Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “They fancy that I have no more in me than appears outwardly!” she fumed.

  “It is because your Highness is a woman,” Francesca observed.

  “Well, they will find out that I am not a woman to be trifled with!”


  Katherine was determined to take her new responsibilities seriously. She made herself go out into the court and talk to influential people. She organized couriers to take her dispatches to Spain. She made her father agree to use a special cipher for sensitive information, and spent time carefully coding and decoding their messages. It was good to be busy and to have a say in affairs. Above all, she knew that her marriage depended on the preservation of good relations between England and Spain, and she worked hard to maintain them. But it required the patience of a saint.

  The more she saw of the King and his councillors, the more confident, and exasperated, she became. Tiring of evasive tactics, she soon resolved on open confrontation.

  “Your Grace, we must discuss my marriage,” she said one morning, as soon as the courtesies had been dispensed with. “My father is not bound to pay the second installment of my dowry until my marriage to the Prince is consummated.”

  King Henry raised his thin brows at her boldness. “That was not my understanding,” he said. “King Ferdinand has promised to pay the dowry several times, so he clearly thinks it is due.”

  “He has done that to please your Grace, but he was not obliged to.”

  “Indeed he is.”

  “May we look together at the betrothal treaty?”

  “Your Highness does not believe me?”

  “I would never question your Grace’s honesty or wisdom, but I need to read it for my father.”

  “It will be sent for. But I assure you, the dowry is due, and until it is here, the marriage cannot proceed.”

  When she saw the King a few days later, there was no sign of the treaty.

  “An oversight on my part, your Highness. I am sorry,” he said. Somehow, though, she knew that the treaty would not be there on the next occasion, or the next—and so it would go on. In the end she urged her father to send the new ambassador to take her place.

  “I am getting nowhere,” she told Fray Diego. “They have no scruples, these people. I have tried to play the game their way, but I am no good at it.”

  It was galling to think that she had failed, but she took comfort in the knowledge that even the wily Dr. de Puebla had been no match for King Henry. Puebla was still in England, and at court when his gout permitted; it irritated her to hear that he remained friendly with the King and active on Spain’s behalf. It saddened her that her days as ambassador were numbered, for she had enjoyed her role. Having that interest in her life, the status it gave her, and the support of Fray Diego, had done marvels for her health. The fevers were gone and there was a healthy glow to her cheeks.


  Despite the time Katherine spent in court attending to Spain’s business, she rarely encountered Prince Henry. But in June she was delighted to be invited to a tournament to celebrate his sixteenth birthday.

  “Maybe he will ask you to wear his favor!” Maria speculated, excited for her mistress. She and the other maids were chattering about the gallant knights who would be taking part.

  “At least I will see him!” Katherine breathed, not daring to hope for too much.

  When the day of the tournament came, she put on the crimson velvet gown, wore her hair loose, and took her place in the royal box with the King, Lady Margaret, and Princess Mary, a sweet, pretty, red-haired child of eleven, who could barely sit still until the jousts began.

  “I saw our dear boy just now; he is so eager to enter the fray!” the Lady Margaret said, her pride in her grandson obvious. “You have an heir to be proud of, my son. There is no finer youth in the world.”

  “Aye,” the King agreed. “And here he is now!”

  Katherine leaned forward to see the Prince, mounted on a horse caparisoned in the Tudor colors of green and white, advancing into the tiltyard at the head of a colorful procession of knights. He was wearing chased silver armor and was bareheaded, his helm borne by the squire leading his mount. Henry’s long red-gold hair fanned out in the breeze as he drew up before the royal stand and bowed from the saddle to his father. Then he turned his face to Katherine.

  She stared, entranced. Her betrothed was no longer a boy, but almost a man, with all the beauty a man could command. His eyes flashed blue fire, his lips were full and red, his cheeks flushed pink with youth. His skin glowed. And he had grown so tall! His limbs were gigantic, his shoulders broad. He was Mars’s lusty knight!

  He was bowing now to her, dipping his lance as a token of respect. There was that in his face that made her feel weak.

