Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.

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Book Review – La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters

By Nathen Amin

It is never easy to emerge from the considerable shadow of Henry VIII, but it’s fair to say that during her brief life, the mighty king’s younger sister Mary tried her damndest to seize at least some of the attention. Unlike Elizabeth Woodville, as recent fiction work might have you believe, Mary Tudor truly was known as the White Queen during her lifetime, referred to by the French for the colour of her mourning clothes after the death of her husband Louis XII in 1515, and it is this particular Tudor queen that author Sarah Bryson chooses to explore in her latest work ‘La Reine Blanche; Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters’.

The author notes in her introduction that the Tudor age was a period dominated by men, but there were nonetheless many strong, independent and intellectually gifted women, one of which she asserts was Mary, the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As this book, a chronological biography, progresses, it is difficult to argue otherwise with Bryson’s opinion.

La Reine Blanche covers Mary’s life, and in fact pre-life in the case of the opening chapter exploring the origins of the Tudors, following her early life as part-princess, part-martial pawn, including a commendably detailed look at her childhood betrothal to Archduke Charles, before exploring her brief tenure as Queen of France after she was married at eighteen to the elderly Louis XII in October 1514. The union was part of a treaty between Mary’s brother Henry VIII and her new husband, but the French king only lived three more months. Mary, however, was proud of her rank as Queen of France, and in fact, Bryson tells us, she never stopped referring to herself as such, despite a subsequent marriage.

That remarriage was her controversial decision to wed Charles Brandon, her brother’s close friend and the parvenu Duke of Suffolk, shortly after King Louis’ death, behind the back of the English king to whom they were forced to beg for forgiveness after the fact. What does this impulsive act say about Mary Tudor, a renowned beauty? Bryson tells us it proves it was an “opportunity to show the strong, self-willed, determined woman she had always been”, and this is an understatement. It was a remarkable decision, followed by a fascinating period in which she was forced to beg her brother’s forgiveness through a series of letters.

It is these letters where Bryson’s book has particular worth. Too often narrative history books only carry the odd line or two of contemporary sources, and often even then it is a famous excerpt that is repeated across the board. Bryson has utilised scores of letters written to and from Mary, or involving matters relating to her, and more often than not has included them the source in full, which is refreshing in allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion on the topic in question. In short, we are treated not only to Mary’s story in Bryson’s words, but also Mary’s story in Mary’s words.

We also discover, through these letters, just how wise Mary was, conjuring up all her wiles to convince her brother to forgive her marriage to Brandon, flattering him until he submitted. Bryson is astute when she notes that Mary “was able to manipulate the men around her, to convince them of her loyalty and to gain her heart’s desire by playing the weak female. She wept, she feared for her life, she worried and played herb role perfectly, all the while manoeuvring the men to her purpose; a marriage of her own choosing”. Tudors more often than not got their way, and Mary was no different, even when the person she was up against was her own flesh and blood. How many others went against Henry VIII and lived to tell the tale?

In short, La Reine Blanche is a passionate and detailed account that is a welcome addition to the Tudor genre, in which Sarah Bryson does justice to the extraordinary life and times of Mary Tudor. Essential reading to gain a fresh perspective of the early years in the most famous royal court in English history.

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Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.

The Tudor Christmas of 1487

By Nathen Amin

Although Christmas traditions in the UK appear set in stone, for example the tree, the songs and the food, it’s very much been an evolving process since the earliest days we started marking the birth of Jesus Christ. The way the Tudors celebrated Christmas, quite literally ‘Christ’s Mass’, was quite different to the way we do today, although the core concepts of family and feasting are still very much visible.

So how did Henry VII mark the Christmas period in 1487, 530 years ago? Thanks to the antiquarian John Leland (1503-1552), who transcribed a collection of manuscripts in his work Collectanea (1533-1536), we do have some insight into how Christmas was celebrated that particular year. The key thing to note is that, unlike today, the Christmas festivities truly began on Christmas Day, and lasted until  6th January (the Feast of Epiphany), hence the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Tudors definitely weren’t preparing for Christmas as early as October as we do today.

1487 had not been an easy year for Henry VII; his crown, even his life, had come under severe threat from hostile forces within and without his kingdom, although the resilient king ultimately succeeded in punishing his enemies’ ‘unrighteous fury’, as Bernard Andre triumphantly put it. Henry had spent the first six month of the year preoccupied with the Lambert Simnel conspiracy, finally defeating his adversaries at the Battle of Stoke Field, before focus shifted to solidifying the Tudor crown through the agency of the November parliament. A key part of securing his position was to order the coronation of his wife Elizabeth of York, ‘for the perfyght love and syncere affeccion that he bare to his queen’.

Rebellions, battles, parliaments and coronations, one imagines Henry VII looked forward to the Christmastide that year, which began in earnest when he departed Westminster around 18 December for Greenwich Palace ‘wher he kepte his Cristemasse ful honorably as ensueth’. The preceding few weeks, from the first Sunday after St Andrew’s Day (27th November), had been spent fasting three days a week, known as Advent, as each person spiritually prepared for Christ’s ‘Second Coming’ on Christmas Day. One imagines that by the end of this period, the court were ready to let loose for Christmas, the one-time of the year the strict protocols in place in Tudor society relaxed somewhat. That said, religious duties were always observed carefully. Leland’s manuscript goes on to recount how:

‘on Cristemasse Even our saide Souveraigne Lorde the King went to the Masse of the Vygill in a riche Gowne of Purple Velvett furred with Sables, nobly accompanyed with dyvers great Estats, as shal be shewde herafter. And in like wise to Evensonge, savyng he had his Officers of Armes by or hym. The Reverend Fader in God the Lorde John Fox did the dyvyne Servyce that Evensong, and on the Morow also’.

Lord John Fox appears to be an erroneous reference to Bishop Richard Foxe, Bishop of Exeter and a churchman who Henry VII had first encountered during his exile in France. Henry had also rewarded Foxe early in his reign by appointing him his first Secretary of State, and also Lord Privy Seal. The following day, which was Christmas Day, the king celebrated with a dinner in the ‘great Chambre nexte the l. Galary’, whilst ‘the Quene and my Lady the Kings Moder’ with their ladies had their meals in the Queen’s Chamber.

Greenwich Palace

What followed were several days of festivities, with musicians, pageants and plays entertaining the court at Greenwich. Although not mentioned in Leland’s Collectanea, 28th December was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, marking King Herod’s decree in the Bible to slaughter all babies born within three days of Christmas, and traditionally this was commemorated with the merriments that included role reversal. A Lord of Misrule was typically selected from the commoners to act as king, overseeing a night of rowdy drunkenness and revelry to the entertainment of the court. Although the custom would eventually be banned under Henry VIII, his father Henry VII was fond of the occasion, and although payments to a Lord of Misrule appear in his household accounts from 1491, there is every possibility such a spectacle took place in some capacity during 1487.

Other activies known to have been enjoyed during this period were playing the harp or lute, and games such as backgammon, chess and cards. There is evidence Henry VII lost money playing cards during his reign, so we know he enjoyed the pursuit, although whether he enjoyed losing his money is another matter. The Croyland Chronicle criticised Richard III for the raucousness of his Christmas court in 1484, but there seems little reason to suggest Henry VII didn’t follow in a similar manner. The Croyland Chronicler was, after all, a churchman, who may have looked unfavourably upon the court letting loose with wild abandon.

The Collectanea is sadly lacking in regards to what food was enjoyed this particular year by the king and his court, but boar’s head garnished with rosemary and bay leaves was a popular fifteenth century dish at Christmastime. As with the rest of the year, however, the season and weather often dictated what was available to eat, and typical winter fare during the middle of December would have included other meats such as beef, pheasant, partridge, venison, goose, duck, and rabbit, along with cheese, bread and a variety of sweetmeats and spiced cakes. One notable dish available was known as frumenty, a pudding made from boiled wheat, cream, mace, nutmeg, barley, eggs and milk often flavoured with almonds, currents and the like.

