Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir


  She lay on her sodden pillow, unable to stem the tears that had been flowing for hours now.

  “After such great joy…to be cursed with such sorrow,” she sobbed.

  “Kate, I know not what to say to you.” Henry’s voice was choked. He had been with her all the while, lying at her side, trying in vain to comfort her. His arms were again tight around her.

  “He did not suffer,” he had said.

  “His soul is now among the innocents of God,” he had said, his own eyes now brimming.

  “We are young; we can have other children,” he had said.

  “I want my baby!” Katherine wept. “I want my little son! I should never have left him. I am his mother, but I was not there when he needed me.”

  “We must not question the wisdom of God,” Henry said. “If you had been there, you could not have saved him. A sudden chance like that, a chill—he was so young.” His voice threatened to break again.

  “I wish God had taken me!” Katherine wailed. “I cannot face life without him. I cannot bear the pain. My little babe…” And she would not be comforted.

  Fray Diego came and spoke sternly to her. “God understands your loss, my daughter, but this excessive grief is a sin against His will. Did not St. Paul speak of the dead as them that are asleep, not them that have died? Your son sleeps in the Lord, and assuredly knows the joy of eternal life.”

  Dutifully she tried to be positive, but her arms ached with emptiness, and her longing to see and touch her child was agony.

  Henry was her only comfort. Hiding his own sorrow, he stayed with her during the darkest days of her grief, holding her through every storm of weeping and trying to divert her with music and pastimes.

  “There will be no court mourning,” he decreed. All the same he wore black on the day the little prince was buried in Westminster Abbey, and spent a fortune on the funeral. All that pomp—vigils, candles, and torchlight—for one tiny babe, but it was fitting that the King’s son be laid magnificently to rest among his forefathers, as his mother grieved and keened for him in the seclusion of her chamber and brokenly laid away the layette that was no longer needed.


  Katherine frowned as she read the letter. It was from Francesca de Cáceres, who was begging to be taken back into her service. Her husband had died and she desired nothing more than to serve the Queen.

  Katherine showed it to Fray Diego.

  “Under no circumstances should your Grace agree,” he commanded. “She is a troublemaker and I will not have her entering the palace!”

  Katherine thought his reaction excessive. He seemed almost to fear Francesca, and she wondered fleetingly if he had cause, and if she had misjudged her maid five years ago. But those accusations of immorality could not have been true—she could not imagine the friar ever behaving that way. Nothing in all his long years in her service had given her cause to doubt his virtue.

  Then another letter from Francesca came, and another. Clearly the woman was not going to give up. She might make trouble, which could reflect badly on Katherine.

  There came an evening when Katherine was dining with Henry in her privy chamber with just Wolsey and Maria present. The subject of dishonest servants was raised—Wolsey had to dismiss one for thieving—and Katherine mentioned Francesca’s importunings, relating what had happened years before.

  “I know Fray Diego to be a man of integrity,” she said. “What she said was just not true. But she is prejudiced against him, and he fears she may make more false accusations.”

  “We cannot have that,” Henry said. “What touches him touches you. Thomas, can you advise in this?”

  Wolsey steepled his hands under his chin.

  “Why not send her abroad and get rid of her?” he suggested. “If you write a letter of recommendation, she will be assured of a place in some foreign court. Might I suggest approaching the Regent of the Netherlands?”

  Katherine shook her head. “I fear it would be dangerous to take that course. Francesca was a party to Fuensalida’s blackmail, and claimed he had told her secrets about Fray Diego. Dare we risk her making mischief abroad, or spreading unfounded gossip that might reflect adversely on me? The Regent Margaret was my sister-in-law. I would not inflict such a person on her.”

  “Then, madam, we will pack her off back to Spain,” Wolsey said. Suddenly she could see why Henry relied on Wolsey. Finding solutions and relieving others of their worries came effortlessly to him. But although she was profoundly grateful, still she could not warm to him.

  When she told Fray Diego that Francesca was to be sent home, his eyes filled with tears of gratitude and relief. “That woman is poisonous!” he fumed. “Your Grace is well rid of her, as am I.”

  Again she thought his reaction disproportionate. Had he had something to hide?


  “You must forget what happened, Henry,” Katherine said, keeping her voice low. She was standing beside him as he let loose his arrow at the butts in Greenwich Park, her own bow on the grass beside her. The mild spring weather had prompted a mass exodus from the stuffy confines of the palace, and a large crowd of avid courtiers stood respectfully at a distance, watching the sport.

  “The shame of it!” her husband fumed. “If only your father had been there when he should have been. Damn!” His arrow had gone wide of the mark.

  “It was a misunderstanding,” Katherine insisted, watching him take aim again. “My father could not help the fact that your army was poorly provisioned.” She wasn’t having the failure of their joint offensive against France blamed on Ferdinand, when it was Wolsey who had been remiss. His lauded efficiency had failed him on this occasion.

  Henry frowned as his second arrow missed the center of the target. He practiced daily and was a superb shot; Brandon said he drew a bow with greater strength than any man in England, but today he was too upset to concentrate properly. He took another arrow from the chest beside him.

  “It wasn’t all Wolsey’s fault,” he muttered. “My lord of Dorset told me that he waited in vain in the north for your father to attack from the south.” They’d had this conversation several times now, and still the ignominy of his army’s withdrawal rankled. “He complained that King Ferdinand wasted valuable time in trying to enlist his aid in attacking Navarre.”

  Katherine was aware that would have been much to Ferdinand’s advantage, but did not say so. She could not bear to have Henry doubt her father’s wisdom or think ill of him.

  “My father was not responsible for the dysentery that laid your army low,” she said. “Had there not been great sickness, he would have come, I am sure of it. But it was clear that nothing could be gained after that.”

  “It was an inglorious retreat,” Henry sniffed.

  “It is best not to dwell on it. Gather another army; invade again this year! My father is planning to do the same. Together you can win this time!”


  Henry took her at her word; he was easily influenced because he loved her, and he longed to make her smile. She knew he sometimes caught the sadness in her eyes when some small memory brought back the pain of losing her tiny son. And it did warm her heart to see him throwing himself eagerly into preparations for a second campaign.

  “I myself will lead my men to victory!” he announced. His talk was all of the Black Prince and Henry V, and England’s past triumphs in France. He could think of nothing else but the glory of the battlefield.

  Luis Caroz requested an audience with the Queen. She saw that he looked worried.

  “Highness, as you know, Spain is as eager as King Henry to invade France, but here, it seems, the people are not so keen. Master Almoner loves the French, and he and other councillors are trying to talk the King out of it.”

  “They will not succeed. He is bent on war.”

  “And your Highness?”

  “I am for it too, and I think he will listen to me.”

  “Good.” Caroz looked relieved. “I have heard
it said that even the wisest councillors in England cannot stand against the Queen.”

  She waited for an opportunity, and seized it when, walking in the palace grounds one day, she came across Henry and a group of courtiers playing bowls, with Wolsey standing by, watching them. She joined him, and they stood together, applauding every time someone scored.

  “Master Almoner, I understand that you are trying to dissuade the King from invading France,” Katherine murmured.

  Wolsey gave her a quizzical look. “I am for peace, madam, not war.”

  “My father’s ambassador believes that you favor the French.” She was watching him closely, but he was inscrutable.

  “Then he is mistaken, madam. I would not wish you to think that I was in any way hostile to Spain. My aim is to protect English interests. This is a small kingdom, and Christendom is dominated by two great powers, Spain and France.” He was explaining this patiently to her, as if a woman would find it hard to understand. “England’s friendship tips the balance of power and preserves peace, and so if the King favors Spain or France, he does so for a good reason.”

  “I can hardly think that he will ever favor France when he is married to Spain,” Katherine said.

  “Naturally your Grace thinks that, but history shows us that alliances can founder and shift.”

  “Rest assured that I am doing everything in my power to preserve this one,” she said firmly.

  Wolsey merely inclined his head, as if deferring to her. “I see that Brandon is set to win,” he said, turning back to the game.

  She walked back with Henry, leaning on his arm.

  “You will not let them talk you out of this war with France,” she said.

  “You’ve been talking to Wolsey,” he said.

  “He has been explaining how alliances work,” Katherine told him, making a face.

  Henry laughed. “As if you did not know, my love! Wolsey hates the idea of war. He would dissuade me if he could. But fear not, Kate, I am for France, whatever he says!”

  Katherine felt a sense of triumph at having for once outmaneuvered Wolsey.


  Late that spring, Henry signed a treaty with Ferdinand and their ally, the Emperor Maximilian, pledging himself to invade France that year.

  “It will be a marvelous adventure!” he cried, fired up with martial fervor. Katherine knew he was seeing himself returning victorious, adorned with laurel wreaths and the crown of France. “More than that,” he added, “it will be a holy war, nay, a crusade.”

  “Louis has ever been an enemy of the Church,” Katherine said. She could feel nothing but contempt for the French king. “What kind of man would dare invade the Pope’s own territory?”

  “Fear not,” Henry assured her. “I am determined never to rest or desist until he is utterly destroyed. I thank God for my dear father of Spain. I know I have his support and that he will never desert me.”

  “You have my support too, my Henry,” Katherine told him.

  “Aye, I know I can count on you,” Henry said, kissing her. Then he straightened and regarded her gravely. “Kate, I have decided to name you Regent of England, to rule while I am in France.”

  Her heart swelled. “It is a great honor,” she whispered.

  “I’ll swear you’ll be as good a ruler as your mother, Isabella,” Henry declared.

  “I will do all that is needful,” she promised. “I will not fail you.”

  “Wolsey is coming with me, but I am leaving behind Archbishop Warham and the Earl of Surrey to act as your advisers, and every precaution has been taken to safeguard the border in case the Scots decide to take advantage of my absence.”

  “They will not do that, surely? Your sister is married to King James.”

  “And Scotland is France’s friend! I do not trust James. He supported the pretender Warbeck against my father. Just be on your guard. You can rely on Surrey to keep an eye on things. He has vast experience.” Henry paused. “I am glad you are with child, Kate. I would not have gone otherwise.”

  Katherine patted the slight mound beneath her unlaced stomacher. “I am in high hopes that this will be another son,” she said, knowing it was what Henry wanted to hear. In truth, she was frightened to hope that this third pregnancy would be successful. They had waited long enough, for it had been more than two years since the birth of poor little Henry. She still mourned for him; she would always hold his memory in the secret places of her heart.

  “You must take great care of yourself,” Henry said. He had never reproached her for her long failure to conceive.

  “I will do everything the midwife tells me to do,” she promised him, “and I will pray every day that God will send us a healthy boy.”

  “And I will pray that you are safely delivered,” Henry said, his lips seeking hers. “You are very precious to me.”

  “I do not know how I will bear your absence,” Katherine murmured. “Keep safe, my lord! Do not take any unnecessary risks!”

  “Never fear,” he soothed, stroking her hair.


  Katherine’s litter jolted as it was borne up the steep hill to Dover Castle. Ahead of her rode the King, and behind came his lords, his officers, and—marching in unison—eleven thousand men. Crowds had lined the way as the great procession wended its way through Kent, crying out blessings on their King and cheering him and his brave soldiers. Now it had reached the edge of the kingdom and the great fortress that stood sentinel on the white cliffs, overlooking the sea. Above, seagulls wheeled and squawked in the clear June sky, and far below the gray waves churned in the harbor where the mighty fleet lay at anchor.

