Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  The next morning she was able to forgive herself a little. It had been an involuntary sin, and in future she would have more control of herself. She had been upset and she was lonely: those were the causes of her lapse from grace. All the same, she put on her cloak, pulling it down to shadow her face, made her way to the chapel royal, slipped into the confessional, admitted to impure thoughts, and received absolution from one of the King’s chaplains. And when she encountered Fray Diego later, she was mightily relieved to detect no sense of his having noticed anything amiss.


  Katherine was desperate to find out how seriously she should regard what she had heard about those secret marriage negotiations. If anyone was in a position to know, it would be Fuensalida. In the end, after several sleepless nights and days of anguish, she sent for him.

  “Where did your Highness hear of such things?” he asked, looking at her as if she were making it up.

  “A well-wisher told me.”

  “Could it be a certain friar? Madam, I am bound to say that he is a bad influence.”

  She felt her cheeks grow warm and her heart begin to race. “How may that be?”

  “I am informed by persons in your household that you spend much time alone with him, and that he rules all here.”

  “What precisely have they been saying?” she asked.

  “They have voiced the same concerns as I have.”

  “No one has said anything to me! I can only assume that jealousy is at the root of it. Fray Diego is a good man. He has my interests close to his heart. And I am entitled to be alone with my confessor!” She was allowing anger to mask her own shame. “Might I be correct in saying that my servants have in fact said very little at all, and that you are inventing things against Fray Diego because you know what he thinks of you?”

  “Highness, how can you say that? I did not make any of it up. There is talk about you in the court. Some say you are too close to this friar, that he has too much sway over you. Highness, it is causing scandal!”

  “That is untrue and wicked! No one who knows me could doubt it. You will refute such talk whenever you hear it. That is an order! And you will be answerable to my father if you disobey. Now, we will speak no more of this. Pray tell me what you have heard of these marriage negotiations with the Emperor.”

  “Nothing,” muttered Fuensalida, his face red with fury.

  She had expected him to deny all knowledge. They would not have made him privy to their secrets. But any ambassador worth his salt kept his ear to the ground. Dr. de Puebla would have known, that was for certain. She almost felt affection for the old rogue.

  Again, she did not sleep. Fuensalida’s words haunted her. It was not Fray Diego who deserved his censure; Fray Diego, who had always behaved with the utmost decorum. Fuensalida must be jealous of his influence, for in giving her good counsel, the friar was only doing what the ambassador should have been doing. All the same, she could not bear to think that she, who had lived in the most circumscribed manner and had only one impure thought in her entire life, should be the subject of court gossip. She would have to warn the friar to be vigilant—and spend less time alone with him.


  By the summer the gossips had something of far more import to occupy them.

  “Highness, I must tell you,” Maria said, bustling into Katherine’s chamber and shutting the door firmly behind her. “They are saying that the King is dying.”

  “I think it is true,” Katherine said, and tried to summon some sympathy for the man who had rarely shown much to her. “He has been looking very ill lately, and his cough is worse.” It sounded like Arthur’s had, six long years ago.

  Maria’s eyes met hers. They held an unspoken question. What would this mean for both of them?

  Far away in Spain her father had heard the rumors too. He wrote that since the King was in the last stages of consumption, it would not be worthwhile to press for Katherine’s marriage to take place before his death.

  Fuensalida informed her loftily that he was courting the favor of the Prince. “I tell him of the great love that King Ferdinand bears him. I assure him that he may command His Majesty in anything. Highness, I am doing everything in my power to bring about your marriage.”

  Katherine was grateful, but still could not bring herself to like Fuensalida. And soon she was to despise him even more.

  She was seated at her embroidery frame, sewing tiny stitches in black silk thread and chatting with her maids, when she heard footsteps approaching, angry voices and violent coughing. Then the door was flung open and there was the King, his cadaverous face red and furious, his hand gripping Fuensalida’s arm, pushing him into the room. Immediately, she rose and dropped a curtsey, her ladies making themselves scarce at the King’s abrupt signal.

  “The Princess shall see how you handle her affairs!” Henry barked, letting go of the ambassador.

  Fuensalida was the image of bruised dignity. Ostentatiously, he began smoothing his sleeve, but the King, coughing again, spluttered that he must now make account of himself to Katherine.

  “This fellow here has jeopardized your Highness’s marriage because he has failed to press the King your father for your dowry. He thinks to ingratiate himself with the Prince instead, but I still rule here!”

  “His Grace is determined on having the dowry before committing to the marriage,” Fuensalida explained to her in an injured tone.

  Henry’s eyes blazed. “It is my right, and I want no more empty promises. Your king wears many crowns, but lacks the coin to pay his daughter’s dowry!”

  Fuensalida bridled. “My master does not lock away his gold in chests, but pays it to the brave soldiers at whose head he has always been victorious!”

  Katherine drew in her breath, horrified that Fuensalida had dared to insult King Henry to his face. The whole world knew that the King was miserly with money, but he too had won great victories.

