called selfish for refusing to let Henry go. But as I previously said, there was no just reason for her to. She was brought up in a world where marriage was political and love something saved for mistresses. I like each of Henry’s wives for a different reason, but I’ve always felt that Anne Boleyn made her bed and laid in it. When she proved she could overthrow a Queen with foreign connections, royal blood, who was firmly entrenched in court society and in the hearts of the people, she clearly showed that a Queen with no royal blood, no foreign connections and a perceived past as the King’s mistress could be just as easily overthrown, and clearly with more brutality. I think the reason I like Catherine is because she is everything that modern society seemingly derides in a woman from the past; she was conservative, pious, traditionally educated, clearly a member of “The Establishment”, loyal, never much of a rebel and famous for being “dowdy”. To me, she is the consummate underdog, the eternal loyal wife passed over for a trophy girlfriend, and she refused to take it lying down. She had the strength of character from unshakeable self-confidence, devotion to her religion and security of her place in the world that Henry’s other wives could never match up to. Therefore she will always be the most admirable of Henry VIII’s wives in my eyes.

  58. nikki says:

    catherine of aragons marriage to king henry was not short lived it was the longest marriage he had spanning over 2 decades they were actually married 23 yrs. good and informative site thank you

    1. Claire says:

      Exactly, that’s one of the myths I list and many people just don’t realise how long their marriage was.

      Thanks!

  59. H. Elizabeth says:

    Catherine of Aragon was NOT boring, she was strong and intelligent woman. She was a humanist, believed that women had the right to an education (which was basically being a feminist back then), and won at the battle of Flodden. She truly was an amazing queen.

  60. Elizabeth Smith says:

    Catherine of Aragon paid the price for Henry VIII going through male menopause. He was obessessed with Anne Bolyn for this reason. Catherine was five years older than Henry which was a lot in that time period and she had become matronly. She couldn’t compete with a much younger Anne Bolyn.

  61. Michele Wells says:

    Katherine was very much a product of her upbringing. Her parents were a formidable set of rulers and her mother a soldier herself. Like most of us, she tried to emulate Isabella who was known to be devout, tenacious, intelligent and passionately in love with her husband. Katherine also shared her love of fine clothing and jewels. She also inherited some of her father’s qualities which may or may not have worked in her favor. One forgets that in the early years Henry sought her advice on almost every matter and considered her a trusted advisor. Boring..highly doubtful. Taken for granted..most definitely.

    1. Michele Wells says:

      To clarify..I meant to say like most of us who try to emulate our mothers..she tried to emulate Isabella.

  62. Jenn says:

    Great article on Catherine. I have always been a fan of Catherine’s to the point there was a period of time where I actually disliked Anne for her role in the break up of Catherine’s marriage. Through my studies of Tudor history, I now have a love for each one of his wives and circumstances that surrounded each one of them. Catherine is largely misunderstood. Anne is a very popular wife these days. Sadly, it almost seems as if we look for reason to excuse Henry’s treatment of Catherine in favor of Anne. She was boring, prayed too much, lied etc… Of course those same things are looked upon for reasons for ending Anne’s life in favor of Jane. In the end the failings were Henry’s and not in the beautiful women he married. Each one was beautiful, intelligent and exciting each for their own reasons. Thank you for wonderful articles that allow everyone to learn more about each one of these incredible ladies.

  63. Lena says:

    Claire, thank you so much for telling the truth about Catherine of Aragon

  64. enas says:

    thank you for this very good presentation indeed i too agree with you that is unfair for king henry to treat katherine of aragon queen of england the way he did, simply because no lady on this planet during any era whom is wed to a man accepts to admit infront of the whole world that she was simply a whore and that her child a bastard no matter what is her pedigree let alone a princess to king and queen of spain. she was lonely isolated long before the divorce issue i really feel that she was insulted far beyond anyone can tolerate yet she kept loving her husband. she could have rebelled and split england from inside or even asked her nephew to invade england if all that she wanted was the crown, but i guess all she wanted was to be a proper loving and beloved wife

  65. Alison says:

    I’ve always admired her myself, one’s views of the wives of Henry 8th often depend on one’s religion too and if the articles read about them are from a Catholic or Protestant view point, history is always written by people with a bias one way or another. Mary, Catherine’s daughter was for example not always bad, she helped the poor and loved children, she became twisted and bitter over time and thus cruel, the other children of Henry were also that way, had Edward lived he would have been a Protestant bigot and Elizabeth is too often as a perfect heroine when she too was capable of cruelty and intolerance.

