Thursday, December 16, 2010

Remembering... Catherine of Aragon

Born on this day in 1485, the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile - whose lust for gold and desire to find room for Catholicism to grow set off the colonial era - Catherine of Aragon was originally imported to England to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Henry VII, in November 1501.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot a person given to waste (or returning rich dowries), when Prince Arthur died in April 1502 his father simply off-loaded his new daughter-in-law on his other son; because of her vehement insistence that her first marriage had never been consummated, and because her parents were such good pals with the new Pope, Julius II, no special dispensation would be required to marry them to each other, merely a Papal bull, which duly arrived in December 1503.

In April 1509 this other son would become Henry VIII and within a fortnight in June of that year Catherine would find herself both a blushing bride and Queen as well; this time would prove to be an all-too-brief respite in the sweep of her otherwise unhappy life.

Although six years older than her new husband, she was beautiful, talented, and most importantly popular. Their marriage would be happy for many years before what he saw as her inability to bear him a son - which we now know is a product of the father's chromosomes, not the mother's - made his continuing marriage to her (in his eyes, anyway) an impediment to the survival of his dynasty.

The live birth of a healthy son to his mistress Elizabeth Blount in June 1519 was all the proof Henry needed that his marriage was cursed; of the two sons born to Catherine of Aragon, Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall lived for the first 52 days of 1511, and another lived a few hours in November 1513. The only child of theirs to survive to adulthood was Mary, born in February 1516.

Catherine's life in England had never been ideal; having been raised in the sophisticated court of Spain, she found her bumptious British hosts both provincial and xenophobic, their food coarse and ill-prepared, and then there was the weather...

But things went from bad to worse in the final decade of her life, as her husband campaigned Pope Clement VII for a divorce - which was refused after much stalling - following which Henry simply seized the leadership of the Church of England for himself, passed the Act of Supremacy (1534), embarked upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries (essentially a cash grab), and in general caused a world of hurt throughout Europe.

Removed from Court following the rise of her rival, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon died in January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle - her heart completely black, according to contemporary reports; but was it just the superstitious imagination of the times, or evidence of poison?

Today, the truth lies somewhere beneath the floor of Peterborough Cathedral...

Maria Doyle Kennedy gives a truly electric performance as Catherine of Aragon in the Showtime/CBC co-production of The Tudors, whose first two seasons are now available on DVD; likewise, Philippa Gregory breathes life into her character and personality in her historical novel The Constant Princess, which suggests that Catherine's marriage to Arthur had been consummated.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great entry!

Sure would hate the food...

From another guy from Aragon: