Maria de Salinas and Katherina of Aragon – The Depth and Breadth of Friendship

Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon

On 29th July I received news that my best friend of thirty-three years had died. I was devastated, particularly as I was actually on my way to spend a few days with her and her family. Su was the best friend a girl could have, and an amazing woman, and I miss her like crazy. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, sons, family and friends.

On hearing of my loss, author and anthropologist Kyra Cornelius Kramer, who has become a good friend to me over the past few years, sent me this article on the friendship between Maria de Salinas and Catherine/Katherina of Aragon as a tribute to Su and my friendship with her. Su had a soft spot for Catherine of Aragon so it seems a fitting tribute, although, unlike Catherine, Su was surrounded by a family who thought the world of her. Thank you so much to Kyra, this article really moved me. There are many, many times that Su was there for me in my time of need and vice versa.

Over to Kyra…

Maria de Salinas is one of my favorite people of the Tudor era because few people of any time period have ever shown the unswerving and selfless friendship she was capable of. Maria was Katherina of Aragon’s loyal friend until the last moments of the queen’s life. When Katherina lay dying, abandoned by the husband she loved and isolated in a de facto prison, Maria defied Henry VIII and braved his wrath to rush to the queen’s side so that her friend would not pass away uncomforted.

Maria was not among the original Spanish ladies to accompany Katherina to England to marry Arthur Tudor. She came a few months later, after the young Princess of Wales had been widowed, as part of a second wave of Spanish attendants. Isabella of Spain sent them as a sign of her support for the newly made arrangement that Henry VII’s second and only surviving son, Henry, would be wed to Katherina. While her mother lived, Katherina’s future and the future of her ladies in waiting seemed secure. However, the death of Isabella of Spain precipitated eight years of penury and hardship for Katherina and her attendants, as the princess was used as bargaining chip between her hardnosed former father-in-law and her uncaring father. Maria remained loyal to Katherina throughout these tribulations.

Maria’s devotion was rewarded with a place by Katherina’s side at court when the princess finally married Henry VIII in 1509. Katherina loved Maria, and more importantly the new Queen of England trusted her. Katherina’s faith was not misplaced. History is rife with occasions of former friends betraying each other and becoming enemies, but Katherina and Maria remained close, their emotional bonds cemented by mutual loyalty and love.

Maria’s absolute dedication to Katherina’s interests over the interests of Spain quickly became a source of contention between Katherina and her father. Ferdinand of Aragon, in spite of his shameful treatment of his daughter during her widowhood, still expected Katherina to actively promote Spanish interests in her husband’s court. Maria, ever-mindful of Ferdinand’s treachery and callousness, encouraged the queen to support the needs of her English subjects instead. Ferdinand’s ambassador, Luis Caroz de Villaragut, complained bitterly about this to his master in Castile, and tried to have Maria removed. In spite of Villaragut’s grousing and Ferdinand’s disapproval, Maria’s position in Katherina’s court remained secure. They were steadfast friends, and not even matters of diplomacy and state would separate them.

In 1516 Maria married William Willoughby, the 11th Baron of Willoughby de Eresby, but she remained a at court as a lady in waiting to the queen. Katherina and Maria continued to grow closed over time. Both women suffered the loss of their children, and both women had only one daughter survive to adulthood. It is likely that their shared pain and grief further strengthened their already close attachment to one another.

Maria was widowed in 1526 and wound up in a protracted legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Christopher Willoughby. The queen, who had been supplanted in the king’s affections and was contesting an annulment, was unable to come to the aid of her friend. In fact, Katherina’s close ties to Maria might have actually undermined Maria’s hope to gain the king’s help. Nevertheless, Maria did not try to curry Henry’s favor by hiding or ameliorating her support of Katherina’s rightful place as queen. She remained Katherina’s inexorable ally. Maria never put her own needs or chance for material gain ahead of friendship.

Catherine Willoughby
Catherine Willoughby

Although Maria had the satisfaction of seeing her daughter, Catherine Willoughby, become the wealthy and consequential Duchess of Suffolk in 1533, she also had the sorrow of watching her best friend lose everything. The former queen had been cast off, forbidden from seeing her daughter, cut off from her friends, and was enduring Henry’s rejection of papal authority, his (to her) bigamous marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the birth of his new daughter, Elizabeth. Maria, like the rest of Henry’s subjects, was absolutely forbidden to go to the queen at Kimbolton manor house, where the king had banished her. To ignore such an edict could be considered treasonous, and carry the penalty of death.

When Christmastime of 1535 brought Maria news that her oldest and dearest friend was dying, she desperately petitioned the king to be allowed to go Katherina’s side, yet Henry would not budge. Not even the fact Maria’s daughter was married to Henry’s best friend could sway the stubborn and vengeful monarch. He absolutely forbade Maria to see Katherina. As far as Henry was concerned, his former wife and the mother of his oldest daughter could die alone as suitable punishment for thwarting his will.

