Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  For all that, Henry and Francis made a brave show of amity, reveling in the endless round of festivities, jousts, and feasts laid on to celebrate their meeting. As the days passed, one extravagant entertainment succeeded another for the delectation of the two courts. Everyone saw Henry and Francis posturing in new outfits of increasing splendor, barely concealing their jealousy of each other.

  Against all expectations, Katherine found herself liking Francis’s queen, the pious, plump, ungainly, cross-eyed Claude. Katherine felt sorry for her, for Claude limped badly and did not look well at all. Next to Francis’s sister, the Queen of Navarre, a kindly, brilliantly learned woman with the long Valois nose and violet-blue eyes, Claude was a sorry thing. And Francis had called her, Katherine, old and deformed! At least she stood straight and was in health, even if she was thirty-four and too stout. But Claude was to be admired and envied in one vital respect, for she had borne sons.

  “She has been continually pregnant since Francis married her,” the French Queen murmured, “and she has to suffer his constant infidelities. Small wonder she is strict with her maids!”

  Katherine’s heart went out to Claude. They had taken to each other immediately.

  When first they had attended Mass, each kept insisting that the other kiss the Bible first—until they solved the problem by kissing each other instead. In that moment a friendship had been born.

  Then came the day when Henry challenged Francis to a wrestling match, and Katherine’s heart sank. Henry, who loved his food, had begun to put on weight—she had even heard one Frenchman calling him fat, which was untrue and unfair; but Francis was definitely slimmer, and younger. There was a dreadful moment when he threw Henry to the floor, at which the two queens and the spectators had held their collective breath in horror. Henry, red with fury, got up and would have hit Francis had not Katherine and Claude been there to pull them apart and make light of things.

  Thankfully, Henry did better in the jousts, and honor was vindicated. Katherine took great pleasure in appearing in the stands wearing a Spanish headdress. Let these French remember who she was!

  On the evening she saw Henry off to Ardres, where he was to be the guest of Queen Claude, she herself entertaining King Francis at Guisnes with a sumptuous banquet. Exchanging pleasantries with him in her limited French as they helped themselves to elaborate fruit pies with decorated crusts, marchpane comfits garnished with gold leaf, and sugared fruits, she was aware of the wit and charm that had women falling into bed with him, yet he was not the type of man she would fancy. He was too saturnine in appearance, with his long Valois nose and his sardonic eyes—a very devil of a Frenchman. He was a cultivated man and engaging, but seemed to think it perfectly acceptable to be talking to his royal hostess and ogling her maids of honor at the same time. And afterward, when her ladies danced for him, he did not ask if she would do the honors with him, but kept leering at poor Mistress Carey, who colored and looked away.

  By the time Henry returned, Katherine was furious. “Words fail me!” she huffed. “That man is the greatest Turk there ever was! No woman is safe with him.”

  Henry frowned. “I trust he did not behave dishonorably to you, Kate?”

  “Only in that he ignored me when his eye lighted on one who pleased him better. Poor Mistress Carey was quite embarrassed. He kept staring at her.”

  “Will Carey won’t be pleased to hear that. Francis is a lecher, and doesn’t care who knows it. They say that in Paris his chief mistress, Madame de Châteaubriant, queens it over the court—and no one even thinks it scandalous.”

  Katherine shuddered. Poor Claude. Thank goodness Henry had never humiliated her publicly like that. He had been unfaithful, but he had also been discreet.

  It galled her that she had to be polite to Francis in the days that followed, as the extravagant festivities continued. She grew weary of sitting for endless hours in the tiltyard watching the interminable sporting contests that Henry loved, of eating too much rich food at feast after feast, and of reining in her patience as her ladies dressed her in new finery for every different event. She would much rather have been at home in England with Mary, whom she was missing sorely. She dared not think what this was all costing. And there was Wolsey, reveling in it all, enjoying the reflected glory that should have belonged wholly to his king, and crawling to the French.

  At last, at long last, the great pantomime came to an end. Wolsey celebrated Mass before the assembled courts. After a farewell feast, everyone went outside into the velvety June night to watch a firework display, and there were gasps of delight as a fiery salamander, King Francis’s emblem, burst into the sky, fizzled there for a few moments, then scattered in myriad sparks. As the crowds began to disperse, Katherine saw Mistress Carey with a dark-haired girl wearing a halo-shaped French hood, a fashion that was apparently all the rage in Paris. Katherine had never adopted it. She found it a little too daring for a married woman, for it exposed hair that should be kept covered. But her sister-in-law, the French Queen, wore one, and it was very becoming.

  The dark-haired girl was laughing, a little too loudly, which belied the air of elegance she carried so gracefully. The two young women embraced, then the dark girl turned away with a swish of her train, and Mary Carey hastened to join her mistress.

  “I beg your pardon, your Grace, but I had to say farewell to my sister. I have not seen her for five years. She has been at the French court. She served Queen Claude, and is now with King Francis’s sister.”

  “She has done well,” Katherine observed, watching the retreating figure disappearing into the crowds, and thinking that, while no beauty, she had a certain grace about her.

  “Our father has been hoping she will find a husband at the French court, but Anne knows her own mind. She will have none but the best!”

  “Then I hope she will find her heart’s desire—and please your father. Now we must to bed. I am to host a farewell dinner for King Francis tomorrow and wish to be up early, as we depart the next day and there is much to be done.”

  As Katherine walked back to the gaudy, transient palace, there was a spring in her step. Only thirty-six hours and they would be on their way to rendezvous with the Emperor!


  And now there was another round of revelry, almost as lavish as the one that had just flagged wearily to an end, but this time Katherine threw herself into the festivities with zest because Henry and Charles were in perfect amity, and there was no hint of rivalry between them.

  They had met the Emperor at Gravelines and escorted him back to Henry’s town of Calais to lodge in the Exchequer Palace. Now Katherine could take delight in hosting suppers, revels, masques, and banquets, because they were in Charles’s honor. Unresponsive as he was by nature, he represented Spain and all that she held dear.

  “I hear that Francis is spitting mad to hear of our friendship,” Henry crowed. He had still not forgiven Francis for throwing him, and was delighted to be able to trump his rival. Willingly, he signed a new treaty of friendship with Charles, each agreeing not to make any new alliance with France in the next two years. When Charles departed, Katherine was sorry to see him go, and parted with many good wishes for his health and happiness, consoling herself with the happy knowledge that England and Spain were once again allies.

  And now it was time to board their flagship for England—and home!


  It was one of the proudest days of Katherine’s life when Henry had told her that Charles had asked for Mary’s hand in marriage. She looked at her five-year-old daughter playing gravely and quite competently on the virginals, and her heart swelled almost unbearably at the realization that this little one would not only be Queen of Spain but also Empress of half of Europe. It was a breathtaking destiny, one for which it was patently clear that Mary was admirably fitted. Already she had taken part most prettily in court pageants; even at four years old, she had received foreign envoys all by herself, and played for them. She loved to dance and could t
wirl as beautifully as any lady of honor. In every respect she was a princess to be proud of, and as far as Katherine was concerned, Charles could have chosen no better wife. Henry had been right. This was a far better match than any Mary might have made with Reginald Pole.

  There was, of course, the age gap of sixteen years. It was a lot to ask a young man in his prime to wait for at least seven years until Mary was mature enough to be married, yet Katherine hoped—for the thought of parting with her child was unbearable—that the waiting time might be longer, as Mary was small for her age.

  “I am more thrilled than I can say,” she told Henry.

  “I thought you would be,” he replied, hugging her.

  “I have always hoped for a Spanish marriage for Mary,” she told him. “I was not happy when she was betrothed to the Dauphin, but it was not my place to question your wisdom.”

  “Wolsey has dealt with that,” Henry said. “The betrothal is broken.”

  “That is such a relief!” She bent down and stroked her daughter’s silky red hair.

