Childhood & Early Life
Catherine of Aragon was born on December 16, 1485, to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile at the ‘Archbishop's Palace’ in Alcalá de Henares near Madrid.
Young Catherine obtained formal education from Alessandro Geraldini who taught her various subjects. She was a multi-linguist, trained in Spanish, Latin, French, and Greek. Additionally, she also learned basic domestic skills, such as cooking, sewing, spinning, and so on.
From an early age Catherine was religious which would prove to be crucial in deciding her future.
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In 1501, Catherine married Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to the English throne. After the untimely death of Arthur in 1502, she married his younger brother Henry in 1509, after he had taken over the throne as King Henry VIII.
Catherine, who was highly intelligent, was appointed as the regent or governor of England on June 11, 1513. She served as the governor during King Henry VIII’s absence as he went to France on a military campaign.
With the Scots invading England, she ordered Thomas Lovell to raise an army in the midland counties. Dressed in armor, she rode Northside and addressed the troops. Inspired by her words, the troop won the ‘Battle of Flodden Field.’
Overwhelmed by the victory at the ‘Battle of Flodden Field,’ she sent the bloodied coat of King James IV of Scotland to her husband so that the coat could be used as a banner during the siege of Tournai.
Catherine was drawn towards spiritualism and divinity. Furthermore, her interest towards academics deepened. She not only aimed at widening her knowledge but that of her daughter’s too. It was mostly due to Catherine’s influence that education amongst women became prevalent. To help women’s education, she donated a large sum of money to colleges.
Personal Life & Legacy
Catherine was engaged to Arthur, Prince of Wales since childhood. They were eventually married on November 14, 1501, at ‘Old St. Paul's Cathedral.’
Following their marriage, Arthur was sent on a commission to the border of Wales, presiding over the Council of Wales and the marches. Catherine accompanied him on the trip. Subsequently, the two fell seriously ill which resulted in the death of Arthur.
To avoid returning the dowry, Henry VII proposed the marriage of his second son, Henry, Duke of York to Catherine. The marriage, however, was delayed as the groom hadn’t reached the suitable age for marriage. During this time, Catherine lived as a virtual prisoner at ‘Durham House’ in London.
Since cannon law prohibited marriage to brother’s widow, Catherine had to first obtain affirmation from the Pope, which she finally received after proving that her marriage to Arthur was unconsummated.
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Catherine married Henry VIII on June 11, 1509, in a private ceremony at ‘Greenwich Church.’ Prior to the wedding, Henry acceded to the throne and was known as King Henry VIII. The two were crowned on June 24, 1509.
From 1510 to 1518, Catherine was pregnant six times. However, except for her daughter, Mary I, none of her children survived. Most of them were stillborn and the rest, including three sons, died after a few hours of birth.
The inability to provide the king with a male heir caused a major rift between King Henry VIII and Catherine. He grew to be largely frustrated and dissatisfied with his marriage and looked for means to annul it.
In 1525, he became besotted with Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine. The main aim of King Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn was to get a male heir.
King Henry VIII came to believe that his marriage to Catherine was a cursed one. He interpreted the Bible stating that if a man married his brother’s wife, the couple would be childless. Though this interpretation was blatantly false in their case as they had a daughter named Mary I, he continued to believe that his marriage with Catherine was cursed.
In an attempt to remarry and get a male heir, he appealed to Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage with Catherine. He claimed that the marriage shouldn’t have taken place as she was his brother’s wife, though Catherine had claimed that her marriage with his brother was unconsummated.
Catherine directly appealed to Pope Clement VII, who finally gave the decrement in favor of Catherine. The king was forbidden from marrying again and Catherine was given her rightful place as the legitimate wife and was reinstated as the queen of England.
Despite the judgement being in Catherine’s favor, Henry VIII banished her from court and married Anne Boleyn. He defended the legality of the marriage stating that Catherine was his brother’s wife. A special court was convened wherein Crammer gave out the verdict in the king’s favor. He annulled Henry VIII’s marriage with Catherine, calling it illegal.
Despite being legally misconstrued, Catherine claimed herself as the queen of England and the king’s rightfully wedded wife until her death. However, Henry VIII gave her the title ‘Dowager Princess of Wales.’
Catherine's nephew, the Roman Emperor Charles V, paid a state visit to England in 1520, and she urged Henry to enter an alliance with Charles rather than with France. Within two years, a war was declared against France.
Catherine spent the better part of her later life at the More Castle. In 1535, she was transferred to a single room at Kimbolton Castle. She was forbidden from meeting her daughter as well. Catherine spent much of her later life engaged in spiritual practices. She even fasted for days at a stretch.
In December 1535, her health worsened. Concerned about her daughter’s wellbeing, she made her will and asked her cousin Charles V to protect her. She breathed her last on January 7, 1536, in Kimbolton Castle. She was buried in Peterborough Castle with a ceremony that was entitled for Dowager Princess of Wales and not for the queen of England.
Posthumously, Catherine has been the biographical subject of many writers and authors. The controversial book ‘The Education of Christian Women’ was dedicated to her.
Several paintings, portraits, and sculptures of Catherine were commissioned. Alcalá de Henares, the place of her birth, bears a statue of Catherine holding a book and a rose. A road in Ampthill is named after her.
Her life has been portrayed on television, films, plays, novels, songs, poems, and other art forms.