As Catherine of Aragon settled into Durham House after Arthur’s death in April 1502 her parents were already sending an envoy to England with plans for her future. Hernan Estrada was to demand Catherine and her dowry back immediately and at the same time to suggest ten-year-old Henry as a possible husband.
Following Elizabeth of York’s death in childbirth, Henry VII suggested himself as a husband. Isabella was not amused. She sent a letter instructing her daughter to pack her bags and be ready to board the first available Spanish ship that dropped anchor. Intentionally or not this had the effect of concentrating Henry and Ferdinand’s minds. On 23 June 1503, Catherine was betrothed to Prince Henry and a dispensation was sent for. Julius II duly obliged and even managed to skirt around the thorny issue of whether Catherine was still a maiden or not by wording the dispensation to suggest that the marriage had ‘perhaps’ been consummated in Tremlett’s words.
By 1504 Catherine was often ill. It has been suggested that she may have been anorexic. This may have been one of the reasons she had difficulty producing children. Henry VII was so concerned about Catherine that he wrote to the pope. Julius II duly obliged by writing to Catherine commanding that she ate more. To find out more about Tremlett’s research into Catherine’s eating disorder and her time as a penniless princess double click on the image of Catherine to open a new window.
Meanwhile Henry VII and Ferdinand argued about money and Catherine was left, short of funds, in Durham House and from there she found herself moved to Richmond. She still didn’t speak English and she was still surrounded by her Spanish ladies in waiting. Then in 1507 the engagement to the young Prince Henry, pictured right, was off because Ferdinand hadn’t sent the dowry money.
It was at that point that Catherine made history for the first time. In 1507 she became the Spanish ambassador. In the meantime Catherine’s sister Juana had been bereaved by the death of her husband. Henry, having met Juana, when Philip and she were stranded in England due to bad weather decided he would like to marry Juana. It helped that she was queen of Castille and it probably also helped that Ferdinand did not want the match. Aside from the first six or so months of her time in England, Catherine’s experience had not been a good one. She is even said to have contemplated joining religious orders. Then on 21 April 1509 Henry VII died and the stalemate shattered.
The penniless princess who’d learned how to send secret letters, argue her cause and dissimulate to her own father as well as her father-in-law married seventeen-year-old Henry on 11 June 1509. There was a six year age gap between husband and wife but at tho stage it wasn’t particularly noticeable. Catherine, it turned out, knew how to nurse a grudge. She sent Spanish diplomats and servants home with a flea in their ears and got on with being queen of England in a court where pageantry, feasting and jousting were now de rigeur. Henry even turned up in Catherine’s private rooms disguised as Robin Hood. Catherine, unlike some of Henry’s later wives, had the good sense to feign surprise and delight.
By November Catherine was pregnant and Henry was caught canoodling with Anne, Lady Hastings the sister of the Duke of Buckingham. They were exposed by Anne’s sister Elizabeth who was a favourite of Catherine’s. Anne was carted off to a nunnery; Elizabeth was banned from court and Henry found himself in his wife’s bad books. Caroz, the Spanish ambassador, described her as ‘vexed.’ In January 1510 Catherine miscarried. The fairytale was over and the business of providing an heir began the sorry tale that would culminate in Henry divorcing his Spanish princess.
Tremlett, Giles. (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. London: Faber and Faber