  “The Emperor is the greatest match in Christendom,” Henry said proudly, scooping a delighted Mary up in his arms and kissing her. “Who’s going to be Empress?” he chuckled.

  “Me!” cried the child.

  And so the marriage treaty was signed, and the Imperial ambassadors were now at Greenwich to make arrangements for Charles to come to England later in the spring for the betrothal. Katherine went about with a smile on her face and a spring in her step, feeling benevolent toward all humanity, even to Wolsey, who had negotiated the new treaty.

  She knew that Wolsey had an ulterior motive for favoring the Emperor. He had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to be Pope one day, and of course the Emperor had great influence in the Vatican. When Pope Leo died in December, the Cardinal’s hopes had leapt high.

  But Wolsey had been overlooked. Charles had chosen to support the rival candidate, who happened to be his old tutor and his regent in Spain, and it was no surprise to many that the Emperor’s choice was duly elected. The smile had frozen on Wolsey’s face.

  “I had so hoped that His Imperial Majesty would favor me,” he told Henry at supper, on the day news of the election had come speeding into London. “There would have been so much I could have done, as Pope, for your Majesty.”

  Henry toyed with his wine goblet and frowned. “It wasn’t for lack of pressure,” he said. “I sent a hundred thousand ducats to buy you votes. I asked the Emperor to support you and to send an army to Rome to show that we meant business. Thomas, I am sorry that it was all for nothing. Still, the King of France is hopping with rage because the Emperor’s subject has been elected.” He smiled wickedly. “Maybe it wasn’t all a wasted effort!”

  Katherine said nothing but she was uneasy. If Wolsey took against the Emperor, he might try to undermine the new alliance. Wolsey was all-powerful. Think of what had happened to the Duke of Buckingham last year.

  Buckingham had been accused of treason—not, she believed, because he had a claim to the throne and had conspired to seize it, but because of his hatred of Wolsey. A rumor conveniently reached the King’s ear that Buckingham had designs on his crown: the Duke had been rash enough to express the opinion, not realizing there were informers among his hearers, that God had punished Henry for the Earl of Warwick’s death by smiting down his sons. Buckingham himself, the Duke then implied, was more fit to rule.

  It was no secret that Buckingham, the descendant of a long line of kings, had despised Wolsey. Katherine had been present on the day the Cardinal was about to wash his hands in the same bowl as the Duke, and Buckingham deliberately tipped the water over Wolsey’s shoes. He had paid dearly for that and other slights. He had died on the block, and at that bloody stroke, his vast lands came into the King’s hands and Henry had been rid of a rival for his throne, which gave him more good reasons to be grateful and beholden to Wolsey.

  Katherine had not liked Buckingham, but she did not believe that he had been guilty of treason. If guilt was to be apportioned in the whole grim, appalling affair, it belonged to Wolsey. In future, she was going to be very, very careful of antagonizing Wolsey. Already she feared he had enough grudges against Spain.


  These days, whenever Henry dined in private with Katherine, he invariably sent for Thomas More to be merry with them, as Henry put it. Frequently he summoned More to his study and kept him there for hours discussing astronomy, theology, and geometry, a subject that fascinated Henry but left Katherine bored beyond endurance.

  She worried that Henry was monopolizing More. The King still teased him about his lack of enthusiasm for the court, but More had recently let drop in conversation that he had not had leave for a month to go home to his wife and children. Yet Henry was impervious. He loved More’s company, and for months he had sought his advice in regard to his Latin treatise against Martin Luther. Henry had spent more than a year working on it, and Katherine was present at many a late evening discussion with him and More, who shared his master’s concerns about heresy.

  More’s devout Catholicism, no less than his integrity, appealed to Katherine. She was gratified that such a man so stoutly supported the King’s desire to stamp out this new heresy.

  “I see nothing wrong in disputing points of doctrine,” Henry said one night as the three of them were sharing a late supper, “but heresy is another matter entirely, and I am appalled that any credence should be given to the teachings of this weed.”

