International Women’s Day: Catherine of Aragon

For me, Catherine of Aragon was the strongest of Henry VIII’s wives. Probably even as strong as Elizabeth I – the daughter of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

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Born on 16 December 1485, and daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, she was given an education almost as strong as her brother’s, and we all know that knowledge is power.

She was originally married to Henry the VIII’s older brother Arthur, having been betrothed at the age of three. But their marriage was short-lived as Arthur died soon after at the young age of 16. She was then married to Henry VIII to keep the allegiance between her home country and Henry’s.

Why does she deserve a blog post for International Women’s Day? Because she was quite an interesting and strong character.

When she first came to Britain she couldn’t speak English. Gradually, her Spanish maids-in-waiting were taken from her, and replaced with English women. In essence, she was expected to forget who she was, to become fully English as the future Queen of England. Despite her homesickness, she endeavoured to learn English – which she barely spoke a word of on her arrival – and to win the hearts of the English public.

Even on her wedding day to Arthur, she defied public expectation by showing her Spanish heritage through riding into London side-saddle on a mule. Despite this, she soon won the public’s heart. So much so that when Henry VIII demanded a divorce from her years later, it was to great public disapproval. And the public continued to support her, during Henry’s long drawn-out attempts to claim a divorce from the Pope, making it an international spectacle, and probably the most public divorce you could ask for. All the more humiliating for Catherine, who was now known as the Queen who couldn’t produce a male heir (and who was no longer attractive to the king).

Even though she fought hard against the divorce, in the end she could do little more than sit back and watch as her royal status was slowly taken from her – her home, her waiting staff, her title, and even her daughter Mary. All the while she knew that once upon a time, she had stood in for Henry when he went to war in France in 1513, when he appointed her Regent or Governor of England. In his absence, she had even rode North in full armour, to defend England against the Scots, and was even heavily pregnant at the time. Of course, her daughter Mary never forgot her mother’s integrity, especially that of her religious integrity, and eventually became known as Bloody Mary.

For more information, read David Starkey’s Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.

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