In the same year that Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth, Isabella of Castille gave birth to a baby girl- Catalina. It had been a difficult year for the baby’s parents; there was a war against Spain’s last remaining Moorish kingdom, an outbreak of plague and the problem that the girl’s mother Isabella of Castille insisted on reigning as a sovereign power rather than the docile little wife that Ferdinand of Aragon might have preferred (not that it stopped the couple being passionate about one another or Isabella being very jealous when her spouse strayed). Catalina was the last of five children of whom all but one were girls. Isabella was thirty-four years old that Christmas in 1485 when the girl who would be known as Catherine of Aragon was born. Tremlett notes that our understanding of Catalina’s childhood comes from her mother’s account books.
The picture is thought to be Catherine aged eleven. Double click on the image to open a new page and find out more.
Three years later the English arrived at the town of Medina del Campo in Castille. Tremlett describes the pageantry through the eyes of the two English ambassadors who’d been sent to strike a deal between the joint Spanish monarchs and their own sovereign Henry VII of England. This was, in fact, the return visit. The Spanish had already been to London to inspect the infant Prince Arthur.
The two countries were in the midst of negotiating a trade treaty. When Henry Tudor became Henry VII he confirmed the existing trading arrangements with Spain. Now, in 1489, Henry wanted more favourable trading arrangements for English merchants especially as his Navigation Acts which insisted that English ships be used to import foreign goods had resulted in a kind of stalemate with the Spanish insisting something similar for themselves. Following the treaty both countries were able to use whatever vessels they wanted to move their goods around and the rates of taxation were set favourably as well.
The two countries also wanted to arrive at terms that would enable their mutual benefit against the French. Broadly speaking if either country went to war with the French the other country would immediately become involved in the conflict. Henry was involved with the protection of Brittany at this time. It would have to be said that the treaty wasn’t particularly effective in terms of Henry’s aims agains the French. Ultimately the French got their hands on Brittany and it was partly because the ink was hardly dry on the Treaty of Medina del Campo when Ferdinand made peace with the French in July of the same year. To be fair he was trying to win a war against the Moors at the time.
All English treaties at this time included the clause that the co-signatory wouldn’t harbour English rebels or Yorkist pretenders to the throne. This would become important in 1499 when the Spanish refused to send Catalina to England until all potential Yorkist kings had been dealt with: the executions of the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck was a price that Henry was prepared to pay.
Because this was an important treaty it really needed to be sealed by a royal marriage. Henry was keen on a marriage between his son and one of Isabella and Ferdinand’s four daughters because it demonstrated that he wasn’t a usurper on a wobbly throne any more. A marriage to Spain would mean that he was a safe European player.
The treaty also covered Catalina’s dowry. She was to have 200,000 crowns paid in instalments – and Henry Tudor liked the sound of coins clinking in his treasury almost as much as he liked being recognised as a European monarch. Little could Catherine or her father have realised that the dowry would cause so many problems in Catherine’s future.
The treaty was signed on the 27th March 1489.
Of Catalina or Catherine (Usually a C but a K is also used and the Royal Palace at Hampton Court must know what it’s talking about) as she would become when she arrived in England we know relatively little as a child other than from the account books and from scenes that were carefully staged by the Spanish royal family such as Medina del Campo when she was shown off for the benefit of visiting dignitaries. Tremlett records that the royal children had tutors from Italy and dancing teachers from Portugal; that Catherine learned to ride when she was six, that she was expected to learn how to sew and that Isabella kept a very decorous court so that Catherine’s childhood was not only sumptuous but cloistered.
We also know that the family was constantly on the move as Ferdinand and Isabella strove to bring unity and order to their country which until recently had been many kingdoms ruled by many races and creeds. The place that Catherine called home was probably Alhambra where she lived from 1499 to 1501 when she set sail for England.
Tremlett, Giles. (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. London: Faber and Faber