Notwithstanding the risk of imprisonment or worse, when Maria received word the first week of 1536 that Katherina was on death’s doorstep, Maria bit her thumb at the king and rode hell-for-leather for Katherina’s gilded cage at Kimbolton. Although Maria was in her mid-to-late 40s, and thus would have been considered an elderly woman in the Tudor era, she rode sixty miles through the dark of night in freezing weather to reach her friend. At some point in her journey she was thrown from her horse, but having a stainless-steel (and thus unbreakable) backbone, Maria was undeterred by her tumble and rode onwards. She arrived at Kimbolton on January 6, cold, muddy, tired, and determined. Maria, as smart as she was dependable, turned her riding accident to her advantage and used the stains on her dress to convince Katherina’s steward and jailer, Sir Edward Bedingfield, that she had “lost” the papers giving her permission from the king to see the former queen. Her ploy worked, and Bedingfield let her inside the house. Once Maria had breached the manor, she went to Katherina’s room, locked the door, and then refused to come out again. There is no record of it, but I will bet you money that Maria also called Bedingfield names in Spanish, and advised him to kiss her hind end. Bedingfield was unwilling to break down the door physically drag out a peeress (and was probably a little afraid she would tear out his heart and eat it in front of him), so could only wring his hands and moan. Maria couldn’t be winkled out of Katherina’s room with a big pin.

Therefore, Maria was there to hold Katherina in her arms as the queen breathed her last on the following day.

Despite the king’s attempts to keep Katherina from any personal comfort, Maria’s courage and physical daring secured the bereft former princess of Spain some solace. It should be noted that Maria actually risked her life to reach her best friend in Katherina’s darkest hour. She could have easily gotten killed on the journey, and there was no guarantee Henry wouldn’t throw her in the Tower and then behead her for treason. The possibilities of death or imprisonment were trivial to Maria when compared to friendship.

Maria got away with her impudent defiance of the king’s commands, probably because of the influence of her son-in-law, Charles Brandon. Moreover, her daughter Catherine Brandon went with her to Katherina of Aragon’s funeral, making sure there were some mourners of suitable rank for a queen’s burial in attendance. Maria herself died in May of 1539, and legend has it that she was interred at Peterborough Cathedral with Katherine, staying by her queen’s side in death as she did in life.

Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby
Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby

Maria de Salinas also got cosmic revenge against Henry VIII for her friend’s betrayal and death. Maria’s daughter Catherine married a man named Robert Bertie after her first husband’s death, and her son from this relationship, Peregrine Bertie, was an ancestor of Lady Diana Spencer, who is the deceased mother the royal princes William and Harry. William, currently the Duke of Cambridge, will one day inherit the throne of England. Thus, it is Maria’s direct descendants, not Henry’s, who will wear the crown.

It is a fitting legacy for a woman of such high courage and unshakable friendship.

Kyra Cornelius Kramer is the author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII and The Jezebel Effect: Why the sl*t Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters (Note from Claire – both brilliant books). She is a freelance academic with BS degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a MA in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She has written essays on the agency of the Female Gothic heroine and women’s bodies as feminist texts in the works of Jennifer Crusie. She has also co-authored two works; one with Dr. Laura Vivanco on the way in which the bodies of romance heroes and heroines act as the sites of reinforcement of, and resistance to, enculturated sexualities and gender ideologies, and another with Dr. Catrina Banks Whitley on Henry VIII.

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43 thoughts on “Maria de Salinas and Katherina of Aragon – The Depth and Breadth of Friendship”
  1. She rode forty miles in icy weather in the dead of night to be with her friend, that is true friendship it just goes to show what a remarkable woman Katherine was, to inspire such devotion in others.

  2. Condolences, Claire, on the loss of your friend. Thank you for posting the article. Maria must have been a remarkable woman. I wonder if her status as Maria’s daughter had anything to do with Katherine Willoughby being protected from (possibly) becoming Henry VIII’s seventh wife.

  3. So sorry for the loss of your dear friend.

    I knew Maria and Carherine were dear friends, but WOW!! This was a great read first thing in the morning and a fabulous way to start the day. Thank you and blessings!!

  4. Dear Claire,
    I am sorry for your loss. I hope that you can take comfort in the knowledge that you have known true friendship.

  5. First, Claire, let me say how sorry I am for your loss. I hope your memories will comfort you over time. You were blessed to have such a friendship. Peace.
    Thank you for this wonderful article–I knew they were dear friends, but hadn’t really given it much thought. I will remember this as a beautiful example of friendship. Thank you!