  “My lady!” he cried, his voice strange and broken, high-pitched still yet manly.

  “My lord!” Katherine said, smiling, her heart full. “I wish you good luck!”

  He trotted away to prepare for the contest, not having asked to wear her favor. It did not matter; she had not expected it, and his eyes told her all she needed to know. She was unable to settle or calm her raging thoughts. She feasted her gaze on him, watching him showing off his prowess in the lists, carrying off his fair share of the prizes. He was a keen and skillful horseman and jouster, but even so, every time his opponent charged toward him, her heart leapt in fear. And every time, he parried the onslaught expertly. The people roared their approval, and Katherine watched the Prince bend down to receive the acclaim of first one, then another, regardless of rank. It was plain that he had the common touch, something he’d gotten from his mother. But he seemed to take the most pleasure in her own applause, bowing again and again in her direction and smiling broadly, delighting in her joy in his triumphs. His father looked on benignly. Surely he could see that the pair of them were made by God for each other?

  Afterward, refreshments were served in a silken pavilion, and once again Katherine came face-to-face with Prince Henry.

  “Sir, you were magnificent!” she said, and blushed hotly.

  He looked down tenderly on her from his great height.

  “I feel exhilarated, Katherine! You know, I dream of war and deeds of chivalry. I want to earn glory in the field, and a tournament is the next best thing!”

  “Your Highness dreams of war?”

  “Of victories, Katherine, over the French, our mutual enemy. I would win another Agincourt, be a second Henry the Fifth!”

  “All in good time, all in good time,” said the King, coming upon them. “I’m not dead yet!” He smiled thinly. “If your Highness will excuse us, I wish to present a Venetian envoy to the Prince.” He bowed, and led his son away; Henry looked back once and smiled reassuringly.

  Katherine did not see him again, but returned to her apartments nursing a new emotion in her heart.

  She knew, beyond a doubt, that she had fallen in love.


  Katherine had been increasingly disturbed by reports that Castile had fallen into disorder for lack of firm rule, so she was much relieved when she heard that King Ferdinand had seized his chance. Despite Juana’s protests, he had forced her to surrender sovereign power in Castile to him. She was not fit to rule, he had declared. It was the best solution for everyone.

  Katherine rejoiced. Now, with Ferdinand’s standing in the world as high as it had been since her mother was alive, she was sure he would be better able to remedy all her troubles. Seizing the moment, she wrote asking him to redress the wrongs done to her servants, who were still in utter misery for lack of wages.

  She was delighted when, that autumn, her father finally sent her some money—not a large sum but enough to clear some of her debts.

  “I hardly know which wants to satisfy!” she told Juan de Diero, who had replaced Don Pedro Manrique as chamberlain. “Do I pay off my creditors, recompense my servants, or buy new clothes?”

  Plainly, her status had gone up in the world with Ferdinand’s. When she next
saw King Henry—for there was still no word of a new ambassador—she gave him a gentle dig about his neglect. “My father sent me some money,” she told him pointedly. “I was in such need.”

  But the King had had yet another change of heart.

  “Katherine,” he said, “I love you so much that I cannot bear the idea of your being in poverty. I will give you as much money as you want for your person and servants.”

  She thought she had misheard him, but no, he repeated himself, and understanding dawned, along with relief.

  “I thank your Grace,” she said. She was not going to effuse. It was his responsibility to maintain her, and until now he had failed woefully. He told her that the money would be paid immediately, then paused.

  “This business of the marriage with Queen Juana has occasioned me great perplexity,” he said at length. “I may look elsewhere for a wife, in view of what has happened.” You mean because you are unlikely to wrest Castile from my father, she thought. “I must ask you to bring some pressure to bear on King Ferdinand,” the King concluded.

  “I will do my best,” Katherine told him. If she could get her father to agree to the marriage, her credit with King Henry would soar still higher.

  She appealed to Juana, telling her of King Henry’s great love for her. She appealed to Ferdinand, who promised to persuade Juana by degrees to agree to the marriage. But from Juana there was no reply.

