Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “I was lucky to have enlightened parents who believed that their daughters should receive an education. Few women do.”

  “That will change,” Henry declared. “We will have our daughters taught as well as our sons.”

  Katherine looked at her husband, his eyes alight with passion for a bold and bright future, and knew it was time to tell him the secret she was cherishing.

  Henry whooped with glee and gathered her into his arms.

  “Think of it, Kate,” he exulted, “a son, to crown our happiness and safeguard my royal line! Now we will be free from the threat of civil war—and I can go jousting!”


  Henry came into her chamber a few days later, wearing an anxious expression, and waved her ladies away.

  “Kate, Dr. de la Saa approached me this morning. He’d heard that I have been visiting your bed, and urged me not to do so while you are with child. He said it was not fitting, and it might be dangerous.”

  Her first reaction was to rail against her physician for interfering. What did the celibate doctor know of love? How dare he try to come between her and Henry?

  But then she saw the conflict in Henry’s face.

  “Kate, it grieves me to say it, but we cannot take any chances at this time,” he said, putting his arms around her. “In truth, I do not know how I will bear to sleep alone, but I know how strongly I desire you, and I dare not risk losing control and harming our son.”

  She clung to him. This was terrible. She had come to need him in her bed at night as much as she needed light and air and food. It was not just their lovemaking that was so precious: it was the privacy, the being together alone—all too rare in their very public lives. She did not know how she would do without all that.

  But she concurred, as was ever her way. He was looking into her face, his eyes beseeching her to understand.

  “Of course,” she said, forcing a smile. “We must put the child first.”

  How she missed him, oh, how she missed his solid form beside her in bed, his arms around her in the dark, his tender murmuring in her ear, their physical completeness. However attentive and loving he was by day—and he was, give him his due—it was not the same. But her married ladies assured her that it was perfectly normal for husbands to absent themselves from their wives’ beds during pregnancy. Some of them even welcomed it…So she was persuaded to see it as proof of Henry’s care for her and their child.


  At Henry’s behest, Katherine had reluctantly agreed to receive Fuensalida one last time. He offered her a thousand profuse apologies for having failed her, and formally took his leave before departing for Spain. With him went Dr. de Puebla, old and frail, with Death’s mark on him. Some months later, when she heard that Puebla had died, she felt unaccountably sad. Perhaps she had misjudged him all along, believing him to have behaved treacherously toward her. It had been Doña Elvira who fueled her mistrust and enmity, and look how false she had proved! Henry insisted that the doctor had always done his best for her, for his father had said so—and maybe he was right. She just wished she had known it at the time. But already the desperation that had blighted her life then felt like a distant nightmare. The people who endured it with her had been well rewarded, and those few who had deserted her were almost forgotten. Katherine had heard that Francesca de Cáceres was bitter about missing out on the benefits of serving in the Queen’s household, though she now felt only pity for the girl.

  Henry approved of Fray Diego remaining in Katherine’s service. “I hope to keep him for as long as I am able,” she told him. “I rely on him for spiritual counsel.” Naturally she told the friar of her frequent talks with Caroz—there was little she did not tell him—but he seemed uneasy, and a little resentful, to hear of their increasing friendship. Finally, Katherine asked him why he was so concerned.

  “The ambassador wishes to get rid of me,” he said. “You are not to heed him. He has given you bad advice. You must be guided by King Ferdinand in all things.”

  “Why would he wish to be rid of you?” Katherine asked.

  “Because he knows I tell you the truth! And he wants you to bend to his will, not your father’s.”

  She sighed. “Fray Diego, how am I to fare well if the two people best placed to advise me are at odds with each other?”

  The friar frowned. “You must decide where your loyalty lies.”

  “But I do not believe that Don Luis wishes to be rid of you. You are imagining it. He is a good and conscientious man. Please show him every courtesy, as you love me.”

  “Very well, Highness. I am happy to be proved wrong. But I will be watchful.”

  When Fray Diego had gone, Katherine went to her closet and knelt at her prie-dieu. But she had too much on her mind to pray. Once again Fray Diego appeared to be the object of hatred and criticism. Why was it that people disliked him so much? Were they jealous of his influence over her? She thought carefully about his actions and behavior since she had become Queen but could not see anything that had not been beneficial. So what cause had Luis Caroz to resent him?

  No, she must trust her own judgment now. She got up and smoothed her skirts. Henry approved of the friar; he liked him too. And if Henry had no complaints about him, neither did she.


  Katherine was resting contentedly in her chamber at Greenwich, one hand on the mound of her stomach, watching her ladies sorting through fabrics, ribbons, and trimmings for the costumes they planned to wear for the Twelfth Night feast.

  She smiled, remembering how, when the babe had quickened in October, Henry almost burst with pride, and wrote to tell her father the wonderful news. Hearing her husband, you might have thought that no child had ever been born before; certainly not one as special as this babe.

