Katherine of Aragon arounhd the
time of her marriage to Henry
Henry was faced not only with a weak claim to the throne he had seized from the hunchback murderer, Richard III, but he also had seized a throne with few financial resources. How could he govern without the funds needed? Legitimacy—or at least recognition—was granted him by the most powerful and aristocratic monarchs in the Catholic World—Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile—when they betrothed their youngest daughter, Katherine of Aragon, to Henry’s son and heir, Prince Arthur. Moreover the Spanish bride came with a dowry sufficient not only to solve Henry’s fiscal crisis but to make him financially secure in the foreseeable future.
The marriage of Katherine and Arthur was duly celebrated in November of 1501 in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London but the young prince was dead in five months. Henry would have to send the widowed princess back to Spain and, worse, send back her dowry. But Ferdinand of Aragon did not want this any more than Henry and so the plan was hatched to marry Katherine to her deceased husband’s brother, the prince Henry.
I find it curious that Ferdinand and Isabella did not want their daughter back under any circumstances. They were loving parents and their parting from her had been sad, most especially from her father who doted on her. The only thing I can figure out is that they wanted to leave their joint realm to one child and didn’t want a disputed succession. With their son, the Prince of Asturias, dead, their oldest daughter, Isabella the Queen of Portugal, also dead and her sister Maria married and presently Queen of Portugal, the thrones of Castile and Aragon could both go to child 3, Joan. This would not only unite the Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile into one nation, Spain, but join the Spanish Realm and New World Empire to the Empire of which Joan’s husband, Philip of Burgundy was heir—the Holy Roman Empire. Joan and Philip’s child would inherit Spain, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, the Spanish Americas, what is today Belgium and Holland, Germany, Austria, and Bohemia, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and significant parts of Poland. This was a grand dynastic plan—in fact, too grand. It would hold together only under one monarch, the Emperor Charles V. He would see the impossibility of it and upon his abdication break this world-empire apart once again into the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. But it was a dream and a dream that could only be accomplished if child 5, Katherine, could be kept from a Spanish inheritance. Katherine was to stay in England—hopefully as the bride of the next heir, but she was to stay under any and all circumstances.
Henry the “spare” of the “heir and a spare” policy of the English royal family had been preparing for a career in the Church as a future Archbishop of York, but his brother’s death catapulted him from the clerical life to heir apparent. He would be king. And now his father was to force on him a royal bride to be his queen. Henry
VII and Ferdinand appealed to Rome for the appropriate dispensations. Katherine claimed that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated but the two Kings, leaving nothing to chance, obtained the dispensation permitting Katherine to marry her deceased husband’s brother.
This did not please the young prince Henry. Henry initially had misgivings about marrying Katherine. It was not that he didn’t like her. He was very fond of her but he was still a teenager and seems reluctant to marry young. Moreover, she was five years older and that wasn’t terribly romantic. The issue was still not resolved when in 1509, shortly before his 18th birthday, Henry became king. Upon ascending the throne, Henry suddenly decided to yield to the wishes of his late father and quietly married Katherine in a private ceremony at the Greyfriars’ (Franciscan) Church in Greenwich just over a month after his father’s funeral. (Placentia Palace, the chief royal residence, was in Greenwich and the Observant Franciscans were especially favored by the royal family for their devotion and strictness of their lives. Keep them in mind.)
The quiet simplicity of the royal wedding was in direct contrast to the splendid coronation of Henry and Katherine in Westminster Abbey two weeks later. Henry and Katherine processed along a route carpeted in rich fabrics to Westminister Abbey where William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury anointed them with the sacred chrism and placed the crowns on their heads. The Court then adjourned to Westminster Hall for the traditional coronation banquet.
The marriage of Henry and Katherine was initially—and for a long time—a happy and fruitful one. Katherine became pregnant, but miscarried and then became pregnant a second time but miscarried at the end of January 1510. On New Year’s Day 1511 she gave birth to a prince, Henry, Duke of Cornwall. There were great celebrations at the birth of an heir—a son to continue the dynasty—but the prince died towards the end of February. In 1513, Katherine gave birth to a second son, but he died within a few hours, before he could even be named. A third son, also named Henry and made Duke of Cornwall was born in December 1514 but died within the month. In 1516 Katherine gave birth to the one child who survived—the Princess Mary—and would eventually sit on England’s throne. Another daughter was born in November of 1518 but lived for only six days and was never named. All in all Katherine brought six children to term and miscarried at least one more. Only one, a daughter, survived. This was not auspicious for a dynasty whose claim to the throne was still fragile. England had only once before had a Queen regnant—Maud, the daughter of Henry I in the 12 century—and England had devolved into Civil War during her reign. Could England hold together under a woman? There were doubts—doubts that would prove to be most ironic, but that is a later part of our story.