Catherine of Aragon was ill as early as 1534. In part it was her age, in part the stress of fighting for her husband, her crown and her daughter’s rights and in part it was a consequence of being ferried between a variety of damp dwellings where she lived, for the most part, in a few rooms with a few trusted servants regarding her ‘hosts’ as her jailers. By 1535 she was increasingly sick but there is a letter written at the beginning of December suggesting that she appeared to be recovering.
On December 29 Chapuys, received a note from Catherine’s doctor saying that Catherine was ill and that he should come at once. Catherine could not keep food or fluids down and had pain in her stomach. The Imperial Ambassador, asked Cromwell for a licence to go to Kimbolton to see Catherine. Cromwell said that he would need Henry’s permission so the following day Chapuys went to Greenwich to see Henry VIII who was in excellent humour because his inconvenient Spanish princess was dying.
Meanwhile Catherine’s loyal ex-lady-in-waiting had also heard the news. Maria de Salinas didn’t wait for a licence to see her mistress. She’d travelled to England with Catherine in 1501. She’d been there when Catherine married Arthur and she’d been there when Henry made Catherine his queen. Now, Maria tricked her way into Kimbolton and from there into Catherine’s private chambers on January 1 1536 without the prerequisite licence.
On January 2 1536 Chapuys arrived. By the end of the week Catherine appeared to have rallied and he departed. In the early hours of the 6th it became clear that she was dying and as dawn broke Catherine was given Holy Communion. At 2pm Catherine of Aragon, queen of England and infanta of Spain died.
On January 3 1536, rather unbecomingly for one who considered herself a queen, Anne dressed in yellow along with her spouse and Henry, equally unbecomingly, declared that festivities were in order, danced with the ladies in waiting and ordered a joust. By mid January Princess Mary, who’d been denied the chance of seeing her mother for a final time in 1535 when she herself was ill and again as her mother lay dying, was told that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. It looked as though Anne Boleyn had finally won.
Cromwell arranged Catherine’s funeral, wrote of his admiration for the queen and Henry prepared for his joust. On the 24th January 1536 Henry VIII, aged forty-four, father of two daughters (one illegitimised) fell from his horse in full armour. He was out for the count for the next two hours. He’d had a near miss twelve years earlier.
Four days later on January 29 1536 Catherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral. People still place pomegranates on her tomb. Catherine’s mourners included Lady Bedingfield (the wife of Sir Edmund Bedingfield – Catherine’s last ‘host’) and the Countess of Cumberland, Eleanor Brandon. The Bishop of Rochester took the sermon – Cromwell chose his man well. Weir records that he preached, without any foundation whatsoever, that Catherine had admitted on her death bed that she’d never had any right to be the queen of England. After so long claiming her rights she was buried as the Dowager Princess of Wales.
Meanwhile as the old queen was being laid to rest, Anne Boleyn miscarried of a baby that would have been a boy had it survived. Anne claimed that it was the shock of Henry’s jousting accident. Henry began to wonder if God wished to deny him male children and found solace in the company of one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting. Chapuys recorded that her name was Jane Seymour.
Thomas Cromwell was going to have a very busy year indeed. Anne survived Catherine by only a short season. She was executed on May 19 1536.
On May 20 1536, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.
Tremlett, G. (2010) Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen
Weir, A. (2007) The Six Wives of Henry VIII