    It is too simplistic to hate any of the wives really, i see them all as having been victims in some way to a man that must have been a nightmare to be married to, who like Mary, was once a good man and was once handsome but time embittered him .

    I often wonder what Arthur would have been like as a King, I have rather a soft spot for him myself, he’s cute in his picture with dark red hair and a pale complexion. As for the marriage of Catherine and Arthur they were just a couple of young kids at the time and i imagine he must have been so drunk and she maybe very shy, he may well have had a few clumsy kisses and grope and gone ” Ouch my head” and past out somewhat drunk and she’s lying there thinking ” men!!”

  66. Declan says:

    In my opinion this is rubbish. Catherine was 18 when she married henry. Also i find her very interesting. Also that older photo of catherine was prooven fake. Henry even addmited she was more loyal than any other of henrys wives. I think this website is unfactual

    1. Claire says:

      Hi Declan,
      Catherine of Aragon was born in December 1485 so she was 23 when she married Henry VIII in 1509. What do you mean about the older photo being a fake? Do you mean the miniature? It isn’t a fake, it was painted by Lucas Horenbout and has Catherine’s name on it. It is in the National Portrait Gallery – see http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw01143/Catherine-of-Aragon?LinkID=mp00801&search=sas&sText=catherine+of+aragon&role=sit&rNo=1. I don’t say that she wasn’t loyal so I don’t know what you mean and why you think this article is “unfactual”. I’m happy to answer your questions.

  67. Jean Hamilton says:

    I found this biography on Catherine of Aragon very interesting indeed. Despite the comments before mine, I admire her for her strong faith and her abiding love for her husband, Henry VIII. The mind set in the 1500’s was very different than those of today, women, even princesses and queens, did not have the benefit of choice regarding their lives and how they lived them. Catherine did her best to protect the future of her daughter, Mary, and even though history has now shown us that Mary was, perhaps, not the kindest person, this, in no way, can be blamed on her mother… blaming the parent for a child’s unfortunate behavior is a cop out. All of Henry’s wives had redeeming qualities, and qualities that, perhaps, were not so redeeming, but I think it is best to remember that the majority were swayed by the promise of power, wealth, and a life of leisure and most had family members that pushed and cajoled them into doing things that would benefit them… Anne Boleyn’s family is a perfect example… women, in that time, had no choice but to do as they were told and further the opportunity for wealth and title for their respective families. Even Henry VIII has been weighed down with bad press, and one might give a thought for all the “helpful advice” he received on a daily basis, all from people who’s main objective was to further their own desires, not for the benefit of King and country. Fascinating history, no doubt, and I will never tire of learning more and more!

  68. Jo says:

    Hi, I’ve been taking sock of the debates and find the conversation very interesting. I am an Artist/Sculpor (& archaeological illustrator). I am quite inspired by the Tudors & the Tudor period ( not over keen on Rys Meyers depiction of Henry) though. However, if anyone has any suggestions of a snapshot into this period, maybe pet a description of it, and I might paint it & post it?

  69. Stephanie says:

    I really enjoyed this article and thank you for sharing it. I’ve always been rather fond of Catherine and can relate to her story. I think it’s a shame that most books and movies seem to pick up where Anne comes in and fail to show us that Catherine too was once Henry’s desire, and that there was a time when these two were very much in love.
    Not that I am anti-Anne. I find that I am fascinated with each of these people and researching one only leads to seeking out another. By reading their stories through different points of view, I have come to love them all.