On New Year’s Day, meanwhile, the traditional day of gift giving in the Tudor court rather than Christmas Day like today, the royal family, their household and much of nobility congregated in Greenwich Palace’s Great Hall. King Henry, ‘being in a riche Gowne, dynede in his Chamber’ before, ‘of his Largesse’, or generosity, he oversaw the gift-giving ceremony, the recipients of whom this year appear to be his Officers of Arms.

According to the Collectanea, the king himself granted gifts to the value of £6, with the queen providing an additional 40 shillings, Lady Margaret Beaufort 20 shillings, and Jasper Tudor, the king’s uncle and duke of Bedford, also providing 40 shillings. Others followed suit in giving monetary gifts of varying amounts, including the Duchess of Bedford, Bishop Foxe, the Earls of Arundel, Oxford, Derby, Devon and Ormond, lords Welles and Strange, and Sir William Stanley. Thereafter, ‘on Newres Day at Nyght ther was a goodly Disgysyng’, whilst it was noted that ‘this Cristmass ther wer many and dyvers Playes’

Christmas Day and New Years’ Day were two of the three big feasts of Tudor Christmastide. The third took place on Twelfth Night, or 5th January, to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany the following day, which commemorates the adoration of the Magi before the baby Jesus. The evening before, King Henry went to Evensong ‘in his Surcoot outward, with Tabert Sleves, the Cappe of Astate on his Hede, and the Hode aboute his Showlders, in Doctors wise’. For this particular service, the king was the only person robed, with the religious duties handled by his close confidante John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury.

On the morning of 6th January, Henry rose early for Matins prayers, and this time all his nobility were resplendent in their finest surcoats with hoods, following the crowned king and queen in procession. Margaret Beaufort also bore ‘a riche Coronall’ whilst Jasper Tudor was handed the honour of bearing the Cap of Estate before the king, alongside which walked the earls of Derby and Nottingham, Earl of Derby, with the duke of Suffolk and Giles Daubeney following close by. John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, meanwhile, was afforded the honour of bearing the king’s train wherever he went. Following thereafter including members of the royal household, including the Garter King of Arms, the King’s Secretary, and the King’s Treasurer, along with many other employees such as Officers of Arms, Heralds, Pursuivants and those of more menial positions such as carvers and cupbearers.

Once Mass was observed by all, King Henry returned to his chamber for a period, possibly to refresh and change clothes, before returning to the Great Hall, where:

‘He was corownede with a riche Corowne of Golde sett with ful many riche precious Stonys, and seated under a merveolous riche Cloth of Astate, having the Archbishop of Canterbury on his right Hande, and the Quene also crowned under a Cloth of Estate hanging sumwhat lower than the Kings, on his lift Hande’.

Waiting on the king during the subsequent feast was the earl of Oxford, whilst the earl of Ormond kneeled between the queen and Lady Margaret, the king’s mother. Sir David Owen, the king’s paternal uncle, acted as the king’s carver throughout the day. After the second course of food was completed, and once the minstrels had finished playing, the Officers of Arms descended from their stage and the Garter ‘gave the King Thankings for his Largesse, and besought the Kings Highnesse to owe Thankings to the Quene for her Largesse’.

Elsewhere in the Great Hall, in the middle was a table which sat the dean and other churchman associated with the King’s Chapel, who after Henry had completed his first course ‘sange a Carall’. On the right-hand side of the hall was another table headed by Jasper Tudor, who was seated alongside Giles Daubeney, the duke of Suffolk, the earls of Arundel, Nottingham and Huntingdon, the king’s half-uncle Viscount Welles, Viscount Lisle, and an array of other barons and knights. On the opposite side of the hall was another table, headed by the queen’s sister Lady Cecily, who was accompanied by the countesses of Oxford and Rivers and many other ladies and gentlewomen.

Another ancient tradition likely to have been observed during this 1487 Christmas was wassailing. The act of wassailing took place during Twelfth Night, and involved the lord offering his guests a drink from a communal wooden cup, typically cider, beer or a warm spiced ale known as lambswool. Just seven years later, the act of wassailing was included in Henry VII’s household ordinances, detailing how:

“and as for the wassell, the Steward and the treasurer shall come forward with their staves in their hands, the King’s swere and the Queen’s next, with their towells about their necks, and noe man beare noe dishes but such as be sworne for the mouthe”.

It was further declared that “when the Steward comethe in at the hall doore with the wassell, he must crie three tymes, wassell, wassell, wassell”. There seems little reason to doubt that this took place during the 1487 Christmas.

Once everyone had eaten, been merry and entertained to their hearts content, the end of the evening brought the Christmastide festivities of 1487 to a cheery close, a Merry Christmas having been had by one and all. The following morning, however, thoughts returned once more to the more tedious aspects of governing the realm, at least until the next holiday of note. Not unlike the modern day, one must imagine!

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort,  was released in the summer of 2017 and quickly became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for Wars of the Roses.

 

Book Review – Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

By Nathen Amin

Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann is an ambitious book loaded with little-known Tudor trivia that has long been overdue in the study of 16th century England, and fortunately for the future of this little-explored topic, the result is a fascinating production of the utmost quality that takes a close look at ten individuals who could, quite accurately, be considered Black Tudors.

There is a common-held belief that these British Isles were inhabited by a native, white population before the rise of Slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the onset of twentieth century globalisation with the voyage of the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean, that people of colour quite simply were unknown to our Tudor-period ancestors. Yet, as Dr Kaufmann shows in this illuminating and extraordinarily in-depth publication, such a view is quite simply nonsense. As the author notes in the blurb, people of colour were christened, married and buried by the church in England, and were paid wages just like any other 16th century person. They formed integral parts of the communities they lived in, and provided services that were often welcomed, and in many cases, essential.

A Black Tudor presence is first explicitly noticed shortly after the arrival of Katherine of Aragon in England for her wedding to Prince Arthur, around the turn of the 16th century. The Spanish princess brought her own servants across the Channel, which included a woman of a Muslim Moorish background named Catalina, whose duty included making the future queen’s bed. Perhaps more famously is the arrival of a trumpeter to the Tudor court who became known, ironically one imagines, as John Blanke, a man who would serve both Henry VII and Henry VIII with distinction, and for which he was handsomely rewarded. Henry VIII even footed the bill for Blanke’s wedding, ordering a gown of violet cloth, a bonnet and a hat as a gift for ‘our trumpeter’

For even the most ardent of Tudor readers and students, there will be much within Black Tudors that you simply didn’t know, and this is where the true value of this work can be found. Dr Kaufmann is not simply covering well-trodden ground, an issue which has often plagued the study of the sixteenth century, but instead is revealing information that most of her audience will be coming across for the first time. The results are astounding.

Who knew, for example, that Africans were the predominant divers of their day, a fact which witnessed the recruitment of an African named Jacques Francis to try and salvage some items from the sunken Mary Rose in 1450s, over four hundred years before the ship was eventually raised from the sea bed. Sir Francis Drake was just one prominent figure of his day who employed a person of colour, in his case Diego, a freed slave from Panama who would go on to circumnavigate much of the globe with his English captain, often working as an interpreter.

Of course, the history isn’t always joyous, as discovered by the tragic tale of Black Maria, a woman aboard one of Drake’s ships who was raped, impregnated and then abandoned on an island when she presumably had outlived her usefulness. We are also treated to the curious tale of a black porter named Edward Swarthye, who in 1596 in rural Gloucestershire was employed to whip a white member of the gentry named John Guye, perhaps an incident unfathomable to our preconceived ideas of enforced black subservience in the past. A particular entry which I thoroughly enjoyed reading involved the wonderfully-named Reasonable Blackman, who was able to take advantage of his freedom in England to become a successful silk weaver in Southwark, counting many wealthy aristocrats and merchants amongst his clientele.

