The year is 1501. A 16-year-old Spanish princess stands on the brink of her destiny to become Queen of England. Catherine of Aragon entered old St Paul's Cathedral in London on November 14th, 1501. Her union with the Prince of Wales would ally England to the most powerful royal house in Europe. The future of the upstart Tudor dynasty seemed secure.
The wedding, like modern royal weddings, was a mixture of fairy tale and public relations. To ensure maximum visibility, an elevated walkway was built the length of the church. The wedding took place in the middle. Then, hand in hand and both dressed in white the couple walked towards the altar. They turned to wave to the crowds. It was a show for stealing. And steal it the future Henry VIII duly did. He escorted the bride along the walkway. He was the star of the wedding ball. But it was not his wedding. Instead, Catherine's bridegroom was Henry's elder brother, Prince Arthur.
Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Both her parents were warriors and together, they were one of the greatest military partnerships ever. They completed the reconquest of Spain from the Moors and they began the Spanish conquest of Latin America.
Catherine was at her parents' side during these great events. She was practically born on campaign. And in 1491 she shared in her parents' triumphs when they entered here, into the fairy-tale palace of the Alhambra after the fall of Granada the last Moorish stronghold in Spain.
«Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Benedictus fructus ventris tui...»
The young Catherine's upbringing was founded on the fervent Catholicism of military triumph and the Inquisition. Her faith underpinned her life.
«Amen. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Jesus. Amen.»
And Catherine's role model was her mother. Isabella ruled not merely as her husband's queen but as a monarch in her own right. Ferdinand and Isabella had an unusually equal relationship. So Catherine and her sisters though women, were expected to play their part in Spanish greatness by marrying foreign rulers. They were given an impressive education, including history and Latin. They were being prepared for power, and Catherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur at the age of five. She grew up knowing she would leave Spain at 16 to fulfil her destiny in England.
In December 1501 within a month of her marriage, Catherine found herself in the midst of winter at Ludlow. Arthur's seat was Prince of Wales. Ludlow is a long way from the Alhambra but Catherine didn't find her life here entirely strange. Ludlow, like the Alhambra was a luxurious palace inside castle walk. Catherine also found the pattern of life of the great household pretty familiar, too. Granted, the couple had to communicate in Latin as it was their only common language, but they were both fairly fluent at it. Catherine was even allowed to keep her own Spanish maids, unlike many princesses sent to make their lives in foreign courts. All in all, Catherine's married life had got off to a good start.
—Piensa que Arzor vendrá esta noche.
—¡Quántas cosas que preguntar!
In fact, couples as young as Catherine and Arthur didn't necessarily live together straight away. She was 16. He was two years younger still at 14.
—(Catherine) Y si viene, ¿qué hago?
—¿Cuánto tiempo estará?
—Dos semanas. ¿Dos semanas? ¿En la cama?
—No, en la casa.
—Eres como una niña.
The two had got on so well on their wedding night, that it was decided they'd live together immediately in the hope that Catherine would fulfil her destiny as Princess of Wales and produce
the next heir to the throne. But the weather was foul and disease broke out in the castle.
—¿Cómo se siente?
By the end of March, 'both Arthur and Catherine were gravely ill and in danger of their lives. On the 2nd of April, calamity struck. Arthur died, probably of tuberculosis. He was 15 and had been married for less than five months. The funeral procession struggled through the mud on what one witness called "the foulest windy and rainy day l have ever seen." They had to abandon the horses and use oxen instead.
The sudden death of Arthur left Catherine vulnerable - a young widow in a strange county. There were only two possible solutions. Either she must return to Spain or she must marry again in England. There was a flurry of diplomacy, whilst her father and father-in-law bargained. Finally, Henry VII made a proposal that would allow Catherine to stay by offering her a new husband.
—¿Qué ha escrito el rey?
—Que voy a casarme con el príncipe Henry.
She would marry Arthur's younger brother, Henry.
—¿Cuándo, hija, cuándo?
—Muy pronto. Mi padre va a estar super contento. Y mi madre también.
—Más contento que nadie, yo creo.
The 11-year-old Prince Henry, now heir to the throne was already handsome and well-built. Soon, he would be taller than his father. But there was a problem. Because of the close relationship, the church had to give a dispensation to allow Henry to marry his dead brother's widow. But the exact form of the dispensation depended on whether the marriage had been consummated. In other words, had Arthur and Catherine had sex or hadn't they? The English took for granted that they had and delayed proclaiming Henry Prince of Wales for some weeks in case Catherine was carrying the baby who might be heir to the throne. Catherine's confessor, too said that she'd had sex. But her principal lady-in-waiting asserted that Catherine was still a virgin. In the event, they adopted a belt and braces approach. One dispensation took for granted that the marriage had been consummated. The other left the question open.
