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Catherine of Aragon

Catherine or Katherine of Aragon, in Spanish Catarina de Aragón, (December 16, 1485 - January 7, 1536) was Henry VIII's first wife. She was the youngest child of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile and, as a great-great-great-granddaughter of Edward III of England, a third cousin of both Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York.

She first married Arthur Tudor, the son of Henry VII of England, in 1501. As Prince of Wales, Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castle on the borders of Wales, to preside over the Council of Wales, and Catherine accompanied him. A few months later, both of them fell prey to an infection which was sweeping the area. Catherine herself nearly died; she recovered to find herself a widow. Catherine testified that, because of the couple's youth, the marriage had not been consummated; the Pope then issued a dispensation, so that Catherine could become betrothed to Arthur's younger brother, the future Henry VIII. However, she was kept in suspense for some years, while it looked as though the king was having second thoughts about an alliance between England and Spain. The marriage did not take place until after Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509. Both as Princess of Wales and as Queen, Catherine was extremely popular with the people.

Henry VIII supposedly married Catherine of Aragon at his father's dying wish and was happily-enough married to her (but not faithful to her) for 18 years, until he became seriously worried about getting a male heir to his throne as she approached menopause. Her first child was stillborn in 1510. Prince Henry was born in 1511 but died after 52 days. Catherine then had a miscarriage, followed by another short-lived son. In February 1516, she gave birth to a daughter named Mary (later Queen Mary I of England). There was another miscarriage in 1518.

Henry had kept a succession of mistresses in the later years of his marriage. Because of the lack of heirs, he began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from two verses of the biblical Book of Leviticus, which said that, if a man marries his brother's wife, the couple will be childless. He chose to believe that Catherine had lied when she said her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated , therefore making their marriage wrong in the eyes of God. After Henry secretly married one of Catherine's former ladies-in-waiting (and sister of one of his former mistresses), Anne Boleyn, he arranged a special act of Parliament to annul his marriage to Catherine on May 23, 1933. But this divorce was still seen as illegal in the eyes of the Church so in March 1534 Henry demanded that Pope Clement VII issue a divorce. The Pope refused for a number of reasons, including the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor, who was Catherine's nephew, held power over the papacy.

The Pope's refusal to annul the marriage contributed to the Reformation of the English church and the eventual establishment of the Church of England, a break from the Roman Catholic Church. Catherine refused to acknowledge the divorce and took the issue to the law, but she lost and was forced to leave the Royal Court. She was separated from her daughter (who was declared illegitimate) and was sent to live in remote castles and in humble conditions, in the hope that she would surrender to the inevitable; but she never accepted the divorce and signed her last letter, "Catherine the Queen". By this time, she was aware that Henry's marriage to Anne was turning sour, and she had not ceased to hope that he might one day return to her.

Catherine died of a form of cancer, at Kimbolton Castle, in 1536 and was buried at Peterborough Cathedral with the ceremony due to a Princess Dowager of Wales, not a Queen. Henry did not attend the funeral, nor did he allow Princess Mary to do so.

Wives of Henry VIII Next:
Anne Boleyn

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