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April 2, 1502: Prince Arthur Dies

Catherine of Aragon, Aged Around 16, by Michel Sittow (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

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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April 2, 1502: Prince Arthur Dies
Published inOn This Day


  1. Very good article! I don’t know if the marriage was consummated. I am inclined to believe Catherine. However, didn’t it come out (when Henry was trying to prove their marriage was invalid) that Arthur had told one of his attendants the morning after his wedding night to bring him a drink because he had “spent the night in the midst of Spain” or something to that effect? Probably no more than bragging, but still an interesting fact!

  2. They did indeed trot out Arthur’s attendants to create an implication that the marriage been consummated – he not only said that he had been “in Spain”, he also said that “marriage is a thirsty business”! And while I am also inclined to believe Catherine, I believe she would have done whatever she needed to do to preserve the claims of her daughter. Also, her guilt would explain the deep religiosity she demonstrated in later years (she wore a hair shirt, like Thomas More)…

  3. I think that Katherine had remorse for the execution of the Earl of Warwick before her marriage to Arthur. She believed it was her fault. Years later, God punished her for this death. She could wear a hair shirt by the Warwick’s death. The marriage to Arthur had been stained with blood. And Thomas Moro condemned to the stake a reformists. Sorry, my english isn’t good.

    • Your English is just fine – and your argument is brilliant. I actually always wondered if the hair shirt might also be because she lied about the marriage being consummated…

  4. Thanks Janet, nice to meet you! Katherine was a great friend of Margaret Pole, the Earl of Warwick’s sister, and she wanted the marriage of her daughter Mary Tudor with Reginald Pole, son of Margaret. Katherine wanted to compensate the Plantagenets.

  5. Hi Teresa! Welcome! And Catherine of Aragon wasn’t the only one who wanted Mary to marry Reginald Pole….though she wanted it before it became treasonous!

  6. I think that Katherine wanted the union of the blood Tudor with the blood Plantagenet for to clear her conscience. Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon were responsible of the execution of Edwad Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, for the marriage of Arthur and Katherine. Kisses!

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