The story be­hind a Queen’s tomb

Stu­art Orme, Head of Op­er­a­tions, Peter­bor­ough Cathe­dral

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Cathedralview -

Ea­gle eyed Peter­bor­ough Tele­graph read­ers might have spot­ted Peter­bor­ough Cathe­dral on the telly be­fore Christ­mas. As part of the BBC se­ries ‘Six Wives with Lucy Wors­ley’, the TV His­to­rian was filmed walk­ing through the Cathe­dral be­fore pay­ing her re­spects at the tomb of Katharine of Aragon. It showed our won­der­ful build­ing off to a na­tional au­di­ence in all its glory.

The pro­gramme was well timed as it came out in the run up to our an­nual Katharine of Aragon Fes­ti­val, mark­ing the date in 1536 when Henry VIII’s first wife was buried at Peter­bor­ough Abbey (now the Cathe­dral). Katharine is ar­guably the most fa­mous fig­ure as­so­ci­ated with the city’s his­tory, and is our most renowned burial, bring­ing vis­i­tors here from all over the world.

Katharine of Aragon was born in 1485 at Al­calá de Henares in Spain (to­day one of Peter­bor­ough’s twin towns), daugh­ter of King Fer­di­nand and Queen Is­abella. She came to Eng­land in 1501 to marry Prince Arthur, el­dest son of Henry VII, but he died af­ter only six months of mar­riage.

When Henry VIII be­came king in 1509, he promptly mar­ried Katharine, his brother’s widow. For much of their mar­riage, the re­la­tion­ship seems to have been good – they were mar­ried longer than all Henry’s later five mar­riages com­bined. Katharine was un­able to pro­duce a liv­ing male heir, some­thing Henry re­garded as es­sen­tial for the con­tin­u­a­tion of his dy­nasty. Only a daugh­ter, the fu­ture Queen Mary I, sur­vived in­fancy.

As was com­mon royal prac­tice, Henry had mis­tresses and il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren, but when Anne Bo­leyn ar­rived at court he be­came be­sot­ted with her. She re­fused to be­come a mis­tress, forc­ing Henry’s ‘Great Mat­ter’: that he could only have Anne if he could an­nul his mar­riage to Katharine. In 1527 Henry asked Pope Cle­ment to an­nul his mar­riage, but he was re­fused.

In 1532 Henry split from Rome, be­ing pro­claimed the Supreme head of the Church in Eng­land. In May 1533 his mar­riage to Katharine was an­nulled on the grounds of her pre-mar­riage to his brother be­ing against canon law. She was ex­iled from court, lat­terly to Kim­bolton Cas­tle, where she died on 7 Jan­uary 1536, most likely of can­cer. Katharine was buried with a royal fu­neral at Peter­bor­ough Abbey on 29 Jan­uary, as the near­est great church that be­fit­ted her sta­tus, whilst not bury­ing her in Lon­don where she was po­lit­i­cally em­bar­rass­ing.

Katharine’s tomb was van­dalised by Oliver Cromwell’s troops dur­ing the Civil War and later its mar­ble was re­moved in the 1700s for lin­ing the floor of the Dean’s sum­mer­house! The cur­rent memo­rial slab was in­stalled in 1895 af­ter a na­tional cam­paign for the ‘Katharines of Eng­land’ to all do­nate a penny for it.

There’s a pro­gramme of events to cel­e­brate Katharine’s life and times from 26th – 29th Jan­uary at Peter­bor­ough Cathe­dral and Peter­bor­ough Mu­seum. These in­clude a Royal Au­di­ence with ‘Henry VIII and Queen Katharine’, a Tu­dor liv­ing his­tory week­end and ex­hi­bi­tion, plus a talk by the broad­caster and his­to­rian Dr Suzan­nah Lip­scomb.

For more de­tails and tick­ets go to www.pe­ter­bor­ough­cathe­dral.org.uk

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