Catherine of Aragon: Facts, Children & Death

Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies and 27 graduate credits in American history. She will start coursework on her doctoral degree in history this fall. She has taught heritage of the western world I and II and U.S. history I and II at a community college in southern New Jersey for the past two years.

Catherine of Aragon was the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, whose quest for an annulment led to the official separation of the Church of England and the Vatican. Learn about this queen, her children, and her death.

Who Was Catherine of Aragon?

Portrait of Queen Catherine of Aragon
Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon ruled as queen of England from 1509 to 1533. She also served as regent while King Henry VIII was away fighting wars in France. During his absence, and while pregnant, she led the English to a significant victory in the war with Scotland.

Catherine was born on December 16, 1485, in Spain. The daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, she was the youngest of five children. She was a petite girl with bright red hair and blue eyes. She was educated by a personal tutor, who taught her religion, Classical literature, law, and history. Catherine learned to speak Latin, French, and Greek. She was also taught all the skills desired of a wife at the time, such as embroidery, dancing, and music.

Marriage and Children

She was already betrothed to Arthur, son of Henry VII, at the age of three. They were married on November 14, 1501. Catherine was escorted down the aisle by Henry, the groom's younger brother. Tragically, Arthur died about six months later. A little more than a year later, Catherine was betrothed to Henry. By 1505, Henry was finally old enough to be married. However, the marriage stalled again because Henry VII was unsure of an alliance with Spain. When the king passed away in 1509, Catherine and Henry were finally married.

Catherine gave birth to her first child in January of 1510. Her daughter was stillborn. She quickly became pregnant again and gave birth to Henry in 1511. However, the prince died only 52 days later. Catherine had another miscarriage and another son who died shortly after his birth. In 1516, she gave birth to Mary, who would grow up to become the notorious 'Bloody' Mary Tudor, who gained her nickname for executing Protestants during her reign. She reportedly gave birth to another daughter who died shortly after birth. By the time Henry became involved with Anne Boleyn, Catherine was 42 years old and unable to bear any more children.

Catherine as Queen

During their marriage, Henry appointed Catherine regent, or governor of England. This act gave Catherine the power to make important decisions while Henry was off on military campaigns. In 1513, the Scots invaded England and forced Catherine to take on responsibilities very uncommon for a noble woman at the time. Despite being pregnant, she rode out to the English troops in full armor to speak to them personally. After the battle, the English were victorious.

Catherine also continued to pursue education throughout her lifetime. She personally instructed her only surviving daughter in various subjects. She also donated money for the purpose of higher education.

Divorce from Henry

Henry's request for a divorce from Catherine was the result of Catherine's failure to produce a male heir and Henry's relationship with lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn. Anne was unwilling to remain the king's mistress. In order to be granted a divorce, Henry petitioned Pope Clement VII for an annulment. However, at the time, the Pope was reliant on Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This presented a unique problem for Henry, as his marriage annulment was delayed. In order to obtain this divorce, Henry's advisers, Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, suggested the king pursue the annulment in the English court system.

However, Catherine would not simply allow her title to be taken away. She mounted an impassioned defense against the charges that her first marriage had been consummated. If Catherine had consummated her first marriage, then Henry had the right to annul his marriage to her. In 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which officially broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. This legislation also made the king the official head of the Church of England and granted him the right to annul his own marriage. Once the divorce was official, Catherine was forced to renounce her title as queen and leave the royal palace. She died on January 7, 1536.

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