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"Nature wronged her in making her a woman. But for her sex she could have surpassed all the heroes of history."
Thomas Cromwell

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 Ruling Couple of a united Spain and the conquerors of the Moor. The English King Henry VII was happy to have Catherine marry his eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales which would give the fledgling Tudor dynasty a boost in prestige and legitimacy. They were betrothed when they were both 3 years old, and married by proxy in 1499.

They waited until Arthur turned 15 in September for them to officially marry in person, and Catherine met Arthur for the first time in November 1501, and they were married and both aged 15 (Catherine was one month away from turning 16 at the time). Little is known about the couples first impressions of each other, but Arthur wrote to his parents-in-law before the wedding that he would be “a true and loving husband” and he told his parents that he was happy to finally meet his bride. They had also exchanged romantic letters before Catherine travelled to England. However, they found that they could not communicate as they had learned different pronunciations of Latin. Arthur was handsome, with red hair, pale Blue eyes and was over 6 feet tall, and Catherine was considered very beautiful, being short in stature with very long Reddish-Gold hair, a fair complexion and Blue eyes. The couple were both considered very attractive and Arthur at least was attracted to Catherine.

At her wedding, the beautiful Catherine was walked down the aisle by her 10 year old brother-in-law, Henry, Duke of York (and little did she know, her future second husband). Arthur and Catherine were taken by drunken guests to their bedchamber. Arthur’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, made their bed and sprinkled it with holy water. The Bishop of London then blessed their bed, praying that they have a long and fruitful marriage. Catherine was undressed by her ladies-in-waiting and Arthur joined her in bed wearing only his underwear. The couple were then left alone to consummate their marriage. The next morning, Arthur went downstairs to fetch a glass of water, joking to his attendants that he was thirsty because he had been “in the midst of Spain” and that being a husband was thirsty work.

The teenage newly weds were sent to live in Ludlow castle to govern Wales, where the castle’s conditions were incredibly cold and damp. To the shock and devastation of his family and subjects, Arthur died after just 6 months of marriage of the sweating sickness. Catherine had also contracted the illness, but recovered, finding herself a widow at just 16 years old. Catherine now had lost her chance of becoming Queen of England (at this point) as she was now the Dowager Princess of Wales. Catherine was put into confinement for a few months to determine if she was pregnant or not, however Catherine still had high hopes of becoming Queen and bearing royal children, however, and it was suggested that she be betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII, the new heir to the throne. Marrying you’re brother’s widow was thought to be a great sin, but Catherine promised her family and her parents-in-law that she never consummated her marriage to Prince Arthurnote . Henry, then just a child, was said to be keen on the idea (having walked Catherine down the aisle at his brother’s wedding and had certainly been mesmerised by her beauty). However, when Catherine’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Of York died of childbed fever unexpectedly, plans were put into doubt. Henry VII (her father-in-law) considered marrying his 16 year old daughter-in-law for himself, but Catherine’s mother refused to allow it as it would mean that any children Catherine had with the 47 year old King would likely not inherit the throne of England and would put Catherine in a similar situation when he died to her current one.

After her mother's death, 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 eldest sister, Joanna, as they had no surviving brothers. Suddenly, Catherine wasn't a 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 and heir to a marriage of a minor Princess in case a better option came. Catherine was homesick and believed she would never become Queen of England, she begged her father to allow her to come home and find another husband, but both her father and father-in-law disagreed over who’s job it was to pay her dowry. Because of this, for the next six years Catherine had to live with financial ruin, being forced to dismiss many of her servants. Catherine was horrified when one of her maids had to cancel her wedding because she could not pay her dowry.

At this point, Spain was struggling with its alliance with England. Thus, her father appointed his daughter as Spanish Ambassador until he could find a suitable replacement for the job, making her the first female ambassador in European history. She was reported as having been effective, which surprised the courtiers, who expected her to be easily manipulated. The position also afforded her prestige and relevance again.

To her delight, after seven years of struggling, Catherine and Henry VIII married soon after he succeeded to the English throne. As they had needed permission to get married from the Pope as Catherine was also Henry’s sister-in-lawnote , Catherine still swore that she was still a virgin and that Arthur had been unable to consummate their marriage, so it therefore didn’t count. The Pope was more than happy to oblige and the couple married, becoming King and Queen of England in a joint coronation. Catherine was 6 years older than Henry, he was 18 and she was 24. Despite the age gap, the couple were very much in love with each other. Henry had probably always swooned over Catherine, even as a child when he first saw her. Though he was a child when Catherine met him, he was now very handsome and resembled his brother Arthur: Henry was over 6 feet tall, with Red hair, Blue eyes and an athletic, muscular build.

