By Georgina Stewart
There have been two sides for centuries, the Anne Boleyners or the Katherine of Aragoners. Who do you support in Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’? The wronged wife or the infamous other woman? Maybe you like them both as they all have great characteristics that recommend them.
Don’t get me wrong when you read this for I am certainly no royalist, but I have always been on Katherine of Aragon’s team. Why? Well mostly because of the hardships of her life. She didn’t grow up for a part of her childhood, like a typical princess. Katherine’s parents were Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon.
When Katherine was growing up they were almost constantly at war with the moors (Turks) trying to conquer Granada (now part of southern Spain), which her parents conquered in 1492. Anne Boleyn never had such an experience. Katherine came to England in the early 16th century to marry Prince Arthur of Wales. They were married in 1502, but he died not long after.
Katherine told everyone that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. During the seven year period between widowhood and marriage her father and King Henry VII debated her dowry while poor Katherine was basically left in limbo. She was betrothed to Prince Henry, but he was forced to repudiate it. At this period of her life she was basically in poverty due to the political arguments in regards to her dowry.
Very few women of her rank back then knew what poverty was like, I believe it strengthened her character to become the woman who would fight King Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’ to the end. When the Winter King, Henry VII died in 1509, Katherine’s life changed dramatically as she was raised from poverty to become the next queen.
However, she was still Arthur’s widow and needed a dispensation, which they received from Pope Julius II, on the understanding that her first marriage was never consummated. At first they were happy, but after many miscarriages, still births and infant deaths, that soon began to change.
Henry VIII’s admiration faded away. The only living child was Mary I, and the couple were desperate for a son and her husband was well-known for having a string of mistresses (one of which he had a son by).
I feel sorry for her and yet I admire her too. How her heart must have broken when Henry turned on her and when one of his mistresses had a healthy son by her. The main duty of a queen back then was to produce male heirs to succeed the throne. I admire her because no matter what happened she faced it all with dignity.
When Henry was away fighting the French, it was Catherine who defended England against the Scottish King in 1513 while she was pregnant. James IV of Scotland was killed in the battle and Catherine sent his bloody shirt to her husband in France. I admire her even more at her papal trial when she gives an impassioned speech to Henry and the entire court that she has been a good wife to Henry and that:
“This twenty years I have been your true wife or more, and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me”
At the end of her speech she said:
“And if ye will not extend to me so much indifferent favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my case!”
Her saying this I think shows that Catherine was a very brave and courageous woman. That she was far for the meek biddable wife women were expected to be and she refused to give in. After making that amazing speech she left the court room despite the fact that she was being called back in. She told them:
“It maketh no matter, for it is no indifferent court for me; therefore I will not tarry. Go on your ways”
For many years now I been a fan of Catherine. I don’t respect and like her because of her family background as I’m no royalist like I said before. She had no god given right to the crown, she was just a human being, but what an amazing human being she was. I admire her because she is strong, brave and clever and refused to back down. Also because she has known poverty and hardship (unlike many others in her social position).
No matter what was taken from her, her soul remained strong. Eventually she was moved to The More in Hertfordshire, sometime later she was moved to Kimbolton Castle and died there in January 1536. It is commonly said that her rival Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII wore yellow for Catherine’s death (or just Anne). If this is true, then it shows a tasteless lack of respect and is evidence that Anne was happy that she was dead which did simplify things immeasurably for her.
However, yellow was also considered to be the mourning colour of Spain, so it could be seen as a sign of respect. I doubt Anne mourned her loss in private, but perhaps had to show respect for political reasons. When Catherine was dying she wrote a letter to Henry and did something amazing:
“…You have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also”.
After everything she’s been through Katherine finds the strength to pardon the man who cheated on her, divorced her and separated her from her daughter for many years. It seems quite incredible that she could do that (which mustn’t have been easy) it just shows what an amazing person she was. Perhaps she didn’t want to die with any hatred in her heart and decided to forgive him.
Just because I’m firmly in Catherine’s camp doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and admire some of Anne’s qualities (however begrudgingly). I like that Anne didn’t seem to care about the confinements of social class, I like that her ambition turned to the highest position a woman could get, she was no fool and knew the risks that came with such a station. I think if Henry wasn’t already married I would be cheering her on, but alas he was not.
From what I can gather, Anne was a very modern woman, she was centuries before her time. I do definitely admire that. I think though that perhaps 16th century men just weren’t ready for a modern woman like Anne. Many said that she was very clever as well. I also think she was rather brave especially since being a protestant was very dangerous at the time and she was actually quite religious.
The only things I would criticize Catherine on is that she just took the adultery and didn’t really stand up for herself in those quarters and thought she had a ‘God-given right’ to the throne. Although these qualities were common of her gender and social position at that time, women could not complain about their husband’s affairs and nor could she have any.
Although, sometimes I wish was more modern like Anne.
However, she and Henry put Catherine and her daughter Mary through hell for her political ambitions. It isn’t clear who ordered them to be cruelly separated and for Catherine to return to near penury. Both mother and daughter suffered terribly, during Anne’s rise to favour and reign and Mary had to help look after Elizabeth after being named a bastard.
I am glad that the Anglican Church came about but it did cost dearly to put in place. It is obvious that I favour Catherine due to everything she had been through and the cruelties she suffered could be mostly Henry’s doing rather than Anne’s (although I rather doubt it). Anne had never known poverty, or has led or witnessed wars, she’s never (apart from the short period that she was in the tower) been cruelly separated from her daughter and brought low for the last few years of her life.
Catherine been through it all and that’s why in my eyes Anne doesn’t even come close to former.
It seems to me that Catherine’s life was a period of ups and downs. She started out as a Princess (Infanta) of the Queen of Castile and the King of Aragon, she leaves for England at fifteen, never to see her family again. Catherine marries Arthur and she thinks her life is set, but then tragedy strikes and she is left a widow after only a few months.
To make matters worse she ends up in poverty under the Winter King, and is left in the cold for seven years until the sun comes out again and is crowned Queen in a joint coronation in 1509. This is when the golden years begin until it grows stale after numerous still births, infant deaths and a single girl. Her husband’s eye starts to wonder and Catherine had to bare the humiliation and the insult, especially since many of those girls were part of a group of ladies-in-waiting (Bessie Blount, Mary and Anne Boleyn just to name a few).
Then she gets a win when her nephew and Henry VIII ally to capture Francis the French King, but then gets thrown very low again and sadly stays there when Anne Boleyn comes along. A younger woman (isn’t that always the way it happens?) who is promising him a son, Catherine refuses to give up and fights and stands up to her husband and his lover.
If I could sum up Catherine in one word I would say that she was a fighter, and she stayed so until the end. Every hardship she went through, built up her character. She wouldn’t be the woman she turned out to be otherwise. I believe that Catherine is ten times the woman Anne ever was.