Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir


  Richmond was not just a beautiful palace but a showpiece, a visual statement of Henry VII’s achievements. Rampant with heraldry and resplendent with the very latest in Tudor taste, it was the flagship residence of the new dynasty, a treasure house packed with the symbols of power, wealth, and majesty—the ultimate in conspicuous display. Sadly, Elizabeth did not live to see it completed.

  As soon as he arrived at Greenwich, the King “was met by the Queen’s Grace, whom he ascertained and made privy to the acts and demeanor between himself, the prince, and the princess, and how he liked her person and behavior.”36 Elizabeth must have been delighted to hear that her son’s bride was pretty and golden-haired, with a pleasing dignity.

  Preparations for the coming wedding advanced briskly. There was much discussion of the etiquette to be observed when Katherine was presented to the Queen. Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort were drawing up lists of the ladies who were to attend her and the princess during the reception celebrations;37 Margaret would also arrange for Katherine to share several household officers with her. On November 2, Elizabeth appointed Agnes Tilney, Countess of Surrey, “with certain ladies awaiting upon her,” “to meet and receive the princess” at Amesbury.38

  On November 9, Katherine was welcomed at Kingston-upon-Thames by Prince Henry, who escorted her to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace at Lambeth, where she was to lodge before her marriage. Here, a letter from the King awaited her, expressing his great “pleasure, joy, and consolation” at her coming, and assuring her that he and the Queen would treat her “like our own daughter.”

  The next day the King and Queen were rowed to London in separate barges, Elizabeth attended by a “goodly company of ladies.” They took up residence in Baynard’s Castle, where the Queen made “ready for inducting the noble Princess of Spain.”39 Margaret Beaufort was busily renovating nearby Coldharbour to make it a fit residence for Arthur and Katherine after their marriage.

  On November 12, as all the bells of London rang out, banners fluttered from windows, crowds packed the streets, music sounded from every side, and the conduits ran with free wine, Katherine made her formal entry into the City.40 She was greeted by a series of lavish pageants in the Burgundian style as she passed along the processional route; all were designed to underline the success of the Tudor dynasty in obtaining such a highborn princess for the heir to the throne. In Cornhill, “in a house wherein there dwelled William Geoffrey, haberdasher, stood the King, the Queen, and many great estates of the realm,” watching the procession with Prince Arthur. Henry, his son, Derby, Oxford, Shrewsbury, and some French envoys were at one window, while “in another chamber stood the Queen’s good Grace, my lady the King’s mother, my Lady Margaret, my lady [Mary] her sister, with many other ladies of the land, not in very open sight like as the King’s Grace did with his manner and party.” The Londoners had displayed a somewhat excessive zeal for flattery, for nearby was a pageant portraying Henry VII as God the Father and Prince Arthur as God the Son. Henry also paid for a “standing” in Cheapside from which to view the proceedings, but seems not to have used it, unless he moved by a circuitous route from Cornhill, ahead of the procession.

  It was from her window in Cornhill that Elizabeth glimpsed her new daughter-in-law for the first time, as Katherine’s procession passed below; looking out, she would have seen a young girl riding “a great mule richly trapped after the manner of Spain,” flanked by Prince Henry and the papal legate, and wearing “rich apparel” in the Spanish mode: “a little hat fashioned like a cardinal’s hat of pretty braid with a lace of gold to stay it, her hair hanging down about her shoulders, which is fair auburn, and a coif between her head and her hat of a carnation color.” A little way behind walked the Queen’s master of horse leading a spare palfrey with a sidesaddle. At the climax of the procession, the bride-to-be was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury into St. Paul’s Cathedral, where she said her prayers and made an offering at the shrine of St. Erkenwald before retiring to the adjacent Bishop’s Palace for the night.