  In the Great Tower of the ancient castle Katherine stood before the whole court as Henry invested her with the regency, and assured him that she would do her utmost for him and for England.

  That night, despite her pregnancy, he came to her bed and she lay within the circle of his strong arms, aware that he was dreading the moment of parting as much as she was. In the morning, when she heard him singing marching songs in his bath next door, she knew he had gone from her already. It was always easier for those going away than for those left behind, and Henry was going to war, which he had always wanted to do. He would have much to occupy him. Fortunately there would be many things to fill her empty days too.

  They said farewell at the quayside, as the great warships bobbed and creaked on the roiling waves, gulls screamed, and the sky was a canopy of blue.

  “Thanks be to God for a magnificent fighting force!” Henry said, waving an expansive hand at the ranks of well-equipped men boarding the ships. “Have you ever seen anything so gorgeous as this fleet?” He turned away from her, his mind busy with campaign plans and the glory to come.

  She had resolved to be brave, but when Henry broke away from her embrace, she could not stem the tears, and suddenly the gallant Surrey was beside her, his arm protectively around her while they watched the King board his flagship, turning to wave at the assembled throng as he did so. He had never looked more handsome, tall and debonair with his red-gold hair blown by the wind. She felt sick as she saw the anchors pulled up and the vessel move away in stately fashion out of the harbor, and she would have stood there until it had disappeared from sight but for Surrey insisting it was time to depart.

  “It only prolongs the unhappiness to watch a loved one leaving,” he said.

  I must be strong, she told herself. She was the custodian of her husband’s kingdom, and she must guard it well for him. Nodding to Surrey, she turned and walked away, her head held high.

  As he escorted her back toward Richmond, the elderly earl regaled her with tales of his youth.

  “I am seventy now, and I have seen much,” he told her. He made no secret of the fact that he had once served King Richard. “And why should I not have done?” he asked. “Of course, I was sent to the Tower for it after Bosworth. The late King asked me why I had fought for the tyrant, and I replied that he had been my crowned king, and if Parliament had set the cro
wn upon a stock, I would have fought for that stock. I think the King liked my words, for I was soon pardoned and allowed to serve him. But I was not allowed to succeed to my father’s dukedom of Norfolk.”

  “That is very sad,” Katherine commiserated, deciding to speak to Henry. Such a great and noble lord should have his reward.

  “I do not blame His Grace,” Surrey said. “He has always been good to me. But there is another who does not like me. The antagonism is mutual, I must admit.”

  Wolsey, of course. She had known that Surrey hated him as much as Buckingham and many lords did. Here was this butcher’s son rising higher and higher, usurping their place. But she said nothing, lest Surrey think she was criticizing the King. At least Master Almoner’s influence did not extend into the bedchamber! She knew—for had she not had proof?—that Henry would heed her rather than Wolsey.


  Katherine soon came to realize that Henry, busy with the campaign, was no great letter writer. She had arranged for relays of messengers to be posted between London and France to bring her word of his progress, but after several days of silence she desired nothing more than to hear of his health, especially when it was made clear to her that the French were drawing ever closer. Daily she was on her knees in her closet, beseeching God to have her husband in his keeping. She could not rest until she had news.

  Wolsey was with the army in France and would surely know everything that was happening, so she wrote to him too, asking for word of the King. I trust in God that he shall come home soon with as great a victory as any prince in the world, she ended. It was a fortnight before she heard back, by which time she was about to go mad, worrying that something had happened to Henry. Great was her relief, therefore, when Wolsey reported that all was well.

  She replied that she had been filled with alarm at reports of the risks the King was taking. Wolsey wrote to reassure her that he was watching over him, and, full of gratitude, she thanked him. I pray you, good Master Almoner, remind the King always to continue thus, so that nothing in the world shall come to him amiss, by the grace of God. If you remember in what condition I am, without any comfort or pleasure unless I have news, you will not blame me for troubling you.

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