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September 8, 1505 – Catherine of Aragon Writes to Her Father

Portrait of a young Catherine (c.1500-1505) by Michael Sittow (though there has been an argument made that this is actually Mary Tudor…)

I love Catherine’s letters. This is a great one, especially for what it says about her…

Let’s just situate ourselves a moment, understand what was going on when she wrote it. Prince Arthur had died in April 1502, leaving Catherine a widow. England and Spain decided that Catherine should marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry (anything to avoid refunding the dowry!), and a papal dispensation was secured to allow it (fun fact: a papal dispensation was only needed for the “impediment of public honesty” if the marriage had not been consummated as Catherine claimed, but Henry VII and Ferdinand set out instead to obtain a dispensation for “affinity”, which took account of the possibility of consummation… a precaution which later was used to bolster Henry VIII’s claims that the Pope could not contravene God’s word).  Henry VII was definitely dragging his feet – the marriage of Arthur and Catherine had already given the Tudors the legitimacy they wanted so he was looking around to see if he could make a better deal. When Elizabeth of York died in February 1503, he even proposed marrying Catherine himself. After that idea was firmly discarded, it looked like Henry was prepared to go ahead but then Isabella of Castille died in November 1504 and Ferdinand of Aragon lost a lot of his bargaining strength (Castile was a much larger kingdom than Aragon, and it was inherited by Catherine’s elder sister, Joanna, mother to Charles V).  Henry VII bought himself time by agreeing that the wedding would take place in June 1505, right after the young Prince Henry turned 14…but then had the boy formally reject the marriage. This was three months after that event – but still four years before Catherine’s patience and trust were rewarded when Henry VII died in 1509. So this was written less than halfway through her long ordeal.

Catherine spent seven years waiting to marry Henry – and then seven years waiting for him to abandon his idea of marrying Anne Boleyn (wild parallel that has always blown me away). During both of those stretches, Catherine just calmly kept doing what she knew to be right, confident in her inevitable triumph – in this world or the next. This letter reveals that Catherine, asking for favors for others and not herself. And signing herself Princess of Wales as she would one day sign herself Catherine the Queen (another amazing letter).

Most high and puissant lord,

It is known to your highness how donna Maria de Salazar was lady to the queen my lady, who is in blessed glory, and how her highness sent her to come with me; and in addition to the service which she did to her highness, she has served me well, and in all this has done as a worthy woman. Wherefore I supplicate your highness that, as well on account of the one service as the other, you would command her to be paid, since I have nothing wherewith to pay her, and also because her sister the wife of Monsieur d’Aymeria, has in view for her a marriage in Flanders, of which she cannot avail herself, nor hope that it can be accomplished, without knowing what the said donna Maria has for a marriage portion.

And thus I myself supplicate your highness to command her to be favored, that she may recover that which her father captain Salazar gave her, and that which belonged to her of her property. And in reference to a privilege which your highness did the favour to grant to captain Salazar of two hundred milreas as a pension for him, and after his days for this his daughter, that your highness would command entire justice to be observed toward her and, because I wished it, would send a power to Martin Sanchez de Camudio to recover all that belonged to her. Therefore I supplicate your highness that you will send to command him, because he is near the house of her father, and may be able to negotiate it well. In all that which has been said your highness will do me most signal favour, and in causing it to be done quickly, in order that donna Maria de Salazar may not lose this mariage, which is most good and honorable. Our Lord guard the life and most royal estate of your highness, and increase it as I desire.

From Durham, the eighth of September.

The humble servant of your highness, who kisses your hands,

The Princess of Wales

Mary Anne Everett Green – Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain: From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary, Volume 1

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Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches

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