Tudor History: A True Royal Struggle | Letters From Katherine of Aragon
When Katherine Of Aragon wrote a heartfelt plea to her father, she held the title of Princess of Wales through her marriage to Prince Arthur of England. The couple had not been married long before the prince’s untimely death in 1502 at Ludlow Castle. Faced now with widowhood and all alone in a foreign country, she seeks help from family.
[Katherine of Aragon]
Katherine of Aragon was the daughter of Spain’s monarch King Ferdinand II and his wife Queen Isabella of Castile. The marriage of her parents had united Spain in the middle of the 15th century in 1469. She was their youngest child. In a biography from the EWB, they report that her parents quite loved their youngest princess:
“Catherine of Aragon was the last child born to the two reigning monarchs, or rulers, of Spain, King Ferdinand of Aragon (1452–1516) and Queen Isabella of Castile (1451–1504). Catherine was described as a small and plump princess with pink cheeks, light skin, and reddish-gold hair. Her childhood was filled with battles and celebrations, as her parents worked to expand the realm of their influence.
Catherine’s education was of great importance to Queen Isabella, who made sure that her daughter studied a wide variety of subjects. Catherine was a dedicated student who was capable of speaking French, Latin, Spanish, and later English. She trained in law, genealogy (the study of family histories), the bible, and history. Catherine also worked to develop her skills in dancing, drawing, and music, and she learned how to embroider, spin, and weave. She had a strong religious upbringing and developed a faith that would play a major role later in her life.
Knowing that marrying their daughters to the royalty of powerful nations could strengthen their foothold in Europe, the king and queen chose these alliances carefully. In May 1499 the first of several wedding ceremonies was held when Catherine was married to Prince Arthur of England, son of Henry VII (1457–1509).”
In all accounts written about Katherine of Aragon, it is clear that she was an intelligent, strong, and worthy woman deserving of her title. She was a queen that led by example.
[Prince Arthur of England & Catherine Of Aragon]
It was in 1501 that the Spanish princess arrived to England and married the Prince Of Wales. The Journey had been quite a difficult one according to an article in the Anne Boleyn Files written by Claire Ridgway. She describes Katherine’s travels and the delays because of the negation that had occurred between King Henry VII and King Ferdinand II.
“Catherine had originally set sail from Coruna on the 17th August, but strong storms in the Bay of Biscay had forced her fleet to land at Laredo, near Bilbao. After hearing of her first failed attempt to reach England, Catherine’s future father-in-law sent one of his best captains, Stephen Butt, to steer her ship through the treacherous Bay of Biscay.
Negotiations for a marriage agreement between England and Spain had begun in 1488 when King Ferdinand of Aragon, Catherine’s father, sent his ambassadors to England. According to David Starkey, Ferdinand saw an opportunity: he had a daughter, Henry VII had a son, and a marriage agreement could united England and Spain against their common enemy, France. In 1489, Henry VII sent his ambassadors to Spain to settle the agreement and in March 1489, in the Treaty of Medina del Campo, the two king agreed to a marriage treaty and alliance. Ferdinand and his wife, Isabella of Castile, agreed to pay Henry VII a marriage portion or dowry of 200,000 (about £40,000), split into 2 installments, and Henry agreed to settled a third of the Prince of Wales’ lands on Catherine so that she would have income if Arthur died.”
Before the two had met there had been letters written back and forth. The letter below was written in 1499 CE to katherine from Arthur himself. This was before they had ever met each other in person.
Most illustrious and most excellent lady, my dearest spouse, I wish you very much health, with my hearty recommendation.
I have read the most sweet letters of your highness lately given to me, from which I have easily perceived your most entire love to me. Truly those your letters, traced by your own hand, have so delighted me, and have rendered me so cheerful and jocund, that I fancied I beheld your highness and conversed with and embraced my dearest wife. I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. I owe eternal thanks to your excellence that you so lovingly correspond to this my so ardent love. Let it continue, I entreat, as it has begun; and, like as I cherish your sweet remembrance night and day, so do you preserve my name ever fresh in your breast. And let your coming to me be hastened, that instead of being absent we may be present with each other, and the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit.
Moreover I have done as your illustrious highness enjoined me, that is to say, in commending you to the most serene lord and lady the king and queen my parents, and in declaring your filial regard towards them, which to them was most pleasing to hear, especially from my lips. I also beseech your highness that it may please you to exercise a similar good office for me, and to commend me with hearty good will to my most serene lord and lady your parents; for I greatly value, venerate, and esteem them, even as though they were my own, and wish them all happiness and prosperity.
May your highness be ever fortunate and happy, and be kept safe and joyful, and let me know it often and speedily by your letters, which will be to me most joyous. From our castle of Ludlow. 5th of October, 1499.
