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RIP Catherine of Aragon

Posted By on January 7, 2010

Catherine of AragonOn this day in 1536, Catherine of Aragon died at her home, Kimbolton Hall, after being taken ill at the end of December. When Henry VIII was informed of his former wife’s illness, he allowed the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, to visit her and he arrived at Catherine’s bedside on the 2nd January.

The Catherine of Aragon that Chapuys found on his arrival was a far different Catherine to the strong Queen that he had once known. She was seriously ill, in constant pain and was having trouble eating and sleeping. She was able to talk though and Linda Porter (in “Mary Tudor: The First Queen”) writes of how the two of them reminisced about the past and “she wondered aloud whether the course of action she had followed was the right one”, after all, she and her daughter had suffered so much.

Catherine knew that she was dying and she told Chapuys of how she wanted to leave her daughter Mary the gold cross that she had brought over with her from Spain in 1501 and her furs. She also dictated a letter to the man she still loved, Henry VIII:-

“My most dear lord, king and husband,

the hour of my dear now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part I pardon you everything and I wish to devoutly pray to God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants, I solicit the wages due to them, and a year or more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.”

A beautiful letter and surely Henry could not helped to have been moved by it. For all the bravado he showed when news of Catherine’s death reached him, in spite of the celebrations ordered, the dressing in yellow and the parading of the little Princess Elizabeth at court, Henry must have felt something at the death of the woman to whom he had been married for over 20 years. It is said that both Henry and Anne Boleyn wept separately and privately at the news, Catherine’s death may have been a relief but Anne had once been one of her ladies.

Catherine of Aragon was laid to rest in Peterborough Cathedral, then Peterborough Abbey, on the 29th January 1536, the day that Anne Boleyn miscarried a baby boy, her “saviour”. Catherine was given a ceremony befitting her position as Princess Dowager, not Queen. Henry VIII did not attend and Mary was not allowed to see her mother buried.

Although Chapuys wrote of how Catherine’s heart was found to be “black and hideous” and rumours circulated that Catherine had been poisoned, it is now thought that Catherine died of heart disease or cancer.

I find it funny that people assume that as an Anne Boleyn fan that I am somehow anti-Catherine. I don’t think it’s a case of “Team Boleyn” or “Team Aragon” and I think that Catherine was a wonderful person and someone who did not deserve the treatment that she got at the hands of her husband. She was a strong woman who never gave up her love for Henry and never gave in to his demands. She believed that their marriage vows were sacred and that they could not be broken and she also fought for the rights of her daughter, Mary. She stood up to the monster that Henry was becoming and kept her faith and she should be admired. If you do not admire her for that then what about the numerous miscarriages she went through, the heartache of losing a young baby prince and also for the amazing queen that she was, the fact that she defended England from the Scots while Henry was in France.

I won’t go into any more detail but you can read these articles on Catherine (and Anne):-

24 thoughts on “RIP Catherine of Aragon”

  1. Carol says:

    “Lastly I make this vow, that my eyes desire you above all things”

    How very moving – these words always bring a tear to my eye.
    I also find that peopke expect me to be hostile to Catherine because I am such a fan of
    Anne’s.

    Like you Claire, I think that she was a very good woman who genuinely loved Henry.

  2. ProudtobeCatholic says:

    Katherine of Aragon has always been , and always will be my favorite of Henry’s wives. She was smart, brave, pious, humble, and obedient all rolled into one. IMO, Not only is she an example to wives, but she’s an example to all women.

  3. Eliza says:

    It’s great how your blog reminds us of important dates in Tudor History!!
    I, like you, am not anti- Katherine, although I am not so fond of her either. Nevertheless, I feel that she had a pretty difficult life, especially her last years. It’s a pity that Henry was so cruel to her- keeping her away from her daughter! I know he did that because she didn’t want them to ally, but it was a cruel thing to do to a mother and a daughter.

  4. Eliza says:

    Oops! HE didn’t want them to ally!

  5. Matterhorn says:

    Thank you Claire- a very touching post.

  6. Kari says:

    Thank you for this post. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Katherine’s, but I’m not “anti-Katherine” either. I have few issues with her, but it’s impossible not to feel compassion and sympathy when you consider Henry’s abominable treatment of her. She behaved with admirable dignity in the face of his selfishness and malice, and for that alone she deserves respect.

  7. Sheena says:

    I remember when I was younger and found out about how Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella- it was like this light bulb went off in my head about just how history was intertwined…it was how I would segue conversations with people who had no idea who H8 or any of his wives were…

    Them: “Catherine who?”

    Me: “The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain- you know the ones that gave Christopher Columbus the money to sail across the Atlantic…?”

    …Suddenly Tudor history was something they could relate to, even if only from a distance.

    I wonder if the cross that Catherine spoke of to Chapuys is the one that Mary I wears in a painting by Hans Eworth- in the painting, Mary is wearing a jeweled cross choker. Also, isn’t/ wasn’t yellow a color for mourning in Spain? I swear I read it somewhere.

