The marriage between Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon had been in the making for two years before it actually took place, and it had been proposed as early as 1489.[i] The marriage between Arthur and Katherine of Aragon was intended to involve England in European politics.[ii] England had been in the midst of a civil war for half a decade, but now she was ready to re-enter international affairs. The only job intended for Katherine was to produce sons and heirs for the English throne.[iii] Their children would unite the blood of England and Spain. A dispensation was needed to allow the marriage to go ahead, as Katherine and Arthur were both descended from John of Gaunt.[iv] Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III.
Arriving in England
On Katherine’s arrival in England, the future Henry VIII (Arthur’s younger brother) immediately set her at ease.[v] Katherine would probably have been incredibly nervous, being in a foreign country, where barely anyone spoke her language.[vi] People would have been speaking in English which she couldn’t yet understand. Spanish etiquette demanded that Katherine couldn’t meet Arthur until the actual wedding ceremony.[vii] On 12th November 1501 Katherine officially entered London for the first time.[viii] The public were enthusiastic about the marriage.[ix] The people seemed to take to her immediately.
Arthur and Katherine were married just two days after her entry into London, on 14th November 1501.[x] The celebrations surrounding the marriage were filled with fertility symbols but there is no evidence of consummation.[xi] One of the most potent symbols was the pomegranate, which Katherine of Aragon later took for her personal symbol when she became Queen in 1509. “The marriage of these fifteen-year-olds was a diplomatic triumph for Henry VII. He had united the house of Tudor with an old and powerful European dynasty which could promote peace and security for his kingdom”.[xii] It was just a pity that this power didn’t last.
A Spanish manuscript suggests that Prince Arthur was embarrassed at being unable to perform in the marriage bed.[xiii] There were Spanish claims that no blood was found on the sheets.[xiv] That would mean that Katherine was a virgin. After the wedding night, in the morning, Arthur called for a drink, said he had been ‘in the midst of Spain’ and he found it thirsty work.[xv] This suggests that they did have a physical relationship of sorts. However, Arthur could have been bluffing, having been embarrassed, as Katherine later claimed.
Influence of the Marriage on the King’s Great Matter
The future divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon lay in the possible consummation of the marriage between Katherine and Prince Arthur.[xvi] A passage in Leviticus claimed that if a man married his brother’s widow, then they would be childless. Henry VIII believed he was cursed.[xvii] In Henry’s eyes not having a son was as good as being childless. “Henry believed that his marriage had failed because it was unlawful. Papal refusal to recognise this and grant his divorce from Catherine initiated his ecclesiastical revolution spread over seven years, for which the royal wedding in 1501 was the seed-plot”.[xviii] It wasn’t Katherine’s fault, but she had sown the seeds for her own downfall.
Katherine and Arthur left London for Ludlow in December 1501.[xix] When Prince Arthur died on 2nd April 1502, Prince Henry was the new heir and his carefree life was gone forever.[xx] With Prince Arthur’s death, the importance of having an heir and a spare became apparent. It influenced Henry VIII’s future marital life. The link with Spain was broken.[xxi] The importance of the marriage of Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur was to cement Henry VII’s claim to the throne, and give him international importance. After Arthur’s death, Katherine was no longer useful.[xxii] She no longer linked England with Spain, the most powerful country in the world at that time. It was Arthur’s death that drove Elizabeth of York to try and have more children, which led to her death from childbed fever in 1503.[xxiii] Henry VII didn’t remarry and died six years later. Henry VIII was certain on his father’s death that he wished to marry Katherine.[xxiv] He did so the same year, and they had their coronations together.
[i] Thomas Penn, Winter King (London: Penguin Books, 2012) p. 41
[ii] David Loades, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty (London: Continuum Books, 2012) p. 61
[iii] Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon (London: Faber & Faber, 2010) p. 10
[iv] Leanda de Lisle, Tudor: the Family Story (London: Chatto & WIndus, 2013) p. 107
[v] Penn, Winter King, p. 45
[vi] Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon, p. 9
[vii] Alison Plowden, The House of Tudor (Stroud: The History Press, 2012) p. 42
[viii] Ibid, p. 45
[ix] Lisle, Tudor, p. 105
[x] Plowden, House of Tudor, p. 46
[xi] David Loades, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty (London: Continuum Books, 2012) p. 22
[xii] L.W. Cowie, ‘Wedding of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon’, History Today [http://www.historytoday.com/lw-cowie/wedding-prince-arthur-and-catherine-aragon]
[xiii] Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon, p. 4
[xiv] Ibid, p. 11
[xv] Plowden, House of Tudor, p. 47
[xvi] David Starkey, Monarchy: from the Middle Ages to Modernity (London: Harper Press, 2006) p. 39
[xvii] Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (London: Macmillan, 2012) p. 42
[xviii] Cowie, ‘Wedding of Prince Arthur’, History Today
[xix] Plowden, House of Tudor, p. 48
[xx] Starkey, Monarchy, p. 28
[xxi] Plowden, House of Tudor,p. 51
[xxii] Ackroyd, Tudors, p. 2
[xxiii] Lisle, Tudor, p. 111
[xxiv] Ibid, p. 124