I was also astonished, more through my own ignorance of the subject as it was so poorly documented elsewhere before this book, that although black people existed as slaves in Spain, bought and sold on cathedral steps like inanimate objects, slavery was not recognised in England so that once these men and women arrived in England, they were considered free. For example, when Pero Alvarez, an African man who arrived in England from Portugal during the reign of Henry VII, he was instantly considered a free man, no longer subject to the shackles of slavery. The subject of slavery arose in an English court of law in 1569 when it was comprehensively determined that no man could be subject to slavery upon entering the kingdom, for ‘England has too pure an air for slaves to breath in’. Two decades later, William Harrison noted proudly;

‘as for slaves and bondmen, we have none; nay such is the privilege of our country by the especial grace of God and bounty of our princes, that if any come hither from other realms, so soon as they set foot on land they become as free in condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile bondage is utterly removed from them’

The author is an expert in her field, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and an Oxford graduate, where her doctoral thesis was based on the presence of Africans in Britain between 1500 and 1640. The subject couldn’t be in safer hands. Dr Kaufmann’s research is impeccable, and has to be for such a detailed if specific study of those people who for so long have been disregarded by centuries of historians. She treats each of her subjects as individuals in their own right instead of just a community, exploring each life with a delicate warmth and respect that endears those individuals to the reader. We are gripped by their story.

Black Tudors is essentially a fascinating and concise microhistory of a small but important community in 16th century living their everyday lives amidst the much greater socio-political matters occurring around them, from the Great Matter and Reformation of Henry VIII to the threat posed by Spain against Elizabeth I. This book has no filler, and is wholly focused on its objective, a heavily-researched, well-referenced and pioneering, production. At 34-pages, her bibliography is possibly the most exhaustive I have seen. Kaufmann succeeds in her project, and succeeds well.

In her introduction, Dr Kaufmann notes ‘the misconceptions surrounding the status of Black Tudors are part of a wider impression that any African living outside Africa before the mid-fifteenth century, be it in Europe of the Americas must have been enslaved’, further pointing out in her conclusion that Africans were seen and heard across England, from Hull to Truro. This book will hopefully go some way to dispelling this misguided belief that many of us hold. Kaufmann also states confidently “for all those who thought they knew the Tudors, it is time to think again”. She’s right.

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Dr. Miranda Kaufmann is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She read History at Christ Church, Oxford, where she completed her doctoral thesis on ‘Africans in Britain, 1500-1640’ in 2011. As a freelance historian and journalist, she has worked for The Sunday Times, the BBC, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Oxford Companion series, Quercus publishing and the Rugby Football Foundation. She is a popular speaker at conferences, seminars and schools from Hull to Jamaica and has published articles in academic journals and elsewhere (including the Times Literary Supplement, The Times, The Guardian, History Today, BBC History Magazine and Periscope Post). She enjoys engaging in debate at the intersection of past and present and has been interviewed by the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera USA and the Observer.

Book Review – The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

Some may argue that the topic of Henry VIII and his six wives is a subject that has suffered oversaturation in recent decades, with innumerable works produced analysing every possible aspect of the Tudor king’s relationship with the women in his life. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence, however, proves to be another worthy addition to the genre, taking a fresh look at an old subject as has become the author’s trademark in recent years.

Subtitled ‘The Women’s Stories’, this gives you an indication of what to expect from an author well-known for her work on the female gender of 15th and 16th century England, and this isn’t a negative thing. As with her previous, and probably future, books, this isn’t a work written by woman that is only intended to be read by women. Licence’s goal is to discuss the subject of Henry VIII and his tumultuous love life from the perspectives of his female companions, a varied and intriguing array of women whose voices have sometimes become obscured by the drama that surrounded this larger-than-life monarch. Even the most casual of observers is generally aware of Henry’s wants, needs and desires, noting how he infamously ploughed through several wives to satisfy his thirst; indeed, it has been documented time and time again.

In this particular work, however, Licence sets out, and succeeds, in her objective to bring sometime-queens such as Katherine of Aragon and Catherine Howard back to life, using contemporary sources to support her conclusions, some of which are mainstream and others which are innovative in their deduction. Where Licence’s book has worth, however, is in her thorough accounts of the lives of Henry’s lesser-known lovers, from Bessie Blount to Mary Boleyn, and from Elizabeth Carew to Jane Popincourt, women often reduced to a mere sentence or two in other works.

It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t a biography of Henry VIII, and true to her intention, the book is rather divided into sections documenting the life and times of the women, with each chapter and sub-section introduced with a contemporary quote, a nice touch. Part 1 of Six Wives covers the life of Catherine of Aragon, from her birth in 1485 to 1509, the year Henry VII died and Henry VIII became king, as well as her husband. Even so, Henry was powerful, handsome and lusty during the early years of his marriage, and Part 2 looks at Queen Catherine’s rivals in the Tudor court between 1510 and 1515, including Anne Hastings, the little-known Flemish maid Etiennette de la Baume, and the aforementioned ladies Popincourt and Carew. Etiennette, in particular, is an interesting addition as even well-read Tudor aficionados may not be aware of Henry’s French conquest, or another known mysteriously only as ‘Madame the Bastard’. Part 3, meanwhile, documents the king’s affair with Bessie Blount, the only woman with whom he had an acknowledged bastard, whilst parts 4-9 cover his remaining wives.

I particularly enjoyed the brief description of a man named William Webbe who cried vengeance against the king for Henry’s liaison with a woman described in official records as a ‘wench’, and whom he installed in a property for the purposes of adultery. I wished we knew more about Webbe, for it must have taken considerable courage to accuse the king when other men remained tight-lipped in such scenarios, out of fear no doubt.

What is evident from Licence’s study is that the women in Henry’s life were, as simply as it sounds, just that; living, breathing women, full of the same hopes and fears for their future as any woman walking the planet today. This may seem like an obvious statement, but too often in books relating to the Tudor era are the women reduced to caricatures – the proud woman, the scheming woman, the flirty woman and so on. The human mind is far more complex than this, shaped by circumstances both within and without each person’s control. Whilst we have the benefit of hindsight in knowing how their actions would shape their destiny, these women didn’t have that luxury. Licence attempts to explain those she is studying with this concept in mind, and in my opinion is successful in her endeavour.  The myth, in essence, is stripped away until we’re faced with the reality.

Amy Licence is unquestionably one of the most popular Tudor authors of her generation, a reputation created from her clear style of writing, attention to detail and refreshing takes on a well-worn subject. The blurb for The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII pointedly asks “What was it like to be Mrs Henry VIII?”. After finishing this book, you will have a much better idea. A valuable addition to the study of both Tudor and female history.

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Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, all published by Amberley. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children

Book Review – Catherine of Aragon; An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

I’ve said in previous book reviews for Amy Licence, that she is unquestionably the most prolific historian writing today. Her output of books in recent years is incredible, the culmination of a life’s fascination and study of the subject, and this continues with her latest offering, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife.

My first thought upon receiving the book, is that it’s MASSIVE. It’s a seriously thick book, comprising 560 pages split across 7 separate parts. Covered are Catherine’s birth and childhood in Spain, her marriage to Prince Arthur, her widowhood, her early marriage years to Henry VIII, her life as Queen of England, the downfall of her marriage and her final, tragic years. It’s fair to say, this may just be the definitive account of the life of Catherine of Aragon.

Licence’s speciality is the study of the Tudor women, as women in their own right, not as mere decorations of their husbands, fathers or brothers, and it is this expertise she applies to Catherine of Aragon, the foremost Tudor woman for the first quarter of the sixteenth century.