The betrothal was formalized in June 1503. Catherine would marry Henry in two years' time, once he was 14. After the tragic start to her life in England, it now seemed that all would be well.
«Santa Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc...»
But her happiness was marred by news from Spain. On the 26th of November, 1504 Catherine's mother, Isabella the dominant influence on her life died.
«…Santa Maria, Mater Dei, ora...»
And less than a year after her mother's death another disaster struck. Prince Henry, the young, handsome heir to the throne repudiated his betrothal to Catherine under instructions from his father.
«…In nómine Patris, et Fílii et Spíritus Sancti. Amen.»
She was friendless and alone. Catherine's mother Queen Isabella of Castile was buried here in Granada. Her last thoughts had been for her daughter Catherine. But ironically, her mother's death had the effect of devaluing Catherine's attractiveness as a royal bride. This is because the union of Castile and Aragon, on which the power of Spain depended, was purely personal. So, after his wife's death Ferdinand of Aragon was too busy tying to keep control of Castile to worry about his daughter in faraway England or to raise the money to pay off her dowry. And with no prospect of advantage, either in terms of cash or increased power, King Henry VII of England lost interest in Catherine as a daughter-in-law, too. Catherine was now in a no-man's land - neither fully Arthur's widow nor Henry's wife.'
(Catherine): «Most high and mighty lord, God knows how much I am grieved that I have to write always of many troubles and difficulties. But remembering that I am your daughter, I cannot conceal them from you. I am in debt in London. Not for extravagant things but only for food. The King of England said he is not obliged to give me anything, because Your Highness has not kept promise with him in the money of my marriage portion. I am in the greatest trouble and anguish in the world. I supplicate Your Highness to find some remedy, for certainly, I shall not be able to live in this manner.»
By the time that she was 24, Catherine had endured five years of this humiliating life of admittedly relative poverty. Throughout all this, Catherine had stuck to the certainty that it was her God-given destiny to be Queen of England. But towards the end even Catherine had begun to have doubts.
(Catherine): «Very high and very mighty lord, things here become daily worse and my life more and more insupportable. I am still suffering from the unkindness of the king. Some days ago, he said to me that he was not bound to give food to my servants or even to my own self. Your Highness will see what a state I am reduced to when I am warned that even my food is given as charity. Do not let me perish in this way but write directly what you desire. Otherwise I am afraid l might do something which neither the king nor Your Highness would be able to prevent. Unless you send for me, 'so that I may conclude my few remaining days in serving God. That would be the greatest good I could have in this world.»
Catherine was in despair. But on the 22nd of April, 1509 her father-in-law King Henry VII, died after a long and wasting illness. England now had a new king with his own ideas about the future. All his father's intrigues were reversed and Henry VIII chose Catherine of Aragon to be his wife and queen. They married on June 11th 1509 in a small, private ceremony in the palace at Greenwich. Henry was nearly 18. Catherine was 24. Her seven years of widowhood were at last at an end.
Why did Henry marry Catherine? He said it was in fulfillment of his father's dying wish. Perhaps. But in that case, Henry VII had done a good job of concealing his kindly intentions to Catherine. The truth, in fact seems to have been that Henry married Catherine because he wanted to. He wanted her father Ferdinand of Spain, as an ally in the war he was determined to fight against France. He wanted to be married, to show that at 17 years and 10 months, he was fully adult. Finally, Catherine was young and attractive enough for him to want to marry her for herself. For Catherine it was all much simpler. It was her duty and her destiny to be Queen of England. And with a king like Henry, it was a pleasure, as well.
The coronation took place on Midsummer's Day at Westminster Abbey. Catherine was crowned alongside Henry, sharing in the popular rejoicing. "She is descended from great kings," wrote Sir Thomas More "and she will be the mother of kings as great as her ancestors." As if to confirm More's prophecy, Catherine was pregnant within four months of the wedding.
—Como su papá.
