top of page

Henry & Catherine: A Matter of Conscience

Today is a chilly day in the Blue Ridge, but the week ahead is supposed to warm up substantially. That means that my daffodils may decide it's time to show their faces, which I'm excited about. They were always my father-in-law's favorite flower, and I always think of him whenever they're in bloom.

Speaking of flowers, my guest blogger this week is an avid gardener, as well as writer. Judith Arnopp gets roses via mail-service and plants them with such tender care, you'd think they were her own children. Maybe they are? She's a multi-talented lady, as her bio will prove, and be sure to scroll through her books! Judith is one of the most prolific authors I know, but her interests are diverse, and she's as much a Renaissance person as are her characters! Her upcoming book, A Matter of Conscience will be launched soon.

So, welcome, Judith!

Blurb for A Matter of Conscience

Henry VIII: the Aragon Years

Judith Arnopp

‘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.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII has featured in my novels for some nine years now. Until I began my latest, A Matter of Conscience, he has always been a secondary, but hugely influential figure but Henry being Henry, wasn’t happy with that. He wanted his own book – in fact, he wants a trilogy and since I value my head, I can do nothing other than oblige.

I was drawn to writing about Henry VIII because of the enigma that surrounds him. We think we know him, but we don’t. We only know the icon, the overwhelming psychopathic poster boy of Holbein’s paintings but there was so much more to him than simply tyranny.

The name Henry VIII conveys an instant image of an obese dictator, blithely slicing off the heads of offending wives and subjects. One of our greatest monarchs has become a caricature, a joke to illustrate the misfortunes of Tudor marriage. The reasons for this are obvious but if you scratch the surface you will discover other things.

No matter how deeply we dig we never find a saint, so I do not whitewash his character, I am not a revisionist but I try to unearth the real characters who lurk beneath the masks of our royal icons. Henry, in fact all the Tudor monarchs, went to great lengths to disguise their real selves; the portraits show nothing but mask-like faces, fabulous clothes, POWER with a capital P.

The royal Tudor portraits were statements of strength, the laying down of facts. “I am monarch, you are subject” but beneath that they were people, they had fears and feelings, sadness and joy and it is our inner selves that define us. The motivation for our actions reveals so much more than the actions themselves. The problem with that theory, of course, is that Henry VIII never provided a reason for anything. We can only speculate.

A Matter of Conscience is set during his adolescence and marriage to Catherine of Aragon; a time when he was the embodiment of a perfect renaissance prince. On his accession to the throne, Henry had every intention of becoming a great king, reintroducing chivalric values and merriment to the staid court. He envisaged victory over France, peace within his realm, mastery over the Scots, a succession of sons to rule after him. The one thing he didn’t envision was failure on almost every level.

We often hear of Catherine’s sorrow at the loss of her children but Henry’s feelings on the matter are usually overlooked. It is said Catherine suffered six (some say ten) pregnancies in nine years, only one of which survived – a girl, who later became Mary I whose life I cover in my novel The Heretic Wind. Both Henry and Catherine were devastated by every child they lost but for Henry who had been taught the prime importance of begetting male heirs, it meant both personal and political failure.

Henry was not obliged to marry Catherine. He could have had his pick of Europe but he chose his brother’s widow and it seems that at this stage, he was enamoured of her. She may have been several years his senior but she was young enough to breed, she was beautiful and she was there.

Since the death of Henry’s brother, Arthur, Catherine had been living in straightened circumstances on the edge of court, a dowager Princess of insufficient means. Henry, fond as he was of chivalric code, came to her rescue and in marrying her, reinstated the status of which she had been robbed – Queen of England.

It’s a fairy tale but like most fairy tales, it gets darker.

As king of England, Henry’s primary duty was to produce an heir. He knew he could get sons; the birth of Henry Fitzroi to his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, had proved that but Henry needed a legitimate son. As Catherine approached the end of her fertile years, Henry began to wonder if the marriage had been a mistake.

It was not unprecedented for a woman to step aside to make way for a younger or more fertile woman and had Catherine done so her latter years may not have been so miserable. Why should she step aside? I hear you cry, and I agree. I doubt I would have gone quietly either. She had given Henry a perfectly good daughter.

Mary was healthy, intelligent, and pretty but her one failing was her sex. It may not sound fair to us but the matter must be viewed from Tudor eyes. Henry had no concept that a girl could rule successfully. A woman hadn’t attempted to rule England since the twelfth century when Matilda’s brief reign ended in civil war. Female rule was out of the question.

To Catherine, of course, as daughter of Queen Isabella of Castille, the prospect of a ‘Queen Mary’ seemed perfectly feasible. Catherine argued against a divorce and fought even harder against Henry’s attempt to null the marriage and declare Mary illegitimate. Catherine was strong and proud but the more she dug in her heels, the more determined the king became.

Divorce is always sad and there is no doubt that Catherine was heartbroken, a heart break made greater by her forced separation from Mary. Was Henry saddened by it too? If he was, he’d never let it be seen. He was certainly sad at his failure but must be awarded points for optimism. He threw himself into each new marriage with the enthusiasm of a boy.

Long before Anne Boleyn came on the scene, Henry and Wolsey had discussed the validity of his marriage and the possibility of an annulment but it was Anne that provided the fillip required to get the deed done. Anne was not only young and fascinating, she was also fertile, ripe with the tantalising possibility of the son he longed for. She offered the king hope; the opportunity of shrugging off failure and pushed him into seriously seeking an escape from Catherine.

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.

Judith is also a founder member of a Tudor 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.

Links to Judith's Books

Connect with Judith

266 views2 comments


Jan 14, 2022

i started reading one of Judith’s books when I stayed in her air b&b. I am now on my third book every one of them brilliantly written as if she was in the mind of her subject.


Judith Arnopp
Judith Arnopp
Mar 09, 2021

Thank you so much for hosting me on your lovely blog. It looks really super. xx

bottom of page