The author leaves no stone unturned, and covers the entirety of Queen Catherine’s life, not just her more infamous moments. Anyone with a passing interest in the Tudors will know of Catherine’s doomed marriage to Arthur, followed by her second union with his brother, Henry. This does not, and should not, define Catherine, however, and the author does a great job in examining the early life of the Spanish princess, from her birth in 1485 to her upbringing amongst the fascinating and colourful royal court of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Europe’s renowned Catholic Monarchs. Catherine’s later devoutness and stubbornness did not come from nowhere, it was imbued in her as a product of this illustrious Spanish union.

14591841_1222548391146094_4556601838587401747_nParticularly fascinating, and crucial to Catherine’s life, is the detailed account of her 1501 wedding to Arthur, particularly the subsequent ‘did they, didn’t they?’ bedding ceremony, or ‘the most famous bedding ceremony of all time’ as Licence aptly puts it. Intriguingly, Licence offers a third, graphic, scenario as to what happened on that fateful night, a compelling theory that may just make you blush.

We are also treated to an in-depth insight into Catherine’s life in between her marriages. It is often overlooked that this span of time was eight years, that is almost a decade of character growth which is often disregarded in other books on the subject. It is these insights into the lesser-known minutiae of the queen’s life that make Licence’s book a worthwhile purchase. In fact, I’d argue it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to study, or gain greater knowledge, of the first half of the Tudor century of rule.

As expected perhaps from the leading Tudor historian on female matters, this book is sympathetic and understanding of its subject, but that’s not to say in a biased or predisposed way. Licence comes to her conclusions about Katherine through sheer research of her character, her influences and her actions, and puts forward a compelling case of a pious and courageous woman who only sought to serve her god, and serve her husband, in the manner she thought best. This is a compassionate and positive portrayal of Catherine, but that is only because it is the least the woman deserves.

Quite simply, there doesn’t appear to be anything more said on the subject of Catherine of Aragon, that what Amy Licence has covered in her colossal biography.

Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon; “The King and the Pauper Princess”

By Karlie (@ HistoryGal_)

“Though they cannot now see the gentle face of their beloved daughter they may be sure that she has found a second father who will ever watch over her happiness, and never permit her to want anything he can procure her…” [1] — King Henry VII of England, to King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, 28 November 1501.

I

It had been a harrowing few months for the more than one hundred and fifty passengers aboard the Spanish fleet headed to England. Seized by a series of violent storms that nearly capsized them, the weary group of travelers remained in Laredo, Spain for almost a month until the King of England sent one of his best naval captains to guide them across the Bay of Biscay.

On 2 October 1501 the fleet arrived in Plymouth: a picturesque waterfront city on the south coast of Devon. The leading nobleman of the city greeted the Spanish party enthusiastically before they escorted them to the church of St Andrews where they gave thanks for their safe arrival.

Throughout Devon, the townspeople clamored to welcome their distinguished foreign guests. But there was one girl amongst the travelers who courted particular attention. Her name was Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine was the youngest daughter of the two most powerful sovereigns in Europe: Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Growing up, Catherine spent a lot of time with her parents during their military crusades. She was even present when Ferdinand and Isabella’s army defeated the Moors in the Granada War.

Catherine learned from her parents how to effectively lead an army into battle; a skill that would come in handy when she led the English in victory against the Scots in 1513.

Thanks to her formidable mother, Catherine and her sisters received a broad education almost equal to that of their brothers. By the time she was fifteen years old, Catherine was fluent in several languages including French and Latin; she was also well versed in matters of religion, philosophy, history, and law.

It was essential for all high-born ladies of the 15th and 16th century to be proficient in domestic pastimes such as needlework, sewing, and cooking. Catherine excelled at them all as well as the more refined purists like dancing, music, and singing.

As a Princess of Spain, these skills were taught to Catherine to prepare her for the important duties of queenship. This was a role in which Catherine had been groomed for since she was three years old. It was at this young age in which she became betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales.

The details of their betrothal had been outlined in the 1498 Treaty of Medina del Campo: a formal agreement that united the Kingdoms of England and Spain. As the parents of the bride, it was Ferdinand and Isabella’s responsibility to arrange a dowry for Catherine.

They agreed to settle on a dowry of 200,000 crowns; the first half of which (100,000 crowns) was to be paid to Arthur’s father: Henry VII, upon Catherine’s arrival and the second half was to be paid at a later date.

The fact that Catherine and Arthur barely knew each other was not a concern for their parents nor was it a requirement in arranged royal marriages. Thus when Catherine came to England in 1501 her fiancé was practically a stranger to her.

Before their marriage, the only source of contact either of them had with each other was through letters.

The only surviving letter from their correspondence is one written by Arthur in October 1499. The letter (written in Latin) began with Arthur addressing Catherine as the: “Most illustrious and most excellent lady, my dearest spouse….” He went on to write: I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. I owe eternal thanks to your excellence that you so lovingly correspond to this my so ardent love.” It ended with Arthur wishing for Catherine to be “ever fortunate and happy, and be kept safe and joyful...” [2].

Catherine was anxious to meet the love struck Prince and more anxious to fulfill her role as the Princess of Wales and the future Queen Consort of England…

But just as Catherine was set to depart from Granada to England to marry Arthur, her trip was deliberately postponed for a year.

One of the reasons for Catherine’s delayed departure was because her parents (particularly Isabella) wanted to spend more time with her before she left home forever.

Ferdinand and Isabella were also concerned about the validity of their daughter’s marriage to a Prince who was barely fourteen years old. They addressed their misgivings to King Henry and informed him that they would send Catherine to marry his son only when the latter took his vows as an adult.

Eager to gain an ally with Spain, Henry complied with the Spanish Monarch’s request. Not long after Arthur took his vows, he and Catherine were married by proxy (for a second time) on 22 November 1500.

II

Shortly after Catherine’s arrival in England, she was “… lodged at the mayor’s house in Notte-street…Here she is said to have rested for a fortnight and was then escorted by way of Tavistock, Okehampton, and Crediton, to Exeter, on her way to London, where she was received with great honour and respect….At Exeter, her residence was at the house of the Dean. She rested [there for] several days, then by short journeys [Catherine traveled] to London.” [3].

King Henry was so anxious to see the future Princess of Wales that he traveled from Richmond with Prince Arthur to Hampstead just to meet her. When they arrived at Dogmersfield House, Henry was informed by Pedro de Ayla that Ferdinand and Isabella had requested that neither he nor his son were to see Catherine until the day of the wedding.

The Spanish diplomat’s words were not well received by the King who demanded that Catherine be presented to him at once. He even remarked that he would see her “even if she were in her bed!” [4].

With the help of her ladies, Catherine was made presentable to see the man who would soon become her father in law.

After a quick introduction, Catherine slowly lifted the veil that was concealing her face. The King was relieved to find that his future daughter in law was just as beautiful as the Spanish and English diplomats had reported to him: her fair complexion, blue eyes, and long reddish-blonde hair was the embodiment of English beauty. However, Catherine could barely speak English, and she and the King had to conduct the rest of their meeting entirely in Latin. This did not bother Henry who was impressed by Catherine’s impeccable display of grace and poise.

Henry later wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella that everyone had “much admired [Catherine’s] beauty, as well as her agreeable and dignified manners” [5]. Arthur also wrote to Catherine’s parents, to tell them that he had “‘never felt so much joy’ in his entire life as when he ‘held the sweet face of his bride’ and that ‘no woman in the world could be more agreeable to him.’” [6].

What mattered most to King Henry was not only that Catherine was beautiful and had polite manners but that her dowry filled his coffers and that her marriage to Arthur strengthened the Tudors claim to the throne.

As a descendent of King Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt and his two legitimate daughters, Catherine had a stronger claim to the English throne than the Tudors did.

Henry VII’s ancestral claim to the throne came mainly through that of his mother: Margaret Beaufort. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Swynford. John and Katherine were later married, but their offspring were excluded from the line of succession. Henry VII’s father, Edmund Tudor, was the son of a Welsh courtier who married the widow of King Henry V: Catherine of Valois.