  6. Claire, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I pray that all the wonderful memories you have of her will comfort you during this sad time. Kyra’s article was very moving and a lovely reminder of what true friendship really means.

  7. Claire, you have my deepest condolences on the loss of your friend. Reading about Catherine and Maria brought me to tears. Talk about true friendship. Wow.

  8. First, my deepest sympathy Claire on the loss of your friend, and my prayers for you and her family and yours. It is so sad to lose someone close after so many years; you must miss her, but you will see her again in heaven. I will remember her in my thoughts and hope love and peace are with you.

    This is a beautiful article and Maria had such devotion to her friend; it was really heroic that terrible and difficult journey in the snow, in the winter, on a Tudor road; to be with Katherine, her friend, who she can come from Spain with. What a brave lady. This story always amazes and moves me. It also is one that I find inspiring and can visualize. Take care and God bless.

    Lyn-Marie x

  9. So sorry for your loss:(, loosening your best friend must be so awful . I’ve always loved Catherine of Aragon (as seen in my 14 page 9th grade research paper) and knowing that Maria was there for her gives me just a little closure. She’s been my role model since I was twelve. Maria and Cathering were two formidable women and I pity anyone who tries to get between them

  10. I heard many many years ago of a rumour that Maria made a request that upon her death, she wished to be buried with her beloved friend and Queen in Peterbrough Catherdral. It seems that the Victorians, who were a very macabre lot, did a little digging, before they gave K.O.A her Marble slab and stated that when they found what the thought was K.O.A’s coffin they hooked out a piece of black cloth which smelt strongly of spices. But before they had chance to examine it further it disintigrated into dust. However through the little hole they had made in the coffin they saw 3 hands or what they thought were hands in the coffin. A pretty story no doubt, but given how close Maria and K.O.A relationship was you can understand why stories like this exist.

  11. I was also lucky enough to have a wonderful, loyal friend. Her name was Betty, and we both married men who were in the RAF, and due to them being posted in different areas we didn’t get to see each other very often, although we kept up constantly with each other through letters and phone calls. Betty sadly died suddenly a few years ago and I was unable to go to her funeral. I miss her terribly so I understand some of what you must be feeling. I live in Peterborough and have always felt a lot of compassion for Katherine of Aragon. Her tomb in the Cathedral often has flowers and pomegranates left there. Every year Peterborough honour her through a week of festivities, services, processions etc. that involve some of the local schools and historical societies. It is truly fantastic. She certainly hasn’t been forgotten. But now I know about Maria I will include her in my thoughts when visiting the tomb.

    1. I have to agree that K.O.A’s tomb is very beautiful, although it also very sad that such a wonderful Queen was simply thrown away like a sack of old rubbish, by Henry in 1536. It is also sad that no Queen or King up until Queen Victoria did something to honour K.O.A’s memory and at least give her a monument worthy of such a great Queen.
      I have often wondered why Mary didn’t do something about her mother’s burial site herself? After all one of Mary’s first acts on becoming Queen was to overturn the “Great Divorce” in doing so that surely would include given her mother the due respect and honour of giving her mother the right of a Royal funeral.
      Maria was equally as formidable as K.O.A was, and I am so happy that she managed to reach K.O.A and be with her when she died.

      1. It was Queen Mary who decided to give her the honours due to a Queen Of England, she had the inscription, Katherine Queen Of England put above her tomb so she at last got the recognition she sought but not till several centuries later.

        1. Thank you Christine, but even so Mary still didn’t give her mother a tomb worthy of a Queen of England.
          I wonder why she didn’t have her mother buried with Henry?
          I’m sure that she would have been happy to allow her mother to share his tomb with Jane, after all Jane did all she could to restore Mary’s titles etc, when she was alive.

        2. Just to clarify, I think Christine was talking about Queen Mary, consort of George V (Mary of Teck), as it was that Mary and not Mary I who upgraded Catherine’s tomb to that of a queen. Also, according to her biographer, Giles Tremlett, an appeal in the 19th century to women in England named Catherine/Katherine raised enough money to replace the stone slab and in 1986 a wooden plaque reading “A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion” was added.

        3. Yes that’s right Claire, I was talking about Queen Mary Of Teck and the words on the wooden plaque do indeed sum up exactly what her English subjects thought of her.

      2. I think that the reason is obvious: Henry wanted to lie with Jane, the only wife who had given him a son, with only her, no other woman. Mary honored her mother while at the same respecting his father’s will.

      3. “very sad that such a wonderful Queen was simply thrown away”

        History is full of sad things and even horrible things. Also in life in general, people do not get what they “deserve”.

