After Henry VIII rode away from Hampton Court Palace with Anne Boleyn and the rest of the court in June 1531, he never saw Catherine again. Instead, he had her installed in a series of castles and strictly limited who could visit her. By the end of 1535, Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys had not seen Catherine of Aragon for five years, though they corresponded frequently. When he heard in December that she had “fallen into her last sickness,” he immediately sought an audience with the King, hoping to get permission to visit Catherine so that she would have a friend around her when she died.
On December 30, the King finally saw Chapuys and learned that the end was indeed approaching for the woman who still referred to herself as his wife. Henry is reputed to have ignored the personal side of the news to focus on its political ramifications, specifically the fact that once she was gone, the Emperor would have no further cause for “interfering in English affairs.”
Still, he allowed Chapuys to go visit. He refused to extend the same courtesy to Mary, clinging to his insistence that mother and daughter would be reunited only after/if they acknowledged the King’s supremacy in religious matters. I wonder if Chapuys would have pointed out the irony in the situation, that Catherine could see her daughter only by declaring her a bastard, that Mary could see her mother only by admitting that she had whored with Henry for decades…or whether he would have kept his silence to avoid angering the King and have his hard-won permit revoked.
A bit of a postscript: Chapuys arrived at Kimbolton two days later, followed by Henry’s spies (to make sure no treachery was planned). Catherine was gratified and relieved (“Now I can die in your arms, not abandoned like one of the beasts,” she is reputed to have said). Several hours later, another visitor arrived: Lady Willoughby, formerly Maria de Salinas and one of Catherine’s most loyal ladies, had also heard about her condition. Maria lied about having a permit, and because Chapuys’ presence made her statement believable she was able to gain access to Catherine’s bedchamber – where she basically bolted herself in. Thankfully, Henry’s agents allowed her to stay with her mistress until the very end.
By the time she died, Catherine had spent a total of seventeen years of her life either hoping that Henry would marry her – or that he would abandon his view that they had never been married. Such a long time to be patient…
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