In any case, it was a battle, not imperial heredity that empowered the Tudors to take over the throne of England.

The Tudors reign began in 1485 when Henry VII defeated Richard III (the last Plantagenet King of England) at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Not long into his reign, King Henry was confronted by several Yorkist’s rebellions. Most notably was the 1487 Battle of Stoke Field which resulted in a decisive victory for the Tudor’s.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were initially hesitant to have their daughter marry a Prince whose father may not hold on to his position as King for long.

Before they agreed to sanction the match, Ferdinand and Isabella pressured King Henry to execute one of the claimants to the throne: Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After wasting away in the Tower of London for fourteen years, Edward was beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 November 1499.

Sadly, Edward’s blood would not be the last spilt on Catherine of Aragon’s behalf…

III

On 12 November 1501, Catherine was escorted from Lambeth Palace into the heart of London, by some of the primer nobleman in England. During the royal parties’ procession from London to Cheapside, they stopped to watch six speculator pageants thrown in the Princess’s honor. Catherine was then taken to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence where she would remain for the rest of the evening.

The next day Catherine went to Baynard’s Castle and formally presented to her future mother in law Queen Elizabeth of York. More celebrations followed before Catherine went back to Lambeth Palace to prepare for her wedding day.

On 14th November Catherine and Arthur were married in a lavish ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral. The stone pillars of the Cathedral were draped with expensive and ornate tapestries, a “platform raised six feet high and draped in red fabric” [7] had been erected on which Catherine and Arthur took their vows, and “a special gallery [was in place] where the King, Henry VII and his Queen, Elizabeth [watched the wedding]” [8].

Trumpets blared, wine flowed through fountains, and the people cheered the Prince and Princess of Wales as they made their way from the Cathedral to Baynard’s Castle for the wedding celebrations.

Midway through the extravagant festivities, the young bride and groom were ushered into a bedchamber to consummate their marriage. After a number of ceremonial tasks were performed – which included the blessing of the marriage bed by the bishops– Catherine and Arthur were left alone….

“Willoughby!” Arthur announced to his steward the following morning. “Bring me a cup of ale, for I have been in the midst of Spain” [9].

It was those very words that would come back to haunt Catherine twenty eight years later, when her honor was questioned as well as her right to be Queen of England. Catherine would swear on her knees at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars, that “I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man” [10]. As a devout Catholic, Catherine risked eternal damnation of her soul if she were to lie before God about the validity of her virginity prior to marrying her second husband.

But during Catherine and Arthur’s short lived marriage, the general censuses at the English court was that the couple had consummated their marriage. A contemporary scribe reported: “And thus these worthy persons concluded and consummated the effect and complement of the sacrament of marriage” [11]. However, soon after Arthur’s death Catherine claimed that this statement was untrue. Even Catherine’s duenna Doña Elvira Manuel asserted that her charge was still a virgin.

It’s possible that Arthur’s lewd statement came from the fact that, for whatever reason, he was unable to perform in the marriage bed. It’s important to note that Arthur was not the perpetually sick Prince of legend. As historian Julia Fox points out, “Arthur was no weakling. He had, said, the Marquis of Dorset, a century later, “a good and sanguine complexion; “lusty” was what Charles Brandon had heard said of the prince.” [12]

In December 1502, Arthur and Catherine were sent to live at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. There was some controversy surrounding King Henry’s decision to have his fifteen year old son and his sixteen year old daughter in law co-habitat at such a young age. Queen Isabella even wrote to him to express her concern for her daughter’s well-being.

Henry addressed Isabella’s qualms by writing to her that he and his councilors “were unwilling to allow the Prince and Princess to be separated at any distance from each other. Thus much we wished to show unto you by this our letter that you may understand our excessive love which we bear towards the most illustrious Lady Catherine, our common daughter, even to the danger of our own son.”  [13].

The decision to send Arthur to Ludlow Castle proved to be one of the worst mistakes Henry VII’s life…

IV

On 2 April 1502 Arthur Tudor died from what was thought to have been consumption (aka tuberculosis). The most likely cause of Arthur’s death was the sweating sickness; a highly contagious and often fatal disease that had spread in the vicinities of Ludlow Castle around the time Arthur and Catherine became ill.

Henry VII was at Greenwich Palace when his confessor informed him of Arthur’s death. One of the King’s heralds wrote: “When his Grace understood these sorrowful and heavy tidings, he sent for the Queen, saying that he and his queen would take the painful sorrows together [14].

Closeted in his royal bedchamber, Henry and Elizabeth wept for the loss of their eldest son. Henry was so unnerved by the tragic news that Elizabeth had to comfort him. “God had left him a fair prince and two princess,” said Elizabeth, referring to their other children Henry, Margaret and Mary. “God is where he was and we are both young enough [to have more children]” [15].

Prince Arthur was laid to rest in Worchester Cathedral on 25 April 1502. It was custom for royalty not to attend funerals, and so Catherine remained at Ludlow Castle until she recovered from the same illness that killed her husband. She was then conveyed to London in a black velvet and cloth litter that had been provided for her by Queen Elizabeth.

For several months Catherine lived under intense scrutiny at Croydon Palace until it was established that she was not pregnant with Arthur’s child.

Their daughter now a widow and childless, Ferdinand and Isabella wanted Catherine returned to Spain as soon as possible. “They also demanded that Henry should put the princess in possession of her widow’s jointure—one-third of the revenues of Wales, Cornwall, and Chester—and repay the first instalment of her dowry – 100,000 gold crowns…” [16].

The last thing King Henry wanted was to grant Catherine her jointure and to give back half of her dowry, and so while he “received their [Ferdinand and Isabella’s] proposal courteously,” [17] he would not openly commit himself to a definite course of action.

This meant that as long as Catherine lived in England her future and her financial situation remained uncertain…

V

On 11 February 1503, Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, died from a postpartum infection. The child that she bore was not the boy her husband had desired but a girl, who died at only eight days old.

Deprived of her own mother’s affection, Catherine had formed a bond with the kind and affectionate Elizabeth who used to send her gifts and request her company. As Catherine mourned the Queen’s death, so too did King Henry who “privily departed to a solitary place…and would no man should resort upon him” [18].

Two years after the death of his wife, King Henry courted several of the most eligible noblewoman in Europe, including Margaret of Austria and Catherine of Aragon’s cousin Joanna of Naples. At one point, the forty six year old English King suggested that the seventeen year old Princess Catherine should become his next wife. This idea repulsed Ferdinand and Isabella so much that the latter proclaimed that the union was “a thing not to be endured” [19].

Ferdinand and Isabella were, however, still keen on forging an alliance with the Tudor King in order to gain an ally in their war with France. A match was soon agreed upon between Catherine and Henry VII’s eleven year old son Henry, Prince of Wales. They were formally betrothed on 25 June 1503 at the Bishop of Salisbury’s house in Fleet Street. Their marriage was to take place as soon as Prince Henry reached the age of maturity.

Since she was a child growing up in Spain, Catherine believed that it was her destiny to become Queen of England. And with her impending marriage to Prince Henry she was one step closer to achieving her life’s ambition.

But the road to matrimony was not smooth sailing for Catherine. Her chief obstacle was that she was betrothed to her deceased husband’s brother. And according to canon law, it was illegal for a man to marry his brother’s widow.

This law was based on Leviticus 20:21 which states “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”  

Catherine’s assertion that she was a virgin, if true, meant that in the eyes of the court her marriage to Arthur was null and void. Nonetheless a dispensation from the impediment of affinity was requested from the Pope.

At the request of the ailing Queen of Castile, the first draft of the dispensation was sent to Spain. Isabella was dismayed to find that “the bull clearly stated that her daughter’s previous marriage had been consummated. Catherine, it proclaimed loud and clear was no virgin.” The main issue with this statement was that “a payment of 100,000 scudos to Henry VII hung on the question of Catherine’s virginity, and on this wording the money was his.” Isabella protested the clause which prompted the Pope to amend the dispensation by replacing the word had in “had been consummated” with the word “forsan: ‘perhaps’” [20].