        We must remember that however wonderful Katherine may have been as a person (though that was also an image she successfully created), she failed in the most important job the Queen in that time had: to give birth to a son. (It does not matter that we know she could not influence on it.) Although she was popular, her value in cementing the alliance with Spain was gone as first her father and then her nephew betrayed Henry.

        Nor was Henry’s doubts about the female ruler without reasons. While Katherine”s mother Isabella reigned Castile in her own right and was equal with her husband, king of Aragon, her daughter Juana was imprisoned by her husband, father and son on the pretext of madness that was probably invented to rob her of her authority. And the same happened later: Elizabeth was a success while Mary Queen of Scots was forced to marry a man who had raped her.

        1. Yes, I agree with CHristine. Juana was treated horribly, but there was no need to pretend she was insane, as she clearly was.

      4. “It is also sad that no Queen or King up until Victoria did something to honor K.O.A’s memory”

        These are always political decisions. After her daughter Mary died without issue, Katherine had no influential person left in whose interest it was to honor her memory. On the contrary, Katherine was Catholic and England was full of Protestant men who had made their fortune and position by buying the former Church lands.

        The situation was changed when the religion antagonism lessened and interest in women in history increased.

        Unfortunately, Katherine was and is often presented as if she was an ordinary middle-aged wife whose husband finds a younger woman, forgetting the context of the 16th century royalty, religion and foreign policy.

        Not only Anne but also Katherine played the power game just as Wolsey and Cromwell just like them, but as women they ultimately lost mostly because of biology.

      5. I agree that Queen Mary Tudor could have done more to restore the title at her tomb, but to be fair she did honour her mother’s memory. For one thing she restored the still missed Catholic faith, she restored the shrines and the religious orders csme back. She agreed not to exchange the lost lands as this was not a wise political reality, but she did beautifully restore many lost items. She also undid via an act of Parliament the settlement and the divorce taking us back to 1529. Her Parliament also has a documentary roll which restores her own legitimate claim, restored Katherine and Henry as if they were never divorced and reversed his own reforms. Mary only ruled for a few years, perhaps she just did not get around to this. However, Katherine of Aragorn did not want to be buried with Henry. She wanted to be buried in the Observant Friars which was being closed so she was buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Peterborough now the Cathedral, as the most suitable alternative Henry Viii chose. Nor could Mary uproot her to Windsor as Jane Seymour lay there and putting Katherine in was silly. Mary respected her father and her mother, so respected his choice of gravemate. The money did not exist to complete Henry and Jane’s elaborate tomb which was later dismantled. Mary could have had a reburial translation of the body to Westminster Abbey, laying in Saint Pauls enroute, but probably she thought it was not the time to disturb her mothers remains. Katherine had been given a proper service, she had an honorary send off, attended by members of the court and noblewomen, she had prayers and voctive candles and a property conducted requiem. She had a tomb and local people came to see her to honour her. Katherine did not want to be buried with Henry, or in Westminster Abbey, she wanted a simple funeral. Mary should have been more diligent and raised in status her tomb at Peterborough, but it was not her mother’s wish to be moved somewhere else. What is it with modern thinking, that there is something demeaning in simplicity? Mary Tudor was honouring her parents as best she could in line with both of their wishes.

  12. To Christine

    After reading Sister queens by Julia Fox, I believe that evidence about Juana’s madness is slight and it is far more likely that her husband, father and son presented her mad in order to take her power.

  13. Claire my deepest condolences. I know that feeling all too well.
    Thank you so much for your reporting on this fascinating time.
    I’ve always felt a deep sadness for this great Queen, Katherina
    de Aragon. I’ve always admired her steadfast faith and devotion
    to her religion (as it’s mine too) and her love for her husband.
    But mostly the grace and dignity she showed during such a
    horrific time in her life. The fact that she loved Henry throughout
    and to her last breath has never ceased to amaze me.
    She was a proud and dignified royal princess to her core and
    never lost sight of what was truly important, and that was to be
    true to herself. Again, thank you for this article about Maria de Salinas
    and Queen Katherine. Maria Elena

  14. An excellent article illustrating the strong, long-lasting friendship between women in the past and now. I know the emptiness when a friend leaves, Enjoy your memories.

  15. In September 1534, when Catherine’s health deteriorated, Maria begged permission to visit her but was denied. Catherine, having again been refused permission to visit.

  16. Thank you, Claire, for posting this again (I missed it when originally posted). A beautiful story of true friendship.

  17. Maria De Salinas is the friend we all wish we could have. Maria was loyal, kind, brave, smart, and most likely funny to tie it all off. The story of her and Katherina is absolutely beautiful. Most would probably say that their bond was one of sisters, but I say that it was much stronger. She stood up against the King (AKA stinky rat man), knowing full well what would happen to her if he ever found out about her ‘treason’. Go Maria!

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