Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII- Catherine 'The Badass' of Aragon


Fun fact, Catherine was a ginger. This is
probably a painting of her.
Catherine, or Katherine, Kathryn, Katerine, of Aragon was Henry's first wife, as well as the wife of his elder brother Arthur. She was also one helluva queen of England.

Catherine was born to the illustrious monarchs of Spain-Ferdinand and Isabella of Christopher Columbus and Moorish Genocide fame. At age three she was betrothed to Arthur, the crown prince of England, and at age sixteen she married him. Unfortunately, after only a year of marriage, he died.

An alternative title for this article was 'Catherine 'Deserved Better Than This' of Aragon', and here's why. If Catherine returned to Spain, her dowry, a substantial 200,000 ducats, which was only half paid, would have to be returned as well, and Henry VII, the King, just wasn't down for that. He wanted to keep the Spanish money, and by extension the Spanish princess, in the family, so finding a suitable second husband for Catherine was a must. Initially, Henry proposed that he marry Catherine, given that Elizabeth of York had died, but seeing as how that was a bit skeevy, he decided to bestow her on Junior, despite the fact that she was five years older than him, and had been married to his brother, which is only slightly less skeevy than marrying her father in law.

It took a while for Catherine to get married for the second time. Her father, King Ferdinand, was being difficult about paying the rest of her dowry, her mother died (meaning that half of her father's kingdom went to her debateably insane sister Juana), and she ended up virtually imprisoned in some English countryside hell hole (a recurring theme throughout poor Catherine's life.)

Eventually though, Papa Henry died, and Junior got to have his way. He married Catherine, and they had a double coronation shortly before Henry's eighteenth birthday. By all accounts, they were happy, and Henry loved his wife.

From here you might know the story. Time passed. Catherine couldn't have sons, only one daughter, Mary. Enter homewrecker Anne Boleyn. Divorce. Reformation. Banishment. Death by poison. (She actually died, most likely, from cancer. But cancer wasn't really a known quantity in renaissance England.)

Catherine in her later years.
It's a sad ending to a promising story. This is also my first piece of evidence in my arguments that Henry VIII was an asshole. Catherine wasn't just a victim and a martyr though. Like I mentioned, she was one helluva queen. The middle parts of her story, the parts we don't usually focus on, are pretty badass, leaving me with no doubt that she was quite the lady. Oliver Cromwell, a contemporary of hers, said "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History", which is the exact sort of backhanded, misogynistic compliment that you would expect from a Renaissance dude. That being said, Cromwell wasn't wrong. Catherine accomplished quite a bit as Queen, far more than most of Henry's other wives. She did a lot for England and the English people in her own right. You could probably write a book about the 'middle years', but I don't have time, so here's a brief, in no particular order, list.

Badass things that Catherine did
  • Acted as Spanish ambassador to the English Court. She was the first female ambassador in Europe.
  • Rode to the front of her armies in the Battle of Flodden in full armor to deliver a rousing speech Tilbury style, while pregnant. (this raises a lot of questions about what sort of armor one wears while pregnant. Did she just borrow some really big armor? Did they make special pregnancy armor for her?)
  • Nominated for the title of 'Defender of the Faith' for tearing apart Luther's arguments (ironically, her husband later got the title.)
  • Was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and Queen. At the same time. She esteemed her faith more than power, and was motivated personally and politically by it.
    • But not like, in a expel and kill Jews and Muslims way like her mother. I feel that is important to mention.
  • Continued to insist upon the validity of her marriage, her virginity upon her marriage to Henry, and called herself queen until the day she died, despite significant pressures from Henry and other members of court. 
  • Openly defied the King and Ecclesiastical Court on several occasions.
  • Raised armies to suppress rebellion while acting as Queen Regent when Henry was out of the country.
  • Fought for and popularized education for women. She also helped fund universities.
  • Survived the physical horrors of six pregnancies.
  • Survived the emotional trauma of having five of her children predecease her.
  • Pleaded for the lives of rebels to spare their families.
  • Created welfare programs to benefit the poor. 
What a lady, right? The only problem with Catherine (as far as we can really tell), is that she couldn't have the son that Henry so desperately wanted. Also, she was stubborn, which may not be a problem depending on how you look at it.
There's a movement currently to canonize Catherine as a saint, do you think she should become a saint? Make my day, and leave a comment below. :)

Part One     Part Two     Part Three     Part Four    Part Five    Part Six    Part Seven   Part Eight

Sources
True Stories From English History by Maria Elizabeth Budden
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey




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