  70. Christine says:

    I don’t think Katherine was boring I for one have always admired her even tho her life would have been much happier and less stressful had she just let Henry go but I can see how religion played a large part in her life, that’s fine then as it is today, some people draw strength from it but it seems Katherine was very devout and all that endless praying probably did appear tedious to Henry after a whilst and her maids to who had to accompany her all the time, as she got older she probably seemed just like a nun to many people who just lived for her religion, she must have appeared old before her time, I know she lost all her children except Mary so she derived strength from her devotions

  71. Christine says:

    I sent that post by mistake as I hadn’t finished, the trouble was as she advanced into middle age she grew more fatter as many women do, that isn’t a crime it’s just she and Henry had grown so far apart that they had nothing in common anymore, and you can’t help it if you stop fancying some one she became more pious and dowdy, that was a shame but Henry was still young at heart and so it was only natural he should prefer a much younger svelte woman who was gay and cheerful as Anne was,, it happens all the time, but no she wasn’t boring she was highly intelligent and brave and very stubborn she remains as interesting as Anne herself but in different ways.

  72. Edward says:

    In my opinion, Catherine of Aragón was by far the most interesting and complex of Henry’s wives. It is certainly very common to find that many people prefer Anne, but I daresay that that’s due, in part, to the fact that she was English and in general people will prefer their own countrymen. I’m also sure that if we were to take these forums and opinion polls to Spain that the majority of people would prefer Catherine.

    In any case, what cannot be denied is that Catherine spent a lot more time with Henry than Anne did and thus knew him better than any of his wives. This perhaps makes it even more admirable that she was able to stand up to the husband who she had so loved and cherished for so long.

    I can’t even begin to imagine what Catherine must have gone though, it must have broken her heart. But her strong resilience, stubbornness and unwavering faith are a testament to her upbringing and strength of character which made her so famous.

    I am also of the opinion that she was Henry’s true love, the thing for Anne was lust in his almost middle age when he lacked a male air, I don’t think it ever ran as deeply as it did for Catherine, but that’s just my opinion.

    I also wanted to speak a bit about the spanish stereotype. Even though I’m english, I’ve lived in and spent large amounts of time in different parts of Spain and for the most part it is just that, a stereotype. Most spaniards are white, not olive-skinned and a surprisingly high number of them, considering the stereotype, have light eyes and light hair. I’d say that the only area of Spain where there are quite a few dark ones is the deep south, but everywhere else they look like your average European.

    I say this, because it vexes me when Catherine’s fair looks are almost always attributed to her english ancestry. As I have just said, many spaniards are of a fair complexion and even though Catherine did have some english ancestry, the vast majority of her ancestors were not english, but were from Spain and Portugal. I’ve also researched many of her medieval spanish king ancestors and lots of them were fair haired and light eyed.

    And also Claire, the article was great, thanks 🙂

  73. Edward says:

    I also wanted to add that in my opinion it’s very unlikely that her marriage with Arthur was consummated.

    Contemporary descriptions of Arthur agree on the fact that he was quite short for his age and generally quite delicate. Also, if I remember correctly it was either a Spanish ambassador or a member of Catherine’s household who said that he had never seen anyone who was so weak and had such thin limbs as Arthur.

    This and the added fact that he was only 15 when he was meant to consummate the marriage all point to it being a disaster. Neither of them probably knew what they were doing and he may have been too weak or exhausted to carry out the act.

    The fact that he claimed to have taken Catherine’s virginity the next day is really proof of nothing. One must remember that during these times there was enormous pressure on the man to perform sexually, especially on his wedding night of his first marriage and a Prince such as Arthur would have been only too aware what was expected on him and that failure would be an enormous embarrassment.

    It is, then, not surprising that he claimed to have had sex with Catherine the next morning, he was hardly going to admit that he had failed in his most basic duty, was he?

    And as for Catherine, she was hardly going to parade around the fact that she was still a virgin either, as she would be admitting that she had also failed in her role as a wife and to do so would be an all-round humiliation for both her and her husband.

    In conclusion, given Arthur’s pitiful physique and Catherine’s intense religious piety, it is extremely unlikely that he would have consummated the marriage or that Catherine, even if he had, would have lied about something so important.

    1. Christine says:

      I agree he was only fifteen or fourteen, still a child and it was nothing more than bragging, I’m sure his elders didn’t expect them to sleep together anyway, as far as they were concerned they had a lifetime to do it, I doubt if either of them would have known what to do.

