Excerpts, Part 3: Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon


Henry VII was succeeded by his eighteen year old son Henry, who married Catherine of Aragon, the widow of his brother Arthur, on 11 June 1509, within two months of his accession to the throne. ARAGON EMBLEMCatherine, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, had come to England in 1501 at the age of sixteen to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, the fifteen year old son of Henry VII. The wedding was solemnized in St Paul's Cathedral on 14 November. Arthur died on 2 April 1502, within five months of the marriage. King Ferdinand demanded the return of that part of the dowry he had already paid, 100,000 crowns, and on Catherine's behalf he claimed her promised marriage settlement, one third of the revenues of the earldoms of Wales, Cornwall, and Chester. Henry VII, very loath to lose either Catherine's dowry or the Spanish alliance, arranged for her to be engaged to Arthur's younger brother Henry, aged twelve. A papal dispensation from the first degree of affinity was necessary in order to make an eventual marriage possible, and this was issued by Pope Julius II in 1504. Within seven weeks of his accession to the throne in 1509, the eighteen year old Henry married the twenty-six year old Catherine. He did so of his own volition with no pressure being exerted upon him from any source whatsoever. Henry himself had assured the Spanish ambassador of his undiminished attachment to Catherine and of his ardent desire to marry her. Catherine made a solemn affirmation, confirmed by ladies of the Spanish court, that her marriage with Arthur had never been consummated, and that she came to Henry as a virgin-bride, a fact which was never denied by Henry in person. She was thus married as such, dressed in white and wearing her hair loose. The royal couple were married by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the oratory of the friary church just outside the walls of Greenwich Palace.

On Midsummer day a more public and splendid celebration of their union took place when Henry allowed his bride to share in his coronation at Westminster Abbey. On Saturday 23 June the traditional eve-of-coronation procession to Westminster was greeted by vast and enthusiastic crowds. The beautiful young queen was acclaimed as she passed by in a litter "borne on the backs of two white palfreys trapped in white cloth of gold, her person apparelled in white satin embroidered, her hair hanging down her back, of a very great length, beautiful and good to behold, and on her head a coronal, set with many rich stones." The Londoners, who had taken the Spanish queen to their hearts, cried out "God save you!" YOUNG CATHERINETheir love for Catherine remained undiminished throughout her life, and even in the dark days of her repudiation by the king they would allow no one to replace her in their affections.

The royal couple passed through streets hung with tapestries and cloth of gold, and Henry seemed almost to outshine his bride with the riot of diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones that adorned his person. The coronation was followed by a banquet in Westminster Hall (where John Fisher and Thomas More would be condemned). It was greater than "any Cæsar had known", and opened with a procession bearing the dishes led by the Duke of Buckingham and the lord steward riding on horseback. The great rejoicing which followed the wedding and coronation occupied the court during much of the remainder of the year in an almost unbroken round of revels, pageants, tournaments, banqueting, dancing, and making music. Many new Knights of the Bath were created in honour of the coronation, including a certain Thomas Boleyn, who had married a member of the aristocratic Howard family, and was the father of one son and two pretty daughters, Mary and Anne. The dark days of the Wars of the Roses seemed to be no more than a fading memory. The mood of optimism which pervaded the country was expressed by Thomas More who, inspired by the joy of the coronation, wrote: "This day is the end of our slavery, the fount of our liberty; the end of sadness, the beginning of joy."
The eighteen year old king was initially very popular with his subjects. He was handsome and excelled in all the accomplishments most admired in a person of his station-in the martial arts, hunting, boxing, wrestling, tennis, archery, music, dancing. His standing armour which can still be seen in the Tower of London suggests that he was six feet two inches in height, a very tall man for those days (as was John Fisher). He was not only tall but powerfully built, with muscular arms and legs. It was his proficiency in the martial arts that gave the young king most satisfaction. For several years after his marriage the queen and her ladies, members of the court, and foreign ambassadors would be summoned to admire Henry fighting at barriers with the two-handed sword or the battle axe, or breaking lances in tournaments on horseback. The young king invariably emerged victorious and received the prize, due, he was sure, to his physical prowess and martial skills, but also, no doubt, to the prudence of his opponents who realized that defeating the king was not a wise thing to do.

Henry was an avid collector of musical instruments and could playagood number of them with thefIuencyofa professional musician, among them the gittarone, lute, cornet and virginal. He would take part in evening concerts for the court, alternating with professional musicians, and there was never any doubt who received the loudest and longest applause. Henry had a strong sure voice, could sight-read easily, and was an accomplished composer of both light and serious music, writing at least two five part Masses. He would later scour the country for men and boys to sing in the chapels royal, and even lured singers from Wolsey's choir of which he was said to be jealous. The king had a great interest in art and Holbein found at Henry's court the welcome and success that he had been denied in Germany. 8 The king delighted in speaking French, Latin, Italian, and Spanish to the ambassadors to his court He was an avid student of theology, the scriptures, and philosophy, and considered himself to be an exemplary Catholic and an outstanding defender of the Church. During the lavish masques and pageants which he loved, and organized at tremendous expense, the king would sometimes disappear to return incognito as a masked actor, musician, or dancer to receive tumultuous applause which would rise to a crescendo when his mask was removed to reveal the identity of the star performer (which was certainly known to most of those present during his whole performance). The incessant praise and adulation that the young king received inevitably led to vanity on his part, and to resentment of any criticism from anyone for any reason.


The graceful person, invariable dignity, and impeccable virtue of Queen Catherine made her loved and admired throughout the kingdom. Her great misfortune was that of the five children she bore Henry, three sons and two daughters, only one daughter survived infancy, the Princess Mary who would eventually ascend the throne and restore the Catholic faith in England. Like her mother, and due in no small part to her mother's influence, Mary never once wavered in her fidelity to Rome and to the Mass. The princess was very well educated, had a great love of music, and was an accomplished linguist By the age of eleven she was already translating Thomas Aquinas out of Latin. Within ten years of the marriage Catherine had already lost her beauty, miscarriages had much to do with this, and the king was consoling himself with a series of mistresses.


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