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Catherine of Aragon

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Template:House of Trastámara Catherine of Aragon (Castilian: Infanta Catalina de Aragón y Castilla; 16 December 14857 January 1536) was the first wife of Henry VIII of England. Henry tried to have their twenty-four year marriage annulled in part because all their male heirs apparently died in childhood, with only one of their six children, Princess Mary (later Queen Mary I) surviving as heiress presumptive, at a time when there was no precedent for a woman on the throne. The Pope refused to allow the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine (primarily because he was enthralled to Catherine's nephew - the Emperor Charles V - who could not allow such an insult to his family), which set off a chain reaction that led to Henry's break with the Roman Catholic Church and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn in the hope of fathering a male heir to continue the Tudor dynasty.

Born in Alcalá de Henares, Catherine was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. Her older siblings were Isabella, Princess of Asturias; John, Prince of Asturias; Joan I of Spain; and Maria of Castile and Aragon, Queen of Portugal. She was an aunt, among others, of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, John III of Portugal and their wives, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor and Henry I of Portugal.

She was a granddaughter of both John II of Castile and John II of Aragon. She was descended from the English royal house through her great-grandmother Katherine of Lancaster and her great-great-grandmother Philippa of Lancaster, both daughters of John of Gaunt. She was thus a third cousin of her father-in-law and mother-in-law, Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York.

Princess of Wales[edit]

Catherine married Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII of England, on November 14 1501. As Prince of Wales, Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castle on the borders of Wales, to preside over the Council of Wales, and Catherine accompanied him. A few months later, they both became ill, possibly with the sweating sickness which was sweeping the area. Catherine herself nearly died; she recovered to find herself a widow. Catherine testified that, because of the couple's youth, the marriage had not been consummated; Pope Julius II then issued a dispensation, so that Catherine could become betrothed to Arthur's younger brother, the future Henry VIII of England.

Catherine of Aragon was said to have made the road 'Aragon Road' in the village of Great Leighs, Chelmsford, and was said to have lived in the Windsor house on that road.

Queen consort of England[edit]

Young Catherine.

The marriage did not take place until after Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509, the marriage on June 11, followed by the coronation on June 24, 1509. Both as Princess of Wales and as Queen, Catherine was extremely popular with the people. She governed the nation as Regent while Henry invaded France in 1513.

Henry VIII supposedly married Catherine of Aragon at his father's dying wish and was happily-enough married to her (despite squabbles with her father over the payment of her dowry), although not faithful, for 18 years, until he became seriously worried about getting a male heir to his throne as she approached menopause. Her first child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1510. Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall was born in 1511 but died after 52 days. Catherine then had another stillbirth to a girl, followed by another short-lived son. On February 18, 1516 at the Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, London, she gave birth to a daughter named Mary (later Queen Mary I of England also known as "Bloody Mary"). Her final pregnancy ended with a stillborn girl in November 1518. A male heir was essential to Henry. The Tudor dynasty was new, and its legitimacy might still be tested. The last time a female had inherited the English throne, Henry I of England's daughter Empress Matilda had had to fight a long civil war against those barons who denied a woman could reign in England. The disasters of civil war were still fresh in living memory from the Wars of the Roses (14551485).

In 1520, Catherine's nephew Charles V paid a state visit to England, and the Queen urged the policy of gaining his alliance rather than that of France. Immediately after his departure, May 31, 1520, she accompanied the king to France on the celebrated visit to Francis I, remembered (from the splendors of the occasion) as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Within two years, however, war was declared against France and the Emperor once again made welcome in England, where plans were afoot to betroth him to Henry and Catherine's daughter Princess Mary.

The recently-widowed young Catherine of Aragon, by Henry VII's court painter, Michael Sittow, c. 1502

At this point Catherine was not in physical condition to undergo further pregnancies. Because of the lack of heirs, Henry began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from two verses of the biblical Book of Leviticus, which said that, if a man marries his brother's wife, the couple will be childless. He chose to believe that Catherine had lied when she said her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, therefore making their marriage wrong in the eyes of God. He therefore asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage in 1527.

The Pope stalled on the issue for seven years without making a final judgement, partially because allowing an annulment would be admitting that the Church had been in error for allowing a special dispensation for marriage in the first place, and partially because he was a virtual prisoner of Catherine's nephew Charles V, who had conquered Rome. Henry separated from Catherine in July 1531, and married one of Catherine's former ladies-in-waiting (and sister of his former mistress Lady Mary Boleyn), Anne Boleyn in January 1533. Henry finally had Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, annul the marriage himself on May 23, 1533. To forestall an appeal to Rome, which Catherine would have almost certainly won, he had Parliament pass the Act of Supremacy, repudiating Papal jurisdiction in England, making the king the head of the English church, and beginning the English Reformation.

Later years[edit]

Catherine refused to acknowledge the annulment and took the issue to the law, but she lost and was forced to leave Court. She was separated from her daughter (who was declared illegitimate) and was sent to live in remote castles and in humble conditions, in the hope that she would surrender to the inevitable; but she never accepted the annulment and signed her last letter, "Catherine the Queen." By this time, she was aware that Henry's marriage to Anne was turning bad, and she had not ceased to hope that he might one day return to her.

Catherine died of a form of cancer at Kimbolton Castle, on January 7, 1536 and was buried in Peterborough Cathedral with the ceremony due to a Princess Dowager of Wales, not a Queen. Catherine's embalmer confessed to her doctor that Catherine's heart had been black through and through, which led many of her supporters to spread the rumour that Anne Boleyn had poisoned her[unverified]. Henry did not attend the funeral, nor did he allow Princess Mary to do so.

Visitors to Peterborough Cathedral can still visit Catherine's tomb, which is frequently decorated with flowers and bears the title 'Katherine the Queen.' Peterborough is twinned with Alcalá de Henares, her birthplace.


Catherine of Aragon's Ancestors in Three Generations
Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England Father:
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Paternal Grandfather:
John II of Aragon
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Ferdinand I of Aragon
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Eleanor of Alburquerque
Paternal Grandmother:
Juana Enríquez
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Fadrique Enríquez, Count of Melba and Rueda
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Mariana de Córdoba
Isabel of Castile
Maternal Grandfather:
John II of Castile
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Henry III of Castile
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Katherine of Lancaster
Maternal Grandmother:
Isabella of Portugal
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John I of Portugal
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Isabella de Braganza

Film, TV and fiction[edit]

Catherine was first portrayed on the silver screen in 1911 by Violet Vanburgh in a production of William Shakespeare's play Henry VIII. Nine years later, the German actress Hedwig Pauly-Winterstein played Catherine in the film Anna Boleyn. Later, actress Rosalie Crutchley played Catherine in The Sword and the Rose an account of Mary Tudor's romance with the Duke of Suffolk in 1515. Crutchley later played Henry's sixth queen Catherine Parr in The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Irene Papas as Catherine of Aragon
It was not until 1969, in Hal B. Wallis's acclaimed movie Anne of the Thousand Days that Catherine appeared again. This time she was played by the Greek actress Irene Papas. A year later, in a 90-minute television drama produced by the BBC, British actress Annette Crosbie played the most historically-accurate version of Catherine in a piece simply entitled Catherine of Aragon as part one in the channel's series The Six Wives of Henry VIII. The drama began on the night Catherine arrived in England and followed through until her early marriage to Henry VIII. It re-commenced almost a decade later, with Henry's manoeuvres to get an annulment in order to marry Anne Boleyn. The play, which co-starred the Australian actor Keith Michell as Henry VIII, Dame Dorothy Tutin as Anne Boleyn and Patrick Troughton as the Duke of Norfolk, then chronicled Catherine's life until her death in January 1536. Two years later Claire Bloom played Catherine in another adaptation of Shakespeare's play.

In the 1973 film Henry VIII and his Six Wives, Frances Cuka played Catherine and Keith Michell reprised his role as Henry VIII. A scene was incorporated between Frances Cuka and Charlotte Rampling (playing Anne Boleyn) to show their quiet, glacial enmity.

Template:Henryviiiwives It was not until 2001 that Catherine again appeared on the screen. This time it was in Dr. David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens. She was portrayed by Annabelle Dowler, with Julia Marsen as Anne Boleyn.

In 2003 Catherine appeared twice on British television. In January, Spanish actress Yolanda Vasquez made a brief appearance as the character in The Other Boleyn Girl, opposite Jared Harris as Henry VIII and Natascha McElhone as Mary Boleyn. In October, the ITV 2-part television drama, Henry VIII starred Ray Winstone in the title role and Assumpta Serna as Queen Catherine. Part 1 chronicled the king's life from the birth of his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy until the execution of Anne Boleyn (played by Helena Bonham Carter) in 1536. David Suchet co-starred as Cardinal Wolsey.

Maria Doyle Kennedy portrayed the role in the 2007 Showtime television series The Tudors opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry. The 2007 film adaptation of the novel The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory stars Ana Torrent as Catherine, with Eric Bana as Henry, Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn.

There have also been several fictionalized versions of Catherine's story, including Catharine of Aragon, by historical romance author Jean Plaidy, and The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory. Also, for younger readers, Catherine's story is told in Patience, Princess Catherine by Carolyn Meyer. Although Catherine is often portrayed in film and on stage as having possessed the stereotypical Spanish traits of having dark hair and an olive complexion, Catherine was in fact a grey or blue eyed, fair-skinned woman with reddish-blonde hair, not too unusual for northern Spaniards such as those in her father's land of Aragon. Furthermore, Catherine herself was part English, having an English great-grandmother on her mother's side.


Template:Original research

File:Catherine of Aragon by artist unknown.jpg
Catherine of Aragon, posthumously portrayed by an unknown artist.

For centuries, Catherine was revered by many as a saint-like figure. She became a symbolic representation of the wronged woman and was presented in an extremely favourable light.

This view was first challenged in 1860 by historian G. A. Bergenroth. He had seen the Spanish royal archives, and believed that the universal praise of Catherine of Aragon needed "to be less." Joanna Denny also takes a firmer line with Catherine than historians of previous, criticising Catherine savagely in her 2004 biography of Anne Boleyn. Catherine is described by Denny as "arrogant, stubborn, even bloody-minded."

Nevertheless, Catherine still has her ardent admirers (chief amongst them is the historian Alison Weir, author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Henry VIII: King and Court, who makes no mention of Bergenroth's findings), and the revisionists were greeted with derision by them. In response to criticism of his portrait in his book Six Wives, David Starkey insisted that he had meant no disrespect, and he argued that Catherine would have been both naïve and foolish to try to survive in the 1500s without employing espionage and political subterfuge. He believed that these tactics were a tribute to Catherine's intelligence.

Even so, those who see Catherine as a saint were outraged. The blame for Catherine's maltreatment has always been attributed to her successor, Anne Boleyn. Now a new generation of historians seem to be suggesting that neither Catherine nor Anne was at fault; they both simply reacted to circumstances, and Catherine would have done the same to Anne if she had had the opportunity. Another assessment, advanced by several authors, including the American feminist Karen Lindsey, is that the true culprit for Catherine's misery in her final years was her husband, Henry. It was simply convenient for his contemporaries to blame Catherine's exile upon Anne, instead. Historians today are trying to construct a more balanced portrait of all six of Henry's queens, including his first.

Template:Princesses of Wales

External links[edit]

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