Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
Henry VIII and Katherine were married for almost 24 years. Even before this, they had known each other for almost a decade, and Henry’s decision to marry her was one of his first acts as king in 1509. They shared a similar education and a love for court entertainment and learning. But, somewhere between the private tragedy of miscarriages and stillbirths and the public political and dynastic ambitions of Henry VIII, their marriage failed.
The young happy couple
Katherine of Aragon arrived in England in 1501, aged fifteen, to be married to the heir to the English throne, Prince Arthur. A few months later, Arthur was dead, struck down by a fever. Katherine was soon betrothed to Arthur’s brother, Prince Henry.
In 1509, Henry VIII wrote to his father-in-law about his new wife, ‘The bond between them is now so strict that all their interests are common, and the love he bears to Katherine is such, that if he were still free, he would choose her in preference to all others.’
Henry and Katherine’s relationship over the next 10 or 15 years appears to have been a happy one. Henry jousted as ‘Sir Loyal Heart’ and laid trophies at Katherine’s feet at tournaments. Katherine acted as Queen Regent of England when Henry was away in Europe fighting the French.
Affairs and bastards
Henry and Katherine suffered a series of heartbreaking miscarriages and still births. From six pregnancies, there was only one surviving daughter, Princess Mary. Henry doted on his little princess and was extremely proud of her. Katherine took an active role in her education and corrected her Latin homework. They were a family.
Henry was not, however, entirely faithful, fathering one illegitmate child, Henry Fitzroy, with a young courtier, Elizabeth Blount. But, by 16th century standards, this was positively restrained and Henry’s dalliances were rare.
Divorce and Anne Boleyn
As time passed, hope for more children began to fade. There were other changes in the once strong marriage. Katherine, now 40, was six years older than Henry, and this began to show. She withdrew from the lively court life that Henry still enjoyed, becoming increasingly pious and devout.
But it was Anne Boleyn who finally made up Henry’s mind. He was besotted. Henry also found the self-justification to seek an annulment from Katherine: God had punished him for marrying his brother’s widow, but a new wife would put things right. Katherine would have to understand. But Katherine refused to go quietly.
It took four years and a break with the Roman Catholic Church, but Henry eventually got his annulment. Katherine was exiled from court and did not see her daughter again. She never accepted her fate. Her last letter to Henry, as she lay dying, is testament to her broken dreams and stubborn pride. She signed it, ‘Katherine the Queen.’