Catherine had at least seven pregnancies. Unfortunately for the couple, she suffered multiple miscarriages and stillbirths. Catherine became pregnant almost immediately after their wedding, and Henry wrote to Catherine’s father about how overjoyed his daughter had made him. However, Catherine miscarried a baby girl at 6 months pregnant. The loss was kept secret because Catherine was told that she was pregnant with twins and that she would give birth to the remaining twin soon, but nothing happened. On January 1, 1511 25 year old Catherine gave birth to a son, Henry, Duke of Cornwall. His birth was hugely celebrated and he was doted on by his young parents. But the baby boy died at just 52 days old, leaving his parents inconsolable. In 1513, Catherine miscarried her third child, a son, and another son was stillborn in late November or early December 1514. Catherine’s fifth pregnancy finally resulted in a healthy child, a daughter they named Mary, born on February 18, 1516. Catherine was 30 when she gave birth to Mary, and Henry VIII was 24. As they were still relatively young, they expected a son would follow and rather than mourning over Mary’s gender, they celebrated. A son did follow Mary, but Catherine’s sixth pregnancy resulted in another miscarriage during the Autumn of 1517. The seventh and final pregnancy ended in a Stillborn daughter in November 1518.

Henry was notoriously unfaithful to his wife, keeping many mistresses, which Catherine accepted. However, Henry treated Catherine with reverence... except when he was annoyed with her father or her powerful nephew, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. She ran England as regent while Henry was away fighting the French; in the meantime, she defeated the Scottish troops in a battle she personally directed with the Earl of Surrey. Catherine rode in full armour with her army while heavily pregnant. The Scots were humiliated and King James IV of Scots was heavily wounded and died that day. James was the last British Monarch to die in battle, a major victory for England over Scotland in their then-interminable feuding. Catherine sent Henry James IV's bloody coat. Henry, who hadn't had any successes with the French, was a bit grouchy about Catherine being a better military leader than him. She also used her considerable influence to promote high-level education for women and give a lot of money from her personal funds to charity.

Henry was increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of a legitimate male heir and the groundwork for his Great Matter began to be laid. By the time Catherine became 40, she entered menopause and it became unlikely she'd have more children. In 1526, Henry fell in love withnote  one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Henry became convinced that his marriage to Catherine was unlawful, due to her having been married to his brother first (realizing 18 years after their wedding). Henry was positive that he could be granted a quick annulment from the Pope, however the Pope was under the influence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew. A trial took place, where Catherine swore before God and the whole courtroom that while she and Arthur had slept together, they had never consummated their marriage properly and that she had been loyal and devout as a wife and Queen. The Pope denied Henry his annulment and left him humiliated. After seven years of trying to get a divorce, Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church entirely and converted to Protestantism which made he (as the Monarch) himself Head of the Church of England. He then granted himself a divorce from Catherine and married Anne Boleyn. Henry had a secret wedding with Anne, while still married to Catherine, but it could not wait as Anne was visibly pregnant. The divorce was finalised a few days later.

Catherine and her teenage daughter Mary were dealt one indignity after another when they refused to accept the annulment, as agreeing would have forced Catherine 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 made Mary illegitimate, who 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 as Queen. Anne was not like Catherine at all; she was gossipy, witty, and loved to make jokes. This made Anne unpopular with the English, many other European countries didn't accept that Catherine was no longer the Queen. When the Duke of Suffolk came to deal another blow to her dignity, local people gathered and watched, threateningly holding pitchforks.

After two years of mistreatment and misery, Catherine had become sick. Catherine died aged 50, lonely, miserable and still calling herself the King's one true wife and the Queen of England. Henry did not attend the funeral of his ex-wife and forbade their daughter Mary from attending. A post-mortem revealed a black spot on Catherine's heart, which led to rumours that Anne had poisoned her predecessor. However, it was most likely a sign of cancer.

