Katharine of Aragon: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Disappointments

After Henry’s return, the political landscape began to change. Ferdinand’s health was deteriorating – the amount of attention paid to his young wife was one reason given, but their only child died at birth. Ferdinand’s heir was therefore either his daughter, Juana, or her son Charles. Ferdinand might have preferred his heir to be Juana’s second son, Ferdinand, who had been brought up at the court of Aragon. Charles had been brought up in his late father’s territory of Burgundy by his aunt, Marguerite of Austria (Katharine’s sister-in-law) and Charles’ other grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian, and was therefore essentially Hapsburg, rather than Spanish in outlook.

For Henry, the notion of Charles as King of both Spanish kingdoms was welcome. The prince had been betrothed to Henry’s sister, Mary, since 1507 and in 1514 the time had come for the marriage to take place – this would reinforce England’s links with both Spain, and its major trading partner, Burgundy.

Princess Mary was fitted out with all of the splendour that the match to a man who would probably be Emperor one day, required. She prepared to journey to Calais where her fiancé was to meet her for the wedding to take place in May. Archduchess Marguerite was pushing for the betrothal to be fulfilled but Maximilian and Charles (presumably on the former’s instruction) were both dragging their feet. With a distinct lack of gallantry, 14-year-old Charles had been heard to complain that Mary, at 17, was old enough to be his mother!

Although Henry had continued his preparations for a further campaign in France throughout the winter of 1513 – 1514, when he heard in March that Maximilian and Ferdinand had signed a separate truce with Louis XII, he realised the extent of their duplicity.

With the continued prevarications of Maximilian and Charles over the wedding as a further goad, Henry, ably assisted by his minister, Thomas Wolsey, arranged a secret deal with Louis XII under which Princess Mary would be married to the ageing and gouty French King. Handily, the Duke of Longueville was still in England and able to act as proxy for his master in the ceremony. The Spanish ambassador was not invited to attend court and Katharine must have been heartily ashamed of her father. She was determined to act in every way as an English Queen and ceased correspondence with Ferdinand.

It is not clear to what extent Henry blamed Katharine for her father’s behaviour but she undoubtedly came in for some of his anger and a Spanish observer suggested that the tragic outcome of her pregnancy that year (another still birth or early death of a son) was the result of grief caused by Henry’s anger with her over her father’s devious behaviour. Tempers cooled, and Henry remained, by and large, a loving husband, arranging a sumptuous masque for Christmas Day to entertain his grieving wife, but politically she was losing influence to Thomas Wolsey.

Katharine again fell pregnant again in the spring of 1515 and it was perhaps soon after this that Henry began an affair with Elizabeth Blount. Bessie, as she is generally called, was a connection of Katharine’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Mountjoy. There was no question of Bessie being in any way a threat to Katharine’s position. It was not uncommon for men, particularly kings, to have mistresses especially as marital relations were discouraged during pregnancy. Given Katharine’s unhappy obstetric history it is likely that the couple avoided sex, lest it pose any risk to her condition.

It is unknown at what point Katharine became aware of Henry’s affair. The Tudor court was rife with gossip, so she probably knew of it, but refrained from giving any public indication that she was concerned by it.

Although Katharine’s political power was diminishing she was still taking in active interest in Henry’s Navy. In October 1515 a new ship – ‘Princess Mary’ - was launched, named for Henry’s sister, the French Queen. Soon widowed after her marriage to Louis XII, Mary had returned to England, initially disgraced by her secret second marriage to Henry’s friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, but now restored to her brother’s favour. On the launching of the ship, Henry, Katharine and the French Queen dined on board. A second smaller barque was commissioned, finished in 1518 and named the ‘Katherine Pleasaunce’.

Katharine of Aragon

Katharine of Aragon

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