  The following afternoon, on the eve of her wedding, the princess went to Baynard’s Castle to be presented to her mother-in-law. She was again accompanied by Elizabeth’s master of horse and “a right great assembly” of splendidly attired gentlemen and “certain ladies: some of the Queen’s, and some of the princess’s, at the Queen’s nomination.” The Queen’s chamberlain “received her at the foot of the grece [stairs] that goes up to the Queen’s chamber.” During her audience, she and Elizabeth both spoke in Latin, and they enjoyed “pleasant and goodly communication, dancing, and disports. Thus, with honor and mirth, this Saturday was expired and done,” and it was late when Katherine departed for Lambeth Palace to make ready for her wedding day. Already Elizabeth had begun the process of preparing her successor for the role she would one day occupy, and probably Katherine was glad to have the guidance of a kindly mother-in-law who could initiate her into the realities and mysteries of English court life.

  After Katherine left, Elizabeth rode to Lord Bergavenny’s London house in Great St. Bartholemew’s by St. Paul’s, where she and the King were spending the night before the wedding. George Neville, Baron Bergavenny, had fought for Henry against the Cornish rebels and was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports; he had accompanied Henry and Elizabeth to Calais the previous year. His first wife had been a granddaughter of Elizabeth’s aunt, Joan Wydeville.41 His house, which was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, stood where the Stationers and Newspaper Makers Hall now stands in Stationers Hall Court; its inner courtyard occupies the site of the garden of Abergavenny House.

  On November 14, Arthur and Katherine were married in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The King had done his utmost to underline the importance of the nuptials. “Within the church was erected a platform, or stage, six feet high and extending from the west door to the uppermost step of the choir; in the middle of this platform was a high stand, like a mountain, which was ascended on every side with steps covered over with red worsted. Against this mountain on the north side was ordained a standing for the King and his friends; and upon the south side was erected another standing, which was occupied by the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London.”

  The royal standing—a “high place set in the nave and body of the church,” which was “decked and trimmed for the King and Queen and such others as they appointed to have”—was a kind of private box above the consistory, allowing Henry and Elizabeth privately to “go out of the Bishop’s Palace into the same consistory, and there hear and see the ceremonies of the marriage at their pleasure,” watching “in secret manner” from behind a lattice. The focus during the ceremony was to be on Arthur and Katherine, and Henry and Elizabeth “would make no open show of appearance.”

  On the morning of the wedding day, the royal entourages assembled at the Tower. Elizabeth was wearing an embroidered white satin gown and a purple velvet train. She traveled with the bride in an open chariot from the Tower to St. Paul’s, following behind the King, who rode a white horse and looked splendid in his red velvet robes, his breastplate studded with diamonds, rubies, and pearls, and a belt of rubies at his waist. On arrival, the royal couple retired with the bride into the Bishop’s Palace, where Henry and Elizabeth discreetly entered the cathedral. Elizabeth’s sister Katherine and Lord William Courtenay were among the illustrious guests, as was Margaret Beaufort, who “wept marvelously” through the service.

  Katherine emerged from the Bishop’s Palace to the sound of trumpets, shawms, and sackbuts, clad in white and gold satin. Beneath her wide-skirted gown she wore hoops—the first Spanish farthingale ever seen in England, which naturally drew much comment, as did her rich coronet and voluminous veil, or mantilla, of silk edged with a border of gold and precious stones, beneath which her long red-gold hair flowed loose down her back. She was escorted to her groom by her future brother-in-law (and husband), ten-year-old Henry, Duke of York, impressive in silver tissue embroidered with gold roses. Arthur, like his bride, was wearing white satin.
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  In the cathedral, the prince and princess “ascended the mount, one on the north and the other on the south side, and were there married by [Henry Deane] the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by nineteen bishops and abbots. The King, the Queen, and the King’s mother stood in the place aforementioned, where they heard and beheld the solemnization, which, being finished, the Archbishop and bishops took their way from the mountain across the platform, which was covered with blue ray cloth, into the choir, and so to the high altar. The prelates were followed by the bride and bridegroom. The Princess Cecily bore the train of the bride, and after her followed one hundred ladies and gentlewomen in right costly apparel. Then the mayor, in a gown of crimson velvet, and his brethren, in scarlet, went and sat in the choir whilst Mass was said.” For this, the young couple went through the rood screen and choir to the high altar. The Mass finished, they knelt to receive the blessing of the King and Queen, then proceeded to the church door, where Arthur publicly dowered his bride with one-third of his income as Prince of Wales, as the crowds outside roared their approval, crying, “King Henry! Prince Arthur!” and the trumpets, shawms, and sackbuts blared out once more in celebration. Katherine was now second lady in the land after the Queen.