The final version of the papal dispensation enabling Catherine and Prince Henry to marry was ratified in August 1503. Much to King Henry’s annoyance, a copy of the dispensation wasn’t sent to him until a month later.

To cement his new alliance with the Spanish monarchs, Henry VII agreed to financially support Catherine. And for his part, Ferdinand agreed to pay the last installment of his daughter’s dowry. 

In reality, Ferdinand couldn’t afford to pay the rest of the dowry; thus he had no intention of sticking to his end of the deal. Nevertheless, he carried on the marriage negotiations as if he was going to remain true to his word.

VI

Catherine was plunged into deep mourning for the third time in three years when, on 12 November 1504, her mother (Queen Isabella) died. Isabella’s passing had profound consequences for the young Princess, not least of all because her elder sister Juana was now Queen of Castile. “This meant that “Catherine’s worth as a bride fell dramatically. She was no longer the Princess of the Iberian Peninsula, [which made] an alliance with Aragon of limited value” [21].

To make matters worse, a squabble for power ensued as Juana’s domineering husband Philip of Burgundy attempted to seize power away from his wife and from Ferdinand who still claimed a right to administer the kingdom” [22].

As a result of Catherine’s diminished social status, Henry VII became less enthusiastic about contracting his son to marry her. Henry’s misgivings about Catherine and her family strengthened, when “in an attempt to gain accession to the throne of Navarre” [23] Ferdinand married the niece of Louis XII of France.

Shortly after Ferdinand’s marriage to Germaine of Foix, King Henry reduced Catherine’s allowance. Henry began to use the remainder of her dowry to fund his own exploits. This meant that Catherine could barely afford to run her own household…

In November 1505, the impoverished Princess and her attendants were forced to move from Durham House in London to live with the English King in his palaces.

“By December 1505 Catherine’s financial situation was grave. Her father had failed to send her any money, despite repeated requests, and all King Henry had given her was a small pittance for food – she was often reduced to eating yesterday’s fish from the market. She was also in debt to some London merchants for household necessities, and the gowns she had brought from Spain four years before were so shabby that she felt, as she told her father, ‘nearly naked.’” [24].

Just four months after Catherine moved back to court, King Henry made his son renounce his betrothal to her in a private ceremony at Richmond Palace. The terms were “not acted upon”; however, it was done “so that the marriage could thenceforth be cancelled at short notice…” [25].

In 1509, Henry VII discreetly began negotiations for a marriage between his son and several European Princesses, including Catherine’s own niece Eleanor of Austria. But King Henry’s dream of a Tudor alliance with the house of Hapsburg fell apart in 1508.

Henry talked of re-opening marriage negotiations with Ferdinand if only the latter would send over the rest of Catherine’s dowry. But Ferdinand remained vague about when and in what currency the money would be sent to him…

VII

Trapped in a foreign land, surrounded by rapacious courtiers, and in the care of a pitiless father in law, Catherine wrote to her father to complain of her abject existence.

On 22 June 1505, Ferdinand wrote to the Spanish Ambassador, Dr. de Puebla, to advise Catherine “to revere and be very obedient to the King, as is her duty, and as being a means of making him love her more, and of doing more for her”  [26].

Catherine had taken her father’s advice; but since King Henry felt that it was the duty of her father to provide for her, the latter was forced to live on meager rations.

This ungallant behavior by King Henry was in stark contrast to his actions towards Catherine when she was Prince Arthur’s wife. Back then, he had been so anxious to please his homesick daughter in law that he tried to “console her by showing her his extensive library at Richmond,” he even allowed her to “choose jewelry from a selection that he produced for her perusal.” [27]

Catherine’s widowhood wasn’t entirely shrouded in misery. As historian E. Sadlack writes: “Catherine paints her situation as blackly as possible to move Ferdinand to action, and that the English in fact protested [that Catherine’s] complaints were exaggerated, [however] there can be no doubt that these were difficult years for her….”  [28].

During Catherine’s most trying times, she sought solace in her ladies in waiting; none more so than her good friend Maria de Salinas. The English King’s youngest daughter Mary Tudor – too young to be a confidante– was also one of Catherine’s closest companions.

Known for her unwavering piety, Catherine found refuge in her daily religious practices. But her rigorous bouts of fasting for Lent caused many to fear for her health. “In October 1505…Pope Julius II wrote to Prince Henry urging him to restrict the severity of Catherine’s new religious practices lest they damage her health –and (by implication, no doubt) her fertility.” [29]

The Pope and the Prince were right to be concerned over Catherine’s health. In November and December of 1505 Catherine was confined to her bedchamber after falling ill with “severe tertian fevers.” [30]

Catherine was convinced that the person responsible for most of her problems was Dr. de Puebla. Her feelings were that Dr. de Puebla’s interest lay primarily with England and its King, rather than with Spain, Ferdinand, and her wellbeing.

At the insistence of her domineering duenna, Elvira Manuel, Catherine wrote a letter to her father on 2 December 1505 to complain about Dr. de Puebla and about the pitiful circumstances she and her attendants were forced to endure. “…each day my troubles increase,” wrote Catherine, “and all this on account of the doctor Dr. de Puebla, to whom it has not sufficed that from the beginning he transacted a thousand falsities against the service of your highness, but now he has given me new trouble; and because I believe your highness will think I complain without reason, I desire to tell you all that has passed….”  [Dr. de Puebla] negotiated that the king should dismiss all my household, and take away my chamber-equipage, and send to place it in a house of his own, so that I should not in any way be mistress of it.” Catherine also did not fail to include the all-important matter of her dowry: “It appears to me that it would be better if your highness should take them [her jewels] for yourself, and should give to the king of England, my lord, his money.” [31]

Dr. de Puebla was not dismissed from his post, however Elvira Manuel was when the Ambassador became privy of a secret plot spearheaded by Elvira, her brother Juan and Catherine’s brother in law Philip I of Castile. Their plan was to set up a meeting between King Henry, Philip and his wife Juana in the hopes of cementing an alliance that would weaken Ferdinand politically.

“In December 1505, for promoting Philip’s interests at the expense of Ferdinand of Aragon Elvira [and her brother] were told to leave England. She departed on the pretext of visiting a doctor in Flanders about a disease that had already caused her to lose one of her eyes, but she knew that she would not be permitted to return. She had alienated not only King Henry but also Catherine of Aragon. Elvira spent the rest of her life amongst Spanish exiles at the court of Flanders. Catherine was said never to have spoken her name again.” [32]

VIII

After years of not receiving the additional payment of the dowry, King Henry informed Catherine that “he no longer regarded himself and his son bound by the agreement to marry her.” Ferdinand excused the lack of payment on “the trustees…and Philip for not allowing him access to the Castilian funds so that he could send the marriage portion to England.” [33]

In September 1506, Philip I of Castile died from typhoid fever, but rumors at court were that Ferdinand had poisoned him. With Philip out of the way, Ferdinand began to rule Castile in his Juana’s stead.

Once again, Catherine became a valuable asset and “like magic Henry VII became amiable again to his daughter in law. He deplored her illness now, and cordially granted her the change of residence from Eltham to Fulham that she had so long prayed for in vain” [34]. Philip’s passing also served in King Henry’s best interest because it meant that the newly widowed Juana was free to marry…

IX

Henry VII had been enamored with the blue eyed and auburn haired Juana of Castile since their unexpected encounter in January 1506. At the time, the ship transporting Philip and Juana from the Netherlands to Castile was met by turbulent storms that forced them to dock at Weymouth in Dorset. “Seizing his opportunity, Henry lured Philip inlaid and royally entertained him at Windsor Castle and Richmond Palace flattering him with lavish and costly entertainments and showering him with gifts and attention. One result was a trade agreement that was highly favorable to the English merchant guilds” [35].

