Catherine of Aragon, 
Queen of England

Everyone seems to remember Henry VIII for his 6 wives, but does anyone actually remember any of his wives? This essay takes a look at Henry's first wife Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine of Aragon was born on December 16, 1485 in Alcala de Henares, Spain to Queen Isabella of Castille and King Ferdinand of Aragon.  Catherine was one of five children; her siblings were Juan, Isabella, Maria, and Juana.

Before she was even two years old, ambassadors of England came to Catherine's parents to ask Catherine's hand in marriage for Arthur, Prince of Wales and son of Henry VII. Upon this, Catherine became Queen of England.

In 1501, Catherine left Spain for England to marry Arthur, but their marriage was brief as Arthur died on April 2, 1502. Upon Arthur's death, Catherine was promised to the Prince of Wales, 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. King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine were married the following month.

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 survived, Mary, who would later become Queen Mary I of England. Henry seemed obsessed with producing a male heir to the throne 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 so he could marry Anne Boleyn, whose daughter Elizabeth would follow Mary as queen.  Pope Clement would not agree to the annulment and consequently 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 took Anne Boleyn as his new queen.  An Act of Supremacy also alienated England from the Roman Catholic church, making the king, head of the Church of England. The consequences of this were of extreme importance because it permanently split England from Roman Catholicism and the Pope, and began the new form of Christianity called Anglicanism.

Catherine was initially given the opportunity to leave Henry 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.

Catherine lived out her life at Kimbolton, secluded from Henry and her daughter Mary. She died there on January 7, 1536 at the age of 50. 

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. (14 March 1998).
This contains information of Catherine's birth and death, her husbands and children, her crowning, and her divorce. This gives good information and is a useful source.

Bowle, John. Henry VIII. Boston: Brown, 1965.
This source is concentrated on Henry. It does present the divorce with Catherine thoroughly, but other than that is not recommended as a source on Catherine.

"Catherine of Aragon: A Musical Interlude". <> November 7, 2000.
This site does provide numerous pictures of Catherine and Henry.  It has a brief description of her life, the marriage and eventual divorce to Henry, and a really brief paragraph on her death. This would be considered a mediocre site and at best a starting point for research.

"Catherine of Aragon: Humble and Loyal". <> November 7, 2000.
This was a great site that provided a lot of information about the life and marriage of Catherine.  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. (13 November 2000).
This source is Thomas Cranmer's letter of the divorce of Catherine and Henry which is not a good source. Not recommended.

Luke, Mary M. Catherine, the Queen. New York: Coward-McCann, 1967.
This biography of Catherine gives a variety of information about Catherine and her life. This source is recommended.

Mattingly, Garrett. Catherine of Aragon. Boston: Brown, 1941.
This book is an excellent source and is highly recommended for its information on Catherine's background, her life in England as Queen, her divorce, and the affects the divorce had on her.

Palmer, Michael Denison. Henry VIII. Harlow: Longman, 1971.
This source concentrates primarily on Henry and gives very little information about Catherine. This is not a very good source.

Paul, John E. Catherine of Aragon and Her Friends. New York: Fordham University Press, 1966.
In this source, the story of Catherine and her closest friends is described. 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.

Ridley, Jasper Godwin. Henry VIII. New York: Viking, 1985.
His source on Henry includes Catherine, but gives little information except for her marriage to Henry. This is not a useful source of information.

Slavin, Arthur J. "Defining the Divorce: A Review Article." The Sixteenth Century Journal. V. 20 (Spring '97): 105-111.
This source gives information leading to the divorce of Catherine and Henry. It gives some valuable information but does not go in-depth.

Travitsky, Betty S. "Reprinting Tudor History: The Case of Catherine of Aragon." Renaissance Quarterly. V. 50 (Spring '97): 164-174.
Catherine's predicament with Henry is described quite well in this article. It gives information on the divorce and gives some background of Catherine. This is an informative source with valuable information. This is a good source.

Vine, Stuart. "Henry VIII's Six Wives." The Mary Rose.  Nd. (15 November 2000).
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.


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Original written by Brian Frable, 1998 November
Revised by Paul Lindenmuth, 2000 November
Last Revision: 2000 November 17

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