Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  There was no “later.” Nor did Henry give Katherine any opportunity of speaking with him alone over the next few days. It was so important, what she needed to discuss. She thought she might go mad with frustration.


  During the Christmas season, Bishop Fisher sought out Katherine in her apartments and begged an audience with her.

  “Madam,” he said, his gaunt face stern, as usual, “I have been powerfully moved to declare myself in favor of the validity of your marriage, and I will say to you what I have said to Cardinal Wolsey, which is that no divine law prohibits a brother marrying the wife of his deceased brother. You may rely on the Pope’s dispensation, otherwise to no purpose would Christ would have said to St. Peter, ‘Whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven.’ ”

  “Good Bishop, I am heartened to hear you say that,” Katherine told him, deeply moved, and aware that these days it took much courage to oppose the King.

  “It must be said, madam. And let no one persuade you otherwise.”

  Margaret Pole, who was in attendance at the audience, smiled. “Your Grace should hear my son Reginald on the Great Matter.” Reginald, Henry’s protégé, had not long returned from Italy, where he had been studying for the Church at the King’s expense. “He is of the same opinion as the bishop here.”

  “I am glad to hear it, Lady Salisbury,” said Fisher. “I suspect also that Archbishop Warham is none too pleased about this business.”

  “But he was one of those who advised the late king against my marriage,” Katherine pointed out.

  “Well, madam, take it from me, he is not happy. Warham is sufficiently the King’s man to support him in his quest to have the validity of the marriage established. Warham told Wolsey that however badly your Grace might take it, the truth must be sought out and followed. But he is a conservative in every respect and would never countenance any attack on the authority of the Pope. Remember, there are those who see this case as a means of exposing corruption in the Church.”

  “Let us hope that it never comes to that,” Katherine said.


  She faced Henry at last across the table in Wolsey’s closet. She would have preferred to see him alone, but he had insisted that Wolsey be present. It was late and the candlelight was dancing on the painted panels that lined the walls. The Cardinal stood to one side, warming his hands at the fire.

  “I hear that you have sent an embassy to Rome,” Katherine began, refusing to be intimidated by the steely expression on Henry’s face.

  “It is no secret,” he replied. “I have sent to inquire as to whether the dispensation issued by Pope Julius is sufficient, for I believe it was founded on certain false suggestions.”

  “What false suggestions?” Was there to be no end to these fantasies?

  Wolsey hastened to intervene. “Madam, the King is absolutely resolved to satisfy his conscience. He never wished for this marriage.”

  “That is an outright lie!” she cried, remembering the distant day when Henry burst into her poor lodging and claimed her for his own. She could not bear to have such a precious, treasured memory tainted by this falsehood. She turned to the King. “My lord, surely you will refute it!”

  Henry looked uncomfortable. “All I hope for, madam, is that the Pope will ease my conscience.”

  “It is the vehement desire of the whole nation and nobility that the King should have an heir,” Wolsey said.

  “The Pope will never consent to our marriage being annulled,” Katherine insisted. Thank God, that. Charles was keeping Clement on a tight rein.

  “If your Grace is thinking that the Emperor’s will holds sway in Rome, you are mistaken,” Wolsey said. “I have assured His Holiness that if he grants what the King asks, His Grace is ready to declare war against the Emperor to procure the freedom of the Holy Father.”

  Katherine was dumbstruck. Was Henry really offering to take on the might of Spain and the Empire? Heaven help her, it seemed he was ready to move Heaven and Earth to be rid of her.

  How had it come to this? Where was the golden young man who had come to her at Greenwich, here, in this very palace, and offered her his heart? She looked at him now, sitting glaring at her across the table, and thought she would die of grief.

  Wolsey had brought Henry to this—Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, two devils, seated at either shoulder of their victim, dripping venom in his ears. This was not the Henry she knew and loved. He had been led astray, corrupted by these evildoers.

  “You are the cause of all this, my Lord Cardinal!” she flung at Wolsey. And with that she rose, made a curtsey to the King, and left the two of them gaping at her.

  Wolsey caught up with her in the gallery. His face was drawn in the moonlight spilling through the latticed windowpanes.

  “Madam, I beg of you to hear me,” he asked, breathless and grim-faced. “I did not seek this divorce. It is the King’s will. I have no choice but to do as he bids me. If the Pope is not compliant, my life will be shortened, and I dread to anticipate the consequences.”

  Katherine heard the desperation in his voice. It surprised her. He had sounded so confident back in the closet.

  “I am not your enemy, madam,” Wolsey went on. “You and your daughter have my sympathy. If it were up to me, I would not be putting His Holiness in this impossible position. Disregard for the Papacy is growing daily, and it worries me that this Great Matter will only make things worse. And when the King declares war on the Emperor—and believe me, it will happen in the next few weeks—your position will be even more precarious. I would not add wood to the fire. But Mistress Anne and her friends have undermined my influence with the King. He does not listen to me these days, yet he needs me, for he knows that if anyone can get him what he wants, I can. So my hands are tied.”

  “We all do as we must,” Katherine said, relenting only a little, “and I suppose you have much to lose if you forfeit his favor.”

  “As do we all, madam. I am aware of that. And now I must go, for I cannot risk being seen talking privily with you. I wish you a good night.”

  She watched him go, noticing for the first time the stoop in his shoulders, the defeat in his demeanor. Could it really be that a slender girl had the ability to bring down the great Cardinal?


  Henry was beside himself with terror. The hot summer had brought with it a new outbreak of the dreaded sweating sickness. Thousands had perished in London, and the epidemic seemed to be spreading at a frightening rate.

  Katherine was alarmed when the King burst into her chamber one morning. “Three of my servants died during the night,” he told her, his face a white mask of fear. “It’s under our own roof!”

  Before the implications of what he’d said sank in, she knew a moment’s pleasure that he had come to her in his time of need, when he had mostly been avoiding her of late and could have sent a messenger. Then she thought of Mary, and her heart froze like ice.

  “We’re leaving at once,” Henry told her. “I’m taking a reduced household to Waltham Abbey. Tell your women and Lady Salisbury to make ready with all speed. Hurry!” He was in a frenzy to be gone. Katherine remembered how frightened he had been when the dreaded disease struck eleven years ago—in another life, it seemed now. At least he was taking her with him. Maybe this new threat had made him see things in proportion.

  When she arrived in the courtyard, holding Mary by the hand, Katherine saw Anne Boleyn standing with Henry in the midst of a small throng of courtiers and household officers, all impatient to leave. For once, Anne was wearing a gable hood instead of the French one she usually affected, and it had the new-fashioned short lappets. Someone had said something that amused her, for her shoulders were shaking with mirth. It brought to mind the memory of that woman sobbing in the Tower, twenty years ago. The image of that weeping woman was still vivid, even now.

  But there were more pressing things to think about. Of cou
rse, at such a time, and especially if he had come to his senses, Henry would want to say goodbye to Anne—and good riddance, as far as Katherine was concerned. As she made her way to where her litter stood, trying to put on a cheerful countenance for Mary, people around them were speculating fearfully as to where the sweat might spread next. But Katherine was not listening. She had watched Anne mount her horse, heard her say, “When we get to Waltham…”

  How could Henry do this to her, and to Mary? It was as if Anne had robbed him of his humanity. It was bad enough suffering Anne’s presence in a crowded court, but in a much-reduced household it would be unbearable. Yet there was nothing she could do, so she climbed into her litter, leaving Henry to ride on ahead with his sweetheart at his side.


  The great abbey of Waltham was an ancient and popular place of pilgrimage. Katherine had been here several times, and prayed before the great black marble cross that was said to work miracles, although it had never done so for her. A mile off stood Dallance, Henry’s own property. It was not a large house, but one he liked to visit when he had some leisure time, for the hunting was good thereabouts. He would not be going hunting now, though. He had made it clear that he was staying indoors, to avoid any evil humors in the air.

