A Brief Biography of Catherine of Aragon

By Tim Lambert

Catherine of Aragon was born on 16 December 1485. She was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Like most upper-class girls at that time, Catherine was highly educated. As an adult, she was very erudite. Because of her learning, she was admired by scholars like Erasmus and Juan Luis Vives.

Meanwhile, when she was still a child it was decided that she should marry Prince Arthur, son of King Henry VII when they were both old enough. (It was normal at that time for upper-class parents to arrange marriages for their children). Catherine married Arthur in London on 14 November 1501. Catherine later claimed the marriage was never consummated. At any rate, Arthur died on 2 April 1502. He was only 15 years old.

Catherine married Arthur’s younger brother Henry. Normally Henry would not have been allowed to marry his brother’s widow. He was given a special dispensation from the Pope to do so. Catherine married Henry VIII on 11 June 1509.

In 1513 Henry was at war with France. He made his wife Catherine regent and captain-general of the armed forces in England in his absence. On 9 September 1513, an English army crushed the Scots at Flodden. Catherine was leading a reserve army north at that time but they disbanded when news of the victory reached them.

Meanwhile, all was not well. Catherine had a stillborn daughter in 1510. She had a son in 1511 but he died after a few weeks. Catherine had another son in 1513 but he died soon after he was born. Then in 1515, she had a stillborn son. Only one of her children lived – a girl called Mary who was born in 1516. Catherine had another daughter in 1518 but the girl soon died.

Henry desperately wanted a son and heir and he began to think that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s widow. Henry VIII now argued that the marriage to Catherine was not valid and should be annulled (declared null and void). Not surprisingly Catherine was opposed to any move to dissolve the marriage. Henry VIII asked the Pope to annul the marriage. However, the Pope would not co-operate.

Meanwhile, in 1527, Henry began a relationship with Anne Boleyn. Henry was keen to get rid of Catherine and marry Anne. In 1529 Henry called the ‘Reformation Parliament’. Ties between England and Rome were cut one by one. Finally, he lost patience with the Pope and rejected his authority. In 1533 he obtained a decree of nullity from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Catherine was exiled from the court. She was no longer queen but she was given the title ‘Princess Dowager’

She lived the rest of her life in modest circumstances and she died on 7 January 1536. Catherine was buried in Peterborough Cathedral.

Peterborough Cathedral