      1. Edward says:

        It is also interesting to note that Catherine of Aragon was prepared to accept Henry’s verdict on whether he had found her a virgin as long as he agreed to make the statement under oath to the Pope. Henry never did.

      2. Cherry says:

        Oh please! since when does anyone need to know what to do. Henry vii mother had him at 13. 15 was seen as just right in those days, life expectancy was much shorter than today, it was important to start producing children as soon as possible.

        1. Edward says:

          And yet you seem to be ignoring the fact that when she was 12, it was her husband who would have had sex with her and he was 24 so clearly did know what to do!

          But in the case of Catherine and Arthur, they were BOTH pitifully young. As mentioned, there is no evidence the marriage was ever consummated and no blood stained sheets were ever produced.

        2. Christine says:

          No it was not, 13 was considered shockingly young to have a child in the medieval /Tudor period just as it is today, and Margaret Beaufort went through a most difficult time that endangered her life and that of her baby’s, her husband was very selfish because he wanted an heir to secure his wife’s inheritance, she was never to have another child and he put them both at risk, when Henry Fitzroy Henry V111s son, was married to the Duke Of Norfolks daughter they did not consummate their marriage as their elders considered them both too young, the Tudors cherished their offspring and would not have put the mother and child at risk when they were both so young, childbirth was hazardous in those days for an older woman, let alone a girl barely out of childhood.

  74. Edward says:

    Also, even though many people commonly attribute Catherine’s looks to her “English” ancestor Catherine of Lancaster, most people seem ignorant to the fact that Catherine of Lancaster was herself half spanish and a descendant of Pater I of Castile who was blonde and blue eyed!

    1. Christine says:

      Some Spanish people are fair which contrasts lovely with their olive skin, some Italians are blonde too, Lucretia Borgia was and she was known for her beauty, just as English people can be very dark so Mediterranean people can be fair.

  75. Julie Conlan says:

    I enjoyed all the comments on Catherine of Aragon, I must say she is my favourite of Henrys six wives followed by Anne Boleyn. I bet Henry was not a virgin on his wedding night with Catherine, and if she had given him a nursery full of healthy sons he could not have cared less whether she was a virgin or not when they married!! But sons were not to be for their union. So along comes the young and sexy Anne and out goes Catherine, I don’t blame her for sticking to her guns she was his lawful wife. Anne thought she was his lawful wife, and if she had had a son history would have been different. But Anne did not give him a son, and unlike Catherine did not have the backing of Spain and was not an Infanta. Anne was safe while Catherine lived, if Henry had got rid of Anne while Catherine was alive he might have had to take her back, and that would not do!! So Catherine died of cancer and that sealed Anne’s fate when she miscarried a son. No Kimbolton Castle for Anne, it could only be death, Catherine would have probably had the same fate if it had not been for her Spanish connections. So along comes Jane, he loved her, she gave him a son and did not live long enough for him to fall out of love with her!!

  76. Miss Kitty says:

    Hi

    Ive been reading your posts, and I think that Katherine was in such poor circumstances, and suddenly the young attractive very hot Henry wants to marry her I think its possible she lied because she was in love with Henry and wanted to be Queen maybe she liked England too

    I think if only one of Katherines sons had lived it would have turned out differently King Henry wouldnt have annulled the marriage and Anne and Jane would have just been mistresses

  77. Charlene says:

    I wish that people would use the phrase “red hair” to describe people with red hair. It’s not just this site by far: there seems to be a concerted campaign to erase red hair from the historical record. There is no reason to say “strawberry blonde or auburn”, or the equally popular “red-gold”; she was a redhead. She had red hair of some sort. “Redhead” is not a dirty word. (“Ginger” certainly is, if only because ginger is light yellow with grey-brown skin.)

    1. Claire says:

      As someone who has a redhead as a mother, a niece with red hair and whose hair goes reddish in the summer, I can hand on heart state that I’m not trying to erase the term “redhead” or “red hair”. I do think that strawberry blonde, auburn, chestnut, mahogany etc. are more descriptive, in the same way that people with very very black hair are called raven haired. To me, strawberry blonde isn’t really red, it’s more blonde – blonde with hints of red.

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