Catherine of Aragon, 
Queen of England

b. 1485 - d. 1536


Catherine of Aragon was born into a family of kings and queens and was destined to become one herself. She was betrothed since she was about four years old to the future king of England. She fulfilled this destiny, but became victim of Henry VIII's inability to produce a male heir. For this reason, she was removed from her throne and her marriage annulled. Although, maybe not the most memorable of Henry VIII's wives, she certainly had left a mark on history.

Catherine of Aragon had anything but a typical childhood.  Catherine of Aragon was born on December 16, 1485 in Alcala de Henares, Spain. She was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and mighty King Ferdinand of Aragon. Catherine was the youngest of five children, the others being Isabella, Juan, Juana, and Maria. Catherine's childhood experiences were quite fascinating. She witnessed the surrender of the Moors in Granada and Columbus' first voyage to the New World. Also Catherine was able to choose her own badge, which consisted of a pomegranate. This ends up being quite appropriate, because the fruit is hard on the outside, which symbolized Catherine's tough attitude and was soft on the inside, which symbolized fertility.

Catherine received an education typical of women in the fifteenth century. She was taught religion, housewife skills, and literacy in Spanish and Latin. She was a well-read child and she watched her parents deal with diplomatic and militaristic issues. In 1489, arrangements were made between Spain and England that betrothed Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was next in line to receive the English crown. This betrothal was made in order to keep the peace between two of the most powerful nations of Europe.

Tragedy struck the family in 1498 when Catherine's sister, Isabella, Queen of Portugal, died in childbirth. Although this tragedy hurt the royal family of Spain, in 1501, Catherine left Spain for England to marry Prince Arthur. They were married on November 14, 1501. The marriage was short because Arthur had died on April 2, 1502. 

Her first marriage created much debate on whether or not it was consummated, because Catherine agreed to a second marriage to Arthur's brother, Henry VIII. Financial matters dealing with Catherine's dowry and King Henry VII kept the two from marrying until the king's death on April 21, 1509. Catherine and Henry VIII were married on June 11th, 1509. Henry was then crowned on June 24th, which made Catherine, Queen of England.

Catherine was very much an ideal queen. She was supportive of her husband, and like him, she enjoyed music and dance. As queen, Catherine managed the royal household, cared for Henry's linen and wardrobe, ran her own estates, and often supervised in royal business. She also took time and effort to provide the poor with money, clothes, food, and fuel in the winter. She was the only person Henry could confide to in the first few years of their marriage. For the first five years of their marriage, Catherine acted as the Spanish ambassador to England quite successfully on her own. She held off a Scottish rebellion in England while King Henry was off to war in France. 

Queen Catherine bore six children, only one of whom had survived. This was Princess Mary, who would later become Queen Mary I of England also known as "Bloody Mary". The birth of her daughter, was a time of joy for Catherine, but her father, King Ferdinand of Spain had passed soon after. Henry was obsessed with producing a male heir to the throne in order to continue the Tudor dynasty. It became evident to Henry that Catherine would not be able to give him a son. Consequently, Henry tried to secure an annulment of his marriage with Catherine from Pope Clement VII. Catherine was initially given the opportunity to leave Henry VIII peacefully by living out her years in a nunnery. She chose to fight it out in the courts, which ruled against her. Had Catherine acted differently, the religious reformation would have been delayed or might not have come to England at all.  The pope would not agree to the annulment so Henry decided to resolve his dilemma by having the archbishop of Canterbury declare his marriage with Catherine null and void on March 30, 1534. Henry then took Anne Boleyn as his new queen. Henry VIII had split away from the Catholic Church and formed the Church of England, and put himself as the head of the church.

Catherine lived out her life at Kimbolton, secluded from Henry and her daughter, Mary. Catherine died on January 7, 1536, at the age of fifty.

Catherine of Aragon had changed the course of history. Had it not been for her, the Protestant Reformation might not have occurred in England. Although, many might think that it was unfortunate for Catherine that Henry had their marriage annulled, it was lucky for her that she did not suffer the same fate as Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.  And her daughter Mary, did become Queen of England.  

Annotated Bibliography

Albert, Marvin H. The Divorce. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
This book includes the great controversy to which Catherine, Henry, and Anne Boleyn were the major participants. It gives background of Catherine and her marriage and goes into detail with the divorce. Excellent source for analyzing the divorce of Catherine and Henry and sufficient for information about Catherine.

Anonymous. "Catherine of Aragon." Nd. <> (5 October 2005).
This contains information of Catherine's birth and death, her husbands and children, her crowning, and her divorce. This source is a nice starting point, but only supplies basic information.

Bowle, John. Henry VIII. Boston: Brown, 1965.
It does present the divorce with Catherine thoroughly, but it is lacking on other aspects of Catherine's life.  This is not the best source to use if one is only looking at the life of Catherine, and not Henry himself.

"Catherine of Aragon: Humble and Loyal". 12 October 2005 <> (16 October 2005)
This was a great site that provided a brief description about the life and marriage of Catherine. This would not suffice as a central source, but it is good for basics.  The site also provides links to the others in the Tudor dynasty and well describes how they are all related.

Cranmer, Thomas.  "Letter of Thomas Cranmer, 1533" in Halsall, Paul, ed. "Medieval Sourcebook"  November 1996.
<> (5 October 2005).

This source is Thomas Cranmer's letter of the divorce of Catherine and Henry.   He describes the marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but mentions Catherine briefly.  This is a wonderful primary source if one is focusing on Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, because it mentions a bit of a scandal. 

Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 This book contained a lot of information on all of the wives of Henry VIII. The section on Catherine of Aragon went into detail about the diplomatic decisions that she made, and also the relationship between Catherine and her daughter, Mary. The book was relatively easy to read, and is good for some specific information on her family life and relations, and also her political influence over Spain and England.

Paul, John E. Catherine of Aragon and Her Friends. New York: Fordham University Press, 1966.
The source focuses on Catherine's social relationships and the influence they had on her and her decisions. A brief, sufficient background of Catherine is given so there can be a valid appreciation of the activities of her friends in relation to Catherine. Useful information on her divorce is given in one chapter. Overall, this is a good source.

Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 2003. The book was a great source of information that ranged from Catherine's close relationships with her parents and siblings, to the issues of both of her marriages. The book does not go into any detail at all about her death. The information is this book focused mostly on her early life.  The source is nice to use for in-depth research and knowledge, and fortunately is not a difficult read.

Vine, Stuart. "Henry VIII's Six Wives." The Mary Rose.  Nd. <> (5 October 2005).
This source is more focused on Henry VIII but it gives a brief description of Catherine and her marriage to Henry along with a description of Henry's other 5 wives.

Weir, Alison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Grove Press, 1991.
This book contained some good information, and was useful in finding details about Catherine's death. The book was difficult to use, because it jumps from topic to topic and some of the information about Catherine was mixed in with the information on Anne Boleyn. The book offered nice information, but is not easy to follow.


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Revised Version  by Alexandra L. George
Original written by Brian Frable, 1998 November, revsied 2000 by Paul Lindenmuth
Last Revision: 6 June 2006

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