Catherine of Aragon was one of four offspring of Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs of the Spains.

Catherine had been married to Arthur, son of Henry VII1. Henry VII had been very keen on this marriage, and it represented the biggest success of his foreign policy. Why was Catherine so valuable? Because of her parents.

The Spanish Catholic Kings were two of the most prstiguous monarches in Europe at the time. Henry VII was a young upstart of the as-yet unimportant House of Tudor, who had a limited heredity right to the throne on which he sat and had seized it through battle. To be recognized as an equal by the Spanish made Henry feel a lot more secure on his throne, and provided him a legitimacy which he hoped would make him more than just another temporary monarch, soon to be ousted as part of the War of the Roses.

On 14 November, 1501, Prince Arthur and Catherine were married in St. Paul's Cathedral. Sadly, Arthur died five months after the wedding in Ludlow2, and Henry's dynasty appeared to be in tatters. Yet Ferdinand and Isabella almost immediately began pursuing the marriage of Catherine to the young Henry VIII. This was achieved with a dispensation from the Pope.

The reason this dispensation was needed is important, and a matter of Scripture. Leviticus 20:21 states (King James Bible):

"And 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."

Indeed, Catherine and Henry VIII would never produce a male heir. When this had transpired and she had passed child-bearing age, Henry wanted rid of her to marry Anne Boleyn. Divorce was out of the question3, and so Henry sought to annul the marriage. Thomas Wolsey, papal legate and Chief Minister of Henry, set to work trying to persuade the Pope.

The Pope (Pope Clement VII) was unwilling to accept that one of his recent predecessors had made a mistake in granting the initial dispensation (trying to prove this was the main line of attack made in favour of the divorce). He was also severely chastened after the Sack of Rome and keen to act in favour of Charles V, who of course was the nephew of Catherine. Eventually Henry was only able to get a favourable decision by devolving power through the English Reformation.

For her part, Catherine is commended for her activities and attitudes throughout the divorce proceedings. She never had any doubt about the validity of the marriage and was in constant contact with the Pope and Charles V to try and get a decision in her favour. This active resistance came as a great surprise to Henry VIII.


Notes:

1. Arthur was so named as a propaganda exercise by Henry, keen to use Arthurian Mythology to make himself look better following his seizure of the throne at the Battle of Bosworth.

2. On the issue of consumation, it is generally accepted that the marriage was unconsumated, although Prince Arthur once reportedly boasted that "It's hot work spending the night in Spain" to his courtiers.

3. Despite his behaviour, Henry VIII was by all accounts a pious Catholic, and it is accepted that he did in fact fear that he and Catherine were living in sin.

Catherine of Aragon was legally married to Henry VIII's older brother, Arthur, in accordance with the laws of the land. The case later cited for petition of annulment by Henry VIII was that the first marriage was never consumated, as Arthur was too ill to consumate the marriage.

Catherine of Aragon was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. As was common for princesses of the day, upon her birth, her parents began looking for a political match for her. At three years of age, she was betrothed to Arthur, the son of Henry VII of England. Arthur was not quite two at the time.

When she was almost 16, in 1501, Catherine made the journey to England. It took three months, and her ships weathered several storms, but she made landfall at Plymouth on October 2, 1501. Catherine and Arthur were married on 14 November 1501 in Old St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Catherine was escorted by the groom's younger brother, Henry.

Following the wedding and celebrations, the young couple moved to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border. Less than six months later, Arthur was dead, possibly of the 'sweating sickness'.

By 1505, when Henry was old enough to marry, Henry VII wasn't as keen on a Spanish alliance, and young Henry was forced to repudiate the betrothal. Catherine's future was uncertain for the next four years, during which time she was given an inadequate allowance and was forced to sell many of her own possessions in order to sustain her household. When Henry VII died in 1509, one of the new young king's actions was to marry Catherine. She was finally crowned Queen of England in a joint coronation ceremony with her husband Henry VIII on June 24, 1509.

Shortly after their marriage, Catherine became pregnant. This first child was a stillborn daughter born prematurely in January 1510. This was soon followed by another pregnancy. Prince Henry was born on January 1, 1511 and was christened on the 5th. There were great celebrations for the birth of the young prince, but they were halted by the baby's death after 52 days of life. Catherine then had a miscarriage, followed by the birth of a son who died shortly after being born. On February 1516, she gave birth a daughter named Mary, and this child lived. There were probably two more pregnancies, the last recorded in 1518.

Henry was growing frustrated by his lack of a male heir, but he remained a relatively devoted husband. He had at least two mistresses: Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. By 1526 though, he had begun to separate from Catherine because he had fallen in love with one of her ladies (and sister of one of his mistresses): Anne Boleyn. (Though it should be added that supposedly he never lost respect for Catherine's intellect.)

She lived for the next three years imprisoned in several dank and unhealthy castles and manors with just a few servants, and was not permitted to see her daughter. She seldom complained of her treatment, though she steadfastly refused to acknowledge the annulment of her marriage.

On January 7, 1536, Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle and was buried at Peterborough Abbey with the ceremony due for her position as Princess Dowager. (There's a step down from your coronation as queen).

Catherine of Aragon wore the habit of a nun under her court robes. She was not a happy woman, (after 25 years of marriage Harry says, "We're not married.")?? But rest assured, she was no harridan.

Note: The write-up to which I was responding originally said that Henry and Catherine were not legally married and that she was a harridan.

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