Less than a week ago, I posted about the anniversary of the betrothal of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon. Almost exactly thirteen years later, everything changed when Arthur died suddenly, leaving Catherine a sixteen-year-old widow.
The initial plan was to have Catherine marry Henry Tudor, Arthur’s younger brother. That would preserve the important alliance, it would simplify payment of the dowry. The issue of canon law prohibiting a man marrying his brother’s wife was not as formidable as it might have been – the Pope quickly granted a dispensation for the marriage to proceed even if it had “perhaps” been consummated (though Catherine always claimed that it had not been). More important impediments were encountered when Catherine’s mother, Isabella of Castille, died. Her kingdom, a much larger one than her husband Ferdinand’s Aragon, was inherited by their oldest daughter Juana. Spain was now a splintered power, and Catherine’s value as a bride was significantly decreased. For the next seven years she waited for Henry VII to permit the marriage to proceed – but he never did. It was Henry VIII who made the decision to marry her – which he did within two months of acceding to the throne.
That should have settled everything. But twenty years later, the question of her first marriage arose again. Henry claimed that her five month marriage to Arthur must have been consummated, since God had denied them a son and heir. Henry VIII was convinced that the initial papal dispensation must have been invalid, that he must be free to remarry. But by this time the Spanish kingdom had been reunited in Charles V, whose armies surrounded the Pope and effectively controlled him. Catherine endured another seven year stretch of waiting to find out whether she was indeed to be confirmed as Henry’s lawful wife. Although the Pope finally ruled in her favor, Henry ignored him and founded the Church of England to decide the matter locally.
Did she or didn’t she? Right before she died, Catherine swore on the Eucharist that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated, in the hope of finally settling the issue once and for all. At that point, though, it’s not like Henry cared…
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