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Queen Katherine of England

Queen Katherine of England, played an important role at the Field of Cloth of Gold, she hosted King Francis I at banquets and dances and appeared next to his wife Queen Claude. Read more about this extraordinary woman.

A painting of a woman wearing an ornate headdress and jewelry

Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the first wife of Henry VIII (and a survivor of this union), is probably most famous for unsuspectingly bringing about the separation of the Catholic church from the state, religious reformation in England and eventually the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. However, whilst she is largely remembered for being unable to produce a male heir for the Tudor dynasty, most people forget that she and Henry were married for 24 years, much of it quite happily. Katherine was very well educated, beloved by her people, and talented in her role as queen, acting as regent in 1513, with the title of Governor of the Realm and Captain General, whilst Henry made war in France.

Queen Katherine in public

Born in 1485 as the youngest child of Ferdinand I of Aragon and Isabela I of Castile, Katherine was soon groomed for her life in politics. The young princess received an elite education including philosophy, embroidery and became literate in Latin and French and in 1501 was married to Prince Arthur, the son of Henry VII and heir to the English throne.

Unfortunately, only one year later in 1502 Arthur died leaving Katherine a widow at just sixteen. After a feud between Spain and England over Katherine’s dowry, during which time Katherine became the first female ambassador in European history, she married Arthur’s brother, Henry VIII, in 1509. Henry was a young monarch with grand ambitions and an education and intellect to match, the two became a true renaissance couple.

Just three years into her marriage with Henry, Katherine served as regent of England while he campaigned in France from 1512-1514. Henry and a pregnant Katherine rode from London to Dover at the head of 11,000 men. Henry officially named Katherine regent at Dover Castle upon his departure and named William Warham (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Thomas Howard (Earl of Surrey) her advisors.

By July 1513 the Scots were planning an attack on England, likely assuming they could easily defeat England with Henry away in France. On the 22nd August 1513 Scottish King James IV had an army of 80,000 men that crossed the border to England, presenting Katherine with her first major responsibility as regent. A clear demonstration of Katherine’s power and political clout came that year in September when Katherine travelled north, making a rousing speech to the troops, urging them to fight for England’s just cause against the Scots. However, in light of the English victory against the Scots at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September, a particularly bloody battle where ten thousand Scottish soldiers and their King, James IV perished, no further battles were fought.

After the battle the Queen was sent the Scottish banner and the coat in which James had died as trophies by her advisor the Earl of Surrey who won the victory.

Unfortunately, Katherine’s involvement at the battle of Flodden exhausted her and caused the premature birth of her son, who would shortly pass away.

Having originally counselled Henry VIII against an alliance with Francis I, it is testament to her character and diplomatic skills that she would play an important role in the peace and reconciliation between the two nations at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Katherine used her status as Queen and skills as a diplomat to good use through the event hosting dignitaries, dances and theatrical entertainments and individually hosting the French King Francis I in the French camp for a lavish banquet. She also appeared side by side with French Queen Claude de France, signifying the new union between the countries.

Before the summit had even begun, Katherine demonstrated her political skill and diplomatic savvy. On the journey there when the Royal entourage stopped at Canterbury, they hosted a banquet for the new Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, a key player in European politics and Katherine’s nephew. Again she put her hosting skills to use however this meeting would later cause tension between Henry VIII and Francis I.

Unfortunately, as with most medieval Queens, often their successes, skills and politically ability are overlooked and their success is measured by their ability to bear children and produce heirs and spares for the king, securing the of their dynasty. Katherine actually gave birth to six children, but only one child, the future Mary Tudor, survived to adulthood. Only having a daughter was problematic for Henry VIII which triggered his desire for a divorce.

In 1527 the king requested a divorce from Pope Clement VII on the grounds that his marriage to Katherine was not valid due to her previous marriage to his brother. Katherine refuted this claim standing by the fact that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, so was not valid under the eyes of the Catholic church. Pope Clement VII was also reluctant to dissolve Katherine’s marriage as her nephew was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, so did not want to cause any tension. However, this eventually led to the separation of the church from state as a result of Henry’s pursuit of a marriage to another woman. In 1533 Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn in a ceremony performed by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury.

The king made several attempts to force Katherine to go along with the annulment, including separating her from their daughter Mary. However, Katherine never acknowledged the legitimacy of the annulment of her own marriage, or the legitimacy of Henry’s second marriage. This resulted in consequences for Mary’s future. Their daughter had previously been named sole heir to the throne of England. Although, soon after Anne Boleyn gave birth to their first daughter, Elizabeth, Mary was illegitimated with Elizabeth becoming the new heir to the throne.

Katherine still saw herself as queen of England, so refused to give her crown to jewels to Anne Boleyn after she was asked. Katherine remained separated from her daughter on Henry’s orders until her death at the age of 50. Katherine died at Kimbolton Castle in Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, England 1536, and is currently buried at Peterborough Cathedral.



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