  Beside her on a table lay the beautiful illuminated missal that Henry had given her this morning for her New Year’s gift. She picked it up and leafed through its pages, tracing her finger gently over the exquisite miniatures and delicate floral borders. She was enjoying a peaceful respite from all the revelry, and taking the opportunity to rest before the evening’s feasting, when there came the sound of approaching music and laughter, and suddenly the door burst open and a dozen masked men came leaping and crashing into the room. Katherine rose in amazement as the babe, startled by her thumping heart, wriggled inside her, and her women dropped their fripperies, gaping; but then she saw that her boisterous visitors were all dressed alike in green velvet and feathered caps and carried bows and arrows.

  “May it please your Grace, Robin Hood and his merry men are at your service,” cried their leader in the unmistakable voice of her husband. “We outlaws crave the pleasure of dancing with the ladies!”

  On cue, the musicians who had crowded in behind the players struck up a tune, and amid much laughter the women entered into the spirit of the occasion, allowing themselves to be partnered with the outlaws and joining in a lively dance.

  Then Robin Hood bowed low before the Queen.

  “One stately measure, madam!” he cried. “I would not tire you in your condition.” He led her into a slow pavane, keeping time to a beating drum as the shawms sounded and the pipes trilled. Dance followed dance, until Robin Hood held up his hand.

  “My lords of the greenwood, you have put up a brave showing tonight, but it is now the time to unmask,” he said, and bowed before Katherine. “Madam, will you do me the honor?”

  Katherine rose and pulled down his visor, revealing Henry’s handsome, gleeful face and tousled hair. She pretended to be delightfully surprised and kissed him, and there were squeals and giggles as the ladies discovered the identity of their dancing partners. Then wine was served and there was much laughter and flirtation among the ladies and gentlemen. Katherine ended the afternoon in Henry’s arms, thanking him warmly for the entertainment.

  How good life was! And soon—for she was near her time now—they would be moving to Westminster, where they wanted their son to be born.


  Katherine had never known such pain, and what was worse, when the contractions weren’t torturing her, the awareness that it was all for nothing. It was too soon, too soon!

  There had never been any doubt in Henry’s mind that the baby would be a boy. He had spent months happily planning the Prince’s household, his christening, the tournaments that would follow, what he would wear…

  But today, this last day of January—oh, the pity of it!—all those plans had been set at naught. Katherine had woken with a dull cramp low in her belly, spreading up to her back. When she arose, she had seen, to her horror, bright wet blood on the sheet. It was then that she’d screamed for help.

  Her women had come running and a midwife was sent for. By the time she arrived, Katherine was in the grip of powerful pains, and they lifted her onto the pallet bed so she could be delivered. Her agony lasted for several hours, until she felt an overwhelming need to push. Then it was over. Exhausted, she averted her eyes as the midwife, busy at her end of the bed, handed a tiny cloth-wrapped bundle to one of the chamberers, who scurried out of the door with it, tears streaming down her cheeks.

  Katherine was too weary to cry. She must bear the trial that God had sent her, bear it with courage and patience.

  “What was it?” she asked weakly.

  “A girl, your Grace,” the midwife said. “Never you mind. Them as has a stillborn the first time often has a healthy babe the second.”

  And all to do again! Katherine thought.


  Henry came to her, loving and reassuring, but she could tell he had been weeping. It seemed all wrong that a young, strong man like Henry should weep.

  “It is a great calamity!” she cried. “I am so sorry!”

  “You must not worry, Kate,” he soothed, stroking her damp hair back from her forehead.

  “I have failed you,” she sobbed. “I had so desired to gladden you and the people with a prince.” She was shaking with the awfulness of her loss—Henry’s loss, England’s loss.

  “And you will, my love,” he said, grasping her hand and squeezing it. “There will be other babes, you’ll see. As soon as you are well, we will make another.”

  Katherine turned her head away, mourning for the child she had lost, and for her shattered hopes.

  She recovered quickly, and was allowed to sit up only a week after the birth. The child had been small, so she had suffered no tearing, the midwife told her. All would be well next time. Soon she was allowed to get up and rest in a chair, and then it was time for her churching. That was a quiet ceremony, for there was no child for which to thank God; she could only offer up gratitude for her safe delivery from the pains and perils of childbirth.

  Blessed and purified, she returned to everyday life, uncomfortably aware of the sympathetic looks of concern people were giving her. And no wonder, for when she looked in her mirror, she saw that her face was white and tragic; in fact she looked ill.

  Her ladies did their best to comfort her. There would be other children, they said. It was common to lose the first.

  “I lost my son at two months,” Maud Parr said, her eyes misting over. “I know how devastating it is. But you learn to live again.”

  Henry did all he could to cheer her, from bringing her books he thought she would like, to sending to Spain for the oranges and salad stuffs she loved. He sat with her for hours, forgetting affairs of state and offering her every word of comfort in his vocabulary. He brought his portable organ and played for her a beautiful anthem he had recently composed, “O Lord, the Maker of All Things,” which was now being sung regularly in the royal chapels. He was working on two Masses, he told her, each in five parts. She tried, how she tried, to respond, to be interested, to smile, to be her old self, but she knew she was not giving a convincing performance.

  She felt overwhelmed by guilt. The loss of her baby must have been her fault. She tried endlessly to think back to what she had done or not done in the days leading up to it. There were no answers. Maybe she had displeased God in some way. On her knees, she sought His forgiveness, and fasted to absolve her guilt.

