Monday, February 25, 2013

#Tudor Troubles: #Queen Catherine of Aragon pt.1

February 25

Queen Elizabeth I Excommunicated

Queen Elizabeth I
 ca. 1600.
Queen Elizabeth Tudor has been one of the most influential and popular English monarchs throughout history. Good Queen Bess was coronated on January 15, 1559 after her eldest sister, Queen "Bloody" Mary, died of Ovarian Cysts or Uterine Cancer on December 14, 1558. Considered an illegitimate heir to the throne by Catholics, the Pope declared Elizabeth had illegally ascended to throne and had her excommunicated on February 25, 1559. The Virgin Queen went on to rule over England and Ireland for forty-four years.

This week will take an in depth look into Queen Elizabeth life and family. To understand why she was excommunicated and why her reign was filled with controversy you must first understand the circumstances in which she was born under.

Elizabeth Tudor was born on September 7, 1533 to King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn at Greenwich Palace. Immediately after her birth, King Henry VIII wrote to his eldest daughter, Princess Mary, demanding that she acknowledge the annulment of her mother's marriage to him and she relinquish her title as Princess of Wales. Princess Mary refused. Princess Mary was a devote Catholic. In her eyes, and much to the Catholic world, the true queen and wife of her father wasn't Anne Boleyn but her mother, Queen Catherine of Aragon.

Queen Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille, rulers of Spain. Her parents had financed Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage to the New World. Catherine had married Henry VIII's older brother, Prince Arthur, on November 14, 1501 at Old St Paul's Cathedral in London. After they were married, Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine moved into Ludlow Castle where he presided over the Council of Wales and the Marches. A few months later they contracted the sweating sickness that had been sweeping across England. Prince Arthur died on April 15, 1502. He was fifteen years old.

Catherine recovered and had expected to return to Spain a seventeen year old widow. But Prince Arthur's father, King Henry VII, didn't want to return Catherine's dowry. Henry VII offer his younger son, Henry VIII, as Catherine's husband once he reached the age of maturity. King Ferdinand had agreed to the union between his daughter and the twelve year old prince as long as Pope granted Papal Dispensation over the matter. It was against Canon Law for a woman to marry her husband's brother.
Catherine of Aragon by Michael Sittow
Catherine testified to the pope that she had never consumated the marriage with Prince Arthur. King Ferdinand and King Henry VII signed a martial contract on June 23, 1503. Each father had their own reasonings for joining their children together. Their children were betrothed two days later in secret ceremony. It was decided that the couple would have a proper ceremony upon Henry's fifteenth birthday on June 28, 1506. King Henry VII moved his Spanish daughter-in-law to Durham House in London. The parents had moved ahead of the Catholic Pope. The pope declared in 1504 since the marriage was never consummated then there had never been a marriage to begin with. Princess Catherine was free to marry Prince Henry VIII. The two kings quarreled much over the marital contract they had signed. King Ferdinand had hoped to cheat the English out of the portions they had to agreed to in the contract while King Henry VII had used Catherine's presence in England to secure the marriage between his daughter, Princess Mary, and Ferdinand's grandson, Archduke Charles. Catherine, like so many nobles, found herself a victim of politics.

The union of Catherine's parents in 1469 had united Castille and Aragon into one monarchy. Under their combined rule, Spain had achieved much power, success and prestige. The couple had seven children, five of who survived into adulthood.

  • Isabella (1470–1498) married firstly to Alfonso, Prince of Portugal, no issue. Married secondly to Manuel I of Portugal, had issue.
  • Margarita born and died on 31 May 1475 in Cebreros
  • John (1478–1497), Prince of Asturias. Married Archduchess Margaret of Austria, no surviving issue.
  • Joanna (1479–1555), Queen of Castile. Married Philip the Handsome, had issue.
  • Maria (1482–1517), married Manuel I of Portugal, her sister's widower, had issue.
  • Anna (1482), twin of Maria. Born 1 July 1482 at dawn.
  • Catalina later Catherine (1485–1536), married firstly to Arthur, Prince of Wales, no issue. Married his younger brother, Henry VIII of England and was mother of Mary I of England.

Things grew worse for Catherine when her mother died on November 26 of the same year. As long as Isabella was alive, Catherine's union with Prince Henry VII brought wealth, power and prestige to England. Her father did not stand in line to ascend to the Castillan throne. As such, the throne of Castillan fell to Isabelle's eldest child, the lunatic, Joanna. Catherine's financial situation quickly changed with her eldest sister's ascension. King Henry VII persuaded his son to postpone his wedding stating "Catherine the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon was a much less attractive proposition as a daughter-in-law than Catherine the daughter of the Catholic kings of Spain” 

Prince Henry VII agreed. His father lowered Catherine's allowance.  With little funds and not enough staff to maintain her household, Catherine  constantly wrote to her father complaining of her living arrangements. You can read one of her letters here:

Catherine should have returned to Spain since the dissolution of her marital prospect to the English prince but she believed deeply that God would intervene on her behalf despite having to endure virtual poverty and the extreme unkindness King Henry VII showed her. King Ferdinand had encouraged Catherine to stay in England while the English king had refused to grant her marriage. With both families not wanting to bother with her, Catherine found herself in a state of limbo depending upon the Tudors to provide for her.  Eventually, King Ferdinand decided to help his daughter by granting her the position of Spanish Ambassador to England. Her finances improved and she was able to bear her wait.


  1. You snagged me in with the Tudors .. I love the Tudor history. Such an amazing time. Someday I will make it to England to visit the places I have read about. Right now I am reading Allison Weir The Lady in the Tower - Anne Boleyn
    btw you link for the letter isn't working

    ps this is Connie

    1. Hi Connie. The link should be working now. Thank you for letting me know about that.