  “The dowry is here in England,” Fuensalida went on, unheeding, “in the keeping of Signor Grimaldi, and will be delivered at the appropriate time.” Katherine was praying that he would not mention the plate and the jewels.

  “Remember that, in the circumstances, I am not obliged to honor my part of the treaty,” the King said, his voice menacingly quiet. “Princess Katherine, I bid you good day.” Then he left.

  “Now see what you have done!” Katherine burst out as Fuensalida stared at her. “You are a fool, just as Fray Diego said. How dare you insult the King! My father would never countenance that.”

  “Everything I have said or done has been in your Highness’s interests,” the ambassador protested.

  “And look where it has led! You saw the King just now; you heard him. My marriage is now in more jeopardy than ever! You made him angry, and he took it out on me. Because of you he thinks he can break my spirit.”

  “Believe me, Highness—”

  “I believe what I choose. I am not as simple as I seem. Now go!”


  In the midst of all this unpleasantness, Katherine decided it was at least gratifying to know that her dowry was in England. Surely it would tempt the King to forget his anger and honor his part of the marriage contract. At the thought of that, her pulse quickened. Soon she might be married!

  But for now, what was she to do for money? She dared not pawn any more plate, but with the news about her dowry was born a possible solution.

  She called for writing materials and wrote a letter to Signor Grimaldi. She explained that she hoped to be married to Prince Henry soon—and of course he would understand about that, because he knew about the dowry—and asked if he might see his way to giving her a small loan, which she would repay as soon as her circumstances changed.

  She did not have to wait long for a reply. Signor Grimaldi wrote that he would be honored to arrange a loan. In return, he would ask for her bond for the principal sum and the interest, which were to be repaid within a month of her marriage. The interest rate he quoted—fifty percent—s
eemed high, but she reasoned that she had no choice, and hoped that Prince Henry would understand. She had to eat, after all!


  It was a bitter January day, and the pitifully few logs on the fire were losing their battle with the freezing drafts that rattled the windows. Katherine laid down her embroidery and shivered. Her fingers were too numb to continue.

  Nothing had changed, and all her hopes were as dust.

  “I cannot bear any more,” she wept to Maria. “Things get worse every day.”

  “Do not cry, Highness,” Maria begged. “You know I hate to see you distressed.” They were alone in Katherine’s bedchamber, the other maids having gone to bed. Maria rose, poured some wine and handed it to her mistress.

  “But I have every reason to cry!” Katherine sobbed. “Here I am, twenty-three years old, still unwed, and with no hope of anything changing. The King is angry because my father will still not authorize the handing over of my dowry. He has lost patience with Fuensalida. He is cold toward me. And I cannot help you, or Francesca, or any of my people. It is impossible for me to endure any longer.” Now she was sobbing in earnest, her face buried in her hands.

  “Hush, now. This is doing you no good,” Maria murmured, putting an arm around Katherine’s heaving shoulders.

  “Nothing ever does me any good! Oh, Maria, I am so unhappy I fear I might do something that no one would be able to prevent.”

  “No!” Maria cried. “Don’t say such things! It is mortal sin even to think it.”

  “I appealed to my father,” Katherine said brokenly. “I told him I might be driven to it, unless he sends for me and lets me pass the few remaining days of my life in God’s service, as a nun, for sometimes I think that I can have no other future. But he has not replied.” She burst into a fresh flurry of weeping.

  Suddenly, Fray Diego was in the room. “What is going on?” he asked. “I could not but overhear. Is Her Highness in distress?”

  “Her Highness is upset.” Maria sounded deeply concerned. “She is talking of ending her life.”

  “Never let me hear your Highness speak of that again!” the friar commanded, at which Katherine sobbed all the more, unable to stop herself. He laid his hand on her arm. Even in her extremity, she turned away, hoping he would remove it.

  “No, my daughter,” he said with great authority. “You will not do it. To contemplate such a thing is a heavy sin against God. It is for Him to call us out of this world. We do not go to Him when we please.”

  “But I do not know where to turn!” Katherine cried, shaking his hand off. “There is no money. I do not know how to maintain myself, or all of you. You know I have sold all my household goods and stuff from my wardrobe. Now even that money is gone. When I begged King Henry for help, he said he was not bound to give me money, even for food.”

  “But he gave you something,” Maria said.

  “Just enough to defray the expenses of my table! I felt so humiliated. To be reduced to such a state! Not to be able to pay your wages. And to be reminded that even my food is given me as alms!”

  “Despair, as I have told you, is also a sin against God,” the friar said sternly, his black eyes flashing. “Tribulations are sent to test us. Remember, we never come to the Kingdom of Heaven but by troubles.”

  “God would surely understand if I find my troubles too burdensome,” Katherine protested. “Our situation is desperate. All of us face destitution. When I think of how faithfully you good people have served me, and how you have had nothing but want for your reward, I am shamed. It hurts me. It weighs on my conscience.”

  She cried afresh when she thought of what had happened that very morning. Of all her household, her chamberlain had been the least forbearing. She had been complaining to him, for the hundredth time, about the lack of money, but he rounded on her accusingly.

  “Highness, you have failed to order this household properly!”

  She’d smarted at the unfairness of it, but knew that he too was reaching the end of his endurance. She had said nothing; she could not pay him, so she could neither reprimand nor dismiss him.

  Then Fuensalida brought her the most unwelcome news from Spain. King Ferdinand had publicly declared Juana mad and unfit to reign, and had shut her up in a convent at Tordesillas.

  “Officially, she is sharing the government with her son, the Archduke Charles, who is to be King of Castile.”

  It was an unbearable thought. And that poor little boy—not only deprived of his mother, but also burdened with a crown at just nine years old. But, as Fuensalida explained, his grandfather Ferdinand was to govern both Castile and Aragon until Charles reached his majority.

  When Katherine calmed down, she took heed of Fray Diego’s words, remembering that those desperate enough to take their own lives would never see God. But that morning she had felt as if her life was unraveling uncontrollably, and that she could fight no more. It was thanks to the friar that she had pulled herself back from the brink. She was truly blessed in her confessor, and could not believe that she had ever responded to him as a mere man. But that was all behind her. She had fought her battle and won. Now she would pray for the strength to cope with her many troubles, and for serenity, as he had often urged her to do, and for patience to endure until things got better.


  Katherine was uncomfortably aware of petty jealousies and disputes developing among her much-tried servants. She could not find it in her heart to blame them, for they had suffered so much, but she had noticed too a scanting of respect toward her. Some had not served her as well as they should, yet she dared not call them to account lest they abandon her.

  She was determined to ignore all that—and what Fuensalida had said about Fray Diego. He had accused her of causing scandal, yet where was the evidence? No one in the court had looked disapprovingly at her; none of her maids had come running with tales of scurrilous gossip, and they would certainly have told her if they had heard anything. She could only conclude that the ambassador was jealous of the friar’s influence.

  “Do people say anything of me and Fray Diego?” she asked Maria.

  “The chamberlain thinks he has too much influence over your Highness. He says you will do nothing without his advice and blessing.”

  “Is that all? No scandal to report?”

  Maria’s eyes widened. “Never, Highness! Why would anyone think that of you, of all people?”

  “There is no reason why they should. It was something Fuensalida said. But he has it all wrong. Fray Diego is the best confessor any woman in my position ever had. I cannot fault his devout way of life or his learning—or his kindness. It grieves me that I am too poor to maintain him in the way his office demands, for he has served me untiringly.”

  But here was Fuensalida again, relentless as the plague, demanding to see Katherine. One look at his pompous, disdainful face set her hackles aquiver.

  “Highness, I have been most concerned about the disorders in your household, and I have promised the King your father to see that they are remedied.”

  Katherine rose to her feet. “You exceed your instructions, Ambassador. This is my household, and I will run it as I think fit.”

  “As Fray Diego thinks fit, I suspect!”

  “Ah, there we have it,” she snapped. “Some of my people have poisoned your mind against him.”

  “Madam, they had no need. I can see for myself that there is much need of a person who can rule this household, and so I have informed King Ferdinand, for it is clearly governed by that young friar, and in my view he is unworthy, for he has caused your Highness to commit many errors.”

  Guilt flared again for a moment, but fury took over. “What errors?”

  “Dismissing Doña Elvira, for one.”

  Katherine bristled. The ignorant fool! “That had nothing to do with Fray Diego. What else?”

  “I am told that the friar makes a sin of all acts.”

  “Some would say that he keeps us on the path of virtue.”

  Fuensalida glared at her. “Highness, do not quibble with me. It is well known that the beginning, middle, and end of these disorders in your household are the friar.”

  “That is a lie!” Katherine cried. “How dare you complain to King Ferdinand of matters of which you plainly know nothing!”

  “It is my duty,” Fuensalida said. “I am sorry that it grieves your Highness, but my allegiance is to a higher power.”

  He bowed and left her standing there, trembling with anger.


  Francesca de Cáceres came to her. Alone of her household, Francesca had never stopped urging Katherine to return to Spain. She hated England and the privations she was forced to suffer, and made no secret of her yearning for her homeland.

  Fray Diego had told Katherine to pay no heed to her. “Your Highness’s place is here. You are the future Queen of England. Do not let a foolish girl persuade you otherwise.”

  Katherine suspected that Francesca had overheard him, because since then her manner toward the friar had been cool, and she had put even more pressure on Katherine to leave England for good.

  “Would your Highness not like to go home? Think of how good it would be to be back in Spain. To bask in the sunshine and eat oranges whenever we want to…”

  “My place is here,” Katherine always said. “I am the Princess of Wales. I cannot leave.”

  But of late, unlike the other hard-pressed servants, Francesca had been in a buoyant mood, laughing readily and humming as she performed her tasks.

  The reason became clear one day when Francesca appeared nervous yet determined to speak her mind. Katherine put down her embroidery, expecting to hear more complaints, but her maid surprised her.

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