Katharine of Aragon: Life Story

Chapter 6 : Henry, Duke of Cornwall

On the last day of January 1510, Katharine felt a pain in her leg, went into labour, and miscarried. Her physicians assured her that she was still pregnant, based presumably on the fact that her womb remained swollen. She even formally ‘ took her chamber’ in March and orders were given for the accoutrements she would need for childbed and for dressing an infant.

At the time, Luis Caroz, Ferdinand’s ambassador, suggested that the Queen had never been pregnant at all but that she was suffering from a phantom pregnancy. He based this on the information that he had received that she was still menstruating. The whole matter is deeply confusing as it was not until May that she announced to her father that she had ‘ recently’ given birth to a stillborn daughter. Since the Queen continued with the information that, whilst in labour, she had vowed to send a gift to the shrine of Saint Peter Martyr it doesn’t seem likely that there was no pregnancy at all.

Much has been written about this reticence with the truth and indeed Dr David Starkey uses Katharine’s lack of truthfulness here as a proof that she lied about the consummation of her marriage to Arthur. In Katharine’s defence it might be pointed out that her mother had miscarried one fœtus in a twin pregnancy but carried the other to term. Katharine may well have believed that the same was the case with her – and perhaps it was. We cannot know the intimate details of exactly what happened - a single miscarriage, a phantom pregnancy or two miscarriages.

The Queen was obviously in good enough health to engage in marital relations with her husband as, given the date of her next confinement, she must have fallen pregnant again in early April 1510.

This time the pregnancy proceeded smoothly, with Katharine spending much of her time at Eltham Palace, and in December 1510 she ‘ took her chamber ’, the ceremonial withdrawal in preparation for childbed that was laid down by her husband’s grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, in her rules for royal conduct.

The birth took place at Richmond on 1st January 1511. To the joy of both parents, Katharine bore a son, who was immediately named as Duke of Cornwall. The exultant father hurried to the shrine of the Virgin Mary at Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks. As soon as Katharine was churched, 40 days after the birth, the Royal couple left Richmond, leaving Prince Henry in the safety of his nursery, whilst they undertook the journey back to Westminster.

Young Henry’s birth was greeted with rapture and joyous celebrations, culminating in a great joust. This joust was the most extravagant of Henry’s whole reign. The King’s armour was engraved with intertwined ‘H’s and ‘K’s and he jousted under the name of ‘ Cœur Loyale’, Sir Loyal Heart.

Sadly, in a tragedy that was both personal and political, baby Henry died at eight weeks old. Katharine was distraught. Henry, too, was grieved but he made every effort to comfort his wife: after all infant deaths were not uncommon and Katharine had been pregnant twice within two years of marriage, so it was not unreasonable to believe that the next time that they would be lucky. Fortunately for the couple, their mutual affection was not purely based in their need for children. Katharine, although she had no official political role, was extremely influential in these years and was still acting as Ferdinand’s chief envoy.

Katharine of Aragon

Katharine of Aragon

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