When Juana was formally presented to the English court an observer recorded that King Henry was waiting to greet her, he then “kissed and embraced her”…and in spite of Phillip’s attempts to keep them apart, Juana made a favorable impression upon [him]” [36].

Shortly after her arrival, Juana was reunited with her sister Catherine for the first time in ten years; sadly, it would be the last time they would ever see each other.

Catherine wrote to Juana in October 1506, that their brief reunion gave her “great pleasure” and that she was saddened by Juana’s “sudden and hasty departure.”  Catherine added that “the great affection [Henry VII] has felt, and still feels, towards your Royal Highness from that time until now, is well known” [37].

There can be no doubt that Henry persuaded Catherine to write this letter to her sister. He had hopes of winning over Juana’s affections and her hand in marriage. Catherine hoped that if Juana agreed to marry King Henry that this would improve her own chances of marrying Prince Henry.

If Juana—who still mourned the death of her husband— were to marry again then the kingdom of Castile would fall predominantly under the control of her husband. Having secured the rule of Castile for himself, Ferdinand had no plans to relinquish control to anyone else.

Although Ferdinand would never let Juana marry Henry VII, it didn’t stop him from dangling the prospect of marriage over him as a means of control. In one of Ferdinand’s responses to Henry’s request to marry Juana, he informed him “that it was ‘not yet known whether Queen Juana be inclined to marry again’” [38].   Ferdinand’s vague response only emboldened Henry in his pursuit for Juana’s hand in marriage.

Eventually, Ferdinand had Dr. de Puebla inform him that Juana was still in mourning for her husband and that her excessive grief made her mentally unfit to marry anyone. Admitting defeat (but refusing to believe she was really insane) King Henry formally withdrew his proposal to marry Juana in June 1508.

In 1507 Ferdinand sent another Spanish Ambassador to England to negotiate Catherine’s marriage to Prince Henry. The man he chose was a politician and military commander named Gutierre Gomez de Fuensalida.

Fuensalida found credence in Catherine’s complaints about Dr. de Puebla. He reported to his master that [Dr. de Puebla] is a servant of the King of England, and although there cannot be two opposites in one man in this individual there are: his heart is English and his tongue is Castilian” [39]. Fuensalida also remarked about Catherine’s health, writing that the she was “so ill and disconsolate’ that he could barely find the words to describe her condition” [40].

Fuensalida worked tirelessly to pacify King Henry’s qualms about not receiving the 100,000 crowns that made up the rest of Catherine’s dowry. But nothing the Ambassador promised satisfied Henry.

Eventually, the King became so frustrated with Fuensalida and the talk over his son’s marriage to Catherine that he refused to meet with the Ambassador.

For several weeks, Fuensalida had to convene with Henry’s equally hostile and combative councilors. When King Henry finally permitted Fuensalida into his presence again their meeting ended disastrously. The King was once again infuriated with the Ambassador, this time for implying that he and his son were still legally bound to honor the marriage contract.

Although he was angry with Fuensalida, King Henry was willing to listen to Catherine of Aragon’s litany of complaints.

In no uncertain terms Catherine “complained bluntly to him [Henry VII] that in the forty days of Lent she had not had access to him [Henry, Prince of Wales.]” [41].

Since Prince Arthur’s death, the King had kept a tight rein on his last surviving son.  Fuensalida reported to his master that Prince Henry was “never permitted to go out of the palace, except for exercise through a private door leading to the park. At these times he is surrounded by those persons especially appointed by the king as his tutors and companions and no one else, on his life, dared approach him. He takes his meals alone and spends most of his day in his room, which has no other entrance than through the king’s bedchamber. He is in complete subjection to his father and grandmother and never opens his mouth in public except to answer a question from one of them.” [42]

Rather than address Catherine’s complaints, “Henry –accompanied by his mother— excused himself on the grounds of illness and raged at Ferdinand’s conduct, lambasting the “poor prince” who did not pay his debts and who had cruelly incarcerated [Juana].[43]

Fuensalida reported to Ferdinand that soon after the King meet with her, “Catherine’s living quarters [were] downgraded and that she was now living over royal stables” [44]. King Henry then announced that he didn’t think the marriage between the Prince and Catherine would ever happen because Ferdinand couldn’t afford to pay the dowry.

King Henry’s bad temper was exasperated by his increasingly bad health. “Shortly before Easter 1507 the king suffered a devastating attack of “quinsy’s” a peritonsillar abscess, and for nearly a week he had been unable to swallow “he was left so feeble he thought he might die.” Henry’s health was briefly restored to him but by “February 1508 he was ill again, suffering from consumption or phthisis, a progressive wasting disease, though his doctors told him it was gout again” [45].

To add to Henry’s list of grievances, Ferdinand’s refusal to support the betrothal of his grandson Charles of Ghent to his daughter Mary had caused a deeper riff to develop between the feuding monarchs.

When Henry summoned Fuensalida to discuss matters further, Fuensalida suggested to him that not only should he forgo the rest of Catherine’s dowry but that he should also call off Mary and Charles’s engagement. Naturally, Henry was upset and insulted at such an idea. After a few choice words directed at the Spanish Ambassador, Henry confronted Catherine in her bedchamber.

“My daughter,” began Henry to Catherine, “I for the great love that I have had for you have given you my two sons, both of them my heirs…and I have turned down other women who were as good as you…” he then stated that “he and his son were free,” from the marriage contract because Ferdinand had “promised [to pay the dowry] within the time that was stipulated” and failed to do so. The King also let Catherine know that he was displeased with her father for “refusing to sign the declaration…confirming the marriage of [Charles and Mary][46]

Henry’s harsh words had the desired effect because on December 1507, he convinced Ferdinand to publically consent to Charles and Mary’s betrothal.

Also in 1507 (before Fuensalida fulfilled his position at the English), “Ferdinand sent [Catherine] the formal credentials to act as his ambassador in England” [47]. Historian Elizabeth Norton writes in her book “The Illustrated Wives of Henry VIII” that Catherine’s position as Ambassador to England (the first woman to ever do so) improved her status at the English court. And although Catherine proved to be efficient in her duties, the fact remained that throughout the years of 1506-1508 she needed a more powerful person to champion her cause…

The person with whom the Princess would become the most reliant on was a Castilian friar by the name of Fray Diego Fernandez.

X

Fray Diego was officially appointed as Catherine’s confessor in April 1507. Before long, the charming yet cunning confessor was advising and controlling the young and impressionable Princess on practically every aspect of her life.

In a letter dated 4 March 1509, Fuensalida informed Ferdinand of a bizarre incident that occurred between Catherine and Fray Diego:

“King Henry had asked the Princess Katherine and Princess Mary to go to Richmond, where he intended to meet them. When the Princess Katherine was ready to start, the friar came into her room, and said to her, “you shall not go today.” The Princess, it is true, had vomited that night but was perfectly well, and the distance she had to travel was at the utmost less than one league. She therefore protested that she was not ill, and did not like to be left behind alone. The friar, however, overruled her objections in a high handed manner by his categorical command, “I tell you that upon pain of mortal sin you shall not go today.” The Princess, not daring to displease him, had no choice left, and underwent the humiliation of telling the Princess Mary…that she was unable to go ” [48].

 It’s important to remember that in this stage of her life, Catherine was naïve, vulnerable and in desperate need of ‘good counsel’. This made her an easy prey for “haughty and licentious” young men like Fray Diego, who were looking to exploit all that court life had to offer.

Catherine vehemently denied the court rumors that she and Fray Diego were lovers. However, she refused to hide her affection for him, she even went so far as to state that he was the: “best confessor that ever woman in my position had, with respect to his life as well as to his holy doctrine and proficiency letters” [49].

