Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  She steeled herself. She would not give them the satisfaction! The smile stayed fixed on her face, yet she could not drag her eyes away from the comely, sturdy six-year-old who came, nobly attended by three earls, and knelt gracefully before the father he so greatly resembled. And now More was reading out a host of honors—Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Richmond, Duke of Somerset…

  Katherine was appalled. Those were royal titles! Henry’s father had been Earl of Richmond before his accession; and the name Somerset would forever be associated with his illustrious Beaufort ancestors. To be bestowed on a bastard…it was insupportable! The smile on her face felt as if it were set in stone; she was aware that people were watching her even more closely, and that Wolsey was looking at her, a smug expression on his face. Of course, he was Fitzroy’s godfather. No doubt he was behind all this. She stared straight ahead, aware that her cheeks were flushed with anger. How could Henry be doing this to her? It seemed that she was deliberately being slighted. Or was it her punishment for not bearing a son of her own?

  She kept her composure through the rest of the ceremony, watched him kiss his son and congratulate him on his advancement, and saw the adulation with which the boy regarded his father. Envy gripped her like a vice. Why was the endearing little fellow not hers?

  She would not look at Henry or speak to him as they sat together at the feast held to mark the ennoblements and the disguisings that followed. She was desperately relieved to return to her chamber afterward, and remained in her apartments for the next few days, keeping her daughter with her lest she hear gossip and ask awkward questions. It was Margaret Pole who told Katherine that young Fitzroy had now been given several high offices, including that of Lord High Admiral.

  “It is clear that the King means to have him well brought up like a prince’s child in great state,” Katherine observed bitterly.

  “Forgive me, madam, but you should know that people are saying he may easily, by the King’s means, be exalted to higher things,” Margaret said. It was all too believable.

  Katherine was devastated. Henry had delivered a blatant and demeaning slight to her—and to their daughter, which was even harder to forgive. Yet she knew that all she could do was maintain a dignified silence and have patience. And when Henry next visited her, and made no reference to young Fitzroy, she held her peace.


  It was a sweltering August day, too hot even for Henry to go hunting. That put him in a bad mood, for the grease season had begun, the game fat and fit to kill, and it was the time of year when he always took a rest from state affairs to indulge his passion for the chase. He could tire eight or ten horses in a day, and his gentlemen sometimes complained that he turned the sport of hunting into a martyrdom. Katherine had known him to sit boasting about his successes for three or four hours over supper. But today he was restless, and in no good mood.

  She felt the need to placate him.

  “Charles has written to say that he wears the emerald ring you sent him from Mary every day,” she said, her fingers working deftly on the delicate blackwork embroidery that Henry liked to have on the necklines and cuffs of his shirts, and which was copied everywhere now. “He speaks so warmly of her.”

  “Yes, but he continues to press for her to be sent to Spain.” Henry tossed off his doublet and rolled up his shirtsleeves.

  “You will not let her go?”

  “No, I have said she will not go until the appointed time. But now he is demanding payment of her dowry as an act of good faith. I’ve written to remind him that it isn’t due for another three years.”

  Three years, three short, precious years…Then it would be farewell to Mary. Katherine could not imagine the enormity of such a parting. Her child, her small, delicate child—surely she would not be ready, there would be a reprieve…

  “I had best go,” Henry said, rising. “Wolsey wants to see me.”

  He was back within the quarter hour, red with fury, flinging a parchment on the table.

  “Is there no faith in the world?” he shouted. “Sometimes I think I’m the only prince with any honor left! The Emperor,” he fumed, glowering at Katherine as if it were all her fault, “has declared that, as he has received neither bride nor dowry, he considers his betrothal null and void.”

  “No!” Katherine cried, half rising, but sinking back unsteadily into her chair. No, it could not be! Nothing must be allowed to break this most advantageous of alliances.

  “Henry, you must do something to make things right. Charles’s friendship is so important, to us and to England. Think what his rejection will do to Mary! She has grown up knowing that she will be his empress. She loves him, in her childish way. There must be something you can do, or Wolsey—Wolsey is clever at diplomacy.”

  “Kate, if you had let me finish, you would know that there is nothing to be done! Charles has found a richer bride—your own niece, Isabella of Portugal. She has a dowry of a million crowns, far more than I can offer with Mary. What’s more, she is of an age to bear children, and very beautiful.”

  He was pacing up and down, furious in his impotence.

  “I have always dreamed,” Katherine said brokenly, “of England and Spain being united. It has been my dearest wish that Mary would marry into Spain. This is dreadful. I cannot believe it!”

  “I cannot credit that Charles could be so perfidious,” Henry barked. “Wolsey warned me, but I would not heed him, as I know him for a Frenchman at heart. But by God, I can almost feel sorry for Francis, shut up in prison in Madrid.” He sat down, seething, then looked at her challengingly. “Wolsey wants me to make a new treaty with France, and I tell you I have a mind to do it!”

  Katherine was alarmed. “Henry, please don’t make a hasty decision. Wolsey wants you to abandon the Emperor; he has not forgiven or forgotten being overlooked in his bid to become Pope.”

  “What can the Emperor offer me now, madam?” Henry asked, his temper rising again. “This isn’t about Wolsey. It’s about maintaining a balance of power in Europe. If Charles wants his freedom, he can have it, but it will come at the price of my signing a new treaty with France, and then he had best look out!”

  “Please, Henry, listen to me!”

  “Hold your peace, Kate! You are in no position to make demands.”

  It was the cruelest thing he had said to her, and it stopped her short. It brought home to her in an instant the stark fact that, thanks to her nephew’s betrayal and her own barrenness, her voice now counted for nothing—and for that she chiefly blamed Wolsey. She could easily imagine him dripping poison into Henry’s ear, doing his best to undermine her, turning her husband against her.

  She would not go down without a fight.

  “Your interests are my interests, Henry,” she said, rising steadily now to face him. “I would never say or do anything to your detriment. I am heartily sorry that Charles has done this terrible thing. But it was no fault in me, and I pray you not to judge me guilty, even though he is my nephew. Were I to see him now, I would give him a piece of my mind!”

  “Would that I could see him now!” Henry growled.

  He left her then, and it was soon clear that Wolsey had once more gotten to him, for two days later he was back, looking fidgety, a sure sign that he was the bringer of unpalatable news.

  “Now that Mary is not going to Spain, she must be prepared for queenship,” Henry said. “It is what you have always wanted, Kate. You say she has what it takes, that she is Queen Isabella to the life. Well, I hope you are proved right.”

  Katherine was astonished. After all he had said, it seemed incredible for him suddenly to have accepted that it was possible for a woman to rule. Her heart rejoiced for her daughter.

  “Mary will make a great queen!” she assured him. “I have no doubt of that.”

  “We shall see.” He would not concede more. “I do not intend to make her Princess of Wales, but that role she shall have. You will recall the precedent set by my f
ather and grandfather, who sent their heirs to live at Ludlow—”

  “No, Henry,” Katherine interrupted, seeing immediately where this was going. She’d just been led to believe that Henry had made the best, the happiest, decision in the circumstances, but she had been wrong, wrong! “Please, no!”

  “But, Kate, it is the best apprenticeship for princes. I wish I had been afforded the opportunity, but I was only the younger son, so Arthur was sent. This is how Mary will best learn to rule. She is nine, an apt age to begin, and I intend for her to stay there until she marries.”

  “Henry,” Katherine cried in panic, “you must know what this means for me. I had counted on keeping her with me, my only child, until she was twelve. She is so young to be parted from us. She needs me, her mother.”

  “Kate, it is for her good. I am her father. Do you not think I have her interests at heart?”

  “I know you do, of course you do, but what of me? I have no other child to console me in her absence. I cannot bear to part with her. Send her to Ludlow if you must, but let me go with her! I know Ludlow, I was there with Arthur, and I could be a help to her.”

  Henry was immovable. “Kate, your place is with me, as my queen. You have a role to perform here at court. My mother did not go with Arthur; she knew her duty.”

  That stung. But Katherine was frantic. “Henry, I am begging you!” She fell to her knees and clutched his hands. “Let her stay with me until she is twelve.”

  “No, Kate,” he said, disentangling his fingers, not looking her in the eye. “Lady Salisbury shall go with her as her governess. Let that be a comfort to you.”

  Small comfort, however much I love and trust Margaret, Katherine thought, rising wearily to her feet as Henry left her. I am to be deprived not only of my daughter but also of the best friend I have in England. Again she had the distinct feeling that Henry was punishing her. She gave way then, crying as if her heart would break, and that was how Margaret Pole found her.

  “Oh, your Grace, dear me, what is wrong?” Strong, capable arms encircled Katherine, who blurted out between sobs all her griefs—the collapse of the Imperial alliance, the humiliating advancement of Henry Fitzroy, her barrenness, Henry’s withdrawal, and now the imminent parting from Mary. “And I am to lose you too!” she ended.

  “Madam, I am so sorry. I know what it is to be parted from a child. But hearken. I am sensible of the honor the King and you have done me, and I promise you, on the safety of my soul, that I will take the greatest care in looking after the Princess. I will be as a mother to her, and make sure that she writes regularly to you. And I will bring her to court whenever His Majesty permits. I will do all the things a good mother would do, as you would have me. Dear madam, do not weep. God sends these misfortunes to try your faith. Remember, we never come to the Kingdom of Heaven but by troubles.”

  “You are a true friend to me, Margaret,” Katherine said, hugging her. “It is indeed a consolation to me that you will be with Mary. But you know I think much of this is the Cardinal’s doing. He is doing all he can to turn the King against me because he fears my influence. I see the hand of Wolsey in all.”

  She got up and began pacing the room, unable to sit still. “We could stay friends with the Emperor even if he is to marry Isabella of Portugal, and it would be wise to do so, for England does much valuable trade with his dominions; but Wolsey must needs break the alliance because he loves the French and can never forgive the Emperor for not making him Pope. He is telling the King that he can make Fitzroy his heir; he has even put it into his head that he can marry the boy to Mary, and she his half sister! He knows now that Mary will rule after Henry, and fears my influence on her, so he wants us kept apart.”

  Margaret frowned. “Madam, I cannot comment on these matters. I would only advise you not to antagonize Wolsey. He would prove a formidable enemy if provoked. Remember what happened to Buckingham.”

  “I can never forget it. Rest assured, I will be careful,” Katherine promised. But she knew how cunning the Cardinal could be. Since that day nine years ago when Henry had cast an envious eye on the glories of Hampton Court, he had never shown any jealousy of Wolsey’s vast possessions. But recently she had gained the impression that he was at last growing resentful and jealous of the Cardinal’s wealth and power. He was no longer the untried young king whom Wolsey had mentored, but a mature man in his mid-thirties, experienced in statecraft and aware of his own exalted status. On a visit to Hampton Court, Henry had for the first time made pointed remarks about the riches on display in that fabulous palace.

  “Thomas, you are more magnificent than your sovereign!” he exclaimed, clapping Wolsey on the back.

  Wolsey, looking uneasy, had hastened to respond, “It is only fitting that your Majesty’s servant should reflect the greater magnificence of his king!”

  “Is that so?” Henry’s eyes had narrowed. “Tell me which of my palaces is more magnificent than this?” He waved his arm to indicate the fine tapestries, the carved and gilded plaster frieze of gamboling cherubs, the glowing glass in the oriel window, and the abundance of gold plate on the buffet.

  Wolsey hastily begun praising the glories of Greenwich and Richmond, and no more had been said. But a week later Henry had come to Katherine’s apartments beaming broadly, with the deeds to Hampton Court in his hand. The Cardinal, no doubt feeling that some sacrifice was expedient, had made the grand gesture of giving his master the palace.

  Katherine saw that as the beginning of the end for Wolsey, but she had been mistaken. If anything, the gift of Hampton Court had shown Henry how devoted Wolsey was to him, and made him love his old friend more than ever.

  “Was ever a king so blessed in a servant?” he kept saying. Now Wolsey could do no wrong.


  Wolsey came to see her, all rustling red robes and obsequiousness.

  “Madam, the King has asked me to consult you in drawing up guidelines for Lady Salisbury as to the régime to be followed by the Princess at Ludlow.” He sat down at the table, without being invited, and produced paper, pen, and ink from the bulging leather scrip he always carried.

  Katherine bridled. She was Mary’s mother, and she would decide what was best for her. “As to that, my Lord Cardinal, I wish Lady Salisbury to have the most tender regard for the Princess’s honorable education and her training in virtuous behavior. Lady Salisbury and I are of one mind about these aspects, and I will tell you about the regimen that we have drawn up, which is what you will implement.”

  Wolsey frowned. “If I may advise—”

  “There is no need,” Katherine interrupted. “It is all decided. The Princess is to enjoy plenty of fresh air, and take walks in the gardens for her health and comfort. She is to practice her music, but not too much, for fear of tiring her; and she must continue learning Latin and French, but her studies are not to be wearisome. She enjoys dancing, so she must have time for that.”

  Wolsey had begun taking notes in his untidy hand. She waited until his nib had ceased its scratching, trying to remember the myriad things she’d ordered for Mary these past years when she had taken it for granted that she would continue to supervise her upbringing. How she would miss being the central focus of her daughter’s life. It was essential that the child should not suffer any deprivation while they were apart.

  “As to her diet, let it be pure, well prepared, dressed, and served with merry conversation, in an honorable manner. Her lodgings, her clothes, and everything about her must be kept clean and wholesome, as is proper for so great a princess. There must be no dirt or evil smells, and her servants are to behave wisely, virtuously, and discreetly, and treat the Princess with humility and reverence.”

  She thought she had covered everything. No doubt she would think of more, but if she did, she could write to Margaret and know that her wishes would be respected. She did not ask Wolsey for his opinion of her orders; this was her business, and as far as she was concerned, he was here to relay her instructions, no more.

  “That will be all, my Lord Cardinal,” she said.


  It was late August when all was in readiness for Mary to leave Richmond for Ludlow. Henry and Katherine rode with her as far as the royal hunting lodge at King’s Langley in Hertfordshire, and there they bade her farewell. Katherine had been dreading the moment and feared she might make a spectacle of herself by crying in public, but when the time came for her to gather Mary into her embrace for the last time before parting, she took heart from her daughter’s cheerfulness at the prospect of this new, grown-up adventure, made herself smile and gave Mary a hearty blessing. Then she stood with Henry, watching as the great train set out on its way westward, until the litter bearing its precious burden disappeared out of sight down the leafy thoroughfare.

  Afterward she tried to be stoical. It would not be for long. It was less than four months to Christmas, when surely Henry would summon Mary to court. That would make fifteen weeks at most. She could bear that.

  At supper at King’s Langley that evening she broached the subject.

  “Mary will be coming to court for Christmas, won’t she?”

  “No, Kate, it’s too soon,” Henry said firmly. “It would only unsettle her.”

  “Henry, she has been gone three hours and already I am finding this parting difficult. She is a child, and she needs her mother. Let her come for Christmas, please!” She could hear the note of desperation in her voice.

  “Kate, she is a princess and heir to this realm. She cannot cling to her mother’s skirts forever, and you of all people should know that most princesses leave their mothers at a young age. Many never see them again. You must steel yourself to this, as I am having to. She is my daughter too. But I will order that she keep Christmas in as much state as if she were at court. I want her to enjoy it. And we must be happy for her, and learn to let her go.”

  Katherine subsided, knowing that further argument was useless. I am Patient Griselda, she thought. I love my husband whatever he does to me, and this is the worst of the blows he has dealt. He has taken my daughter from me, not understanding the wrench or the pain. Again, I feel he is punishing me. I have not given him a son, and so I have been deprived of the things that make life meaningful: my only child, his body, the alliance that meant so much to me, and my pride. And yet I go on loving him.

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