On this day in Tudor history, 9th November 1518, nine years into her marriage to King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine of Aragon gave birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter at Greenwich Palace.
Sadly, this sixth pregnancy would be Catherine’s last.
Let me explain exactly what happened on this day in 1518 and what we know about Catherine of Aragon’s pregnancies…
On this day in Tudor history, 9th November 1518, Queen Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife of nine years, gave birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter at Greenwich Palace.
On 10th November 1518, Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador, reported:
“In the past night the Queen had been delivered of a daughter, to the vexation of everybody. Never had the kingdom so anxiously desired anything as it did a prince.”
In the Sanuto Diaries, a diary kept by Marino Sanuto, in Venice, is the following record:
“The Queen bad been delivered in her eighth month of a stillborn daughter, to the great sorrow of the nation at large.”
In her book “Sisters Queen” on Catherine and her sister, Juana, historian Julia Fox notes mention of a payment of £4 from the king for the “carrying and recarrying” of the christening font to Canterbury. This same font had been used for the christening of Princess Mary in 1516 and borrowed when Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was born in 1511. It had been ordered from Canterbury Cathedral to christen the expected prince, but was now no longer needed. There is also record the ermine trimmed purple tissue, which had been used to cover the queen’s bed during her confinement, being taken from the palace to Baynard’s Castle, the queen’s London residence.
Catherine must have been devastated by the tragic result of her sixth pregnancy, but she didn’t give up hope of providing her husband with a living son. Historian Julia Fox writes of how “she went on pilgrimages, she attended Mass after Mass, and she prayed for hour upon hour”, but it was not meant to be, Catherine never got pregnant again.
We have evidence for Catherine experiencing six pregnancies:
- On 31st January 1510, 33 weeks after her marriage to Henry VIII, Catherine gave birth to a stillborn daughter.
- Just under a year later, on 1st January 1511, Catherine gave birth to a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall. Unfortunately, little Henry died on 22nd February at just 52 days old.
- On 17th September 1513, Catherine gave birth to a son who was either stillborn or who did not survive long. The Venetian Calendar of State Papers records that the child was alive at birth: “a male heir was born to the King of England and will inherit the crown, the other son having died.” but we don’t know for sure.
- In November 1514, the Venetian ambassador recorded that “The Queen has been delivered of a stillborn male child of eight months to the very great grief of the whole court”, chronicler Raphael Holinshed reported that “in November the Queen was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”, and John Stow wrote “in the meantime, to Whit, the month of November, the Queen was delivered of a prince which lived not long after”.
- On 18th February 1516, Catherine gave birth to a healthy baby girl, a daughter who would grow up to be Queen Mary I.
- And then the final pregnancy which ended on this day in 1518 with a stillborn daughter.
Catherine did her very best to provide King Henry VIII with a living Prince of Wales and it’s so sad that she was cast aside the way she was.
Book recommendation: “Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile” by Julia Fox.