Friday, January 8, 2010

Death of Katherine the Queen

January 7 marked the anniversary of the death of Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England. Here is a moving account of her passing, including her last letter to her husband Henry VIII. (Via Richard)

My most dear lord, king and husband,

the hour of my dear 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 to 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 to them, and a year or more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

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21 comments:

SF said...

Knowing what she endured, this is an extraordinary love letter.
What a beautiful soul.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, she was a saint. And a woman who loved her man.

Matterhorn said...

I was very touched to see that Claire remembered her...a lovely tribute.

Stephanie A. Mann said...

The man she loved celebrated her death at Court with feasting and joy! One irony is that her death hastened the fall of Anne Boleyn (and miscarriage of a son): with Catherine dead and Anne failing, it was pretty simple for Henry to get rid of Anne.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is a lovely tribute, Matterhorn. Yes, Stephanie, there he was feasting in his yellow suit. My but didn't he begin to physically go down hill around that time.

Gareth Russell said...

The yellow was a sign of mourning; it was the official colour of mourning for members of the Spanish Royal Family, in much the same way as white or violet was for the French Royal House at the same time. The English government was rigorous in following proprieties, and so the yellow mourning was donned to stress the fact that they believed Katherine had died a Dowager Princess of Wales, a widowed member of the Spanish royal house in England. That was the intention behind the yellow, although nowadays most people interpret it as a sign of garish joy since that is the emotion we now most commonly associate with yellow. The feast, which Alison Weir incorrectly describes as a "magnificent ball," was in fact a State Dinner, the only official event that week at the Court and there was no dancing. The Spanish Ambassador, so devoted to Katherine's interests, did not censure the King for the etiquette observed at Court in the wake of Katherine's death, only for his tasteless remark of 'God be praised!' when he had heard the news of her passing.

I don't know if posting a link is acceptable, so if it isn't, please feel free to delete it from this comment Elena-Maria, but I usually do an "On This Day" post for Theodore Harvey's monarchist website. It's a lot of fun to do, especially picking the pictures! And this is the link for yesterday's, which contains an account of Katherine of Aragon's death.
(http://royalcello.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=2569440&trail=525#512)

Personally, Katherine is not my favourite of Henry's wives. I am much more pro-Boleyn and I find it difficult to consider her as selfless as others do, considering that despite her considerable and commendable piety she continued to hold onto her title even when it became clear by 1530 that in doing so she was facilitating an impending schism with Rome. Undoubtedly, she believed in her marriage and her right to the queenship, but for me personally, it's difficult to see how the greatest act of courage of this brave lady couldn't have been to fall on her own sword to save the Church. However, it's a difficult situation and an emotional one, and I wouldn't like to judge someone too much who was undoubtedly far braver than I, or, indeed, most people.

elena maria vidal said...

Gareth, thank you, that deepens for me the significance of Henry parading about in yellow! As for Katherine, she felt that to go along with the annulment would be to tell a lie. It would have been much easier for her if she had gone along with it, since she was deprived of her daughter. But Katherine was taught that one should not commit a mortal sin even to save the whole world. In being faithful, she was one of the many victims of Anne's lust for power and Henry's lust for Anne.

MadMonarchist said...

Easily my favorite of Henry's queens and one of my very favorite queens consort in general -I would echo the sentiments of St Thomas More regarding Queen Katherine, I don't remember the quote exactly but I'm sure most everyone here knows the one. As the good book says, the highest marks are given to those who return good for evil, who are loyal to the harsh as well as the good and gentle and Queen Katherine is certainly an example of that regarding her husband.

Christine Trent said...

I've always viewed Katherine as the bravest of Henry's wives, in that she held on for so long (until her death!) to her conviction that she was Henry's true and rightful wife. Had she given up earlier, Henry might have given her a nice house, lands, etc.

Instead, dare I say, she martyred herself for what she genuinely believed.

I realize some historians think that Katherine knew she was not pure when she came to the marriage with Henry, and therefore was playing a game with him. However, I think back to the 12 apostles and their suffering. Few people are willing to risk death for something the *know* is a lie.

Julygirl said...

By the way Henry VIII conducted himself, it was inevitable that he would create a schism between the Crown of England and the Church of Rome if not sooner than it would have come later.

Muse in the Fog said...

Such a sad life. What a woman, so brave and faithful.

http://muse-in-the-fog.blogspot.com/

elena maria vidal said...

Very true, Christine! I agree with you all and thank you, Muse, for visiting. Your blog is lovely!

Elena said...

She is my favorite of Henry's queens as well.

elena maria vidal said...

She certainly is mine.

Christina said...

She had so much true nobility, and such a strong character. I agree with others above, she is my favorite of Henry's queens. (Although I've always sympathized with poor Anne of Cleves, I thought she got off rather better than most of Henry's wives, being able to keep her head!)

A shame that Henry was so desperate for a male heir, that he was willing to destroy his poor Queen, and sever England's bond with the Church.

elena maria vidal said...

So true. And he ended up with a female ruler anyway.

Gareth Russell said...

I would have to respectfully disagree, however, with Julygirl's assessment that even with or without Katherine's actions and the rise of Anne Boleyn, the schism and Reformation in England would have happened anyway.

England was not a naturally Protestant nation, anymore than Henry himself was a Protestant by conviction. Indeed, the Church of England by the time of Henry's death in 1547 bore almost no relation either to the Protestant Anglican Communion today, or even the Church of England has established in the reigns of either his son or his youngest daughter. Moreover, in the early years of his reign Henry had written works in such fulsome praise of Papal authority that even Sir Thomas More suggested he tone down the polemic.

