Happy birthday to Catherine of Aragon! Yes, this first wife of King Henry VIII and Spanish princess was born on this day in Tudor history, 16th December 1485.
In today's talk, I explain Catherine of Aragon's background, give some insights into her early life, and talk about how she ended up leaving her homeland of Spain and eventually becoming queen consort to Henry VIII.
Also on this day in history:
- 1503 (16th or 18th) – Death of George Grey, 2nd Earl of Kent, at Ampthill, Bedfordshire. He was buried at Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire, where his first wife, Anne Woodville (sister of Elizabeth Woodville), had been laid to rest in 1489. Grey's second wife, Catherine Herbert, daughter of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, was also buried there after her death in 1504. Grey was on Henry VII's council, was Constable of Northampton Castle and was a judge at the trial of Edward, Earl of Warwick in 1499.
- 1558 – Death of Sir Thomas Cheyne (Cheney), diplomat, administrator and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, from the “new ague”. He was buried at St John-at-Minster in the Isle of Sheppey.
- 1570 – Death of Francis Mallett, Dean of Lincoln, at Normanton, Yorkshire. During Edward VI's reign, Mallett was the principal chaplain and almoner of Princess Mary, the future Mary I, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for celebrating mass at Beaulieu before Mary arrived there. He was made Dean of Lincoln by Mary I, who also made him Lord High Almoner.
- 1591 – Burial of Sir Christopher Hatton, courtier, politician and favourite of Elizabeth I, at St Paul's Cathedral.
In today’s “on this day in Tudor history”, I’m taking you back to 1485, in the reign of King Henry VII, but to Spain. Why? Because it’s the anniversary of the birth of a woman who became a queen consort of England during the Tudor period. For during the night of 15th/16th December 1485, Catherine of Aragon was born at the recently reformed fortified palace at Alcalá de Henares, a town just east of Madrid.
Pregnancy had not stopped Catherine’s mother, Isabella I of Castile, from waging war on the Moors, and she had spent the summer of 1485 moving around Andalucía, following her troops’ campaign. Isabella and her troops finished warring for the year in September, and the Royal Court travelled from Andalucía to Alcalá for the winter, and for the impending birth.
Catherine of Aragon, or Catalina de Aragón as she was known in Spain, was the last of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I’s children, and was named after her maternal great-grandmother, Catalina of Castile or Catherine of Lancaster.
Giles Tremlett, in his excellent biography of Catherine, writes of how we know various details about Catherine’s childhood because it was recorded by Gonzalo de Baeza, Isabella’s treasurer. For example, we know that she was baptised by the Bishop of Palencia and wore a white brocade gown trimmed with gold lace and lined with green velvet, and that Dutch olanda linen was used to make her sheets, pillowcases, nightshirts and bibs. We also know that scarlet Florentine cloth was ordered to make clothes, fresh cotton was used to stuff her crib mattress, a brass basin was used for washing her, and that she owned a perfume sprinkler – interesting little insights into the life of a newborn Spanish princess.
When Catherine was just three years-old, it was agreed that she should be betrothed to the heir to the English throne, Arthur, Prince of Wales. The English ambassadors, Richard Nanfan and Thomas Savage, visited Medina del Campo, in Spain, in March 1489 to meet Ferdinand and Isabella, and to discuss the matter. They saw little Catherine and were obviously happy with what they saw as the Treaty of Medina del Campo, a marriage alliance between England and Spain, was agreed and signed.
Catherine arrived in England in October 1501 and married Arthur in November 1501. Catherine WAS destined to be Queen of England, but not with Arthur at her side, he died in April 1502, just a few months after their marriage.
In 1509, she married the new King of England, Henry VIII, her brother-in-law and a man who would become known for his six wives and his tyranny. Her motto as queen consort was “humble and loyal”, and her badge was a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility. Unfortunately, even though she experienced six pregnancies, the only surviving children were a boy, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, who died when he was just 52 days old, and a daughter, who would become Queen Mary I. The lack of a male heir was seen by Henry VIII as a sign from God that their marriage was wrong and contrary to God’s law, and he started the Great Matter, his quest for an annulment. Their marriage was finally annulled in 1533 and her former husband ordered that Catherine should be known as Princess Dowager of Wales and not queen. Catherine never accepted her new title or the annulment of her marriage, referring to herself as queen right up until her death on 7th January 1536. Her daughter, Mary, became queen in July 1553 and reigned until her death on 17th November 1558.