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Friday, April 9, 2010

Katherine of Aragon, The Good and Humiliated Queen

So, how did Katherine feel about Henry's bad behavior? Though she kept quiet and remained dignified, we can only assume that she was deeply hurt and saddened by Henry's casting off of her as his wife. In 1533 he declared himself head of the Church of England, nullified his marriage to Catherine, made his daughter Mary illegitimate, and changed Catherine's title from "Queen of England" to "Dowager Princess of Wales. Katherine refused to acknowledge this title, and until the day she died she signed her letters "Katherine the Queen."

Katherine must have been devastated, for obviously she adored her husband. Having once been put in the situation of having my husband say he wanted a divorce I know that Katherine must have felt fear, pain, and revulsion. She said as much in a letter to her nephew Charles V in a letter she wrote to him in 1531. Her letter stated that "My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the king's wicked intention, the surprises which the king gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine." Maria Doyle Kennedy's reaction to Henry VIII's announcement that their marriage is no longer valid in "The Tudors" is much how I believe poor Katherine would have reacted. She falls to her knees in disbelief and shock.

Katherine truly believed though that she would be saved by the fact that Henry took his divorce suit before a court of papal legates after petitioning the pope, who was being held hostage by Katherine's nephew Charles V. She knew that their marriage would stand up under church scrutiny, and indeed she was right. The court refused to grant the divorce. But this is not the remarkable part, the remarkable part of the court proceeding was Katherine herself who walked into court, walked up to Henry and knelt and said: "Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, let me have justice and right, take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger, born out of your dominion. I have here no friend and much less indifferent counsel. I flee to you, as to the head of justice within this realm . . . I take God and all the world to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure . . . being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance . . . I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This 20 years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them from this world, which hath been no default in me. . . And when ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether this be true or no, I put it to your conscience . . . Therefore, I humbly require you to spare me the extremity of this new court . . . And if ye will not, to God I commit my cause". She then turned and walked out of court, ignoring the calls of the clerics to come back, ever the royal woman.

Perhaps the cruelest thing Henry did to Katherine however was deny her the right to see their daughter Mary. As a mother I can't imagine spending years without seeing or speaking to my child. How Katherine's heart must have broken as she yearned to see her only surviving child. After the pain and loss of so many babies, to be denied the joy of being a parent in her last years must have been more painful to bare than any other aspect of her "divorce." How she must have yearned to embrace her child one last time. How she must have worried for her future and feared that she would be harmed by the Boleyn faction. A hole of this magnitude in my heart would have debilitated me, and perhaps, in the end, grief is some of what contributed to her death. She died on January 7, 1536 at the age of 50.

Her last letter to Henry on her deathbed reads as follows:
My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.

Mine eyes desire you above all things, such words of love for a husband who had treated her so horribly.


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