The Princess of Wales

catherine of aragonOn 19 May 1499, a young Catherine of Aragon married, by proxy, Arthur, Prince of Wales, unwittingly taking her first steps on her journey into living hell.

Catherine was only three years old when she became engaged to Arthur, and not yet 14 when the proxy marriage took place. She and Arthur corresponded in Latin, that well-known language of love, until Arthur turned 15 and was considered old enough to be a husband. Catherine was dispatched to England and she and Arthur were married on 14 November at Old St Paul’s Cathedral. Half of her dowry of 200,000 crowns was paid shortly after the marriage, as the new couple were settling in at their home, Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border. Just a few months later, both Catherine and Arthur fell ill. Catherine, the more robust of the pair, recovered, but Arthur died in April 1502.

Henry VII, one of the most famous royal skinflints in history, was reluctant to return Catherine’s dowry, so he brokered an engagement between the new widow and his second son, Henry, who was five years younger than she. Henry VII then proceeded to jerk her around, keeping her on such a short financial leash for years that she had to sell some of the gold plate meant to form the second part of her dowry just to support herself and her ladies-in-waiting. Finally, after seven years of this, Henry VII died. His chivalry-obsessed son almost immediately married Catherine, on 11 June 1509.

Henry and Catherine were a loving couple, and she was a popular queen. But, as we all know, none of her sons survived past their second month. Out of six pregnancies, only a daughter, Mary, made it to adulthood. As the couple grew older, Henry, the son of a usurper, started to get nervous. His wandering eye fell on Anne Boleyn, and before long he was exploring ways to put Catherine aside and marry Anne instead, in the hope she could provide him with the much-needed son and heir. Catherine refused to play ball when asked to gracefully retire, and the battle between herself and her husband soon became an international scandal. Through it all, the ever-loyal Catherine refused to believe that Henry really wanted the divorce, instead blaming his advisors for turning his head. The ensuing ‘Great Matter’ would lead directly to the downfalls of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More, amongst others, and the formation of the Church of England.

Tired of waiting for the pope to declare the marriage null and void, Henry just went ahead and did it himself before secretly marrying Anne Boleyn. By this time, Catherine had been kicked out of court and sent to live at The More castle, before being moved to Kimbolton. She refused to be addressed by her new title, the Dowager Princess of Wales, continuing to refer to herself as the Queen. To punish her, Henry refused her access to their daughter, Mary, who would, understandably, be fairly warped by this whole ordeal.

Catherine died at Kimbolton in January 1536, probably of cancer, though it was speculated at the time she had been poisoned. Henry and Anne are said to have dressed in yellow upon hearing the news, yellow allegedly being the colour of court mourning in Spain. It was seen as a vulgar gesture by many. Anne miscarried a son the day of Catherine’s funeral; the first step in her own painful downfall. By May, she would be arrested, accused of treason, and executed.



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