Your highness’ most loving spouse,
Arthur, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, etc.
Eldest son of the King.
The future had looked promising when Katherine arrived to her new country to marry its prince; however, that would not last long at all. Prince Arthur would die just months after the marriage in the spring of 1502. The official cause of death is unknown, but it is believed that the plague killed him. The “sweating sickness” had been hitting Europe hard with its comeback in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Reports from the Tudor Society explain that the illness was a common occurrence during this time due to infections from the rat population. The diseases transferred to humans rather easily and this could explain the prince’s death. It was in 1501 that the Spanish princess arrived to England and married the Prince Of Wales. The Journey had been quite a difficult one according to an article in the Anne Boleyn Files written by Claire Ridgway. She describes Catherine’s travels and the delays because of the negation that had occurred between King Henry VII and King Ferdinand II.
“Unfortunately, plague and illness had been lingering around Ludlow however the young Prince paid no heed to this and continued with his duties. Then in late March, he and Catherine were struck down by an illness. Both were ordered to their beds and confined in their rooms while attended to by doctors. Servants prayed frantically for the young Prince and Princess of Wales, however, it would be to no avail. While Katherine was still sick in her rooms her husband and heir to the English throne died.
While the exact cause of Arthur’s death remains unknown several theories have been put forward. It has been suggested that Arthur may have suffered from some form of cancer or possibly consumption. Another theory that has commonly been suggested, which ties in with Katherine of Aragon’s illness at the same time, is the dreaded sweating sickness.
The sweating sickness had first struck England in the fifteenth century and appeared on and off with one of the worse epidemics being in 1528. It was believed to have been carried from Europe by rats and transferred to humans by small biting insects. The symptoms were something like influenza or pneumonia, with the patient having pains and aches all over the body, headaches, a great thirst and horrible sweating. They would experience great exhaustion and a desire to sleep, rapid pulse rate, and dizziness. Many who caught the sweating sickness were dead within twenty-four hours.”
[Prince Arthur Of Wales]
All hopes were put on Katherine being pregnant with an heir upon the death of Prince Arthur. This was quite blow to the already turmoil and conflict ridden country.King Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York were devastated at the loss of their eldest child.
No time was wasted to bring Katherine back to London from Ludlow Castle. According to Susan Abernethy, who writes on her history blog that:
“A carriage draped all in black was sent to Ludlow to transport Catherine back to London. Under orders, it made pitifully slow progress because both Henry and Elizabeth believed Catherine to be pregnant with the precious Tudor heir.”
Carrying the late prince’s child was not to be Catherine’s fate because the two having only lived together for a short time never consummated the marriage. Prince Arthur was weak and ill most of their time together. When she was later engaged to Arthur’s brother Prince Henry, she was given a papal dispensation from the Holy Roman Church to marry again.
Prior to her engagement to Prince Henry things were not good because King Henry VII who was mourning his son and then later his wife was extremely neglectful in his care to Katherine, who has been named the Dowager Princess of Wales. The young girl had no support from her father-in-law or her family back Spain. Katherine was stuck. It was at this breaking point that she penned a long letter to her father King Ferdinand.
Most high and most puissant lord,
Hitherto I have not wished to let your highness know the affairs here, that I might not give you annoyance, and also thinking that they would improve; but it appears that the contrary is the case, and that each day my troubles increase; and all this on account of the doctor de Puebla, to whom it has not sufficed that from the beginning he transacted a thousand falsities against the service of your highness, but now he has given me new trouble; and because I believe your highness will think I complain without reason, I desire to tell you all that has passed.
Your highness shall know, as I have often written to you, that since I came into England, I have not had a single maravedi, except a certain sum which was given me for food, and this such a sum that it did not suffice without my having many debts in London; and that which troubles me more is to see my servants and maidens so at a loss, and that they have not the wherewith to get clothes; and this I believe is all done by hand of the doctor, who, notwithstanding your highness has written, sending him word that he should have money from the king of England, my lord that their costs should be given them, yet, in order not to trouble him, will rather entrench upon and neglect the service of your highness. Now, my lord, a few days ago, donna Elvira de Manuel asked my leave to go to Flanders to be cured of a complaint which has come into her eyes, so that she lost the sight of one of them; and there is a physician in Flanders who cured the infanta donna Isabel of the same disease which which she is affected. She labored to bring him here so as not to leave me, but could never succeed with him; and I, since if she were blind she could not serve me, durst not hinder her journey. I begged the king of England, my lord, that until our donna Elvira should return his highness would command that I should have, as a companion, an old English lady, or that he would take me to his court; and I imparted all this to the doctor, thinking to make of the rogue a true man; but it did not suffice me – because he not only drew me to court, in which I have some pleasure, because I had supplicated the king for an asylum, but he negotiated that the king should dismiss all my household, and take away my chamber-equipage, and send to place it in a house of his own, so that I should not in any way be mistress of it.
