June 27 – Prince Henry (Henry VIII) breaks off his betrothal to Catherine of Aragon at the last minute

On this day in Tudor history, 27th June 1505, the eve of the date chosen for their wedding, thirteen-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales, the future King Henry VIII, repudiated his two-year betrothal to nineteen-year-old Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow.

Why would Henry do this to Catherine at the last minute?

Find out in this video, or in the transcript below…


On this day in Tudor history, 27th June 1505, thirteen-year-old Henry, Prince of Wales, only surviving son of King Henry VII, renounced his betrothal to nineteen-year-old Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the renowned Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

Henry and Catherine, who was the widow of Henry’s older brother, Arthur, had been betrothed since 25th June 1503, and, according to the terms of the marriage treaty negotiated between their parents, were due to get married on Henry’s fourteenth birthday, i.e. 28th June 1505. So young Henry was repudiating the betrothal the day before their wedding.

Why would he do that?

Well, Henry claimed that the betrothal had been contracted without his consent, but it may well be that he was told to say that. As David Starkey points out in his excellent book, “Henry: Virtuous Prince”, Henry “had agreed to marry Catherine because his father told him too, and that he reneged on his promise for the same reason.” His father the king was very much in control of the situation.

But why break up an alliance like this at the last minute?

Well, when Catherine had married Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, back in November 1501, she’d been an important young woman, a daughter of the powerful Catholic monarchs of Spain. However, he mother, Isabella I, had died in November 1504 and neither Isabella’s husband, Ferdinand, or Catherine, were heirs to Castile, instead, it went to Catherine’s older sister, Juana, wife of Archduke Philip of Burgundy. So, in 1505, Catherine of Aragon as the younger daughter of the king of Aragon and only the sister of the Queen of Castile, was not quite the catch she had been in 1501. Henry VII obviously believed that his son could do better.

Henry VII went on to cut off Catherine’s dower income on the grounds that only half of her dowry had been paid for the death of Prince Arthur in April 1502. So the period between summer 1505 and summer 1509 were ones of uncertainty and worry for Catherine. Catherine did, however, keep in touch with her ex-fiancé, and David Starkey notes that she “showered him with gifts of jewellery”, sending him a diamond ring as a New Year’s gift in January 1506, and a girdle of white satin with a gold buckle of Spanish work in January 1507. The prince reciprocated, sending Catherine an emerald ring in 1506 and “a fair rose of rubies set in a rose white and green” in 1508. Starkey does, however, point out that the gifts Henry gave to Catherine were recycled from presents he’d received from others and that he used Catherine’s present to him as presents for his father!

Catherine hoped that the prince would be kinder to her than his father, when he came to the throne in 1509. Would the new king take her as his wife? It was unlikely, according to the Spanish ambassador, Fuensalida, as it was thought that it would “burden his conscience to marry his brother’s widow”.

But the doubters were wrong and negotiations between Ferdinand II of Aragon and Henry VIII and his council concluded on 8th May 1509 with an agreement to the marriage of Henry and Catherine. The marriage licence was issued by William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, on 8th June and the marriage took place on 11th June 1509.

Why did Henry VIII change his mind about marrying Catherine of Aragon?

Well, in a letter to Margaret of Austria, Henry claimed that when his father was on his deathbed that he had begged his son to put things right and marry Catherine. However, Fuensalida, the Spanish ambassador, put it all down to young King Henry making his own decision. It’s impossible to know which is true, but Henry’s words to Margaret of Austria may have simply been an excuse for not marrying her niece, Eleanor of Austria, and marrying Catherine instead – why not blame it on a dead father?!

Catherine must have been relieved and happy that her years of uncertainty were over, although, of course, her marriage to Henry VIII was going to be rather a mixed blessing!

So, that’s what happened on this day in Tudor history, 27th June 1505, Prince Henry broke up with his fiancée Catherine of Aragon.

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