Anne and Henry shocked the country when they attended a party wearing yellow (the traditional colour of celebration in England) which was seen as a vulgar insult to Catherine. However, some believe Henry and Anne were throwing a tribute to Catherine (because in Spain, yellow was the traditional colour of mourning). Someone wrote to Anne congratulating her over her victory, as now she could be Queen without Catherine claiming she wasn't. However, Anne replied, "No, I am sorry, not indeed because she is dead, but because her death has been so honourable." Needless to say, Anne and Catherine despised each other. Ironically, her death caused an obstacle for Henry. After Anne miscarried a son and left him with only a daughter, Elizabeth, he believed that God was punishing him for leaving Catherine. However, he couldn't remarry Catherine because she was dead. Anne Boleyn, the woman who Henry had once left his beloved wife, mistresses, and the Catholic Church to marry, was then beheaded on Tower Hill in the Tower of London after only three years of marriage; a very short marriage compared to the 24 years Catherine had with Henry. Sure, the last seven years of marriage were a bit crazy, but the first 18 years of marriage were actually quite happy. Catherine’s accomplishments as a successful queen set her apart hundreds of years later.

Tropes associated with Catherine of Aragon as portrayed in fiction:

  • Adaptational Dye-Job: Most adaptations depict Catherine with black hair, presumably because of the Phenotype Stereotype. The real Catherine had red hair.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: She and Henry really did try, but their efforts to have children and heirs kept failing, with Catherine suffering three miscarriages, two stillbirths, and a baby boy that died less than two months after being born. Her and Henry's only surviving child was their daughter Mary, who was born out of Catherine's fifth pregnancy.
  • Mama Bear: Very much so. She opposed Henry's efforts to annul their marriage not just because it would have legally decreed she had been living out of wedlock with him for decades, but also to protect their daughter Mary from being declared a bastard.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: By all accounts, she and Henry were in love when they married and Henry chose her as his bride (and got the Pope to grant them permission for their marriage, as she had been his brother's widow) because he wanted to. Though he took mistresses — the most famous being Bessie Blount, who bore his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, their relationship was generally happy before the years set in and he grew more dissatisfied with their lack of surviving sons.
  • Politically-Active Princess: As princess, she acted as a Spanish diplomat on her father's behalf in the English court.
  • Red Is Heroic: Unlike how she is 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.
  • Claire Bloom in a 1979 adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry VIII.
  • Assumpta Serna in the 2003 ITV two-part television drama, Henry VIII.
  • Marge Simpson was "Margerine of Aragon" in The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour."
  • María Ballesteros in movie Mad Love (2001).
  • Ana Torrent in the 2007 film The Other Boleyn Girl.
  • Joanne Whalley in Wolf Hall.
  • Maria Doyle Kennedy in the Showtime 2007 television series, The Tudors.
  • Natalia Rodríguez in Isabel (2012).
  • Mélida Molina in series Carlos, Rey Emperador (2016), sequel to Isabel.
  • 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.
  • Appears in Jean Plaidy's Daughters of Spain, the last book in a trilogy about Isabella of Castile, and was the subject of her very own trilogy as well.
  • 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.
  • In a Case #11 of Criminal Case: Travel in Time, due to disturbances in time and history, Catherine of Aragon is the victim of a gruesome murder in 1515, before she gets the chance to have her daughter Mary. Henry and Anne Boleyn are suspects in the murder, both with motives (Henry suspected her of having an affair with a French envoy; Anne was deeply offended by Catherine's accusations of her seducing Henry, which held no truth at the time). In the end, it turned out that the killer was a commoner named Agnes Manners. The French envoy (who Catherine was suspected of having an affair with) was actually negotiating peace between England and France with Catherine. Agnes, who had lost her two sons in the war against the French, saw this as a betrayal, and bashed in Catherine’s head with a mace.
  • Catherine of Aragon and the rest of Henry's wives are reimagined as pop stars in Six: The Musical. Catherine's song, "No Way", is styled after Beyonce and Shakira.
  • Handmaid is a The Tudors Alternate History fic where Catherine (spelled Katherine here) gets the idea of asking Anne Boleyn to serve as her and Henry's handmaid (a concept dating to biblical times where she would essentially bear Henry's children on Catherine's behalf) in order to prevent a divorce and keep Mary legitimate but still give Henry the sons he desires. She trusts Anne to do this because she knows Anne is loyal to her, but what she doesn't know is that's because Anne's in love with her. She eventually finds out and later reciprocates. She dies around the same time as Henry did.