  Nevertheless, King Henry was treating her with far more affection and respect, and she was hopeful that her marriage to Prince Henry might now go ahead, if only her father would send her dowry. She took care to do as Ferdinand had commanded her, and always spoke of her marriage as a thing beyond all doubt.

  But that autumn Ferdinand’s six months of grace expired with no payment of the dowry in sight. He excused himself, saying he had been away fighting in Naples. Katherine could have cried, but King Henry was magnanimous.

  “I will extend the term until March,” he said.

  “He does not lose anything by that,” she told Fray Diego, who by degrees had become her mentor in all matters, especially her marriage. “On the contrary, he gains. For, as he has told me, so long as he is not paid, he regards me as bound and his son as free.” It pained her to say it, for her yearning for Prince Henry was with her always.

  “Your Highness must always act as if this marriage is a certainty,” Fray Diego commanded.

  “But it isn’t!” she cried.

  She even confided her fears to Dr. de Puebla. He was at court less frequently now, on account, he said, of his gout, but it was plain that he was ailing from something more serious.

  “Your Highness must face reality,” he told her. “King Henry does not believe that your marriage will be concluded.”

  “That cannot be true!” Katherine said angrily, wishing she hadn’t broached the matter with him. He always took a pessimistic view, but she feared he could be right.

  Puebla spoke no more; with tears in his eyes, he merely bowed and backed away.


  After ten months as Spain’s ambassador, Katherine received her replacement with mixed feelings. Don Guitier Gómez de Fuensalida, the Knight Commander of Membrilla, was a florid, corpulent man, very much on his dignity. As he entered her chamber, his greeting was everything she could have asked for, even if his manner was pompous and a little brusque.

  “King Ferdinand is in Castile as we speak, raising money to pay your Highness’s dowry,” he told her. “I am to tell King Henry that it will be delivered before March, in the care of Signor Francesco de Grimaldi, of the banking house of Genoa.”

  Katherine’s heart leapt. At last! At last!

  “Your Highness will be aware that it is an enormous sum to raise,” Fuensalida went on. “I hope His Majesty has not been overoptimistic.”

  She bridled at that. It was not an ambassador’s role to criticize his betters.

  “I am sure His Majesty will keep his word,” she said firmly. She dared not think of what would happen if he did not.

  Fuensalida’s expression showed what he thought of Ferdinand’s promises.

  “What of the marriage with Queen Juana?” Katherine asked, reining in her temper. She needed this man’s support and could not afford to offend him, but she did not like his manner.

  “Out of the question, Highness. Her Majesty is completely deranged. And so I will tell King Henry.”

  It was not a good beginning. And things did not improve.

  She fretted all the while that Fuensalida was with the King. She was waiting for him in the hall when he emerged from the audience. He looked at her as if she had no business there; his face warned her that he was the ambassador now.

  “What did His Grace say?” she asked, determined not to be intimidated.

  “About Queen Juana? Highness, the King did not believe it! He said he had heard that King Ferdinand keeps her shut up and spreads this rumor about her being insane. I had to make it very clear that it is no rumor, and that there will be no marriage.”

  Katherine wondered how forcefully Fuensalida had made it clear. Tact did not seem to be among his virtues.

  “And what did the King say about my dowry being paid soon?”

  “His Grace was not in the most receptive of moods…He is angered by King Ferdinand’s failure to pay the dowry.”

  You angered him, Katherine thought. “But he knows it will be coming soon?”

  “I intimated as much, Highness.”

  “You left him room for doubt?”

  “Rest assured, Highness, I told him to expect it. But he did not seem convinced.”

  Of course he would not. There had been too many broken promises before.


  King Henry was in the process of affiancing his daughter, Princess Mary, to Juana’s son, the young Archduke Charles. The powerful Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian was Charles’s grandfather, and this new alliance would assuredly bring great prosperity, as King Henry pointedly told Katherine the next time they met. Maximilian’s dominions included the Low Countries, with which England had long enjoyed a lively and lucrative trade. It seemed that the King thought he no longer had any need of Ferdinand’s unreliable friendship.

  She was dwelling mournfully on this late one night when, just before retiring, she slipped back to her chamber to retrieve her book and found Fray Diego there, looking for her. His finger to his lips, he drew her into her closet. No one was watching. The maids were in the bedchamber.

  “I cannot stay long!” Katherine whispered.

  “Your Highness can be at prayer whenever you wish!” the friar muttered. “This is important. Today I overheard a conversation between two of the King’s councillors. I was in the chapel closet, fetching some books, and they obviously thought the chapel was deserted. They spoke of the King negotiating for a French marriage for himself.”

  “No!” Katherine was appalled to think that the Spanish alliance might be under threat.

  “That was not all, Highness. They were also talking about some secret negotiations with the Emperor Maximilian for a marriage for Prince Henry—”

  “Oh dear God!” Katherine interrupted.

  “Your Highness!” The friar’s face was stern. “That is the sin of blasphemy, and you know better than to commit it. Pray let me finish. The King is thinking of betrothing the Prince to the Archduke Charles’s sister Eleanor.”

  “But he is betrothed to me!”

  Fray Diego frowned. “Your Highness knows as well as anyone else that betrothals can be broken. Moreover, these men were saying the King had told them that the Prince himself is now hardly inclined toward marrying you.”

  That hit her like a poisoned dart. It could not be! Not after the way that great golden youth, her Henry, had recently looked at her. She struggled to find an explanation.

  “Probably he says what the King expects of him!” She felt the tears welling.

  Fray Diego saw. He took her hands in his. It made her aware that she was alone with him. If he were
not her confessor, it would not have been appropriate.

  “Highness, I also heard that King Henry has expressed concern that a marriage between the two of you would be of questionable validity anyway.”

  “But the Pope has granted a dispensation!”

  The friar sighed. He was still holding her hands. “This English king is slippery as an eel, Highness. He would sell his mother to achieve an advantage. Prince Henry must obey his father, although from what I hear, he chafes at the bit. You need to know what is going on. Forewarned is forearmed.”

  “The King of England must keep faith. He must!” Katherine was beside herself. “Maybe I should speak to Fuensalida.”

  “That posturer! It is well known in the court that the King does not like him.”

  “That is because he is too rigorous in his approach.”

  “He will wreck all if he continues unchecked. It is a thousand pities that he was sent to replace you.” It was true. Things had only gotten worse. And Katherine was painfully aware that the respect accorded her as her father’s official ambassador had diminished since Fuensalida’s coming.

  “I do not trust him,” she said. “He professes to have my interests at heart, but does he know what they really are?”

  “Do not talk to him!” the friar insisted.

  It was all too much. Katherine could not stem the tears, and suddenly Fray Diego’s strong arm was around her shoulders and she could smell the wine on his breath as he bent his head to her ear.

  “Do not weep, Highness. All will be well. I will make it well for you, if I have to strangle Fuensalida with my bare hands!”

  She had never heard such passion in the friar’s voice. It unsettled her. Surely a priest should be detached? And then she felt him press closer to her, and for a moment, the briefest of moments, before she drew away, she felt a curious sensation, like a beautiful warmth flooding through her body. She knew it had come from feeling Fray Diego’s body against hers.

  As he bade her good night and closed the door softly behind him, Katherine sank to her knees. This was terrible! That she should feel a shameful attraction to a man other than her betrothed—and a priest at that! She loved Henry—she had eyes for no other. It was impossible that she could be drawn to anyone else! And yet—and she had always striven to be honest with herself—she’d long been aware of the friar’s physicality and his good looks; they were as much a part of him as the authority and power he exuded. And—being honest again—she had warmed to that as much as to his spirituality. As the friar had said many times, sinning in the imagination was as bad as sinning in fact. And for that one moment, that treacherous moment, she must do penance—but she could never confess her sin to Fray Diego.

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