Arthur Tudor’s Widow – Katharine of Aragon

The Coat of Arm’s of Katharine of Aragon as Queen of England, wife of King Henry VIII. image source wikicommons

The Change in Destiny for Katharine of Aragon

Worcester Cathedral, where Arthur was laid to rest on the 25th of April, 1502
Worcester Cathedral, where Arthur was laid to rest on the 25th of April, 1502
The death of Arthur Tudor gives us one of the great what if’s in History, and it changed England irrevocably.

The young man of only 15 died leaving his wife Katharine of Aragon, the great Spanish Infanta and prize of Henry VII a widow, seemingly never to fulfill her destiny to be Queen of England.

After Arthur’s death, she left Ludlow for London in a litter dressed in mourning black.

She was housed at Durham House, built in the 14th century and which belonged to the Bishop of Durham on The Strand. It was a beautiful house, with gardens that stretched down to The Thames.

This wasn’t to be a happy time for Katharine. She was in limbo, and a political pawn in a foriegn country where she was still learning the language.

Her father, Ferdinand of Aragon had only paid 50% of her dowry from her marriage to Arthur, and this infuriated Henry VII who continued to wrangle and negotiate with Ferdinand.

Young Katharine, dated around the time of her marriage to Arthur in 1502
Young Katharine, dated around the time of her marriage to Arthur in 1502
By 1503, the two wily King’s had agreed on how to move forward – agreeing to the marriage of Katharine to Henry, Arthur’s younger brother and the newly created Prince of Wales.

A papal dispensation was issued due to the fact that Katharine had been married to Henry’s brother.

Katharine swore that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, which was also confirmed by her Duenna. The dispensation was granted even in the case of affinity and if the marriage had been consummated.

However it wasn’t going to be a quick wedding.

In 1504, Katharine’s formidable mother Isabella of Castille died, leaving Katharine as a less attractive match for Henry seeing she was no longer the daughter of the monarch of Castille, just of Aragon.

Henry VII knew that this put him in control and he was less enthusiastic about the match. In 1505, Henry VII convinced his son to repudiate the match.

Durham House, where Katharine lived as Arthur's widow. An 1806 engraving by Thomas Smith from Wikipedia
Durham House, where Katharine lived as Arthur’s widow. An 1806 engraving by Thomas Smith from Wikipedia
Katharine was once again in limbo and lived in poverty, unable to pay her staff due to the squabbling monarchs. Both Henry and Ferdinand expected the other to give her an allowance.

Ferdinand did not want Katharine to return to Spain, and made her his ambassador to the royal court for which she conducted herself admirably.

Shr was a match for Henry VII and his councillors and was thought to have been the first female ambassador in European history.

However her luck was about to change (if you call it that) Henry VII died at Richmond on the 21st of April, 1509 possibly of Tuberculosis. If he hadn’t have died at this point, who knows who the marriage negotiations would have fallen upon?

Henry, Prince of Wales was now King Henry VIII and free for the first time in his life to make his own decisions, having growing up coddled and hidden from the public by his father and grandmother.

One of his first decisions was to marry Katharine as soon as possible.

There are many thoughts as to why Henry made this decision, and I believe it was a combination of factors.

I believe it was a result of his ardent desire to be the chivalrous Knight, a gentleman coming to a ladies rescue. He saw himself as a man versed in courtly love and took an interest in chivalry.

Also, Katharine at 23 was beautiful, intelligent and pious, everything a 16th Century Queen should be.

Her Second Marriage

On the 11th of June, 1509, Henry married Katharine at the Palace of Greenwich, London in a quiet ceremony, the opposite to Katharine’s grand marriage to Arthur 8 years before.

The North Front of Westminster Abbey, where Henry and Katharine were crowned on the 24th of June, 1509
The North Front of Westminster Abbey, where Henry and Katharine were crowned on the 24th of June, 1509
There was no public bedding ceremony, and all celebration was channeled into their joint coronation which occurred 13 days later on the 24th of June.

It was a joint coronation, which was unusual as it raised Katharine to be an anointed Queen, not a simple consort.

In true fashion there were many celebrations and a banquet that followed the coronation at Westminster Hall, with days of feasting and jousting.

Not even the death of the Tudor matriarch, Henry’s Grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort on the 29th of June would dampen the celebrations.

The coronation of Henry and Katharine was seen as a new start, a new dawn for England, with the Wars of The Roses firmly behind them.

There was a young King on the throne who would bring about a golden age and the country could prosper and move on from the nervous reign of Henry VII.

I like to think that Katharine felt pure joy on this day. She had spent the last 8 years in poverty and uncertainty, after loosing the husband she had expected her entire life. She showed strength and fortitude beyond her years and as her life didn’t end happily I take comfort in the thought that one day in 1509, she truly felt happy.

Who could have known on that summer’s day how things would progress? 

Source for Family Portrait of Henry VII (wikicommons)
Wikipedia – Durham House
Wikipedia – Henry VIII – Catherine of Aragon
AnneBolyenFiles – The Coronation of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

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