On January 7 1536Katherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. Sir Edward Chamberlain and Sir Edmund Beddingfield, the late queen’s, er, hosts, wrote to Cromwell detailing the events of the day and asking for further orders as well as requesting a plumber to ‘enclose the body in lead.’
Cromwell then set about organising the funeral as well as dealing with the usual missives about monasteries. On the 7th of January he had a letter from the Abbot of Whitby who’d been accused of piracy and another from Sir Francis Bigod who’d encountered a monk from Roche Abbey in York Castle accused of treason because he’d denied the supremacy.
Meanwhile Eustace Chapuys sent an account of Katherine’s final days to her nephew Charles V. He’d hurried to Kimbolton on the 30th December. Chapuys noted that he’d been accompanied by one of Cromwell’s men and that he and the queen ensured that they always had witnesses to their conversation. Katherine was careful not to be accused of plotting against her erstwhile spouse:
After I had kissed hands she took occasion to thank me for the numerous services I had done her hitherto and the trouble I had taken to come and see her, a thing that she had very ardently desired… at all events, if it pleased God to take her, it would be a consolation to her to die under my guidance (entre mes braz) and not unprepared, like a beast…I gave her every hope, both of her health and otherwise, informing her of the offers the King had made me of what houses she would, and to cause her to be paid the remainder of certain arrears, adding, for her further consolation, that the King was very sorry for her illness; and on this I begged her to take heart and get well, if for no other consideration, because the union and peace of Christendom depended upon her life.
Chapuys may have arrived in England as the Imperial Ambassador – a professional diplomat but it is clear that he had become fond of Katherine. He spent the next four days at Kimbolton and believing that her health had rallied took his leave promising to do his best to have her moved to better accommodation:
“And seeing that she began to take a little sleep, and also that her stomach retained her food, and that she was better than she had been, she thought, and her physician agreed with her (considering her out of danger), that I should return, so as not to abuse the licence the King had given me, and also to request the King to give her a more convenient house, as he had promised me at my departure. I therefore took leave of her on Tuesday evening, leaving her very cheerful.”
It was only when Chapuys arrived back in London and asked Cromwell for an audience with the King that he learned of Katherine’s death:
“This has been the most cruel news that could come to me, especially as I fear the good Princess will die of grief, or that the concubine will hasten what she has long threatened to do, viz., to kill her; and it is to be feared that there is little help for it. I will do my best to comfort her, in which a letter from your Majesty would help greatly. I cannot relate in detail the circumstances of the Queen’s decease, nor how she has disposed of her affairs, for none of her servants has yet come. I know not if they have been detained.”
The letter also demonstrates Cromwell’s efficiency organising Katherine’s funeral. He even arranged for Chapuys to have black cloth for his mourning garb. Chapuys declined the offer preferring his own clothes for the occasion.
Katherine had disposed of her affairs. Recognising the end was near she had taken steps to ensure that her will was written. There was also the famous last letter penned on her death bed to Henry. Sadly, Tremlett suggests it was a work of fiction – but he also recognises that the letter may well reflect her feelings (why do all the best bits turn out to be fictions, amends and fabrications?):
The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, to advise you of your soul’s health, which you ought to prefer before all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever. For which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many troubles. But I forgive you all, and pray God to do so likewise. For the rest, I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her. I must entreat you also to look after my maids, and give them in marriage, which is not much, they being but three, and to all my other servants, a year’s pay besides their due, lest otherwise they should be unprovided for until they find new employment. Lastly, I want only one true thing, to make this vow: that, in this life, mine eyes desire you alone, May God protect you.
When news of Katherine’s demise arrived in London Henry and Anne celebrated, famously by wearing yellow, but it is said that later Anne cried – perhaps she recognised that there was no one standing between her and Henry’s wrath anymore. She was pregnant at the time but by the beginning of summer she had miscarried a boy and her days were numbered.
‘Henry VIII: January 1536, 6-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 12-26. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp12-26 [accessed 6 January 2017].
Tremlett, G. 2010 Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen.