Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “But why?” Katherine was horrified.

  “His Grace is in great displeasure. He summoned me this morning and said he knew that I was telling tales to your Grace. He accused me of employing women to spy on his every unwatched movement, in order to tell you what he is doing. He said he would like to turn them all out of the court, but for his fear that it would cause too great a scandal.”

  “But it isn’t true…”

  “No, it is not, madam. I do not employ spies, as the King thinks, and I was only trying to do you a kindness by telling you what I knew. Now I must go, as I fear to incur His Grace’s anger by lingering.”

  “You may leave this with me,” Katherine said.

  Never had she criticized or opposed Henry in any way. She had been raised to be aware that it was up to her to preserve the love and harmony between her and her lord, and until now she’d had no cause for the slightest complaint. But in return she expected fidelity. The suggestion that Henry had strayed cut her deeply, and she needed to know the truth. She must remember that she had done nothing wrong.

  She sent a page to the King’s privy chamber, requesting an audience with His Grace. The next thing she knew, Henry was bursting through her door, waving away her ladies. His expression was steely, his handsome face flushed.

  “Sir, why has Lady FitzWalter been banished?” Katherine asked, shrinking inside, but determined to stand her ground.

  “Because she has been telling lies,” Henry said, glowering over her. She gathered her courage.

  “She told me that you and Lady Hastings have become too close, and that Sir William Compton was pretending to court the lady to divert suspicion from you. She wanted to avoid my hearing of it from others. Henry, I must know: is it true?”

  “Of course not!” he shouted. “She had no business saying such things to you. It was a mere flirtation on William’s part.”

  “Then why did Lady Hastings say it was you?”

  “Because she is a foolish woman who likes to think I fancy her! Kate, I will not have you question me like this.”

  “You are my husband, Henry, and owe me fidelity.”

  “I have been faithful! But even if I had not, it is a wife’s duty to be silent.”

  “I have no intention of being silent!” Katherine declared. “You should have taken greater care not to get into a situation that was open to more than one interpretation.”

  Henry’s face was puce. “I should—I should…Who are you to tell me what I should and should not do? I have honored you with my marriage, and my body, and I expect unquestioning obedience. You have no right to criticize me—I am the King, the Lord’s anointed!”

  “And that is why you should ensure you are above suspicion! And don’t shout—my ladies will hear you.”

  “Let them! Let them hear how you forget your duty to me!”

  “Henry—” Katherine grasped his arm, but he pushed her away. This was terrible. They could not be quarreling like this. “Henry, please—I must know. Has there been anything between you and Lady Hastings?”

  “No! I’ve already told you. Do you doubt the word of a prince?”

  “No,” she said, her anger subsiding, leaving her uncertain and near to tears.

  “Good! Then I’ll leave you to reflect on a wife’s proper duty to her lord!”


  The whole court knew of their quarrel. Henry was avoiding her company, and when they did meet his manner was frosty. Katherine wanted to believe his denials, but if she were honest, she had not been convinced, so she was frosty too. And to Sir William Compton, she would not speak, but let her displeasure be evident.

  Luis Caroz came to see her, with Fray Diego in his wake. For once they were in agreement.

  “Highness, I am concerned about this situation,” Caroz said. “It seems to me that the King has been at pains not to humiliate you publicly, and you are only making matters worse by your ill will toward his friend. I do fear that if you continue in this behavior, you might compromise your great influence with the King.”

  “Much is at stake,” Fray Diego chimed in. “We have the fortunes of Spain to consider. King Ferdinand relies on your Grace. It would be a sin to neglect your duty toward him.”

  Katherine was still deeply hurt. Did no one understand that she was the one who had been wronged, not Henry? But she was with child, nauseous and fatigued—she did not need all this. She realized that she could choose to fight a battle she would not win, or swallow her pain with dignity and regain her position.

  “Very well,” she said. “I will make my peace with His Grace.”

  She asked to see Henry in private, and when he came, so promptly that she suspected he too was anxious to put an end to this horrible rift, she sank into a deep curtsey and remained there.

  “I fear I have displeased you,” she said in a low voice, “and I am truly sorry for it. I would not hurt the one I love more than anything in this world.”

  Strong arms were suddenly raising her, then she was looking up into her husband’s handsome face and he was smiling at her. It was as if the sun had burst forth.

  “No matter, sweetheart,” Henry said. “Let us be friends again.”

  As he moved to kiss her, smelling familiarly of the fragrant herbs stored with his body linen, she felt the gentle kick of the child she carried, the heir that would ensure England’s future and seal Henry’s love for her. This was what mattered, and she knew now that she had the strength to trust the bonds of their marriage and disregard what would only wound her.


  On November 8 the court moved to Richmond. Big with child now, Katherine sat in a cushioned chair while Henry fought mock battles and put on private disguisings, all for her diversion. He was now leaving a lot of state business to his almoner, Thomas Wolsey. Henry constantly praised Wolsey to Katherine as a capable, loyal servant, but there was something about the man’s heavyset, fleshy face and unctuous manner that repelled her. He never failed in his courtesy to her, and he took many burdens from the King’s shoulders—burdens that Henry was all too willing to slough off—but she found herself resenting his influence, and avoiding his company if she could.

  “He is the son of a butcher!” Maria snorted with all the disdain of the long line of noble ancestors behind her. “It is not fitting that he should advise the King.”

  Katherine agreed—as, she was aware, did most of the great lords at court. They hated Wolsey for a lowborn upstart who was usurping their time-honored role of chief advisers to the King, and they made no secret of their enmity—unless, of course, the King was within earshot. But Katherine did not want to be seen to be criticizing Henry—or Wolsey—in any way.

  “Wolsey went to Oxford,” she pointed out to Maria. “He is clever, and you cannot doubt that he is able and hardworking. The late King promoted him to chaplain.”

  “He is too worldly for a churchman! He loves luxury for its own sake.”

  “The King has seen fit to reward and promote him, and he would not do so without cause,” Katherine said, wondering why she was standing up for Wolsey. In truth, she was concerned that the almoner was making himself indispensable to Henry by relieving him of the many duties of state that bored him. She had noticed that, on days when her husband was supposed to be in the council chamber, he was often out hunting or playing tennis, or on wet days gambling and making music in his privy chamber.

  “My councillors—and Bishop Foxe in particular—are so slow in getting anything done,” he complained in disgust that very day.

  “Then tell them what you want done, and make them do it,” she counseled, weary of hearing it.

  “There’s always a reason why I can’t do this or that,” he grumbled. She suspected it was an excuse, for she knew he preferred to be enjoying himself in the company of the young gallants of his chamber, many of whom had grown up alongside him at court.

  “My councillors make me feel like a schoolboy,” Henry complained, a peevish frown on his face. “They moan about me
spending my father’s wealth. Squandering, they call it, reminding me that he spent years carefully saving it. They accuse me of neglecting state affairs for ‘frivolous pastimes’ ”—he was Bishop Foxe to the life—“and they nag me to sit in on their interminable meetings, with which I cannot endure to be troubled.”

  “But should you not be keeping an eye on those who are governing your kingdom?” she asked gently.

  “They know my will in most matters. If they need any advice they can come and ask me, or Wolsey. Wolsey knows everything.”

  She sighed inwardly. That was what she was worried about. Wolsey had not troubled him or complained. He had got on with things, quietly gained influence, and taken control of many state duties before anyone realized it, leaving Henry free to hunt, plan glorious campaigns, lavish his inheritance on revelry, and write love songs. None of this Katherine could say out loud, even to Maria. Nor could she confide her fears that Henry was coming to rely too much on his new friend. If this continued, the day would come when Wolsey would be the power behind the throne.