In 1515, Fray Diego was found guilty of ‘fornicating’ with several women at court and –despite his pleas—was sent back to Spain. Catherine wrote to her father “begging him to show the friar favor as he “has served her very faithfully all the time he was in England, and much better than certain persons pretend.” [50].

XI

In 1509, Fuensalida was recalled from his post as Spanish Ambassador after failing to convince King Henry to agree to Ferdinand’s demands.

And after spending seven years in England as a bride, widow and a virtual prisoner Catherine had had enough. Her spirits completely shattered, Catherine resigned herself to the notion that she would never marry Prince Henry. She wrote to her father in March 1509, that she wanted to go back home to Spain so that “she could spend the rest of her life serving God.” [51].

          XII

On 21 April 1509, Henry VII died at the age of fifty two from tuberculosis. He was laid to rest the following month alongside his first and only wife Elizabeth of York in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey. After ruling England for twenty three years the first Tudor King’s reign was at an end, and the crown passed on to his seventeen year old son Henry.

There is a popular legend that the ailing King made a death bed request for his son to marry Catherine of Aragon. In all likelihood this tale is merely Tudor propaganda; “conceivably, if Henry VII had lived for several more years he and Maximilian (the Holy Roman Emperor) would have arranged the Henry VIII/Eleanor match instead for around 1510-1511.” [52].

One of the reasons why Henry married Catherine was because she was young and beautiful and there was no reason to doubt she wouldn’t prove to be an amiable wife who would provide him with male children. Catherine’s long history with and close proximity to the new King made her a convenient choice for him to choose as his bride. Henry was also anxious to appease Catherine’s powerful father who urged him to marry her.

As for the rest of Catherine’s dowry, Ferdinand never paid it despite promising to Henry VII shortly before the latter’s death that the payment was ready to be sent…

On 11 June 1509 Henry and Catherine were married at Greenwich Palace. Two weeks later they were crowned King and Queen of England in a joint ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

In May 1533 Henry VIII had his marriage to Catherine annulled on the grounds that she was never really his wife because she had been married to his brother.

Catherine spent her final years at Kimbolton Castle attended by a handful of her most trusted ladies and servants. Mary’s plea to see her dying mother was denied by her father, who feared that a meeting between Mary and Catherine would result in the latter’s nephew Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor, declaring war on England.

Meanwhile, Henry was cavorting with one of Catherine’s former ladies: the young and seductive Anne Boleyn. He had destroyed his marriage and broken with the Roman Catholic Church in order to make Anne his Queen.

On 7 January 1536 Catherine of Aragon died at the age of fifty. She was buried on 29th January at Peterborough Cathedral, not as the Queen of England but as the Dowager Princess of Wales.

While the rest of the country mourned the loss of their beloved Spanish Queen, Henry and Anne reveled in it. According to the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapyus, shortly after the news broke that Catherine was dead, the King and Queen celebrated by throwing a lavish soiree at court.

Gossip began to spread that Anne Boleyn poisoned Catherine in order to rid herself of her greatest rival. Though no charge was ever brought against Anne, the basis for this heinous accusation rests largely in the results of Catherine’s autopsy. Eustace Chapyus wrote to Charles V that the chandler reported that “he found inside the heart something black and round, which adhered strongly to the concavities” [53]. Today, medical historians believe that the blackness and growth on Catherine’s heart was most likely caused by a cancerous tumor.

Catherine death and Anne’s execution weighed little on Henry’s conscience. Instead, his energy was expended elsewhere, mainly in his pursuit to produce a son to succeed him to the throne. On October 12 1536 Henry VIII’s wish was granted when his third wife Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward.

Jane died twelve days later from puerperal fever, and over the next three years Henry married Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Katherine Parr. But none of his wives lasted as long or loved him more than Catherine of Aragon did.

On 28 January 1547 Henry VIII died on the anniversary of his father’s birth. He was interred beside his third wife Jane at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

XIII

Catherine of Aragon experienced many trials and tribulations in order to become Queen of England, and unfortunately her story ended in tragedy. But was her bad luck predestined?

There is an interesting passage in historian Julia P. Geraldo’s book: “In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid.” Geraldo writes that before Catherine and her attendants reached the city of Coruna, “[they] visited Santiago de Compostela: one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Christendom. Inside the city’s cathedral, Catherine witnessed the famous butafumerio being swung. The rope holding the massive censer filled with incense broke. It was considered an ill omen for the Princess, for the story went that whenever the rope of the butafumerios snapped while the censer was swung, bad luck would follow.” [54].

Shortly after Catherine’s excursion to the Cathedral, she set sail for England to marry Arthur Tudor…

Note: Mary Tudor (daughter of Henry VII) never married Charles of Ghent aka Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor; in 1514 she married King Louis XII of France, and later Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk in 1515. Catherine’s of Aragon sister – known in history as “la Loca” – Juana, was imprisoned in the castle of Tordesillas (with her youngest daughter) by Ferdinand as he continued to rule Castile in her name. Juana never remarried.

References

  1. 37. 49. 53. “Calendar of Letters, Dispatches and State Papers Relating to the Negotiations Between England and Spain Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere” Volume 1. Longban,1862

2. “The Book of the Princes of Wales, Heirs to the Crown of England” Dr. Doran  (John)/ Richard Bentley, 1860

3. “A History of Plymouth” Llewellynn Frederick and William Jewitt

4. “Monarchs, Murders & Mistresses: A Calendar of Royal Days” David Hilliam

5. 9. 14. 39. 42. “Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII” Robert Hutchinson

6. “Heirs to the Throne: The Story of the Prince of Wales” Annette Joelson

  1. “Royal Weddings” Emily Brand
  2. “The Virgin Queen: A Personal History of Elizabeth I” Christopher Hibbert

10. 26. 50. “Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife” Amy Licence

11. “Elizabeth of York” A. Okerlund

12. 27. “Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile” Julia Fox

13. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924027958879/cu31924027958879_djvu.txt

15. “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses” Sarah Gristwood

16. 17. “House of Tudor” Alison Plowden

18. “Henry VII” Stanley Bertram Chrimes

19. 26. 48. 51. 54. “In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory” Julia P Geraldi

20. “Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England” Thomas Penn

21. “Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen” Anna Whitelock

22. “A New History of England from the Earliest Accounts of Britain to the Ratification of the Peace of Versailles, 1763” Thomas Mortimer

23. “Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King” Terry Breverton

24. 30. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” Alison Weir

25. 52. “The Tudors” Timothy Venning

28. “The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe” E. Sadlack

29. 39. 40. 41. 43. 46. “Catherine of Aragon” Patrick Williams

31. Hanson, Marilee. “Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her father, King Ferdinand II of Aragon  2 December 1505″ <a href=”http://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/”>http://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/</a&gt;, February 24, 2015

32. http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com/TudorWomenM.htm

34. “The Wives of Henry the Eighth and the Parts They Played in History” Martin Andrew and Sharp Hume

  1. “The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction” John Guy

36. “Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest” Agnes Strickland and Elizabeth Strickland

38. “The Reign of Henry VII from Contemporary Sources” Albert Fredrick Pollard

44. “Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership” Hazel Pierce

45. “The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts” Elizabeth Lane Furdel

47. “The Illustrated Six Wives of Henry VIII” Elizabeth Norton

48. “Calendar of State Papers, Spain: Supplement To Volumes 1 and 2, Queen Katherine; Intended Marriage of King Henry VII To Queen Juana” ed. G A Bergenroth (London, 1868)

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Karlie is a college student from the U.S. who has many interests, including reading, writing, drawing and painting. Her passion, however, is history. She loves to read about every period in history, but is most interested in the Tudor period. She is intrigued not only by the Tudor dynasty, but also by the world in which they lived; the people, the religion, the politics, the conflicts, the events, the castles, the beautiful clothes and just their overall way of life.

You can follow Karlie on twitter @HistoryGal_