As the King’s Great Matter dragged on, Henry VIII hoped to wear down Catherine’s resolve by keeping her away from her daughter (though at some point it became more about punishing her…). Over the years they were separated, Catherine of Aragon wrote a number of letters to her daughter trying to help her come to terms with her father’s actions and navigate her way through the political quagmire that surrounded them both. This is a wonderful example of such a letter – and indeed, the advice turned out to be very long-lived. This was basically the playbook for how to keep your religion when the monarch disagrees – and Mary used it during her brother’s short reign. (It’s going to make for a poignant scene from The Boy King, where Mary unfolds the relic from her beloved mother to re-read the time-honored advice and resolves to follow it to the end…)
While the letter is not dated, Agnes Strickland conjectures that it was written at Bugden, about the middle of August 1533. This would have been right before Anne Boleyn was to take to her chamber for the birth of the heir that was expected to supplant Mary (Mary was to go with her, not something she wanted to do at all). It also would have been right before the time that the Pope would finally rule on the legality of Catherine and Henry’s marriage – and you can kind of hear that Catherine had advance knowledge of the ruling from the way she promises Mary that everything would work out well….it never would have occurred to her that Henry would ignore the threat of excommunication – Catherine could never understand how fully Henry had embraced his position as Supreme Head of the Church in England…
I heard such tidings this day, that I do perceive (if it be true), the time is very near when Almighty God will provide for you, and I am very glad of it; for I trust that he doth handle you with a good love. I beseech you agree to his pleasure with a merry (cheerful) heart, and be you sure that without fail he will not suffer you to perish if you beware to offend him.
I pray God that you, good daughter, offer yourself to him If any pangs come over you, shrive yourself, first make you clean; take heed of his commandments and keep them as near as he will give you grace to do, for there are you sure armed.
And if this lady do come to you as it is spoken, if she do bring you a letter from the king, I am sure in the self-same letter you will be commanded what to do. Answer with very few words, obeying the king your father in every thing – save only that you will not offend God, and lose your soul – and go no further with learning and disputation in the matter. And wheresoever and in whatsoever company you come, obey the king’s commandments, speak few words, and meddle nothing.
I will send you two books in Latin; one shall be De Vita Christi, with the declarations of the gospels; and the other, the epistles of St. Jerome, that he did write to Paula and Eustochium, and in them, I trust, you will see good things. Sometimes, for your recreation, use your virginals or lute, if you have any. But one thing I especially desire you, for the love you owe to God and until me – to keep your heart with a chaste mind, and your person from all ill and wanton company, not thinking or desiring of any husband, for Christ’s passion; neither determine yourself to any manner of living, until this troublesome time be past. For I do make you sure you shall see a very good end and better than you can desire.
I would God, good daughter, that you did know with how good a heart I write this letter unto you. I never did one with a better, for I perceive very well that God loveth you. I beseech him, of his goodness, to continue it. I think it best you keep your keys yourself, for whosoever it is shall be done as shall please them.
And now you shall begin, and by all likelihood I shall follow. I see not a rush by it for when they have done the utmost they can, then I am sure of amendment. I pray you recommend me unto my good lady of Salisbury, and pray her to have a good heart, for we never come to the kingdom of heaven but by troubles. Daughter, wheresoever you come, take no pain to send to me, for if I may, I will send to you.
By your loving mother,
Katharine the Quene
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