  Later, she watched Henry as they sat at table with Wolsey and Brandon. The men were laughing and joking, and she noticed that Henry continually deferred to Wolsey, seeking his opinion, which Wolsey was clearly only too happy to give. To be fair, Henry was also making efforts to draw her into the conversation, as was the amiable Brandon, but she thought that Wolsey would have been happy to exclude her.

  Henry was saying that he wanted to invade France as soon as possible.

  “Bravo!” cried Brandon, smiling at Katherine.

  “Greater victories are made in diplomacy than on the battlefield,” Wolsey observed.

  “There speaks a churchman!” Henry said. “Thomas, I want to win glory for England! By right, I am King of France, and I mean to conquer it.”

  “Then I will assist your Grace in every way I can,” Wolsey said.

  Along the table the Duke of Buckingham leaned forward. “Your Grace may rely on your nobility to support you,” he said. There was no love lost between him and Wolsey. But Henry ignored the barb and raised his goblet to Buckingham.

  “We’ll have some fun in France, eh, Ned!”

  “It will be a wonderful day when your Grace is crowned at Rheims,” Katherine said, hoping to avert harder words.

  “And with you beside me, my love,” Henry smiled, raising her hand to his lips. “How delighted your father will be!”

  Wolsey said nothing. Already Katherine suspected that he had no love for Spain. She could not have said why, and maybe she was mistaken and it was her own influence he resented—and, by implication, Spain’s, of course. Always, she was aware of his eyes on her, and they were calculating, assessing…It occurred to her that he could prove a formidable enemy.

  While they were talking, the babe had fidgeted and kicked lustily. When Katherine placed Henry’s hand on her belly, he grinned.

  “A fine commander we have in there, my love! He will be Prince of Wales and, God willing, Dauphin of France!” Of late he had been ordering luxuries for his son’s nursery and drawing up instructions for his daily care. Again, Henry was utterly convinced that the infant would be a boy, and Katherine had given up reminding him that there was an equal chance it could be a girl. And she had forced herself not to think of the tiny, still body carried from her chamber not a year ago.

  She would be retiring from public life some weeks before her confinement. “My father laid down ordinances for the confinement of a queen,” Henry had told her, “and I would like you to follow the precedent set by my mother. No man will be admitted to your presence during the last weeks of your pregnancy, save I myself and Fray Diego. You will need to arrange for your ladies to take over the duties of all your male officers; they must serve as butlers and servers and pages, and they can receive all the things you need at the door to your chamber.”

  Katherine had done as she was bidden, and now all was in readiness. Her chamber was prepared. There was gold plate on the court cupboard, kindling for the fire, and a portable altar. In the great chest at the foot of her state bed were swaddling bands, tiny bonnets, binders and bearing cloths, as well as all the linen and holland cloth thought requisite for the birth. She wondered if Wolsey had a hand even in this.

  Shortly before Christmas she went into seclusion. First she attended Mass and prayed that she might be vouchsafed a safe delivery and a healthy child. Then she went, her belly high before her, in procession from the chapel to her presence chamber, where she gratefully sank into her chair of estate. Wine and wafers were served, after which her chamberlain, Lord Mountjoy, came forward and bowed low to her.

  “My lord, I bid you and all present farewell,” Katherine said. “Now I must take to my chamber.”

  Mountjoy turned to her assembled household. “I desire you all, in the Queen’s name, to pray that God will send her a good hour!” he cried.

  There was applause and blessings as, accompanied by her ladies, Katherine departed to her privy chamber, and thence to her bedchamber. Behind her the heavy traverse of arras was drawn across the door. A good fire was burning on the hearth, and the room was very warm, for tapestries had been hung not only on every wall, but also across all the windows but one. They depicted the “Roman de la Rose,” amid a thousand colorful flowers. Henry had assured her that there would be no gloomy or staring figures to frighten the babe. His father had been particular about that.

  For the next three weeks Katherine kept to her bedchamber, resting on the rich tester bed, on silver damask cushions, sheets of fine lawn, and a counterpane of bright scarlet velvet bordered with ermine and cloth of gold. The curtains and hangings were of crimson satin embroidered with crowns and her coat of arms. It was a peaceful and pleasant time. Her ladies played music or sang with her, read aloud and entertained her with the latest gossip. She and Maria spent hours lovingly stitching a layette of tiny garments for the baby. Fray Diego attended diligently to her spiritual needs, and Henry came every day to sit with her and tell her what was going on in the world beyond her chamber. He fussed over her, begged her to tell him if there was anything she needed, and exhorted her repeatedly to take care of herself.

  “Whom shall we have for sponsors?” he asked one evening after they had dined together, with her ladies waiting on them.

  Katherine was touched that he had asked her. “The Archbishop of Canterbury?” she suggested, dabbing her napkin to her lips.

  “An excellent idea!” Henry approved. “I think we should also have the Earl of Surrey and my aunt, the Countess of Devon.” Katherine had grown to like the countess, who was sister to Henry’s late mother, and a princess of the House of York; and Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, was a nobleman of the old school, a man of great integrity and courtesy. “I suppose I’ll have to ask King Louis,” Henry added.

  Katherine stiffened. She could not bear to have her father’s enemy sponsoring her precious child, but she held her peace.

  “Maybe we could have the Duchess of Savoy too,” she countered. The Duchess was that same Margaret of Austria who had married her poor brother Juan, and had once, briefly, been Katherine’s rival for Henry’s hand.

  “It shall be as you wish,” Henry had agreed, beaming. “You know I can deny nothing to the mother of my son.”


  Christmas came and went. Festive fare was served to her, boar’s head and roast peacock, pies and brawn, and Henry came as often as he could, although he was keeping open court and was busy hosting the feasting and disports.

  One morning he brought her a gift, a great diamond set in a pendant.

  “I wanted you to have this before New Year, in case you have no leisure to enjoy it then,” he said, kissing her. In return Katherine presented him with an illuminated book for his library, which she had commissioned months before. He thanked her warmly, and described for her the gorgeous mummeries, pageants, disguisings and feasts, and the carols danced and sung in the great hall while the Yule log crackled on the hearth.

nbsp; “Next year you will share them with me,” he told her. “You and our son. That fighting boy in your belly will be old enough to take notice of it all by then.”

  Katherine smiled at him, her heart full. She could see Henry with their son; he would make a good father.

  “I’ve composed a new song,” he told her. “I will play it for you.” He had brought his lute, on which he played most skillfully, and when he sang his voice was a rich, true tenor.

  “Pastime with good company

  I love and shall until I die;

  Grudge who lust, but none deny,

  So God be pleased, thus live will I!

  For my pastance,

  Hunt, sing, and dance,

  My heart is set:

  All goodly sport,

  For my comfort,

  Who shall me let?”

  There were three verses, in which he sang of putting to flight Idleness, the chief mistress of all vices, and how he himself meant to follow the path of virtue through enjoying mirth and play in honest company.

  “Bravo!” Katherine smiled, clapping. She loved the intimacy of making music together in private.

  A few days after Christmas, Henry arrived bearing something very special. “This was brought for you today by the Abbot of Westminster.” Reverently he laid a bundle of damask on the chest and unwrapped it to reveal a fragile, cracked blue silk cincture. “It is Our Lady’s girdle, one of the abbey’s most precious relics. The abbot said they had lent it to my mother, and now he wishes you to borrow it. It offers special protection in childbed.”

  Katherine gazed at the girdle in awe. To think that it had once been worn by the Mother of Christ, and now she herself was vouchsafed the special privilege of wearing it in her hour of need.

  “Bring it to me,” she said. She took it with reverence and kissed it. It was feather-light and smelled of age and incense. “I will guard it with my life,” she promised. Now she was sure she had nothing to fear. All would be well.

  On the last day of the old year Katherine’s pains began, gently at first, then strongly gathering momentum. Her women helped her onto the pallet bed, and when they carefully looped the sacred girdle around her swollen body, she felt safe, and thanked God that He had permitted her pregnancy to run its full span this time.

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