  “Have you written to your father?” Henry asked, his face overcast with concern.

  “What, to tell him how I failed you?” she answered. “I do not have the heart.”

  “You have not failed me, sweetheart,” Henry said, for the hundredth time. “Let me write to King Ferdinand.”

  “No!” she cried.

  “Very well. But, Kate, he would welcome a letter from you, I am sure.”

  She thought about it for a few days, then forced herself to put pen to parchment. She begged her father, Pray, your Highness, do not storm against me. It is not my fault, it is the will of God. The King my lord took it cheerfully, and I thank God that you have given me such a husband. She added, for emphasis, It is the will of God.


  It was May, and Katherine had quickened again.

  “That is the most welcome news!” Henry cried, and folded her in his arms. “I never expected it so soon.”

  “You did not waste time,” she reminded him, smiling, remembering his urgent embraces as he’d claimed her again.

  “You needed comforting,” he said, “and England needs an heir. This time, God willing, we will have our son!”

  “I thought, after what happened, that I had offended God in some way, and that he might not vouchsafe me another child,” Katherine admitted, “but now it has pleased Him to be my physician. We must thank Him for His infinite mercy.”

  “I will render thanks a thousandfold,” Henry vowed fervently. “And look, even now you have a high belly.” He patted her below her girdle. It was true: she had only missed two courses, yet here she was, already unlacing her gown.

  “I hope this is the beginning of a hundred grandsons for my father!” she said, her eyes shining.


  “Your Grace, may I speak to you in private?”

  Katherine looked up from her embroidery frame, where an intricate blackwork design of flowers and fruit was taking shape. It was her lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth FitzWalter, who had spoken. Of Buckingham’s two sisters, Lady FitzWalter, plump, sensible, and motherly, was Katherine’s favorite. Looking around the room at the bent heads of her ladies, busy with their stitching, she noticed that the other sister, Anne Hastings, was not among them.

  “Of course,” she said, rising. “Come into my closet.” She led the way into the linen fold-paneled room that served as her oratory at Greenwich. “Now, what can I do for you?”

  Elizabeth FitzWalter looked uncomfortable. “Madam, I would not for the world say what I have to say to you, but you will find out anyway, and better from me than from anyone else.”

  “What is it?” Katherine asked, alarmed.

  “I have been concerned about my sister’s reputation. I wanted to spare my family any scandal, so I confided in her husband and my brother, the Duke.”

  But what had this to do with her? Katherine wondered, puzzled. Was Lady FitzWalter worried that her sister’s poor reputation would reflect on her, the Queen? Well, she would speak to her sister Anne.

  “What has happened?” she asked.

  “Your Grace, forgive me—there has been much talk in the court of late, of her becoming too close to Sir William Compton.”

  Ah, that was it. The rakish but amusing Compton, the King’s lifelong friend. Of course, Lady FitzWalter would want her to speak to Henry.

  But that lady had not finished. “Some say that these love intrigues involve the King, and that Sir William is providing a diversion to stop tongues wagging.”

  Katherine was outraged. “Who says this?”

  “The Spanish ambassador, madam. He had heard gossip, and was worried that you would hear it too.”

  “I will speak to the King!” Katherine said, unable to credit what she was hearing. She could not believe that Henry would even look at another lady. He had been so loving lately, so attentive, although since she’d told him of her conditio
n, he had of course abstained from her bed.

  “He already knows it is discovered, madam!” Lady FitzWalter cried, her face working in distress. “My brother, the Duke, went to Anne’s lodging and asked for an explanation, but while he was there, Sir William Compton arrived, and there was a fearful quarrel, with the Duke severely reproaching him and using many hard words. Sir William complained to the King, who was so offended that he reprimanded the Duke personally, after which my brother left court.”

  “But that is not proof the King was involved in this intrigue,” Katherine protested.

  “Alas, madam, when her husband confronted Anne, she confessed it.”

  Katherine stood there like stone. This could not be happening. Not Henry—not her beloved Henry.

  “Send your sister to me,” she commanded.

  “Madam, she is gone. Lord Hastings carried her off to a nunnery sixty miles away. And now I fear that the King will blame me.”

  “Let me think on this,” Katherine said. “Now go.”

  Left alone, she sank to her knees at the prie-dieu, her legs having dissolved into water. What was she to believe? What should she do?

  After hours of lying sleepless and sobbing into her pillow, she dragged herself out of bed, trying to compose her features as her women entered the chamber to make her ready to face the court. There was to be a reception for some Milanese envoys.

  Lady FitzWalter was not there.

  “Where is she?” Katherine asked.

  “Your Grace, she is just coming,” Jane Popincourt said. Like the rest, she seemed unusually subdued. Katherine was aware they were all giving her furtive looks.

  She was dressed and feeling for the first time the nausea of early pregnancy when Elizabeth FitzWalter arrived, in outdoor attire. Like Katherine, she looked as if she had been crying.

  “Your Grace, I am come to bid you farewell,” she said. “The King has banished me and Lord FitzWalter from the court.”

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