Katharine of Aragon: Life Story

Chapter 3 : Wife

In accordance with the Treaty of Medina del Campo, Katharine was to be sent to England as soon as practicable after her fourteenth birthday, and, in the meantime, had been married to Arthur by proxy. A number of letters survive from the 1490s, between the Spanish Kings and the King and Queen of England. Queen Elizabeth of York wrote on several occasions to Queen Isabella, asking after her health and that of Katharine, and suggesting that Katharine should learn to speak French.

Katharine’s biographer Patrick Williams has speculated that this request implies that Elizabeth thought Katharine did not have a high linguistic ability and would not be able to learn English. It is perhaps more likely that the request was made because French was the language in most common use at Henry VII’s court. As it happened, Katharine was not formally taught either French or English, and the extant letters she and Arthur wrote to each other during the period of their betrothal are in Latin.

By the summer of 1499 Katharine’s family had been decimated. The deaths of Juan and his wife’s fœtus had been followed by the death of Princess Isabella, and then that of her two-year-old son, Miguel. The Infanta Maria was sent to Portugal to replace her sister and Katharine was left as the last child at home. The time was drawing near for her to set out for England, but her parents prevaricated. Ferdinand seems to have been at least as concerned about having to send his daughter’s enormous dowry as the girl herself, whilst Isabella clearly did not want to part with her child.

Court life became more sombre, but at least Katharine had the beauty of the Alhambra, where the royal household had finally settled, to console her. The symbol of the Kingdom of Granada, the pomegranate (a play on the words pomme (apple) de Granada) became one of her most widely used personal badges.

But Katharine’s marriage could not be postponed forever. Back in England Henry was content with some delay – it appears that he was concerned over his son’s health and did not wish him to enter married life too young. Postponement till 1501 was agreed on by both sides, but eventually the day came and on 21st May 1501 Katharine set out from the Alhambra on her long journey north.

It took the Princess’ entourage, headed by her very strict governess (or duenna), Doña Elvira Manuel, and Doña Elvira’s husband, Pedro Manrique, nearly 3 months to reach the north coast. The party finally set sail from Spain in late September 1501. After appalling storms, they landed at Plymouth on 2nd October. The entourage made its way in slows stages towards London, being intercepted at Dogmersfield in Hampshire, by Henry and Arthur.

Despite the objections of Doña Elvira to Katharine being seen by her new family before her wedding day, the King demanded to see her. Katharine acquiesced gracefully, and entertained the company by dancing in Spanish fashion.

Arthur and Katharine’s wedding took place on 14th November 1501, at St Paul’s Cathedral, amidst sumptuous pageantry and ceremony. The bride was led to the altar by the ten-year-old boy who was about to become her brother-in-law, Henry, Duke of York. Arthur was six weeks past his fifteenth birthday.

Following the ceremony, the Court returned to the Palace of Westminster to continue festivities and to witness the ceremonial bedding of the couple. What happened next was to be the subject of much discussion at a later date.

In early 1502, the question arose as to whether Katharine should be allowed to accompany Arthur back to Ludlow, his seat in the Marches of Wales, where he exercised his role as Prince of Wales and head of the Council of Wales and the Marches. There were concerns about the health of the couple, as too much sexual activity between young people was considered dangerous – the example of Katharine’s brother was not far to seek. In the event, it was decided that she would go with him, and, accompanied by her new English ladies, and Arthur’s household, they set out for Wales.

At this time, Katharine began a friendship with Margaret Plantagenet, later Countess of Salisbury, that would last for the rest of Katharine’s life. Margaret was the first cousin of Queen Elizabeth of York, and around fifteen years older than Katharine. She and her husband, Sir Richard Pole, were members of Arthur’s entourage.

The young Prince and Princess of Wales arrived in Ludlow in December of 1501. He was learning to be a king, and she was adjusting to a new country, three new languages (the French of the Court, the English of everyday speech in the household, and the Welsh of the borders), new food, and, probably most noticeably, new, and not very charming, weather. The contrast between the fierce heat and equally fierce cold of Spain, and the soft, damp, cool weather of the Welsh Marches must have been stark.

Whatever the state of their physical relationship, Katharine and Arthur were not able to enjoy married life for long.By 2nd April, Arthur was dead – possibly of sweating sickness, perhaps of tuberculosis, testicular cancer or even from influenza. The latter may be a possibility as Katharine herself was ill for many weeks.

Katharine of Aragon

Katharine of Aragon

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