There was every reason for optimism - her mother had produced five surviving children, her sister Maria no less than nine. Henry wrote proudly to his father-in-law that the child in the womb was alive. The king and court were full of hope. But at the end of January, Catherine miscarried. Her stomach, however remained swollen and it seems that her physicians advised her that she'd been carrying twins, and that the second child remained alive. Hope was rekindled. This may have been desperate optimism but Catherine must have believed it because in early March, she made her pregnancy official by formally withdrawing from the court. This was a ceremony known as Taking To Her Chamber, which marked the beginning of the queen's confinement. Inside, it was like a darkened luxuriously padded cell. Here, on her great bed of state, Catherine lay, attended by her ladies, waiting for her labour to begin. She would not emerge until her pregnancy was over. Outside, the king and the court were waiting too for Catherine, as the royal baby machine, to deliver. After a month's confinement disaster struck.
—Me da miedo cómo va a reaccionar Henry.
The swelling, probably caused by an infection, disappeared. The king was furious. The queen, humiliated.
—Me da miedo cómo va a reaccionar Henry.
—Va a estar enfadado.
And when Catherine wrote to her father in May, she deceived him saying she had recently miscarried and making no mention of the disaster she had suffered.
—¡Qué Dios nos ayude, por favor!
But even as poor Catherine was offering her muddled, half-truthful explanations for the debacle of her pregnancy, her luck turned and she conceived again. This time she would carry the baby to term. This time, surely, it would be a boy. Catherine gave birth on New Year's Day, 1511, less than a year since the loss of her first child.
—Que le va a encantar a su padre.
She was delivered of a prince, to the great gladness of the realm.
—Soy tu mami.
—Se está durmiendo. Yo también quiero dormir, como tú.
The king ordered beacons to be lit in London and free wine to be distributed to its citizens. They responded by parading through the streets chanting, "long live the prince" "long live Catherine and the noble Henry." 'The baby was christened on the 5th of January at Richmond. Named after his father and the long line of English Henrys, he was the new progeny of a new and glorious era.
While the celebrations continued the royal baby remained at Richmond Palace with his own apartments and his own household. There was a wet nurse to suckle him a lady mistress to manage the staff, and four rockers to take it in turns to rock the royal cradle. This kind of separation between a royal baby and his mother was entirely normal. Moreover, as the baby was, a boy and heir to the throne Catherine would have expected to play very little part in either his upbringing or his education. But that did not mean that she did not love him as a mother. Moreover when on the 22nd of February, after living for only 52 days, the baby suddenly died, Catherine grieved for him as a mother too.
(Catherine): «Ave Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum…»
The queen made much lamentation, like a natural woman.
«…Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora...»
The king, out of kindness, concealed his deep disappointment. For Catherine the mother the death of her child was a tragedy. For Catherine the queen, it was a disaster.
At the end of June 1513, Henry left Dover for Calais to launch his great invasion of France. Catherine had accompanied her husband to Dover and almost Henry's last act before he left the royal lodgings here at Dover castle was to confirm the appointment of Catherine as regent of England. During Henry's absence, the council would report to her. Now, if only temporarily, she was ruler, not consort. It was a part for which she had been fitted by her education and by the example of her mother, the great Queen Isabella of Spain. Catherine played it to perfection.
—Tenemos hasta dos días.
Henry's expedition to France turned into a military promenade. He captured two fortified French cities and won a battle known as the Battle of the Spurs, because the French knights rode off so quickly. Throughout all this, Catherine kept up a stream of letters to the English camp. In these, she worried about the risks that Henry was taking and she hailed his victory as the greatest ever known. It wasn't, of course. But at least, under her husband the English had stopped fighting each other and had won their first victory in Europe for almost 80 years.
Catherine, meanwhile faced a crisis at home. Taking advantage of Henry's absence, his own brother-in-law the Scots King, James IV, invaded England. Catherine sent an army north. They clashed at Flodden and the Scots were annihilated. Amongst their 10,000 dead lay the flower of the Scottish nobility and King James himself. Catherine was exalted and sent a trophy of the victory to Henry in France. It was James' blood-stained coat.
This is the letter Catherine sent Henry few days after the Battle of Flodden to give him news of the great victory. It's written entirely in the queen's own hand. More importantly, it's written in English, which she'd learned to speak and write fluently in the four years since her marriage to Henry. She pays due respect to the fact that the victory has been won in Henry's name. But she does compare what's been achieved in England, where she's regent, with what Henry's achieved in France in person. So there's a kind of competition, a sort of equality between herself and Henry, in just the same way there'd been that kind of equality between Catherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella. But what's really strong is the sense of relationship between the king and queen. like all royal letters, it's formally very respectful.It begins "Sir". Very distant. But in the middle, it suddenly shifts into genuine, loving intimacy. "My Henry", she says. And finally, it ends on a yet more intimate note. She says, "I'm about to go off on pilgrimage to Walsingham." I think it's a kind of code for saying, "I'm pregnant." 'Certainly, the rumour that the queen is with child starts the day after this letter is written. And it's true. Henry returned in October 1513. There was a joyful reunion between the king and queen, both flush with their respective victories, and each buoyed up by the news of the queen's pregnancy.