  “I am in absolute agreement with your Majesty,” More declared. Normally a gentle man, his eyes were blazing with a crusading fervor. “Heresy is a canker in the body politic of the Church. It must be rooted out and eradicated.”

  “Amen to that,” Katherine said. “I fear for those poor ignorant souls who are taken in by these dangerous teachings.”

  “I’m a reasonable man,” Henry said. “I know there are abuses within the Church, but I will not countenance heresy as a means of correcting them. It undermines the divinely appointed order of our society, and it encourages disaffection among the lower classes.”

  “It means eternal damnation,” More added. “That is why burning heretics is an act of mercy, for it gives them a foretaste of the fires of Hell, and thereby may spur them to repent at the last. And if they do not, then they cannot hope for the resurrection of the body, and the world has been purged of its canker.”

  Henry nodded enthusiastically. “I will not tolerate heresy in my realm, or allow Luther’s ideas to gain hold. He even rejects the sacrament of marriage. Well, I am determined to defend that sacrament, which turns the water of desire into wine of the finest flavor. Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder!” He smiled at Katherine. “Luther also rejects the authority of the Pope, but I have written that all true believers in Christ honor and acknowledge Rome for their mother. In truth, I am so bound to the See of Rome that I cannot do enough to honor it. I am determined to set forth the Pope’s authority to the uttermost.”

  Katherine smiled back, proud to see him with the crusading light in his eyes and so zealous in the Church’s defense.


  The Pope had received Henry’s treatise with rapturous praise, and gratefully rewarded him with the title “Defender of the Faith.” The King’s book was printed, critically acclaimed, and tremendously popular. Henry had basked in the adulation.

  Then had come a letter from Martin Luther himself.

  “He dares to accuse me of raving like a strumpet in a tantrum!” Henry roared. “He says he will stuff my impudent falsehoods—if you please—down my throat. He even suggests that someone else wrote the book for me. Well, he will be made to eat his words, for I will write and tell this dilapidated, sick, and evil-minded sheep that it is well known for mine, and I vow that it is mine!” He had fumed and glowered all through the feast given that evening as part of the celebrations at court to mark his new title.

  Katherine tried to cheer him.

  “It matters not wha
t that misbegotten monk says,” she soothed. “Why fret about his opinion when the Pope so honors you?”

  “I had hoped to silence him for good with my arguments!” Henry said.

  The King’s fool, seeing his master’s woebegone expression, leapt up and jingled his stick of bells, pulling a wry face.

  “What ails you, good Harry?” he cried. “Come now! Let you and I defend and comfort one another, and let the Faith alone to defend itself!”

  Ill-tempered though he was, even Henry had to laugh at that.


  At the lavish tournament that was laid on that March in honor of Charles’s ambassadors, Katherine took her place in the royal stand above the tiltyard, her ladies seating themselves about her, all avid to watch the jousts, for today the King himself was to take part.

  And there he was, riding into the lists on a magnificently caparisoned horse, wheeling his steed around before them, bowing in his saddle to his queen and acknowledging the admiring applause of the ladies. Then he reined in his mount and turned, and Katherine saw what was embroidered on the cloth-of-silver caparisons: She has wounded my heart.

  It threw her for a moment. She wondered what she had done to upset him, then realized that Henry had not acted in any way like a man she had wounded. Then it dawned on her that the words were not intended for her, and suddenly she felt faint. The tiltyard, the stands, the sea of faces all seemed to blur.

  It was not unusual for knights to have such mottos embroidered on their horses’ caparisons. It was all part of the elaborate game of love that had been played in royal courts for centuries. A gentleman—usually a single gentleman, of whom there were many at court, often with no prospects—dedicated himself to a lady whom he longed to serve, a lady who would enjoy mastery over him, even if she were married or far above him in rank. He might languish for years for love of her, for she was, in theory, unattainable. But secrecy was all important: her identity must never be revealed. Hence the tantalizing mottos.

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