  Afterward the Prince and Princess of Wales were conducted in a grand procession led by Prince Henry to the Bishop’s Palace, where a great feast was prepared, “to which the Lord Mayor and aldermen were invited.” The latter had stationed themselves by the entrance to get a good view of the bride. The royal party and their guests were served on gold plate valued at £1,200 [£583,300], and the new Princess of Wales dined off plate of solid gold ornamented with pearls and precious stones worth £20,000 [£9.7 million]. “It was wonderful to behold the costly apparel and the massive chains of gold worn on that day.”

  At the end, the newly wedded couple were put to bed together in a ceremony witnessed by most of the court. The prince was escorted by his lords and gentlemen to the nuptial chamber, “wherein the princess before his coming was reverently laid and disposed,” and after the bed had been blessed and the newlyweds left alone to do their dynastic duty, the King and Queen departed for Baynard’s Castle.

  There then followed one of the most controversial wedding nights in history. It was stated years later that fifteen-year-old Arthur claimed beforehand that he felt “lusty and amorous,” and it was reported at the time, by the herald who wrote an account of the wedding celebrations, that “thus these worthy persons concluded and consummated the effect and complement of matrimony.”

  But did they? Doña Elvira stated some months later that they did not, and in 1503, King Ferdinand would tell his ambassador in Rome: “The truth is that the marriage was not consummated, and that the princess our daughter remained as whole as she was before she married.”42 Years afterward Katherine would swear that she and Arthur had spent just seven nights together, and that she emerged from her marriage “as intact and undefiled as she had come from her mother’s womb,”43 but Henry VIII, her second husband, professed to be not so sure about that. In 1529, when he was trying to move heaven and earth to have his marriage to Katherine dissolved, on the grounds that canon law forbade him to marry his brother’s widow, Lady Guildford, who was present at the wedding celebrations in 1501, would depose in the legatine court that Arthur and Katherine spent their wedding night in bed together, and that Queen Katherine had afterward told her that “they lay together in bed as man and wife all alone five or six nights after the marriage.” William Thomas, a groom of Arthur’s privy chamber, stated that he himself “made Arthur ready for bed, and conducted him clad in his nightgown unto the princess’s bedchamber often and sundry times; and that at the morning he received him at the said doors and waited upon him to his own privy chamber.”44

  None of this proved that the couple had actually had sex, but naturally Henry VIII needed testimony to show that the marriage had been consummated, and others were ready to come forward in 1529 to give evidence to that effect. The King’s close friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, declared that he had heard from Maurice St. John, the prince’s attendant, that Arthur’s decline in 1502 “grew by reason that [he] lay with the Lady Katherine.” Sir Anthony Willoughby recalled that, the morning after his wedding, “the prince spoke before divers witnesses these words: ‘Willoughby, give me a cup of ale, for I have been this night in the midst of Spain. It is good pastime to have a wife!’ Which words he repeated divers other times.” The fact he repeated them so often might suggest that Arthur was boasting to cover up his failure in bed, because he knew what was expected of him. St. John had also mentioned Arthur’s thirst to Robert Ratcliffe, now Viscount Fitzwalter, who recalled that St. John asked the prince why his throat was so dry, whereupon he replied, “I have been in Spain this night.”45

