Cather­ine of Aragon

She’s been cast as a hu­mour­less Spanish har­ri­dan, but Cather­ine was highly pop­u­lar in Eng­land

BBC Earth (Asia) - - History -

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.

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