The Tudor Society

Catherine of Aragon – A true maid?

In today's Claire Chats, I talk about Catherine of Aragon, her marriage to Arthur Tudor and its implications in Henry VIII's quest for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Tremlett, Giles (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry's Spanish Queen, Faber and Faber
  • Starkey, David (2003) Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, Harper Perennial
  • Campbell, Phillip, "The Canon Law of the Henry VIII Divorce Case" thesis - read at

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. S

    A really interesting Chat Claire. I don’t know why… but I too have always thought of Catherine of Aragon as being very pious and never lying about anything. But is interesting that there is proof that she had lied before. So it’s perfectly possible that she did so again. I think she was a very strong minded woman and so maybe she would do whatever it took long as she could justify it to herself for the greater good. I had never heard of the Public Honesty aspect before… it does make you wonder why that was never put forward forward as grounds for divorce.

    1. R

      I don’t agree that Katherine lied about her virginity as it was too important an issue. She made her declaration in the confessional and that is a sacred thing. If she lied thus her soul was in peril and unless she then repented of lying and received absolution if she died at that time, she risked condemnation. Now, yes, I believe God is actually more understanding and forgiveness is more merciful than that, but that was the way the Church interpreted things at this time. To lie in the confessional and then tell someone else to make that lie public would have been a grave sin. Katherine would never have been that foolish or risk her reputation in such a way. She also had a Cardinal, not just any Cardinal, but the Pope’s Ambassador, repeat what she said and gave him permission to break the seal of the confessional to do so. This was very serious. Under these circumstances it is not possible that she lied.

      And why do people believe Prince Arthur anyway? He wasn’t giving evidence as he was deceased. Everything the witnesses said he said afterwards was hearsay, accepted at the time, but we would be very suspicious of such things now. The Court at Blackfriars didn’t look closely at the evidence of how things were for Katherine. The Spanish records show that the investigation in Spain heard testimonials from many people who contradicted what Arthur said. Katherine was upset after her wedding night, quiet and sullen and crying. Obviously she wasn’t satisfied.

      Amy Linence in her book on Katherine reporting the hearing suggests that Arthur was a teenager who was inexperienced and who had had too much to drink. He may have believed he had consummated the marriage having fumbled around but in fact no penetration took place. Katherine knew she remained a virgin and was embarrassed. Afterwards the couple didn’t immediately live together. Henry Vii was still concerned that his son was not mature enough. There was debate for three weeks and it was Katherine who wanted to live as husband and wife. We don’t know why the marriage wasn’t consummated over the next few months, but for part of that time in Ludlow both husband and wife were ill for a long period.

      Ludlow was luxurious having been done up by Henry Vii at great expense. However, every Castle was on water, even Ludlow and every Castle therefore had potential for damp. The Court lived in close proximity and although inspectors made sure sick people stayed away, some diseases struck quickly, spread quickly and killed quickly. I would rule out the plague and sweat as they hit too quickly. Katherine was ill for several weeks and Arthur for many days. Arthur may have had consumption, aggravated by some other infection, which Katherine caught as well. Unfortunately, while Katherine recovered, her husband died and his body lay in Saint Lawrence Church in Ludlow.

      Katherine and Arthur lived partly in the Royal Apartments, which are extensive, worshiped in the small round chapel (although archaeology suggested a long building had been lost) and most of the time in the more comfortable and intimate Castle House, down the road. Wooden panels from Richmond Palace were uncovered there with the entwined initials of both Arthur and Katherine and Henry and Katherine and these now decorate the private home there, which is also a museum. Katherine then had to recover and accompany her husband’s body the three weeks to Worcester Cathedral were he is buried.

      Katherine made a vow that she was a virgin, her parents vowed she was, although the question was left open in the papal dispensation and Henry when challenged about her being a virgin on their wedding night remained tellingly quiet. She may have lied before about something less important, but not about this. It was too important and under the sacred seal of the Confessional. This is a Sacrament (regardless of the C of E not recognising it as such) in the Catholic Church and this was a deeply Catholic world at the time. Katherine was a deeply Catholic woman. Isabella was a deeply Catholic woman. Henry until it was inconvenient had also been a deeply Catholic man. This Sacrament mattered. Katherine never wavered either. That remained her argument up to the day of her death. If she lied, she would have said so before she died and received absolution. Therefore just as Anne Boleyn swore she was innocent just before receiving Holy Communion, another scared moment and one which could have condemned her to an eternity in Hell, had she lied, as everyone believed, Katherine made a sacred statement and it was also made public. The world may have been stunned, but the world believed her and I feel we do her a disservice if we don’t either. Henry Viii used his marriage as a convenient excuse to remarry as he couldn’t do so with a living ex wife if he got a divorce. An annulment was his only way to remarry. He needed his marriage to be invalid.

      Henry was desperate for a son and he believed his cause was just. He genuinely saw his marriage as cursed but his true aim was to marry again and by 1529 he was in love with Anne Boleyn. He was going to end his marriage any way he could. However, it seems he wasn’t going to perjure himself on this
      point and his silence was a very loud agreement that Katherine was a virgin on their own very successful wedding night.

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Catherine of Aragon – A true maid?