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BLOG: The Tenacious Catherine of Aragon

I call her tenacious because she defied her king and husband by refusing to give up their marriage. Oh, to have such strength and courage in the face of conflict. Though Catherine of Aragon was fortunate in getting to keep her head, she still passed time in her latter days in a drafty, lonesome circumstances while her husband turned his back on his Roman Catholic heritage and deepened his involvement with Anne Boleyn.

But what was Catherine's background and how did she eventually wind up as a Queen of England? It's actually a lengthy but rather ironic tale and told in a brand new novel by Judith Arnopp, one of England's most detailed historians when it comes to the Tudor Period. Earlier last year, I had the joy of reading one of Arnopp's books: The Winchester Goose. Now she is telling the story of Catherine and Henry VIII in A Matter of Conscience: The Aragon Years. This will be the first in a thrilling series that details Henry VIII and his troubled family life. Trust me when I say that this is historical fiction AT ITS BEST.

So allow me to introduce Judith Arnopp as she shares more about Queen Catherine of Aragon!

Catherine of Aragon

by Judith Arnopp

Catherine was born on 16th of December 1485 near Madrid, the youngest surviving child of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, the most powerful sovereigns in Europe. She was still a small child when at match was arranged with Arthur, the eldest son of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, a marriage that would strengthen the Tudor claim to the throne of England. A proxy ceremony took place in 1499 after which Catherine and Arthur exchanged letters until they were old enough for the marriage to take place.

Catherine travelled to England in 1501, their marriage taking place shortly afterwards at Old St Paul’s in London. Within weeks the couple were sent to Ludlow on the borders of Wales where Arthur was to assume his role as Prince of Wales. They barely had time to take up their duties when they were both struck down by sickness (possibly the sweating sickness). Arthur died but Catherine was spared, losing not just a husband but her prospects of becoming the next queen of England.

Catherine was removed to Croydon Palace where she stayed until it was clear she was not carrying Arthur’s child – a possible heir to the throne. Once it became obvious that she wasn’t, Ferdinand and Isabella requested her return home. They also insisted Henry VII should pay her widows jointure, and repay the first instalment of her dowry – some 100,000 gold crowns.

Henry declined to do so, and prevaricated for as long as he could, leaving Catherine without financial support or a plan as to her future.

After Arthur’s death, Henry and Elizabeth of York had lost no time in conceiving an heir, hopefully a son to boost the flagging Tudor line, but after giving birth to a girl, Elizabeth died in childbed. Her daughter died a few days later, leaving the English king heartbroken.

It was some time before he began to look about for a replacement wife. He courted some of the most eligible women in Christendom, including Joanna of Naples and Margaret of Austria. He even considered taking Catherine as his wife but her parents decided that to be ‘a thing not to be endured.’[1]

Instead, keen to maintain England as their ally against France, they agreed a match between Catherine and the eleven year old Prince Henry, who since Arthur’s death had now become the heir to the throne. They were betrothed in June 1503, the marriage postponed until Henry gained his majority.

But first there were questions to be answered. Canon law made it illegal for a man to marry the widow of his brother. The law was based on Leviticus in which stipulates that a marriage between a man and his brother’s wife is an ‘unclean thing’ and as a result the marriage ‘shall be childless.[2]

Catherine swore she was a virgin and the marriage had not been consummated. If this was so, then her marriage with Arthur would be void but just to be sure Henry sought a dispensation from the people for the marriage between Catherine and Henry to go ahead.

As part of the alliance Henry agreed to support Catherine financially, and Ferdinand was to pay the last instalment of the dowry. Neither promise was kept.

On the death of Isabella in 1504, Catherine’s sister Juana became queen of Castile, an event that lowered Catherine’s status and meant she was no longer such a lucrative prize. Subsequently, Henry VII’s interest in her cooled.

Her allowance was cut and Henry used her dowry for his own needs, leaving Catherine virtually destitute and unable to pay her women. Complaining that her clothes were shabby and obliged to buy ‘yesterday’s fish from the market,[3]’ she was forced to give up her household and in 1505 she moved into the royal palace.

As Henry VII lost interest in the alliance with Spain, he instructed Prince Henry to renounce the betrothal and the king began to sort through the courts of Europe for a more suitable bride for his son. When protests were raised, Henry pretended to reconsider if Ferdinand sent the remainder of the dowry but Ferdinand dallied.

Catherine was hostage in a foreign land, her needs ignored by a king who no longer considered her valuable. She wrote constant letters of complaint to Ferdinand but received no help and continued in a state of uncertainty until King Henry’s death in 1509. His heir, Henry VIII, lost no time in ignoring his late father’s objections to the union and, with characteristically chivalric enthusiasm resumed the abandoned plans for marriage with Catherine.

Having been raised from the age of three to be queen of England, Catherine did not hesitate to accept. She was delighted to resume her former status and I would imagine spared no grief for the passing of the late king.

Henry and Catherine began their rule with triumphant splendour. They were perfectly matched: while Henry was loud, vigorous and merry, Catherine was magnificent, pious and wise. During her time as Henry’s queen, she didn’t put a foot wrong. When Henry was fighting in France, she assumed the role of Regent during which time the English won a victory over the Scots at Flodden. She was the perfect wife for Henry, dealing with his flamboyant nature patiently, never once forgetting her position as queen. Had she only provided him with a male heir, regardless of what rivals drew Henry’s eye, she would in all probability have kept her crown and her position. Yet, even in the darkest days of the notorious annulment proceedings that became the scandal of the European courts, she stuck to her own version of the truth and clung to her position as queen, refusing to allow Henry to negate the validity of their marriage or their daughter’s legitimacy. Catherine of Aragon can only be admired.

[1] “In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory” Julia P Geraldi [2] Leviticus 20:21 [3] “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” Alison Weir

A Matter of Conscience Blurb

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys.

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.

Judith Arnopp, Author Bio

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers


Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Connect with Judith!

Buy A Matter of Conscience: The Aragon Years

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