Chapter 17 : The End
Towards the end of 1535 it became apparent that Katharine was dying. She was unable to hold down food and suffering from violent pains in her stomach. On hearing this, her old friend Maria de Salinas talked her way into Kimbolton by pretending to have had a riding accident on her way to visit with the King’s permission.
Henry permitted Chapuys to visit the dying woman and Katharine was considerably cheered by his visit, holding a number of conversations with him. Apparently the substance of her remarks related to her concerns for her daughter, her disappointment at the Pope’s dilatoriness in reaching sentence and her concerns that her actions had led to heresy gaining a foothold in England. As Katharine considered herself to be a married woman she could not make a will without her husband’s consent. Instead, she dictated a short list of her requests which she gave to Chapuys, this included the bequeathing of her furs and a golden collar that she had brought from Spain to Mary.
Rallying in the few days of his visit, she relapsed after his departure. Reaching the end, she may have dictated a last letter to Henry. Her biographer Giles Tremlett questions the authenticity as there is no contemporaneous, authenticated document. Nevertheless, most other biographers have accepted the versions or references to it published in the 16th century as indicating that such a letter once existed.
Katharine died early in the morning of Friday, 7th January 1536. As was customary her body was opened and disembowelled. It was recorded by the embalmer that her heart was “quite black and hideous to look at” with a black lump attached to it. This has been interpreted as indicating death from some form of cancer.
Orders were given for Katharine to be buried with the honour suitable for a daughter of Spain and a Dowager Princess of Wales. She lay in the chapel at Kimbolton, where masses were sung, attended by ladies of the court, including the Duchess of Suffolk, daughter of her old friend Maria de Salinas, and the Countesses of Worcester, Oxford and Surrey. On 29th January her funeral took place at Peterborough Abbey (now a Cathedral). The chief mourner was Lady Eleanor Brandon, Henry’s niece, and other mourners included Lady Bedingfield of Oxburgh Hall.
The spot is marked today with a stone paid for by public subscription in the 19th century, following an appeal to all of the Katharines/Katherines/Catherines etc of England. The banners and arms of Spain and England displayed were set up on the orders of Queen Mary of Teck in the 20th century. An annual commemoration is held at Peterborough Cathedral for a queen who was much loved by the people of England.
Listen to our interview with Renaissance English History Podcast on Katharine of Aragon here