Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII, died on 7th January 1536. In her dying days, it was said that she wrote a letter to Henry VIII, a man she believed was still her true husband.

But what did this letter say and did Catherine of Aragon really write it?

I explore this in my latest video…


My last video looked at research regarding the From the Lady in the Tower letter said to have been written by Anne Boleyn in 1536, but did you know that there’s also a letter linked to Catherine of Aragon that is surrounded by controversy?

The letter is said to have been written by Catherine when she was dying in January 1536. It reads:

My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part I pardon you everything and I wish to devoutly pray to God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants, I solicit the wages due to them, and a year or more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

It is surrounded by controversy because the original is lost and we only have alleged transcripts of it in works such as Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia, which were then copied by later writers such as Lord Herbert of Cherbury. It is also not mentioned in any of the primary sources from 1536, and Catherine’s friend, the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, makes no mention of her writing a letter to the king in her dying days. But he left on 6th January, when he thought she’d rallied, and she could have dictated it during her final hours before dying on 7th January.

Giles Tremlett, who wrote “Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen”, believes that the letter “”is almost certainly fictitious” and Amy Licence, author of “Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife”, writes that “it is by no means certain that this is a genuine letter, surviving in a later document rather than the State Papers and Letters.” However, Linda Porter, who wrote a biography of Catherine’s daughter, Mary, believes that Catherine had it dictated and that “In its dignified pathos and remembrance of a great and, for the writer, enduring love, it is one of the most moving farewells in the English language”. Julia Fox, author of “Sister Queens”, a dual biography of Catherine and her sister, Juana, notes that Vergil is “largely reliable and he has not inserted other fictitious letters into the Tudor sections of his Anglica Historia” so “on balance, therefore, Katherine’s letter may be genuine”, and Patrick Williams, Margaret Sanders and Anna Whitelock quote it in their books on without any comment on its veracity.

In my opinion, this letter rings true with how we know Catherine felt about her husband, and her fears for his soul because he set aside a valid wife and pursued the break with Rome. We also know how concerned she was about Mary and the breakdown of her daughter’s relationship with her father. And, if it was fictitious, would the forger really have added the details about Catherine’s servants? I also feel that it rings true to the Catherine who appeared at the Blackfriars Legatine Court in 1529 and made that wonderful impassioned speech on her knees in front of her husband.

Catherine never doubted that she was Henry VIII’s true wife and never stopped loving him. I think that in her dying days, she was consumed with fear for his soul, as well as being haunted by what had happened to England because of the Great Matter, her husband’s quest to annul their marriage. It had not only led to the break with Rome, her beloved Rome, but also the executions of people who had supported her. It had had a huge impact on England and its people. Catherine feared the man she still loved would go to hell for what he had done, and she wanted to take one last opportunity to try and get him back on the right path.

If it was genuine, did Henry VIII ever read it? It’s impossible to know. Although he celebrated publicly on hearing news of Catherine’s death, I wonder if he wept in private? I hope so. Catherine had been his friend, lover, confidante, advisor, counsellor and wife for many years. They’d grieved for lost children together. He’d trusted her as regent when he was away. She had been a huge part of his life. He’d treated her appallingly in her last years, and I hope that was something that haunted him.

What do you think about this letter? Do you think it’s a work of fiction or the true words of a dying woman?

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3 thoughts on “Catherine of Aragon’s Last Letter”
  1. Yes I think this letter is genuine, it resonates more with Katherine’s thoughts and feelings towards her husband and since in was found in Vergils Anglica Historia a man whose sources are genuine, it is more likely to be real than a copy, Edward Hall and Chapyus were both reliable sources of the Tudor court unlike the Spanish Chronicle who was the Tudor equivalent of a downmarket Sunday rag, she does not berate him in this letter she does not condemn him for ruining her life and the treatment her and her daughter has suffered at his hands, there is no animosity towards Anne Boleyn and this is in keeping with her character, in this very sad letter she speaks only with heartfelt sincerity and dignity and love, she prays for his soul and she implores him to do right by their daughter and mentions her maids, Katherine had been ill for some time and it is believed she had cancer as her autopsy shows there was a black mass attached to her heart, in her day cancer was not known of and her doctors believed she could have been poisoned and Anne Boleyn was the prime villain or her supporters, but in her household her food and drink would have been tasted first and none of her servants fell ill, it was a rumour spread about by Anne’s enemies, Chapyus had left her days before and reported she was quite well, but this sometimes happens in the dying, a day or two before death one rallies, it’s like the body has put up a final fight for life, there is the bloom on the cheeks, the soul seems restored but in reality, it is only a grim reminder that the grim reaper is coming, Katherine signed her letter ‘Katherine the Queen’, and so she might, this remarkable woman had never ceased to call herself as such and was not going to stop now, she had been engaged to an English prince and had married an English king, she was legally and morally Englands queen still, I too would like to think Henry V111 read this letter, he was although brutal and a tyrant capable of much emotion, and it is possible he wept on his own away from prying eyes, she had been a good queen even Henry had to acknowledge that, she had failed in only one thing, her inability to bear a son that survived, he did celebrate her death with his second queen and there are reports both him and Ann dressed in yellow, but alone with his thought his all too familiar conscience must have reared its head like an black shadow, he must have recalled the days of his glorious youth when he was first married to Katherine, he maybe thought of the son she had borne him his first child, Prince Henry who died as an infant, he must have also remembered the time she had defended his realm from Scotland and sent him the coat of the king of Scots, when he had been in France, and his people had loved her, they had taken her to their hearts and all those years together cannot be wiped out, we will never know how Henry truly felt on his first queens demise, more so on the brutal death of his second, but if he did indeed had read her last letter to him, I believe he would have been moved more than he would ever admit to himself, or anyone.

  2. I totally agree with you, Claire and Christine! I think the letter is genuine. It “sounds” like I imagine Catherine would have sounded. I believe she had it dictated because she was physically unable to write by that time.

    As to whether Henry felt anything if he had read it or upon her death, I don’t know. Christine, I like what you said that if he had indeed read the letter, he would have been moved. I would like to think that he did and he was moved by it. Agreeably, we will never know.

    1. She really was a remarkable woman and deserves our respect and admiration, Henry V111 did have some unique women as queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr , these first two queens of Henry V111 were bold and tenacious they proved they were adversaries to be feared,, Catherine Parr was a scholar and earned the kings respect in his old age, these three women were all educated learned women the product of Renaissance courts, really I tend to think they were bit too intelligent for Henry which is probably what worried him quite a bit!

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