Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife Christine Tran

45. She Started a Revolution

This “Great Matter” dragged on for years as Henry tried to get the Church to let him bed Anne Boleyn under the approving eye of God. Today, everyone knows it ended in revolution, with Henry taking over as Head of Church, annulling his own marriage, and starting the English Reformation. But few know the cruel personal toll it took on Catherine.


46. Her Husband Abandoned Her

Henry was truly a guy to cut and run. In July 1531, he left Catherine on a hunting trip and never came back. Practically overnight, he made the decision to move the court with him, while leaving Queen Catherine and Princess Mary behind. In a letter, Catherine complained that he didn’t even wake her up to say goodbye. And then Henry twisted the knife in.

47. Her King Banished Her

Catherine never saw Henry again after that moment, but the King didn’t waste time with a silly thing called “remorse.” Instead, he doubled down. He banished Catherine from his court, and then installed Boleyn in her old rooms. Catherine later said of the trials, “It is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine.” And there was more to come.

48. She Tormented Herself

For the next four years, Catherine moved from castle to castle on the outskirts of English society, and her habits grew more and more disturbing. By the time she was at Kimbolton Castle, she imprisoned herself in one room of the house, leaving it only to attend Mass and denying herself almost all sustenance. Oh, there’s one more chilling detail.

49. She “Repented” in Painful Ways

During this time of exile, Catherine’s self-hatred seemed to know no bounds. Besides forced starvation and confinement, the once-and-former Queen took to wearing a hair shirt, a coarse and uncomfortable garment that was meant to “mortify” the flesh, AKA torment the wearer, irritate their skin, and promote repentance. Um, repent for what??

50. Henry Wanted to Ruin Her as a Mother

Once Henry dropped all pretense of loving or cherishing his wife, the gloves really came off. When he banished Catherine from the castle, he also banished her from seeing or even talking to their only daughter Mary, a cruelty Catherine could hardly bear. In fact, she often risked treason charges and secreted out letters to her beloved girl.

51. Henry Manipulated Her

King Henry VIII was a piece of work in person, and he was also a piece of work in his letters. Not content to let Catherine live in any kind of serenity, Henry frequently wrote nagging missives to her, demanding, wheedling, or whining at her to recognize Anne Boleyn as the true Queen of England. Sometimes he even tried a more immoral tactic….

52. Her Husband Tried to Buy Her

Henry wasn’t above bribery in these letters either, and offered both Catherine and his daughter Mary better living quarters and lives if they would just acquiesce to his man-child demands. But hey, Catherine of Aragon was spending her days in a freaking hair shirt at this point, what did she care? She staunchly refused.

53. She May Have Had a Disorder

Why did so many of Catherine’s pregnancies fail? The possible reason is utterly tragic. In recent years, some have argued that Catherine suffered from anorexia. During her young widowhood, uncertainty and poverty made Catherine frequently ill and depressed. This physical trauma may have led to future fertility problems.

54. She Never Forgot Her Place

Catherine was as tough a broad as they come, and despite the immense pressure against her, she never stopped referring to herself as the true Queen of England. She also demanded that her servants do the same, addressing her with all the glory of her rightful rank. Henry, however, came up with more disrespectful names for his ex…

55. Henry Gave Her a Cruel Name

After denying her the crown, Henry sealed the deal by insisting on calling Catherine the “Dowager Princess of Wales.” Sure, that sounds kind of respectful, but it gets a whole lot more insulting once you realize that this title pointedly turns her into merely Prince Arthur’s widow, and makes no reference to her previous title of “Queen.”

56. She Wrote a Final Letter

In less than 10 years time, Catherine had staggered through a lifetime of pain, and her health was never the same after the initial shock of Henry’s annulment proposal. By 1535, she felt herself growing weaker and weaker with a strange malady (more on that later). Knowing the end was near, she reportedly penned a last letter to her husband—and its contents were heartbreaking.

57. She Forgave Her Husband

Catherine’s purported final to letter Henry functions as a last will and testament, an accusation, and an absolution all in one. In it, she forces him to remember his wrongs toward her, but also writes, “For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also.” But it’s the last lines of the letter that hit hardest.

58. Her Last Words Were Triumphant

In her closing lines, Catherine directs Henry to take care of their daughter Mary, but ends with a tender show of her own affection for him, even after all these years and all his petty attacks. As she wrote, “Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.” In true fashion, she signed the letter “Katharine the Quene.”

59. Her Tragedies Took a Toll

Like her husband, Catherine did not age well. By her 30s, her famous youthful beauty had withered. Catherine had understandably gained weight and had visible markers of stress from endless failed pregnancies; a Venetian ambassador courteously described her as “somewhat stout.” Less kindly, King Francis I once outright called her “old and deformed.”

60. She Lost Her Crown

In 1533, for all of her valiant fighting, Catherine’s jig was up. That year on May 23, Henry finally got the Archbishop of Canterbury to say their marriage was null and void. Five days later, he was officially declared married to Anne Boleyn shortly after they tied the knot in a secret ceremony. Catherine was now a forgotten Queen.

61. She Had a Public “Bedding”

Oddly enough, Catherine and Arthur’s wedding night was the only public royal bedding of the English in the 16th century, with courtiers following them into the chamber before leaving them alone to do the “deed.” An eyewitness also says Arthur boasted the next morning about having been “in the midst of Spain,” though this might have been teenage bravado. When it comes to their “consummation,” we will probably never know the truth.

62.  She Debased Herself

Years into their estrangement, Catherine was still sewing Henry’s shirts for him, even though he was now basically living with Anne Boleyn. When Anne found out, she was understandably upset. Henry, however, thought it was NBD because Catherine had always made his shirts. Why let a little thing like emotional adultery stop a good thing like free needlework?

