Catherine of Aragon as Mary Magdalene by Michael Sittow
Catherine of Aragon as Mary Magdalene by Michael Sittow

I’m rather frustrated that I couldn’t post about this commemoration service for Catherine of Aragon, but due to snow and storms I couldn’t get online between Tuesday and Friday – sorry!

Anyway, every year on the 29th January Peterborough Cathedral hold a special service to commemorate the life and death of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was laid to rest at Peterborough Abbey on the 29th January 1536. Henry VIII made the abbey into a Cathedral in 1541 and it is speculated that he did so in memory of his first wife. Catherine of Aragon (also known as Katharine, Katherine and Catalina de Aragon) was given the title of the Dowager Princess of Wales after the annulment of her marriage to Henry VIII and she was buried as a princess rather than as Queen. Henry VIII did not attend the service, although it is said that he dressed in black on that day, and their daughter Mary was not allowed to attend.

This year’s commemoration service and programme of events included:-

  • A commemoration service for Catherine at 11.30am at Peterborough Cathedral – This included a Roman Catholic Mass.
  • Tudor Workshops at Peterborough Museum in the afternoon.
  • Book signing by Alison Weir at Waterstones in Peterborough.
  • A Procession of Honour by candlelight at dusk (5pm) – This is a reminder of the 1000 candles lit by 200 mourners at Catherine’s funeral. Adults and children were able to place a pomegranate (Catherine’s symbol), flower, prayer or card on her tomb.
  • A service of Vespers.
  • “Katharine’s Companye” – A candelit lecture by historian and author Alison Weir followed by a recital of Spanish choral music and English and Spanish lute songs by James Bowman and Dorothy Linnell.

Here is a write-up of the day’s events by Carole Richmond, an Anne Boleyn Files visitor who is curating a special exhibition on Anne Boleyn’s role in the English Reformation at Blickling Hall next year:-

“The Katharine of Aragon event at Peterborough was brilliant. The highlight of the Aragon event (for me) was a children’s candlelit parade at 5pm. I was sitting in the cathedral when I heard the plaintive wail of a shawm and the insistent beat of a single drum. The cathedral door opened sharply and a white robed priest, swinging an incense burner, walked through the early evening mist followed by two period musicians and a number of black-robed priests. Then came the children, aged between 5 and 13, each carrying a single candle. Some were in period costume, including an incongruous top hat, but all were wrapped up well against the freezing temperatures. The exotic smell and smoke of the incense mingled with the smell of candlewax burning and the misty breath of the children. And the single drum kept beating as they processed through the cathedral to lay deep red carnations on Queen Katharine’s grave. Most of the girls were solemn and some looked like they were praying but the boys became inflamed by the fire they had in their hands and started to misbehave. And it brought it home that Katharine and Anne had never heard a son laugh or told one off for misbehaving or kissed them to show they were forgiven and that it was a shared tragedy.

Alison Weir gave a superb lecture about Katharine and this was followed by some exqusitie period music from the Peterborough choristers, the countertenor james Bowman and the lutinist Dorothy Linnell.”

This is an annual event held at Peterborough Cathedral and what a wonderful way to remember the life of this amazing queen. You can find out more about the event at:-

Team Boleyn V Team Aragon

I find it interesting that just because I run an Anne Boleyn site that people think that I’m going to be down on Catherine of Aragon. It’s not like the whole Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie thing is it? You don’t have to choose one queen over the other – well, I refuse to anyway!

Both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were victims of Henry VIII and both were amazing women. I admire Catherine of Aragon for her achievements, such as defending England from the Scots, for her strong faith, the way that she protected her daughter’s interests and the way that she did not give in to Henry who bullied her by sending her to the delapidate Kimbolton Castle, making her live in near poverty and threatening her. It is incredible that even though Henry was so awful to her that she loved him until the end and would not give up on their marriage or on him.

I love the bit in Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” where Cardinal Wolsey is telling Thomas Cromwell about Catherine:-

“There is another story about Katherine, a different story. Henry went to France to have a little war; he left Katherine as regent. Down came the Scots; they were well beaten, and at Flodden the head of their king cut off. It was Katherine, that pink-and-white angel, who proposed to send the head in a bag by the first crossing, to cheer up her husband in his camp. They dissuaded her, told her it was, as a gesture, un-English. She sent, instead, a letter. And with it, the surcoat in which the Scottish king had died, which was stiffened, black and crackling with his pumped-out blood.”

Would you want to upset that Queen?!

Related Post