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Useful Notes / Catherine of Aragon

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"I care not a straw for your Doctors! For every Doctor and Lawyer that upholds your case I could find a thousand that would find our marriage good and valid!"
Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon (Castilian: Catalina; also spelled Katherine, 16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536) was Queen of England from June 1509 until May 1533 as the first of Henry VIII’s wives, and by far the one with the most illustrious pedigree. Her parents, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, were famous throughout Europe as the heirs to great lineages, the conquerors of the Moors and the rulers of a united Spain. The English King Henry VII was happy to have her marry his oldest son Arthur, which gave the fledgling Tudor dynasty a boost in prestige and legitimacy. To their disappointment, Arthur died not long after the wedding and Catherine was hastily betrothed to Henry’s last surviving son, who was named after his father. There was a suggestion that Henry VII marry Catherine himself, after his wife died, but Queen Isabella refused point-blank, knowing it would trap her daughter in a short reign as Queen and a long widowhood.


After the death of her mother, Isabella of Castile, Catherine's worth in the royal European marriage market plummeted. Because Isabella was Queen of Castile in her own right, upon her death the throne was inherited by Catherine's sister, Queen Juana. Suddenly, Catherine wasn't the Princess of a glorious united Spain, but just her father's small kingdom of Aragon. Henry VII hedged his bets by postponing the marriage, not wanting to chain his son to Catherine if a better option presented itself, but also not wanting to pay back Catherine's dowry, either.

Catherine at this point was a pawn between the two kings. Both Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon refused to pay her expenses, believing it was the other's duty. She was utterly mortified when one of her ladies-in-waiting was unable to arrange a marriage because Catherine couldn't pay her dowry. She was ill represented by the Spanish ambassador, to the point where her father finally appointed her to the post until he could find a suitable replacement, making Catherine of Aragon the first female ambassador in European history. The position afforded her some prestige and relevance at court again, as more than just Dowager Princess of Wales.


To Catherine’s delight, Henry VIII married her soon after he succeeded to the throne. Both had a great affection for each other in these years and many times hopes were raised when Catherine became pregnant. Unfortunately for the royal couple, she often miscarried or gave birth to children that died soon after. The only surviving child was their daughter Mary, born in 1516.

Henry strayed often during the marriage, but treated Catherine with respect throughout most of it. She did suffer his displeasure whenever he was annoyed with her father Ferdinand and then her powerful nephew Charles V.

In 1526, Henry fell seriously in love with one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting, the dazzling Anne Boleyn. Spurred on by her and her allies, he became convinced that his marriage to Catherine was unlawful, due to her having been married to his brother first. When the pope did not give him the annulment he sought, he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church entirely and married Anne Boleyn.

Catherine and her daughter were dealt indignity after indignity when they refused to accept the annulment. Agreeing would have forced her to admit that she had been living with Henry as an unmarried woman (which in her time would have made her quite literally a whore) and would have thrown doubt on the legitimacy of her daughter. Mary stayed loyal to her mother and was therefore forbidden from seeing her.

Immensely popular amongst the English people, Catherine could have found some consolation in their refusal to accept Anne Boleyn as queen. When the Duke of Suffolk came to deal another blow to Catherine’s dignity, local people gathered and watched, threateningly holding pitchforks.

She had grown ill, however, and died in 1536. Ironically, her death removed an obstacle for Henry when he had grown tired of Anne Boleyn. If he now did away with his second wife, nobody would pressure him to go back to his first.

Unlike how she's nearly always depicted in modern drama, the real Catherine was quite beautiful as a young woman, with alabaster skin, pale blue eyes, and lovely long bright red hair.note  She likely inherited her colouring from her great-grandmother Katherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt.

Portrayals of Catherine of Aragon in fiction:

  • Irene Papas in Hal B. Wallis' film Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).
  • Annette Crosbie in a 90-minute television drama titled "Catherine of Aragon", the first part of the 1970 BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970).
  • Frances Cuka in the 1972 film Henry VIII and His Six Wives. Keith Michell reprised his role as Henry VIII from The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  • Claire Bloom in a 1979 adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VIII.
  • Assumpta Serna in the 2003 ITV two-part television drama, Henry VIII which starred Ray Winstone in the title role.
  • Marge Simpson was "Margerine of Aragon" in The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour."
  • Maria Doyle Kennedy in the Showtime 2007 television series, The Tudors opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII.
  • Ana Torrent in the 2007 film The Other Boleyn Girl, with Eric Bana as Henry VIII.
  • Joanne Whalley in Wolf Hall.
  • Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series contains the book Patience, Princess Catherine following her betrothal and marriage to Arthur and subsequent journey to become Henry's wife.
  • The My Story series - fictional diaries of the friends of notable historical figures - has a book My Tudor Queen. It's written from the perspective of a girl called Eva, niece of the Spanish ambassador, who is a lady-in-waiting to Catherine as she goes to England to marry Arthur. The sequel Anne Boleyn & Me follows Eva's daughter Ellie as she becomes a lady-in-waiting to Anne.
  • Catherine is the protagonist of the Starz series The Spanish Princess, a sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess and adapted from the Philippa Gregory novel The Constant Princess. Charlotte Hope plays Catherine — and for once, does so as the redhead Catherine actually was.

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