63. She Went to Great Lengths to Please Henry

Catherine had an immense and world-shaking amount of fertility issues, but it might be even worse than we imagined. Debate rages about how many pregnancies and miscarriages Catherine had, but the highest estimations say she could have had up to nine pregnancies, with only one leading to the viable brith of Queen Mary I.

64. She Had Friends in High Places

In case you need any more proof that Henry was totally in the wrong, even his own sister Margaret was on Catherine’s side, and mostly wished her brother would shut up and stop embarrassing himself. Obviously, he did not.

65. She Was a Hero of History

Though Catherine of Aragon wasn’t exactly Henry’s favorite at home, the English people absolutely loved her from the moment they set eyes on her. Even her own enemy, Henry VIII’s courtier Thomas Cromwell, had to once admit, “If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History.” I heartily endorse this fact.

66. She Couldn’t Physically “Satisfy” Henry

By the early age of 40, Catherine had already gone through menopause. Perhaps if she’d been given a little more time, she could have saved her marriage and her crown.

67. She Was the First and Longest

Married to Henry for 23 years, 11 months, and 19 days, Catherine is ultimately the longest-serving of Henry VIII’s six queens.

68. She Had Demanding Tastes

In 1519, Henry caused an international scandal thanks to his love for Catherine and a beard-growing pact gone wrong. At the time, Henry and the King of France had an alliance and agreed not to shave until they finally met in person. However, Catherine did not dig her husband’s “au naturel” look and told him to shave it off. Henry obeyed…to his great regret.

69. Her Marriage Caused a Scandal

This act became a scandal to the French, since it appeared that Henry symbolically snubbed them for Spanish interests. Fortunately, the ShaveGate drama cooled, and the King of France’s mom publicly assured the two monarchs’ “love is not in their beards, but in their hearts.” If only the other international hoopla between Henry and Catherine had ended so sweetly.

70. Women Tried to Kill for Her

Throughout the “Great Matter,” Catherine’s popularity with women was sky-high. Reportedly, an angry mob of “seven to eight thousand women” even tried to seize Anne Boleyn in Catherine’s name. Though probably exaggerated or untrue, the tale’s popularity testifies to Catherine’s appeal as the “spurned woman” against Anne’s “other woman.” They were the Jen and Angelina of their time!

71. She Haunts a Famous Castle

Catherine of Aragon’s ghost supposedly haunts Castle Lodge, Ludlow, where the young bride stayed in her first, brief marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales. Visitors report seeing an apparition of a teenaged girl in Tudor-era clothing. She floats through both the halls and the nursery that she never got to fill, perhaps longing for more hopeful times.

72. She Was a Modern Princess

Catherine was among the most well-educated princesses of Europe. Taught by the famed cleric Alessandro Gerladini, the Spanish Princess mastered multiple languages, from Spanish and Latin to French and Greek. In addition, Catherine was schooled in arithmetic, law, classical literature, genealogy, history, philosophy, and theology.

73. Even Her Servants Were Legendary

When Catherine arrived in London for her first marriage, she did it in legendary—and revolutionary—style. Among her retinue were a group of African attendants, including the famous trumpeter John Blanke. Though grossly considered “luxury servants,” they were nonetheless the first recorded Africans to ever enter London.

74. Henry Gave Her a Chilling Send-off

On January 7, 1536, Catherine passed at Kimbolton Castle after a bizarre illness. King Henry’s reaction was legendarily cruel. He and Anne Boleyn dressed up in celebratory yellow, though some claim this was a nod to the Spanish color of mourning and was actually a deferential act. Either way, Catherine wrought one final vengeance on the pair from beyond the grave…

75. Her Ghost Got Back at Anne Boleyn

Fate’s a funny, twisted thing, and Catherine’s rival Anne Boleyn soon found that out. On the day of Catherine’s funeral—which was not fit for a Queen of England but for a mere Dowager—Anne miscarried. In a tragic irony to end all tragic ironies, that stillbirth also ended up being a baby boy. Watch out for karma, it’ll get you.

76. Her Friends Never Forgot Her

The end of Catherine’s life may seem tragic, and it is. But it was also a glorious moment of girl power. Even though King Henry banned any of Catherine’s supporters from seeing her while she was on the brink of death, her best friend Maria de Salinas refused to let her go alone into the dark night—even if it meant risking execution.

77. She Went Surrounded by Friends

Salinas spent her New Year’s in 1536 traveling nearly 60 miles on horseback to make it to her friend’s barred door. Then she came up with an ingenious plan. To get in, Maria lied and told guards she had “lost” the paperwork that gave her permission to enter. It worked, and Maria saw her lifelong buddy into the next life. Get yourself a girlfriend who will commit treason.

78. Her Heart Was Black

Catherine’s demise was utterly mysterious in its time. While preparing her body for burial, her embalmer noticed the corpse was in perfect health—save for her heart, which had turned black. The ghastly and seemingly fatal condition, coupled with Catherine’s premonitions of her own demise, led people to some dark rumors about her end…

79. Henry May Have Offed Her

After witnessing her strange condition, those loyal to Catherine and disloyal to King Henry VIII and Queen Anne started whispering that the Royal Couple 2.0 had poisoned Catherine in a chilling act of self-service, leading the “Dowager” to die poetically of a broken heart. Modern historians, however, believe a much different story.

80. Her Final Moments Were Fitting

Most experts today believe that rather than foul play, Catherine passed of cancer of the heart; sometimes it can turn the heart black. Nonetheless, it’s still tragically poetic given the circumstances of Catherine’s life and her queenship.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

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