Catherine of Aragon
She’s been cast as a humourless Spanish harridan, but Catherine was highly popular in England
Bitter, conservative, graceless:
Henry’s first wife (married 1509–33) has often been portrayed as a foreign harridan, lecturing her erring husband about the loyalty he lacked. This is the picture painted by Protestant historians who disliked her deeply held traditional religious views.
But, today, Catherine enjoys a far more favourable press – one that reflects the adulatory views that many of her subjects held about a queen whom they loved to the end. When Henry abandoned Catherine (he had the marriage annulled), these subjects thought of her as a wronged woman, while Anne Boleyn, her younger, sexier, replacement, was “the goggle-eyed whore”. For most of the nearly 24-year marriage, Catherine was Henry’s beloved wife.
She is renowned for her Spanish background – but portraits show her as surprisingly blonde. Daughter of the powerful ‘warrior queen’ Isabella of Castile, and given a royal education, Catherine was by far the best-qualified of Henry’s wives to be queen. He trusted her to rule as regent when he was fighting in France. In fact, when Catherine’s army defeated the Scots at the battle of Flodden in 1513, she was in danger of out-shining her husband.
Even her much-mentioned infertility has been overplayed: she conceived six times, but five children died (she was mother of the future Mary I). No longer seen as an inflexible foreigner, Catherine is a figure to admire.