By the time of England's Break with Rome in 1532/1533, the Protestant religion was not yet twenty years old and it had yet to develop much of what we would associate with Protestantism in succeeding centuries. It's difficult to see how the Break with Rome was going to happen one way or the other considering the emotional heartache and political headache it was to cause for Henry's government, not to mention the theological instability of the new learning. The entire religious situation in the 1520s and 1530s in England is a good deal more complex, confusing and perpetualyl changing than most people give it credit for - we would surprised, for example, to discover what the actual religious beliefs were of many who we now categorise as "Protestant" or "Catholic."

My own feelings on Katherine of Aragon, as I say, are ambivalent and they did shift several years ago when I was reading the correspondence of those involved in the Great Divorce. I had never realised that Pope Clement VII begged Katherine, through his legate Cardinal Campeggio, to step aside and enter a nunnery in order to ease the Vatican's dilemma and ensuring that if she stepped aside, her daughter could retain her legitimacy under the "good faith" clause of Canon Law. Katherine refused the Pontiff's plea, saying instead that she felt no cause for the religious life, even if the Holy Father was suggesting it to her. It's this incident more than any other that leads me to consider Katherine brave, certainly, but, respectfully, not a martyr or a saint.

elena maria vidal said...

Gareth dear, even the Pope cannot order someone to go against their conscience, if it is a properly informed conscience. Katherine had a well-formed conscience. She had had a pious upbringing and years of solid spiritual direction. She was friends with Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More (who both found that they could not go against their consciences either.) Furthermore, if someone does not have a vocation to the religious life, and they know themselves well enough to know that they don't, then BELIEVE ME, they need to stay away. Katherine was not going to abuse the religious life by pretending she had a vocation when she did not. She had to answer to God, just like everyone else.

And it was one thing for Henry to split with the Church in order to marry Anne. It was another thing to seal the schism by pillaging monasteries and murdering people. From what I understand, even Anne was disgusted by the way the monastic houses were ravished.

elena maria vidal said...

And of course, as you say Gareth, the Holy Father did not give Katherine an order but merely made a suggestion to her. There are cases where wayward women were ordered to convents for their reformation, but Katherine was not a wayward woman. If anyone should have been ordered to a convent, it should have been Anne.

Gareth Russell said...

Well, I would have to disagree with the suggestion Anne needed banishing to a convent for her actions. Whatever one might think of her role with hindsight, there's no doubt that in the early 1530s she was surrounded by an intoxicating and heady environment in which dozens of reformist refugees were insisting that she was "God's Nymph," the new Deborah or Esther. It was a providentialist age; given everything that was happening around her, it's little wonder that Anne came to believe that this was destiny. There's a fascinating letter from a Venetian diplomat from 1530 where he describes Anne's utter conviction of purpose. There's also absolutely no evidence that she was promiscuous prior to her marriage, or, indeed, after. Any evidence put forward relies purely on usually hostile, occasionally pornagraphic, imaginations better suited to the Boccaccio's Decameron. Alison Weir's lone voice attempting to rehabilitate the milder versions of these stories amongst serious historians just aren't convincing. One cannot suggest, as Weir does, that Anne was a figure of cold and clever ambition, but then insist that she was also promiscuous. It didn't work that way for aristocratic girls in the 16th century; one cannot be ambitious and promiscuous. One had got to give; absolutely no material advantage could be brought by sacrificing one's honour outside of marriage. To paraphrase a later French nobleman's rather salty assessment of Anne of Austria: Anne's morals from the waist down were unimpeachable, it was up to you what you made of them from the waist up.

Personally, I think that if we are to allow religious education and knowledge, as well as genuine conviction, to be the basis of an informed conscience for Katherine of Aragon, then, in justice, the same must standards would apply for Anne Boleyn. Her own sense of Christianity undoubtedly led her to believe that what she was doing was right.

But, as you say, the pillaging and butchering of the late 1530s is an absolute abhorrence and Anne was horrified by it. It is interesting to hypothesise what she would have done or how her religious sympathies would have evolved had she lived beyond 1536, but at Easter she did instruct her favourite orator, Father John Skip, to preach on the story of Haman and Esther, in which Thomas Cromwell was cast as Haman, pillaging, robbing and persecuting the people of God. This, coupled with her lifelong belief in Purgatory, Transubstantiation, the efficacy of good deeds and the intercession of the Virgin would suggest that apart from the issue of Papal Authority, the heresy trials and Biblical translation, her quarrel with medieval Catholicism did not run anywhere near as deep as is traditionally suggested.

elena maria vidal said...

As we have said before, Anne was basically a Catholic at heart. And she had people like Cranmer telling her that what she was doing (stealing another woman's husband) was alright. But the point is that there was no good reason to declare the marriage of Henry and Katherine null and void according to Church teaching. It had been consummated and blessed with offspring. Neither spouse was insane (although I have often wondered about Henry.) They had been given the proper dispensations for consanguinity and all that. Princess Mary could have inherited the throne. Henry wanted to sleep with Anne and that is the bottom line. The annulment was never given and so the "marriage" of Henry and Anne was both illicit and invalid. That Katherine refused to call herself the Dowager Princess of Wales, even under duress, speaks of her moral fiber and strong convictions.