Katharine of Aragon: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Storm Clouds

At some time during 1524 Henry seems to have stopped sleeping with Katharine. She was now 40 and had probably reached the menopause. There was no immediate question of this change in their personal life affecting Katharine’s position as Queen but it did bring home to Henry that so long as they were married, he would have no legitimate sons.

Given the circumstances, Henry’s arrangements for the future through the betrothal of Mary to Charles, appeared to be the best decision he could have make. This was reinforced on 24th February 1525 when Charles won the immensely important Battle of Pavia. François’ forces were so overwhelmingly defeated that the King himself was taken hostage. Henry was overjoyed at hearing this and rushed to tell Katharine the good news. Relying on their treaties, he quickly sent emissaries to Charles with a view to planning how he himself might be crowned King of France or at the very least regain the old Angevin territories.

Charles,however, saw matters very differently. Believing that he had undertaken all the work and expense of defeating France, he was not inclined to share the spoils of victory with his uncle-by-marriage. He demanded that Mary be sent immediately to Spain in preparation for marriage, probably anticipating that Henry would not agree to send his heiress out of the kingdom unmarried. Unable to redeem himself with the Emperor, and unable to prosecute war in France himself as he had no money, Henry was obliged to come to terms with the French in the Treaty of The More of 30th August 1525.

Charles needed both money and men and he therefore decided that rather than waiting for Mary to grow up, he must marry immediately. Henry’s refusal to send Mary to Spain gave him is escape route, and so he was free to marry their mutual cousin, Isabella of Portugal, who was not only of sufficient maturity to act as his Regent but also had a very attractive cash dowry. The agreement was made in October 1525 and the couple married the following March.

Katharine was now the symbol of an alliance which had gone disastrously wrong, and she was unable to redeem herself by the production of a male heir. Her new status as an encumbrance rather than a benefit was demonstrated as she was publicly humiliated in return for Henry’s mortification at the hands of Charles.

Henry Fitzroy, the King’s six-year-old son by Bessie Blount, was paraded at court and given the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset – significant titles in the House of Lancaster. He was also granted a grand household and given the role of Lieutenant-General of the north and it became apparent that Henry was at least considering having him legitimised in some way and declared his heir. At the same time, he had not completely abandoned the idea of Mary as his heir and she too was given a grand household and was sent to Ludlow to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches, just as her uncle Arthur had done 30 years before.

Mary was not formally granted the title of Princess of Wales but it was used informally. Presumably, Katharine took this as an indication that her daughter would one day inherit the throne although parting with her nine-year-old child must have been a wrench. Over the three years that Mary spent in the Welsh Marches, she visited her parents at court on a number of occasions and she and Katharine corresponded regularly.

As well as political difficulties, there was soon a personal crisis to confront. By early 1526 Katharine must have heard the rumours that Henry had fallen in love with another woman - Anne Boleyn. Katharine had, of course, been aware of the Bessie Blount affair but it is unclear if she ever knew of Henry’s dalliance with Mary Boleyn. The new romance was to prove far more serious, although it is unlikely that in 1525/6 Henry was seriously contemplating replacing Katharine as Queen with Anne.

Katharine of Aragon

Katharine of Aragon

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