  Predictably, the peers of England, in their scramble to ingratiate themselves with Henry VIII, were ready to brag about their own prowess at Arthur’s age. George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, affirmed that “the prince knew his lady carnally because he might be able to do so, as he himself had been, who knew his wife before he was sixteen.” That did not mean anything, of course. The Duke of Norfolk also boasted that he too “at the same age did carnally know and use a woman,” but also said he had heard “from credible persons that Prince Arthur did lay with the Lady Katherine five or six nights after.” His wife the duchess stated that the couple had been “alone in bed together the next night after their marriage.”46

  In 1531, however, at a hearing in Zaragoza, one of Katherine’s attendants would testify that, on the day after the wedding, “Francesca de Caceres, who was in charge of dressing and undressing [her], and whom she liked and confided in a lot, was looking sad and telling the other ladies that nothing had passed between Prince Arthur and his wife.”47

  Nowadays many people find it hard to accept that two teenagers shared a bed and did not have sex. It was incumbent upon them, after all, to produce an heir to ensure the future of the Tudor dynasty: the consummation of their marriage was their duty. Others find it hard to believe that Katherine of Aragon, a devout woman of great integrity and principle, would vigorously maintain that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated if it had been. It has been said she might have lied to protect her position and her daughter’s status, but for the avoidance of doubt, the Pope had actually issued two dispensations allowing her to marry Henry, one providing for the first marriage having been consummated. So she had no need to lie, for in the eyes of the Church her second marriage was valid anyway.

  It is important to remember that Henry VIII’s doubts of conscience came at a time when he was desperate to have a male heir—and to marry Anne Boleyn. But his adultery with Anne’s sister Mary placed him in the same forbidden degree of affinity to Anne as he was to Katherine by virtue of her marriage to his brother. When Katherine publicly challenged him to deny in open court that she had come to him “a true maid without touch of man,” he remained silent; and when she vowed to Pope Clement VII that she would accept whatever he decided about her virginity if her husband would swear under oath that he knew her marriage to Arthur had been consummated, Henry failed to respond.48

  There was a prevalent belief that early indulgence in sex by young people who were not physically mature was detrimental to health, and there had been a recent example that appeared to prove it. In 1497, Katherine’s only surviving brother, the Infante Juan, Prince of Asturias, had died at nineteen—disastrously for the Spanish succession. The cause was possibly tuberculosis, but opinion generally held that overindulgence in the marriage bed had proved fatal. In 1533, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s bastard son, was married at fourteen but not permitted to live with his bride because he was considered too young.

  Henry VII had good reason to be cautious. A dispatch sent to Ferdinand of Aragon by his envoy, Gutierre Gomez de Fuensalida, in July 1500 reveals that the King had had concerns then about the health of Prince Arthur. Fuensalida had “understood from a reliable source tha
t the King has decided that the Prince will know his wife sexually on the day of the wedding, and then separate himself from her for two or three years, because it is said that in some way the Prince is frail, and the King told me that he wanted to have [Arthur and Katherine] with him for the first three years, so that the Prince should mature in strength.”49 Evidence that emerged later about the state of Arthur’s health in the months that followed the marriage (see Chapter 16) supports the theory that it was never consummated at all.

  Twelve days of celebrations had been planned, and there was further excitement on November 14, when envoys from James IV arrived in London to arrange their master’s marriage to Princess Margaret. There were no entertainments on the day after the wedding, when Katherine and Arthur were allowed some privacy, but on Tuesday, November 16, the King and Queen returned in state by river from Baynard’s Castle and, with the newly wedded prince and princess, “came to Paul’s Church, where they made their offering, dined in the Bishop’s Palace, and so returned.” Afterward, the royal party went to Westminster by river, attended by the Lord Mayor, the aldermen, and the sheriffs. “For the more royalty of the going of the King and Queen, [and] of the prince and princess, unto Westminster by water,” it had been decreed “that the King and Queen and the prince have their barges apart and pompously rigged and dressed,” and that minstrels should play for them as they sailed along the Thames.

 
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