  8. I thnk she was awesome. Anne and Katherine were both strong women, and people should realize that.

  9. lisaannejane says:

    Just my opinion, but I see Katherine as someone who may have won the battle but lost the war. If she knew that her actions helped lead to the downfall of the Catholic church and lead to an ultimate breakdown with Rome, would she have made the choices that she did? I feel sorry for her but somewhere in the back of her mind, she must have realized the problem of a male heir never went away. I wonder if she thought Henry would accept a girl as his heir? She suffered so much and yet it’s hard to see her choices as being the best for her and Mary. I still see Henry as the problem and his insistence on a male heir, which ultimately led to the break with Rome, the last thing I think Katherine would have wanted.

  10. Francesca says:

    I agree that Catherine of Aragon had many admirable qualities and there was something quite magnificent about her defiance of Henry. However if she had shown more flexibility and struck a deal wuth Henry, Catholicism could have been preserved in England. Cardinal Campeggio suggested she retire to a convent thus dissolving the marriage. This course of action may have meant her daughter’s legitimacy could be preserved as the church could recognisw children as legitimate when the parents had married in good faith at the time.

    Ultimately Catherine’s defiance and loyalties led Mary to look to Spain for counsel and support- a course of action that was didastrous both personally and politically during her brief reign.

  11. mannequin says:

    Like you, there is so much to admire about Katherine. Although Anne was my favorite also, the two were so completely different that there really is no comparison.
    What a strong woman and a queen in every sense of the word. Who could have NOT respected her?

  12. Thank you SO MUCH for remembering the Queen. What a beautiful and moving post!!

  13. Claire says:

    Being in Spain, my children learn about Ferdinand and Isabella and we have also been to the Alhambra in Granada, so it’s interesting to see the history from Spain’s side of things. Catalina de Aragon or Catherine of Aragon had a strong role model in her mother and it’s no wonder that she wanted to fight for Mary’s right to the throne as she knew that a woman was capable of ruling a country just as well as a man.

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post. Thank you for all your comments and, yes, her letter to Henry is incredibly moving.

    I’m not sure about the cross, Sheena, I hope that it was passed on to Mary and I’m not sure about yellow being the Spanish colour of mourning, they all wear black at funerals nowadays so it might just have been someone trying to justify Henry’s dress.

  14. Sheena says:

    I thought that I read the yellow reference in a book, but it would appear that I read it on the “Historical Inaccuracies” page of the tudorswiki…there is no telling where they got their information, although it is interesting if a color of joy an celebration in one country is a color of mourning in another…

  15. laura says:

    I am a fan of Anne as I am a fan of Katherine, I belive both were very interesting and strong women. I live in spain nowdays and its sounds strange to me that yellow was a color for mourning in those days, but I’ll try to make some reserch.

  16. Claire says:

    I too live in Spain, where are you Laura? I’m in Andalucia in the Almeria province. I might ask one of my old neighbours about whether yellow was ever a mourning colour, but I’ve been unable to find anything in books or online.

  17. Matterhorn says:

    I just wanted to share this: another last letter by a Queen to her husband, also very moving and full of faith and love:

    http://crossoflaeken.blogspot.com/2010/01/last-letter-of-queen-louise-marie.html

  18. laura says:

    claire
    How long have you been living here in spain??? I live in madrid. I olso try to reserch about yellow been the color of mourning but the only thing I found is that they used ider black or white during funerals and so on.

  19. Claire says:

    Hi Laura,
    I’ve been here since August 2006. How about you?

  20. Sheena says:

    According to some online sights, yellow is the color of mourning in Egypt and Burma, and yellow was the color worn by the Spanish Inquisition. They also mentioned that yellow was used by actors in the Middle Ages when playing dead characters. Perhaps someone people online in historical circles mish-mashed all this stuff together to interpret Anne and Henry’s color choices- although there are conflicting reports as if to whether or not both, or just one wore all yellow.

    I read in Hall’s Chronicle that Henry wore white the Ascension day after Anne’s beheading which is one of the colors of mourning in France…could this have been an homage to Anne’s French connection?

  21. laura says:

    Hi Claire,
    Well I’ve been living in spain since september of 1999. Almost 11 years!!!!

  22. laura says:

    People here in spain have told me that yellow is a color of bad luck , specialy in weddings.

  23. Angelina says:

    like many of you I am a fan of both women. Anne Boleyn was a strong, beautiful and determined woman who saw her worth as a woman YEARS and CENTURIES before the woman’s rights movements. Saying this I don’t believe that what Henry or Anne did to Katherine was right, and Queen Katherine of Aragon will always be a role model and hero to me, but I can’t help but admire Anne’s own unique qualities. Both women were strong, and both fought to preserve the rights for their daughters in the end (who, it must be said, came to love each other in Elizbaeth’s younger years as two sisters would. I mean Mary couldn’t bring herself to kill her younger sister, even if she was a prostant hertic in her mind.).

  24. Helen Davis says:

    I too love and admire both women.,I have a slight preference for Anne but Henry was horrid to them both,

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