And all this does not weigh upon me, except that it concerns the service of your highness, doing the contrary of that which ought to be done. I entreat your highness that you will consider that I am your daughter, and that consent not that on account of the doctor I should have such trouble, but that you will command some ambassador to come here, who may be a true servant of your highness, and for no interest will cease to do that which pertains to your service. And if in this your highness trusts me not, do you command some person to come here, who may inform you of the truth, and then you will have one who will better serve you. As for me, I have had so much pain and annoyance that I have lost my health in a great measure; so that for two months I have had severe tertian fevers, and this will be the cause that I shall soon die. I supplicate your highness to pardon me that I presume to entreat you to do me so great favor as to command that this doctor may not remain; because he certainly does not fulfill the service of your highness, which he postpones to the service of the worst interest which can be. Our Lord guard the life and most royal estate of your highness, and ever increase it as I desire. From Richmond, the second of December.
My lord, I had forgotten to remind your highness how you know that it was agreed that you were to give, as a certain part of my dowry, the plate and jewels that I brought; and yet I am certain that the king of England, my lord, will not receive anything of plate nor of jewels which I have used; because he told me himself that he was indignant that they should say in his kingdom that he took away from me my ornaments. And as little may your highness expect that he will take them in account and will return them to me; because I am certain he will not do so, nor is any such thing customary here. In like wise the jewels which I brought from thence [Spain] valued at a great sum. The king would not take them in the half of the value, because here all these things are esteemed much cheaper, and the king has so many jewels that he rather desires money than them. I write thus to your highness because I know that there will be great embarrassment if he will not receive them, except at less price. It appears to me that it would be better if your highness should take them for yourself, and should give to the king of England, my lord, his money. Your highness will see what would serve you best, and with this I shall be most content.
The humble servant of your highness, who kisses your hands.
[The Trial of Katherine – after painting by Laslett J. Pott. Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, testifying at the Legatine Court, at which she defended the legitimacy of her marriage and her position as Queen of England. August 1529]
Thank you for reading The Chronicles of History. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you are interested in reading about Katherine Of Aragon then check out our post titled Revealing Letter On King Henry VIII’s Divorce Written By Thomas Cranmer – 1553 AD to read an eyewitness account of her divorce from Henry VIII.
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Katharine of Aragon: The Story of a Spanish Princess and an English Queen Written by Jean Plaidy weaves tales of Henry VIII’s queens with the story of his first wife, the Spanish princess Katharine of Aragon. As a teenager, Katharine leaves her beloved Spain, land of olive groves and soaring cathedrals, for the drab, rainy island of England. There she is married to the king’s eldest son, Arthur, a sickly boy who dies six months after the wedding. Katharine is left a widow who was never truly a wife, lonely in a strange land, with a very bleak future. Her only hope of escape is to marry the king’s second son, Prince Henry, now heir to the throne. Tall, athletic, handsome, a lover of poetry and music, Henry is all that Katharine could want in a husband. But their first son dies and, after many more pregnancies, only one child survives, a daughter. Disappointed by his lack of an heir, Henry’s eye wanders, and he becomes enamored of another woman—a country nobleman’s daughter named Anne Boleyn. When Henry begins searching for ways to put aside his loyal first wife, Katharine must fight to remain Queen of England and to keep the husband she once loved so dearly.
- Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her father, King Ferdinand II. (2015, March 19). Retrieved from https://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/
- Abernethy, S. (2018, January 30). Letter from Katherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales, to Her Father, Ferdinand II of Aragon, 1505. Retrieved from https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2017/01/06/letter-from-katherine-of-aragon-princess-of-wales-to-her-father-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon-1505/
- Katherine of Aragon – the Beloved Queen. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.wendyjdunn.com/tudor-articles/katherine-of-aragon/
- Society, H. T. (2017, January 06). Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon; “The King and the Pauper Princess”. Retrieved from https://henrytudorsociety.com/2016/11/28/henry-vii-and-catherine-of-aragon-the-king-and-the-pauper-princess/
- Theanneboleynfiles. (2010, September 27). Catherine of Aragon Sets Sail for England. Retrieved from https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/catherine-of-aragon-sets-sail-for-england/
- Larson, R. (2016, July 30). Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon. Retrieved from http://www.tudorsdynasty.com/prince-arthur-katherine-aragon/
- The Death of Arthur Tudor by Sarah Bryson. (2018, July 16). Retrieved from https://www.tudorsociety.com/arthur-tudor-sarah-bryson/