The following year, Henry planned another massive invasion of France in alliance with Catherine's father Ferdinand of Aragon. But Ferdinand double-crossed Henry and entered into a separate truce with France. Henry was furious and in his desire for vengeance, he turned the diplomatic world upside down. He signed a peace treaty with his old enemy, the French. He even married his sister Mary, against her furious protests, to the aged French king. The mastermind behind the truce with France and the breach with Spain was the king's new, ambitious minister.
Thomas Wolsey, son of an Ipswich butcher, was a rising star at court and the peace deal with France set the seal on his authority. It also eliminated Catherine as a possible rival for political influence over the king.
In December 1514 the queen suffered another disaster. In labour for the fourth time she delivered a boy. But within hours, he was dead.
(Man speaking Latin) (Translator): «If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing. He hath uncovered his brother's nakedness. They shall be childless»
By the summer of 1515, Catherine was pregnant again. Conceiving, it seems, she found easy. It was carrying the baby successfully to term that was difficult. But this time, all went well and in the new year, she took to her chamber for her confinement. Then, at the worst possible moment, her father King Ferdinand of Aragon, died. It was decided to keep the news from Catherine lest it provoke another miscarriage, for the queen could not afford another failure.
—¿Qué es lo importante?
At four in the morning on the 18th of February, 1516, she delivered the child. It was not the son for whom the king longed, but the baby girl was at least strong and healthy. She was christened Mary. Henry was outwardly confident. "If it is a daughter this time, boys will follow. "We are both still young." But Henry was overly optimistic. For Catherine, at age 30, was not young for child-bearing, by contemporay standards, at least. In 1517, she had another miscarriage. And then, the following year, a pregnancy that went to term. Huge hopes were invested in it, only to be dashed when the baby, a girl, died after only a few days. Catherine never conceived again. Ten weary years of repeated stillbirths, miscarriages and feeble infants who died shortly after birth resulted only in a single child who lived, Mary. Henry and Catherine, it seemed, would have to live with that.
«Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; Benedicta tu in mulieribus...»
'All the queen's hopes now rested in her daughter. In the absence of a son Catherine was raising Mary to rule, and gave her an impressive education, just as her own mother, Isabella, had done for her.'
'In 1525, Catherine's nine-year-old daughter, May, was sent to Ludlow to hold court as Princess of Wales just as her mother had done 25 years previously. Despite the pain of separation, Catherine was delighted at this acknowledgement of her daughter's status. But no woman
had ever ruled in England before and Henry's mind was full of doubt.
(Man speaking Latin) (Translator): «If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing. He hath uncovered his brother's nakedness. They shall be childless»
Henry often read his Bible and at some point, perhaps at the beginning of 1527, he came across
that passage in Leviticus. It struck an awful answering chord. For after all, hadn't he married his dead brother's widow? And wasn't his marriage childless, or at least without a son which came to the same thing? Didn't that mean that the Pope had been wrong to grant the dispensation for the marriage all those years ago? That Catherine wasn't really his wife in the sight of God and that he, Henry, was free to have a new wife and the son of his dreams?
The king confided in Wolsey that he doubted the validity of his marriage and required an annulment. Wolsey urged caution but Henry insisted that only a new wife would bring the longed-for heir.
«Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus...»
Besides which, the king was already in love with someone else.
«…Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus,nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen»
Anne Boleyn had joined Catherine's household in 1523. The king had already had an affair with her sister Mary. Now the young, striking Anne had caught his eye and won his heart. Henry ordered Wolsey to convene an ecclesiastical court in May 1527. The court met in secrecy to consider the legality of Henry's marriage to Catherine and to judge whether it could be annulled.
«Ave Maria, gratia plena...»
The thorniest issue was Catherine's marriage to Arthur and the difficulty of proving whether it had been consummated.
«…Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.»
After ten days of intense debate, Wolsey was forced to tell the king that he and his advisors could not reach a verdict and only the Pope was qualified to judge the case. Catherine did not remain in the dark for long. The Spanish ambassador wrote to her in secret revealing that her marriage was under investigation. It was shocking news but she convinced herself it was Wolsey's doing, not Henry's. Catherine was confronted with the awful truth on June 22nd. Henry, thinking she knew nothing, told her he was separating from her whilst their marriage was investigated, and asked her to withdraw from the court. She was devastated but held firm and would not agree to leave. Henry begged her to keep the matter secret. But she didn't. Instead, she seized the initiative. She sent a secret message to the emperor Charles V, asking for his support against Henry. Charles was not only her nephew, he was also the most powerful ruler in Europe.
Catherine had always had a soft spot for Charles, and for many years, he'd been betrothed to her daughter, Mary. So now, at this hour of her need she appealed directly to Charles. It was the key moment of the divorce, and it happened because Catherine acted with all the boldness of her mother Isabella the warrior queen of Castile. When the news of the king's desire for divorce finally broke, there were serious murmurings of discontent. Catherine was popular, especially amongst women, and only Henry's powerful personality and open threats prevented actual disorder. The king had no alternative but to ask the Pope to send a representative to England to sort out the case.
«Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Benedictus fructus ventris tui...»
And when it became known that Henry planned to marry his mistress, the murmurings became louder. For if the people loved Catherine, they hated Anne.
«...et Spíritus Sancti. Amen»
The Pope's representative, Cardinal Campeggio, arrived in September, knowing that he faced a diplomatic nightmare. He was subject to overwhelming pressure from Henry and Wolsey for the king's marriage to be tried quickly here in England, where the verdict would certainly be for Henry. On the other hand Catherine's nephew, the holy Roman emperor, Charles V, was applying even more powerful pressure for the trial in England to be aborted and the matter
to be recalled to Rome where, equally certainly, the court would find for Catherine. The solution to this clash of powerful male egos seemed to be for Campeggio to apply pressure on what was thought to be the weakest point, Catherine herself.
Campeggio had agreed a strategy with Henry and Wolsey and in his first interview with Catherine he offered her an easy way out of the pain of her present situation. She could withdraw to a nunnery, allowing the king to remarry. But the queen proved immovable. She had no vocation, she explained to Campeggio, to enter a nunnery. Instead her calling was for 'matrimony. She had been married to Henry in the sight of God and man for 20 years and, God willing, married to Henry she would remain. Then she asked Campeggio to hear her confession. Kneeling and swearing on the salvation of her soul she stated that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated that she'd been a virgin when she married Henry, and that Henry
could testify to this fact. Finally, she gave Campeggio permission to repeat publicly what she had said. Catherine's resistance made a public trial of the validity of her marriage to Henry inevitable.
In June 1529, she was commanded to appear before the Cardinal's court at Blackfriars. The King and Queen of England would be on trial in their own county. Wolsey and Campeggio would preside over Catherine's fate. On the third day of the trial, Henry and Catherine came into court in person. Henry explained his case to the judges but before they could reply, Catherine swiftly moved round the court and flung herself at Henry's feet, appealing directly to her husband.
(Catherine): «Sir, l beseech you for all the loves that have been between us and for the love of God let me have justice and right. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. Alas, sir wherein have I offended you? These 20 years I have been your true wife, and by me, you have had many children, although it hath pleased God to take them out of this world which hath been no default in me. And when ye had me at the first, I take God to be my judge, I was a true maid without touch of man. And whether this be true or no I put it to your conscience»
Throughout her speech, Catherine was careful to present herself as victim. But though she was kneeling, she was fighting. She was fighting to protect her own position as Henry's wife and queen. And fighting, above all, to defend her daughter Mary's legitimacy and claim to the throne. In this fight, Catherine was prepared to use almost any means. Perhaps even lying about the non-consummation of her marriage to Prince Arthur. For it does seem likely that she and Arthur had slept together in the fullest sense of the term. But if it was a lie and we shall never know it was a noble lie in a holy war.
The court descended into acrimony. Wolsey was desperate to get the result that Henry wanted. But Campeggio was only spinning things out until the beginning of the summer vacation when he could suspend the court until the autumn if not forever. Cheated of his prey, Henry sent the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk to demand an immediate verdict. But Campeggio stuck to his guns
and on the 31st of July, announced that the court would rise for two months. Furious, the Duke of Suffolk struck the table and cried in a loud voice that no cardinal had ever done good in England. The threat was intended for Wolsey as much as Campeggio. In fact, the court never sat again and the case was recalled as Catherine had wished, to Rome. Catherine had won the battle but Henry was determined not to lose the war.
It could be years before a solution was reached and Henry did not have years. He would seek other means to marry Anne. The means he would use changed England forever, and deprived Catherine of everything that had given her life meaning.