Posts Tagged ‘Catherine of Aragon’

Prince Arthur: Oldest son of King Henry VII. Died aged 15 in 1502

Prince Arthur: Oldest son of King Henry VII. Died aged 15 in 1502

Despite overthrowing Richard III in battle, Henry’s claim to the throne was weak, and he was surrounded by pretenders to the throne.  Henry’s first action was to declare himself King, and to state that his reign began before the Battle of Bosworth field.  This meant that all challenges to his supremacy since then – including that of Richard III, were to be counted as treason.


Catherine of Aragon

Henry VII consolidates his postition

In order to secure his position internationally he made a treaty with France, and recognised the new county of Spain in arranging for his son Arthur Tudor to marry Catherine of Aragon.  Arthur died in an epidemic in 1502, and Henry’s wife, Elizabeth of York, died a year later in childbirth.  Henry tried to maintain the relationship between England and Spain by obtaining a Papal dispensation for his son, who would become Henry VIII, to marry Catherine in Arthur’s place.  It was not normally permitted for a man to marry his brother’s widow.  People said that the  blow of losing his son and wife in quick succession led Henry to die of a broken heart.

Henry VIII


Henry VIII became king as the only surviving male heir of Henry VII, despite being one of six siblings.  Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon at only 17 years old.  Henry married Catherine on 11 June 1509, and on 24 June 1509, the two were crowned at Westminster Abbey.  By today’s standards this seems very young – both for marriage and kingship, however only two days after his coronation, Henry had two of his father’s ministers arrested on groundless charges of high treason and executed. This was to become Henry’s primary tactic for dealing with those who stood in his way.

It is sometimes very difficult to unravel human behaviour in our everyday lives let alone in the lives of those who lived hundreds of years ago; to work out why someone develops a particular character.  It seems that from the very outset Henry VIII was a ruthless monarch; but set against the background of relentless wars, rivalry, plots, threats from within and from overseas powers it seems difficult to see how this could have been otherwise?

Westminster Abbey: picture by René Ehrhardt on Flickr (Click image)

Westminster Abbey: picture by René Ehrhardt on Flickr (Click image)


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Today we would like to introduce our first ever guest poster on Tudor Stuff – Jill Hamilton from Charlottetown in Canada.  Jill wants us to re-think our views on Henry VIII…

Not that many college-age kids give a flying cod piece but this year marks the 500th anniversary of the coronation of English king Henry VIII.

I know. Exciting stuff. You can barely withstand your exhilaration, I can tell.

I happen to be a long-time fan of Henry Tudor and his various achievements. He’s best-known for being a turkey leg-eating, wife-beheading womanizer who was a strict Catholic one minute and an anti-papal bad boy the next.

But despite his bad reputation, some historians want King Harry to be bestowed with the title of “Henry The Great” (and not just because of his size). And what better time to give Henry the title than this?

But what’s so “great” about this guy anyway? He’s been dead for, like, a million years. Why is his story still relevant?

(Actually, he’s only been dead for about 460 years, but I digress.)

henry8england-50pc-smallerHenry had his faults, especially when he was older. But compared to his royal contemporaries, he was a chivalrous romantic, inspired by whimsical tales of King Arthur and his court.

He divorced his first wife, a Spanish princess, to marry someone he was in love with, something that no other English king had ever done. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was executed on charges of adultery that were almost certainly false.

His third wife died in childbirth and his fourth wife, a German princess, agreed to a divorce and lived wealthy for the rest of her life. Henry’s fifth wife, a 16-year-old, was executed for adultery (but at least this time, the charges weren’t so fake).

His son, Edward VI, died of tuberculosis when he was a teenager. His daughter Mary burnt hundreds of Protestants and earned the title ” Bloody Mary”. However, his daughter by Boleyn, Elizabeth I, is known as one of the greatest monarchs in history.

One of Elizabeth’s greatest victories was the defeat of the Spanish Armada. It was her father who poured so much money into the impressive English navy.

Henry VIII was able to divorce his wives because he (and his councillors, many of whom helped Henry along his path to greatness) simply changed the law.

He was born a Catholic but rejected the Pope’s wishes, named himself Head of the Church of England, divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn.

I don’t know about you, but risking purgatory so you can marry the woman you love is a bit romantic, isn’t it?

Henry continued searching for the perfect queen until a few years before his death, a wife who would deliver him a healthy son who would carry on the Tudor family tree. His final wife, Katherine Parr, acted as nurse and companion when Henry was bed-ridden and far too ill to conceive.

Henry VIII died in 1547. During his life, he was a patron of the arts and the first English monarch to authorize an English-language Bible. By separating England from the power of Rome, Henry instilled a sense of identity and pride in his people.

He may not have been the perfect ruler, it’s true. But any fan of English history can tell you there’s no such thing and no such person.

If Henry was anything, he was one of the more human of all the English monarchs. And definitely one of the most interesting.

And for that reason, he deserves to be called “Henry The Great”

Check out Jills blog – she also wanted us to remind you to check out the “I love Tudor history” Facebook group

St Georges Chapel Windsor - Henrys burial place.

Courtesy of Simbolism on Flickr (Click picture) St Georges Chapel Windsor - Henry's burial place.


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On my first Sonne

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.

Ben Jonson

In most modern societies childbirth and childhood are considered to be joyful parts of family life. It is very easy to forget that people once had cause to view things much differently. In Tudor times childbirth was a hazardous time for mother and child whilst infant mortality was high. Ben Jonson’s well known and touching lament (above) on the death of his son Benjamin who died in 1603 reminds us of the grief that was all too commonly experienced. Shakespeare too lost a son, Hamnet who died aged 11 in 1596. It is hard to imagine that the following verse from the play King John does not contain an insight into Shakespeare’s own feelings.

Childbirth was a dangerous time and contemporary medical science and midwifery was ill equipped to deal with complications. It is well known that Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour died of complications following the birth of Edward VI in 1537. Catherine of Aragon was pregnant on seven occasions, every child but her daughter Mary died either in or shortly after birth.

Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon

Because of the risks, children were baptised quickly as it was commonly believed that children who died without christening might be condemned to eternal damnation. There is a suggestion that christening came to be associated with superstitious beliefs. In Keith Thomas’ book Religion and the decline of magic he describes how the idea that children ‘came on better’ once christened in some places survived into the 20th century. The religious character of the midwife was also important because she would have to baptise the baby if there was a danger of it dying before it could be baptised.

In modern times we have mostly come to associate death with elderly people but for our Tudor ancestors it was something that confronted all ages far more commonly. Some estimates suggest that between a third and a half of children did not survive past the age of 5 years old. Life expectancy for most people was around 35 years and a person reaching their 40’s was considered to be aged.

Although Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s writing serves to give us an idea how people must have felt when facing the prospect of death and disease it is still hard to imagine how people coped. In Keith Thomas’ book he describes how ordinary people developed a fatalistic attitude towards life. Parents were slower to recognise their children as individuals whilst husbands and wives accepted that they might have to marry again should their partner die. Apparently, middle class observers were shocked at the resigned attitude that ordinary people adopted towards their and their families fate. Would Ben Jonson or Shakespeare’s writing about loss and grief would have been different had they lived in less privileged circumstances?

See also free Podcast ‘Mortality & morbidity in early modern Europe”  by Assistant Professor Brian Els from University of Portland ( iTunes link)


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