December 16

1485


Catherine of Aragon, born today, 1485. She died, supposedly of cancer of the heart, at precisely 2pm on January 7th 1536, at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire, and was buried in Durham Cathedral. Why? By what connection? After her divorce she lived in Bedfordshire, then Huntingdon. Am I missing something? Am I wrong to assume that Durham was well out of the way, and that this is precisely where English History, like King Henry, prefers to keep her?

Hers is a tale worth telling from a "Captive Bride" perspective - history through the "other" lens: Esau rather than Jacob, Judas rather than Peter, the victim rather than the victor - indeed, she could serve as the hidden eponym! Why, even the portraits of her - fat, dour, plain, black-clad, nunly-Catholic in the one most history books prefer (top right); simply dour and plain, lightly black and Puritan in the other most commonly found (below, left). 

A young woman of virtue and royal birth, sold into marriage for political purposes, widowed within a year and still not seventeen, pressed into a Levirate marriage with a boy of eleven, made to wait seven years before betrothal became consummation, bereaved of four out of five children in just eight years, cuckolded, annulled, declared incestuous and finally removed to the austerity of her religious devotion. 

Yet it is always Henry's story that is told, and somehow she comes across, not as a justifiable object of our pity, but as that black-clad, bible-bashing, barren harridan, severe and Catholic, somehow deserving of her fate. As if she personally bears the blame for all the several hundred years of Protestant-Catholic enmity. As though it were Catherine, and not Luther, Calvin, Zwingli; Catherine and not Henry, Wolsey, Cromwell. As though at any point from birth to death she had the faintest touch, even of her smallest finger let alone a hand, upon her destiny. As though Henry were Mr-Nice-Guy who never did a woman wrong, or any man either, all his fat and syphillitically monomaniacal existence.

Are you assuming, as I did at first, that the third picture (below, centre) must be a PR photo from some modern movie, with an actress playing Katherina (Katherina please, not Catherine)? No, this was the portrait they sent to young Prince Arthur, so he would recognise his beautiful Spanish princess when she arrived from Aragon in 1501 (they had been betrothed by then for twelve years, aged just three and two respectively at the time, and she now 16, he 15.)

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