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

18 thoughts on “In Memory of Catherine of Aragon”
  1. Katherine of Aragon is one of my heros along with Anne. She was an amazing woman, so strong and amazing. RIP Catalina de Aragon RIP

  2. What a lovely portrait of Katherine, I’ve never seen it before! Though it is ironic to depict her as Mary Magdalene… 🙂
    The annual commemorations of her death sound like an amazing event and a fitting way to remember a truly great queen. Oh how I wish I’d been there! Thanks Claire for posting this memorial to an incredibly strong woman.

  3. On the day of Catherine Of Aragons death the King and his wife went into mourning and on the day of Catherines funeral the King wore yellow along with Anne.As yellow had been mourning for the spanish aswell as black of course.He wore yellow out of respect for his previous wife.
    Yellow for the english was seen as sign of happiness and some people thought that both Henry and Anne were wearing this colour to justify their happiness as Catherine was now out of their lives.It is funny how in one country a colour can have a total opposite meaning from another.
    Well for which ever reason it had been for still remains to be answered.I personally agree with the first.

    Claire the king wore black to mourn the death of his third wife Jane Seymour.Henry wore white on the day of Anne Boleyns execution.I too would like to come to this event at Peterborough Cathedral.I am too late though this time so perhaps next year.Even though that I happen to be more of an Anne Boleyn fan.

  4. Hi Tudorrose,
    Thanks so much for your comment. According to Eric Ives, Henry wore yellow on the day followng Catherine’s death and some sources say that Anne wore yellow too. He wore black on the day of her funeral, although he did not attend, out of respect for the fact that she was the Dowager Princess of Wales, his brother’s widow.
    There have been arguments over the years about whether yellow is indeed a morning colour in Spain and I can’t find any record of yellow being associated with mourning, so perhaps it was just someone’s way of justifying Henry and Anne’s actions. I live in Spain and everyone wears black for funerals, as in many countries and I can’t find anything historical about yellow and mourning. It is said that both Henry and Anne wept separately and privately for Catherine but they did indeed outwardly celebrate her death by dressing in yellow and Henry parading Elizabeth around at court. I’m sure that Catherine’s death was a relief to them although Anne did not realise its consequences.
    I too would like to attend that special service one year. Like you, I’m more of an Anne fan but I admire Catherine as she was a great woman and Queen and went through so much with her head held high.
    Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. The Madonna portrait is beautiful too and you’re right in that Catherine’s face is very similar to the Mary Magdalene portrait – I love both of them.

  6. It must be remembered that Katherine of Aragon loved her English subjects enough not to encourage rebellion on her behalf .Katherine endured a great deal .What a great pity that her two sons did not live .Things in England would have been so different.

  7. Katherine always has and always will be my favourite wife of Hnery VIII. She was a strong and determing woman. RIP. Anne Boleyn never deserved to shove you off of your throne. She was an evil, scheming woman, and words can’t describe my contempt of her. I really can’t understand why some people look up to her.

    1. I agree with you about Catherine, she was an amazing woman and deserves to be remembered and admired. I don’t think Anne did “shove” her off her throne, I think Henry VIII has to take the responsibility for that one. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but the primary sources just do not support the idea that Anne was evil or scheming.

  8. It had to have been a heart-breaking day for the people of England when they heard the news of Catherine Of Aragon passing away. Their Queen of Hearts. And to have to realize that Anne would be their Queen. I have absolutely nothing against Anne, not at all. But Catherine was definitely the peoples’ Queen. She was greatly loved and admired. Anne had some mighty big shoes to fill.

  9. In her portrait she looks more English than Spanish, she must have inherited her fairness from her English grandmother, such a shame all her children died, she came from a very fertile family too, obviously there was a weakness in the Tudors but then she did used to fast a lot and go on many pilgrimages instead of eating well and resting, all the things you are supposed to do when your pregnant, just goes to show all that praying didn’t do any good and she was a very religious woman, very sad life she had tho yet she was married to the old Bluebeard for longer than any of her successors.

  10. Catherine Zeta Jones parece más inglesa o española?, Amy Whinhouse?, muchos dirán que españolas, son estereotipos, Catalina era rubia como su madre, ella desciende de la gallega Inés de Castro, mujer rubia y hermosisima, el norte de España tiene diferente pasado al sur. Yo soy gallega y soy rubia de ojos verdes (mis cuatro abuelos tenían ojos claros), tenemos pasado celta. Por cierto, tengo una tía abuela llamada Catalina por Catalina de Aragón y otra Lucrecia (nosé si por Lucrecia Borgia)
    A mi Ana Bolena y su hija Isabel no me gustan nada, respeto a quién sí le gusten ellas, en cambio aunque no soy católica, si me gusta Catalina y lo guapísima que era , ella salió muy jovencita del puerto de mi ciudad (Coruña) a Inglaterra, su hija María me gusta menos, pero debió sufrir muchísimo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *