Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  She still could not get a glimpse of the woman’s face, for it remained buried in her hands. Clearly she was in the most terrible distress.

  Katherine slid out of bed, intending to touch the woman gently on the shoulder and rouse her, but then a strange thing happened. The figure was just not there anymore. There was no chair where she had been sitting, and the only sound in the room was Mary Roos’s even breathing. Katherine stared at the place for a few moments, then climbed back into bed, puzzled, and not a little shaken. Had she been dreaming?


  The next morning she was glad to hear the door close behind her on the Queen’s lodging. And there, banishing the last vestiges of shadows, was Henry, ebullient as ever, glittering in gold and gemstones, eager to make his state entry into London.

  “I cannot wait to show you off to my subjects!” he said, planting a hearty kiss on her cheek. The tournament ground at the Tower was packed with lords, ladies, officers of state, royal servants in the green and white Tudor colors, and a host of clergy, all scrambling to get into their places in the grand procession. Henry mounted his horse, then Katherine climbed into a litter hung with cloth of gold, to which were harnessed two white palfreys, and thus they rode forth, through the roaring crowds who lined their route, which wound from Tower Hill to Cheapside, Temple Bar and the Strand, and finally to the Palace of Westminster. The streets were hung with rich tapestries, the conduits flowed with wine, and on every corner there stood priests swinging censers. For Katherine, the day held vivid echoes of her state entry to London, nearly eight years before.

  That night, exalted at the prospect of their coronation on the morrow, Midsummer Day, she and Henry retired to the vast Painted Chamber, which was decorated with ancient murals of the coronation of St. Edward the Confessor and biblical battles. A fine oak bed, carved with symbols of royalty and fertility, stood against it.

  “My parents’ marriage bed,” Henry said. “It is called the Paradise Bed.”

  The bed was hung with rich damask curtains and had been sumptuously made up, but the chamber felt dank even on this warm June night. There were ominous patches of green mold discoloring the reds, blues, silvers, and golds of the murals, and a damp miasma arose from the Thames.

  Henry turned to Katherine.

  “Hallowing sets a king apart from the ordinary species of men,” he said. “Tomorrow I will be different—anointed, crowned, invested with divine authority. It is a strange and daunting thought. My father always said that kings are given wisdom and insights denied to mere mortals.”

  “What is even more important, my Henry, is that you rule with the love of your people,” Katherine replied, taking his hand. “And you have that in abundance already. The whole world is rejoicing; they are glad to have such a king.”

  Henry leaned forward and kissed her. “You would say that, sweetheart!”

  “It’s true, and I am not the only one. I watch and I see. The people love you for your youth, your beauty, your courage, and most of all for your common touch. It is not something one learns, but a gift. They know you understand the things that touch their lives. If you go on as you have begun, you will hold their love and loyalty all your life.”

  “I mean to do it, Katherine! And you must help and support me.”

  “I will always be there for you, Henry,” she vowed.

  He smiled at her. “Will you come with me to St. Stephen’s Chapel and keep vigil?”

  “Are you not tired? You kept vigil last night.”

  “I feel it is a sacred duty.”

  “Then I will come.”

  They made their way hand in hand to the chapel and knelt together before the altar, which was lit only by the lamp glowing in the sanctuary. Above them tall Gothic windows soared to the vaulted roof, but all was in shadow and the night was still. Katherine’s senses were assailed by the lingering smell of incense and the sound of Henry’s low voice intoning prayers. She tried to pray herself, but for once the words would not come. She was too conscious of Henry kneeling devoutly beside her, golden head bowed, hands clasped together—the epitome of a Christian king.


  They went to bed at four, but Katherine felt little the worse for the lack of sleep, even when she was woken early. She rose feeling refreshed, to hear Mass with Henry. As she again knelt beside him at the altar rail, she glimpsed his face, exalted, rapt, gazing up at the painted statue of the Virgin and Child, and knew that he was ready for his great task, for the years of kingship that lay ahead.

  When Henry had left for his own lodging, to be made ready by his lords and gentlemen, Katherine’s ladies attired her in an exquisite gown of white satin embroidered in gold. They left her hair falling loose down her back, and on her head they placed a coronet set with Orient pearls and precious stones. Then they lifted on her shoulders the crimson mantle lined with ermine.

  Henry was waiting for her.

  “You are beautiful,” he breathed. “I’m so very proud of you.” Then he handed her into her litter, and took his place under a canopy of estate borne by the five barons of the Cinque Ports. The long procession moved forward, with Katherine’s officers and ladies following her in chariots and on palfreys, and the King coming last. They advanced slowly along a bright scarlet runner that had been laid from the palace to the great west door of Westminster Abbey, and on either side there were dense crowds, rejoicing loudly.

  For Katherine, the day of her coronation passed in a haze. There were so many moments to savor and treasure, so many images that she would cherish in memory. Henry seated in majesty in the venerable coronation chair; the sparkle of the jewels in St. Edward the Confessor’s crown as it was placed on his anointed head; the shouts of acclaim from the assembled lords spiritual and temporal, and head after head bending in homage. She would never forget the sacred moment of her own anointing, or the moment when the Archbishop of Canterbury reverently placed the heavy gold diadem glittering with sapphires, rubies, and pearls on her head. Her heart was full; with all her being she was ready to dedicate her life to God and to the service of her husband’s realm.

  When they at last emerged from the abbey, undoubted and sanctified King and Queen, their crowns on their heads, their hands joined, the people went wild. The red runner was gone, ripped to shreds, they were told later, by those greedy for mementos. They walked through the throng of well-wishers to Westminster Hall, where, beneath the lofty hammer-beam roof, they mounted the steps to the high table and sat down to their coronation feast.

  Katherine thrilled to see Sir Robert Dymoke, the King’s Champion, ride on horseback into the hall, daring anyone to challenge his master’s right to the throne. It was an awe-inspiring moment, and Dymoke—whose family, Henry explained, had been champions of England for over a century—performed his office with a flourish, casting down his gauntlet on the floor and glaring around him, daring anyone to pick it up. No one came forward, of course, and Henry merrily presented Sir Robert with a golden cup. Then the feasting began.


  There followed days of celebrations. Henry loved nothing more than a tournament, and had arranged for a series of them to be held in the gardens of the Palace of Westminster. Katherine sat beside him in a wooden pavilion hung with tapestries and decorated with crowns, roses, and pomegranates. With her ladies clustering behind her, she presided over the jousts in true courtly fashion, while beside her Henry roared his approbation of the victors, impatient to be among them. So far he had heeded his councillors’ pleas not to put his royal person at risk until the succession was assured. Katherine hoped fervently that before long it would be.

  She felt for Henry, forced impatiently to watch and cheer on his friends, the privileged young men whom he had appointed gentlemen of his privy chamber. Heading his chamber was his fair-haired Groom of the Stool, William Compton, who had been Henry’s page since infancy and was now closer to him than most. Then there was Charles Brandon, one of the comeliest men at court, and who, even at close range, could have been
taken for the King, he was so like him. Brandon owed his position at court to the fact that his father had died fighting for the late King Henry at Bosworth. He was so charming that Katherine could not but warm to him. Compton, she felt, was overamorous with her ladies, and a dubious influence on the King, yet his courtesy toward her was unfailing.

  Feast followed feast, and the days were a bright whirl of pageantry, dancing, hunting, and hawking, and at every event she and Henry donned new clothes. It seemed that the treasury was as bottomless as Henry’s love for her.

  He could not stop telling people of the joy he had found with her.

  “It is clear that His Grace adores you,” Fray Diego observed.

  “And I adore him.” Katherine smiled. “I never dreamed there could be such happiness in this world.” She’d been schooled to gravity and decorousness, and had little cause for rejoicing in the past seven years, but now, freed at last from care and constraints, she gave herself up to love and to life’s pleasures.

  “Your Highness looks in high health,” the friar said, gazing at her approvingly.

  “I am in the greatest gladness and contentment there ever was,” Katherine told him. She felt better than she ever had. Gone were her ailments, gone her depression.

  One afternoon she bent down and watched over Henry’s shoulder as he wrote to her father: My wife and I are as much in love as any two creatures can be. Her virtues daily more and more shine forth and increase so much, that if we were still free, I would choose her for my wife before all others. She kissed him for that.

  “I have never met your father, but I desire to serve him as if he were my own,” Henry said. It touched her to hear him. Since her marriage, she had felt as if the kingdom of England had become a part of her father’s dominions, and it was her sincere wish that Henry would be guided by Ferdinand.

  Her heart full of gratitude, she herself sent a letter to her father. I want to thank you for seeing me so well married, and to a man I love so much more than myself, she wrote, not only because he is my husband, but also because he is the true son of your Highness, and desires to show greater obedience and love to serve you than ever son had to his father.

  I rejoice to find that you love each other so supremely, Ferdinand wrote in reply, and hope you may be happy to the end of your life. A good marriage is not only for the blessing of the man and woman who take each other, but also to the world outside. And this was a good marriage, she knew it. It could not fail to be, for it was built upon a sure foundation of love, respect, and sound political sense.

  Her father had made it quite clear that, now that she was married, her chief role in England was to represent his interests. She was to be an unofficial ambassador.

  “My father is a great king,” she said to Henry one night as they lay entangled in the sheets, relaxing after making love. “He will always give you wise advice.”

  Henry gazed into her eyes. His were of a piercing, intense blue. “I intend to place myself entirely in his hands,” he murmured. “I am very hearty for his service!”

  It thrilled Katherine to see how deeply Henry loved and respected her. He did nothing without her approval. He often brought his councillors and foreign ambassadors to see her, saying, “The Queen must hear this.” Or he would enthuse, “This will please the Queen,” hastening to show her some letter or book he had received. Soon he would do nothing without first discussing it with her and asking for her father’s opinion.

  Katherine herself met frequently with Luis Caroz. She thought he would be pleased to see her enjoying such influence, but as they walked together in the rose-scented gardens, he uttered a word of warning.

  “These English are insular,” he said. “They dislike strangers from other lands interfering in their affairs. The King’s councillors fear your power over him. I have heard it said that England will shortly be ruled at one remove by Spain.”

  “But I would do nothing against England’s interests,” Katherine protested, a little shocked.

  “Of course not,” Caroz soothed. “Your Grace is much loved here, that is plain, but if you are thought to be putting Spain’s interests before those of England, you would incur much hatred.”

  “I would never do that,” she assured him. “And surely they are one and the same. King Ferdinand and King Henry are eager to see France conquered. My lord hates the French as much as my father does.” She did not tell Caroz that she had persuaded Henry to enter into a secret agreement with Ferdinand to undermine King Louis’s power in Italy, which she had to admit would not benefit Henry much, but would be greatly to Ferdinand’s advantage. After all, it could not hurt England. And she said nothing of Ferdinand’s instruction that she herself was to communicate all Henry’s plans to him. Henry trusted her to do the right thing, and as she returned to his side to watch England’s finest young knights vie for honor, she knew for a certainty that through her the interests of both kingdoms would be well served.


  And so that brilliant, golden summer passed, an endless round of pleasure, entertainment, and hospitality. Henry reveled in displaying the riches at his disposal. He kept a splendid court; it literally glittered with jewels and gold and silver. Hundreds of people flocked to it—gold-chained nobles, lavishly dressed, ambitious young men, officers of the King’s and Queen’s households, privy councillors puffed up with their own importance, lawyers, churchmen, ambassadors from many lands—and most of them did nothing but jostle for preferment, eager to take advantage of their new King’s open-handedness.

  Henry was full of his plans to build new palaces or renovate his existing ones. He did not know exactly how many he owned.

  “Dozens!” he said. “And I will make them all fitting places to receive my lovely queen!” She was forever to associate the smell of sawdust and fresh paint with the early years of her marriage.

  Katherine remembered the Spanish court as being very formal, yet here the high ceremonial was unprecedented, for Henry was determined to be an even more magnificent sovereign than his father. But he knew—to a fine art—when not to stand on ceremony. It was what drew people to him. Katherine had been amazed to see him playing at dice with the master of his wine cellar, which her father would never have condescended to do. And she would not forget the astonishment on the faces of some Venetian envoys when, while walking with her in the gardens one day, Henry saw them watching him from a window and went over and joked and laughed with them, even speaking a little Italian.

  “This is a great honor,” they told him, clearly unable to believe that a king could be so free and easy, so companionable. He really was the most gentle and affable prince in the world.

  Henry was at his ease too with the numerous scholars he welcomed to his court, many of them from Italy. Often, when he and Katherine dined, doctors, philosophers, and divines surrounded their table, and the conversation was brilliant.

  “The wealth and civilization of the world are here,” one awed Venetian visitor observed to Katherine, his gaze taking in the King engrossed in conversation with a host of soberly clad men and the contrasting magnificence of the presence chamber, its tapestries, its gilded ceiling, and the carved frieze of gamboling cherubs on its walls.

  “I wish to surround myself with learned men,” Henry told Katherine as they sat together in the palace library one afternoon. “I would rather be with them than with anyone else, saving yourself.” He could have been a scholar himself, she realized. He loved to debate, and was preparing for this evening’s battle of wits by reading the works of Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel the philosopher. Katherine was to test his logic and his rhetoric. He was a good sparring partner because whatever arguments he put forth—and he could be quite incisive—he always did it with remarkable courtesy and an unruffled temper.

  “Biel is right when he says that all ecclesiastical jurisdiction is derived from the Pope,” he declared, putting down the scholar’s book.

  “I am surprised that anyone would question that,” she said.

/>   “Some have held that authority within the Church should rest in an ecumenical council. Francis Bryan is taking that stance tonight, and I intend to oppose it.”

  “Too many people want change,” Katherine reflected. “They question the things they should not question. They complain of abuses within the Church.”

  “Oh, there are abuses, Kate, to be certain. But that is not the fault of the Church; it lies with the individuals who perpetrate them, and they can and should be dealt with. And that’s another debate entirely!”

  Everyone commented on the affection Henry bore to the learned. It was well known that the great humanist scholar, Erasmus, had called him a universal genius, and that, she was sure, was not mere flattery. Surely no monarch before him had possessed greater erudition and judgment. He was gifted with acute powers of reasoning and observation, and could sum up a person or situation immediately. She never ceased being astonished at his vast store of general knowledge—he seemed to know something about everything. He spoke French and Latin fluently, and with her help was now learning Spanish. He spent a lot of his leisure time reading, a pleasure she shared. They often exchanged, or recommended, books and enjoyed discussing them.

  It was obvious, she thought indulgently, that he had a good opinion of himself—but he had good reason, for there were few to equal him! She knew that because she was becoming used to welcoming scholarly guests and assessing their talents. She even held her own in the stimulating discussions that took place in her chamber.

  “This does not seem like a court,” one foreign cleric said to her, “but a temple of the Muses.”

  “I have loved learning for as long as I can remember,” Henry told her one evening, when she had engaged her wits in a particularly lively debate. “That was thanks to my parents and my grandmother. I have never neglected my studies, and do not intend to do so. And now I have a wife who is a miracle of learning. Even Erasmus sings your praises, Kate!” That was now his private name for her.

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