Friday, June 4, 2010

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Everyone knows the story: Henry VIII wanted a son, and his first wife couldn’t provide one so he divorced her for Anne Boleyn and in the process changed the religious landscape of England forever.

This is all fine and dandy, and while I know that Anne is the interesting one (the typical intelligent conniving woman men of the time feared) Catherine was an interesting woman in her own right. Instead of sitting back and allowing her husband to discard her, she put up a massive fight to maintain her control in England.

This is all relevant because on June 11, 1509 Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were married. However, this was not the original destiny for Catherine.

Catherine was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The two monarchs were revolutionary, uniting all the different territories of Spain into one country, and together were able to make Spain one of the most powerful countries in Europe. It was Ferdinand and Isabella who financed Christopher Columbus and his expeditions to the New World, and it was also these monarchs who carried out the Spanish Inquisition.

When Catherine was three, a marriage alliance was put in place between Catherine and Arthur, the elder son of Henry VII.

In 1501 when Catherine was 16 she traveled to England where she married Arthur on November 14, 1501. Six months later Arthur died, and Catherine was widowed. Because Catherine was still young, and Henry VII was keen on keeping her dowry, she was betrothed to Henry 14 months later. However, Henry was too young to marry.

By 1505 when Henry was old enough to wed Henry VII wasn’t as keen on a Spanish alliance, and Catherine’s future was uncertain for four years until 1509 when Henry VII died. One of Henry VIII first actions was to marry Catherine, and she was finally crowned Queen on June 24, 1509.

Catherine had six children total with only Princess Mary surviving. Her last recorded pregnancy was in 1518. Henry did have mistresses and two who are known are Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount.

By 1526 Henry began to separate from Catherine because he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, the sister of Mary one of his mistresses. This is when the debate began. Henry wanted a male heir, up until this time there had only been male rulers of England. Matilda had attempted to gain control of England 3oo years earlier, but had been unsuccessful because of the male authority engraved at the time.

Now we all know the rest of the story: Henry decided after reading the Bible to have his marriage annulled. Catherine appealed the case to the Pope to try and maintain the status of her daughter Mary, and insisted her marriage to Arthur was no consummated and therefore they were not truly husband and wife. Finally in 1533 when Anne became pregnant and Henry broke from the church and had the Archbishop of Canterbury grant the annulment, and limited Catherine’s status as Princess Dowager of Wales. Catherine refused to accept the title, and died three years later.

This is the part of Catherine’s life that everyone knows. But what about the Queen Catherine; what was her life like between becoming Queen and being discarded.

Immediately after her marriage, Catherine was regarded as a close political advisor to her husband. In 1513 Henry went to war with France and made Catherine regent over England. While he was gone, Catherine had to deal with Scottish rebellion and put herself at the front of the troops to lead in war against the Scottish until the battle of Flodden Field ended the campaign.

It was after this that Ferdinand made a treaty with France, and Henry was greatly angered by the action. At this point Catherine realized she had to chose between her father or her husband, and changed her loyalty to England.

Despite this, Henry’s chief advisor Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey never trusted Catherine, so over time Henry began to disregard her political advice.

Despite all of this Catherine was well loved by the people. She often gave to the poor of England food, clothes, money and fuel for fires in the winter. When Henry sought to divorce her the people were outraged.

I think Catherine is an overlooked woman in history. She was a very strong character considering all she was up against. If she had the right husband, I think things may have panned out differently. Instead of making her an enemy, making her an ally may have allowed England to gain an even stronger position. Catherine had been to war with her parents, and had first hand knowledge of how to unite a country and make it strong.

Sure, considering all of Henry’s six wives, Anne is usually the favorite because of the scandal she created. And because of the religious legacy left in England. However, Overlooking Catherine is not wise: given her chance she could have shined.

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