On this day in history : 16th December 1485 – Catherine of Aragon, the first of King Henry the VIII’s six wives, is born in Spain….

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Catherine of Aragon – attributed to Joannes Corvus – Public domain

Born Catalina of Aragon, she was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile – a union that had united Spain…. On her maternal side Catherine’s great-grandmother was Catherine of Lancaster, for whom she was named – and so was related to English royalty….

Catherine had a strong Roman Catholic upbringing and was an extremely well-educated young woman…. She was tutored by Alessandro Geraldini, a clerk in Holy Orders…. She studied classical literature, history, religion, theology, philosophy, arithmetic, law, genealogy and heraldry…. She could speak, read and write in both Spanish and Latin….and could converse in French and Greek…. She was able to cook, draw, sew, spin, weave, embroider and make lace…. She was educated in etiquette and music….

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Portrait by Juan de Flandes – of what is thought to be of an 11-year-old Catherine – Public domain

Catherine was ideal material for a future Queen of England and at the age of three was betrothed to Arthur, the eldest son of King Henry VII – and who was a year younger than her…. In 1501, at 16-years-old, she arrived in England for the marriage, which took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral on the 14th of November 1501…. Afterwards they lived in Ludlow Castle, on the Welsh border – but sadly it was to be a short-lived marriage, as five months later Arthur became ill and died….

Rather than return to Spain, as was expected, Catherine remained in England….and became betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry – six years her junior…. A dispute between King Henry VII and her father King Ferdinand II, over her dowry, meant the pair were not to marry for a number of years….

King Henry VII died on the 21st of April 1509 and the young 17-year-old Henry came to the throne…. He married Catherine in a private ceremony on the 11th of June and a few days later, on the 24th of June, the newly-weds were crowned King and Queen of England in a joint Coronation at Westminster Abbey…. And for the first few years they were happy together….

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16th Century woodcut of the Coronation of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – Public domain

In January 1510 Catherine gave birth to a stillborn daughter…. Her second child, Prince Henry, was born in 1511….there was much celebration as a male heir had arrived – but the baby was to die soon after…. Catherine bore six children in total but only one was to survive – a daughter born in 1516, who was later to become Queen Mary I….

Henry was desperate for a male heir and he began to turn his attentions elsewhere- namely to Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn…. He blamed his doomed marriage on an old curse that a man should never marry his dead brother’s widow…. In 1527 he asked the Pope for an annulment of his marriage – but was refused…. There was much public sympathy for Catherine….

For seven years the Pope continued to deny Henry’s request…. It was in 1533 that King Henry VIII secretly married Anne Boleyn, who was already pregnant with their child…. He then passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring himself head of the English Church…. Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and he annulled the marriage with Catherine…. Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen in June 1533…. Catherine was re-titled Dowager Princess of Wales – a title she was never to accept – and was forced to leave Court…. She was also prevented from seeing her daughter…

Catherine spent the rest of her days cut off from the life she had previously known…. She died on the 7th of January 1536, probably from cancer, at Kimbolton Castle, Cambridgeshire…. She was given a small, unremarkable funeral and was buried in Peterborough Abbey….

Grave of Catherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral – Photo credit : TTaylor – Public domain

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