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Catherine of Aragon:

Henry’s Spanish Queen Giles Tremlett FABER AND FABER, 458PP, £20 ■Tablet Bookshop price £18

P 01420 592974

ity poor Catherine – Catalina among her own folk – snatched from the fountains and pome- granates of Granada, aged 15, to

voyage through storms to marry the sickly heir to the English crown. She exchanged the 200 minarets of the capital of the newly conquered Moorish kingdom for the 100 steeples of London, the city with the most churches in Europe. There, in huge old St Paul’s, she married Arthur, the 15-year-old son of Henry VII. There had been a regular exchange of princesses between England and Spain in the Middle Ages, with Catherine’s English great- grandmother, Catherine of Lancaster, being shipped out at the age of 16 to marry the King of Spain’s nine-year-old son, who succeeded to the throne within two years. Catherine of Aragon’s story, as atmospher- ically told by Giles Tremlett, was different, for after a chill winter in soggy Ludlow, her adolescent husband died of the sweating sick- ness. Catherine was left, not exactly alone, since she had brought a household of more than 50, but caught up in those intrigues that Renaissance courts specialised in tangling to a fine degree of treachery. She was isolated, for, although she had known since the age of 12 that she would marry an Englishman, no one had thought to teach her English. (She had, though, been advised to learn to drink wine, since English water was reputed to be undrinkable.) Her conversation with Arthur had been in Latin, for, like all the daughters of Isabella of Castile, she was educated in the new humanist mould. This strain of humanism, evident in England too, was not at odds with pious and orthodox Catholic belief. Indeed, modern readers find it strange that the hammer of the Moors, Cardinal Jiménez, was also the sponsor of the great Complutensian Polyglot Bible, which Archbishop Cranmer was to purchase. Mass was a daily, if formalised, part of court

Michael Sittow’s portrait of Catherine of Aragon as a widow. ‘Her intransigence brought her to an heroic end’

life in London as in Granada. Just as com- mitted to orthodoxy was Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, who had danced, so bravely for a 10-year-old, at Catherine’s wedding. After the false alarm of a scheme by which the widowed Henry VII might have wed his dead son’s wife (he was game for anything, even being charmed by Catherine’s mad sister Joan when she visited Windsor), it was decided, by international treaty and much haggling over dowry, that Catherine would marry young Henry, the heir apparent. Their wedding was solemnised on 11 June 1509, in the chapel royal, seven weeks after Henry VIII was proclaimed king. She was to be his wife for longer than all the next five wives put together. On 1 January 1511, she bore Henry a son and heir, Henry too. The proud father set off on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham in gratitude. Much of the narrative tension in this com- pelling biography comes from the future for Catherine that readers know lay ahead. Their son died aged six weeks. Another son was stillborn. Henry’s growing appetite for an heir brought him to irreconcilable enmity with the Pope, and nudged England into the Reformation. In a way it all turned on whether Catherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. She said it had not been. Henry insisted it had, and therefore he could not marry his brother’s widow, against the law of God. Yet there had been a careful papal dispensation allowing Henry’s marriage, even if perhaps (as Giles Tremlett notes) the marriage had been consummated. Henry wanted it both ways: an annulment from the present Pope, but no dispensation from a previous Pope.

Catherine became the focus of opposition to the king’s business of an annulment (called a divorce in the language of the time). From a religious, not a political viewpoint (if the two could be separated), Catherine was on the side of the saints. Those martyred for prin- ciples connected with her cause included not just Thomas More and John Fisher, but also the Carthusians killed by Henry and some Observant Franciscans, who had been trusted as royal chaplains, and from among whom Catherine chose her confessors. The outlook of Catherine was perhaps a

little too given to idealised martyrdom. Giles Tremlett suggests that her early fasting might have reflected more an eating disorder such as anorexia than spiritual zeal. I’m not sure this isn’t reductive. Whether a psychiatric problem or a lack of devotional balance, fasting was part of the complexity of Catherine’s reli- gious life. Unless she was a liar or deluding herself, her intransigence brought her to an heroic end, at the house where she had been put out of the way, at Kimbolton, in Huntingdonshire. She had seen her supporters picked off for refusing to take oaths in Henry’s cause, and she was prepared to refuse an oath recognising as his heirs the children of Henry’s new wife Anne Boleyn. The author stresses the use he has made of papers that he says have been “largely ignored”. Now kept in Madrid, these contain evidence regarding Catherine’s marriage to Arthur given at a tribunal in Zaragoza under the auspices of the Holy Roman Rota, and are largely sup- portive of Catherine’s version of events. The suggestion is that the Vatican archives do not contain such evidence. It is not easy to establish a negative and Tremlett’s book is presented as a popular account, without footnotes and references. These he supplies, for the dogged, in 86 pages online, but they are hard to use unless you read the book with your laptop on, or print the things out. For me, the value of this account is to pres- ent Catherine’s life with almost novelistic vividness, from the viewpoint of her Spanish origins. Tremlett declares that he is not a Catholic, and, if this on occasion gives a slightly false emphasis (overstating the “sen- sual experience” of daily Mass, for example), it makes a pro-Catherine narrative less like hagiography. Perhaps it would lead to Catherine’s exe-

cution, she thought. In the event, it was Anne who was to die on the block, only 19 weeks after Catherine’s death. In her last days, Catherine was fed and cheered by Maria de Salinas, now Lady Willoughby, who, after dark one day, talked her way into the guarded house at Kimbolton to be with her. They had set out together from Spain more than 35 years earlier, on the stormy sea passage into the unknown.

29 January 2011 | THE TABLET | 19

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