  There was a King’s Side in the house and a Queen’s Side—and nothing, apart from the Princess’s rooms, a hall, and offices, in between. Anne would have to lodge with the Queen’s ladies, of whom there were now few. And Mary would be in Katherine’s company daily. Katherine realized with a sinking heart that it would be impossible to avoid Anne here.

  Anne was nowhere to be seen when Katherine’s women were laying away her clothes and other belongings. Grateful for the respite, she sent Mary off to have her lesson with Master Fetherston, and opened the window to look out on the pretty pleasance below, then wished she hadn’t, for Anne and Henry were there. A sick feeling came over her, until she heard raised voices and realized that they were arguing.

  “It’s an order!” Henry shouted.

  “Have it your own way!” Anne flounced away, fury in her every movement. A few moments later there were footsteps on the stairs, and she entered the Queen’s chamber and made her curtsey.

  “Ah, Mistress Anne, at last,” Katherine said. “I have a task for you. Please unpack my books.”

  “Yes, madam.” Anne’s look would have felled armies. She was in a foul mood. The other ladies exchanged amused glances.

  Anne took her time arranging the books on the shelf. Katherine saw her open one, peruse it, and frown. Then she put it away.


  Two days later, when Katherine was seated at the center of a sewing circle, Henry appeared, looking around the room warily.

  “Good evening, Kate,” he said. “Ladies, you may leave us.”

  As the women rose from their curtseys and hastened through the door to the inner chamber, Anne glared at Henry, but he avoided her gaze and said nothing, so she had to follow the others.

  “Would you like some wine, sir?” Katherine asked.

  “Yes, Kate, that would be pleasant on this warm evening. Can you close the window? Just in case the contagion is in the air. I trust you are comfortably settled in?”

  “Yes, thank you.” Katherine handed him the goblet, thinking that this was the Henry of old. Maybe he had tired of Anne. She dared to hope that the scene she had witnessed in the garden signaled an end to all this madness. Then he would forget the nonsense about a divorce and come back to her. Her heart overflowed with forgiveness. Just let all be as it was before…

  “Kate,” Henry said, loosening his shirt collar, “I have been wondering. In fact, I am afraid, and not just of the sweat. Tell me, do you think this plague is a visitation from God?”

  “There is no doubt of it,” she said, hope springing stronger in her breast.

  “That is what I believe. He is displeased with me, and He is visiting His wrath on my kingdom. But why, Kate? Why?”

  She could have answered that, but she just shook her head sadly.

  “Is God displeased with me because I have remained in an incestuous marriage? Or because I have sought to put you away?”

  “Why are you asking me this?” she said. “You know what must be my answer. I thought you were convinced of the rightness of your case.”

  “But that was before this visitation, Kate. I know that I have offended God in some way. I just wish I knew how.”

  “Have you asked your confessor for his opinion?”

  “Yes. He advised me that I should return to you until my case is resolved—and so, Kate, here I am.” Henry spread his hands and gave her a wry smile.

  It was not what she had hoped for, but it was something.

  “I am so glad of it,” she said, finding that her eyes were filling with tears. She even had it in her to feel sorry for Anne, who had clearly been dismissed.

  “I hope to have a ruling soon—by autumn, if all goes well,” Henry was saying. “The Pope is sending a cardinal to try the case with Wolsey. You’ll remember him—Cardinal Campeggio.”

  Katherine forced herself not to cry. He still wanted to be rid of her. He was still talking to her as if she were a disinterested party, not the wife he wished to discard. In an instant her joy had turned to misery.

  “Yes,” she said, picking up her sewing and bending her head over it. “He came here a few years ago. You made him Bishop of Salisbury.”

  “He’s good, Kate. Erasmus thinks he’s one of the most learned men living. And he’ll be impartial.”

  Katherine sighed. “I pray God grants him wisdom,” she said, wishing that Henry would see sense. Surely God had made His displeasure clear enough? “I long for the day when we can put all this behind us. And your people long for it too.”

  Henry frowned but said nothing. She was sure he knew what she meant. How could he be deaf to the complaints of his subjects, whose prosperity had suffered since he declared war on the Emperor? He must know how badly England’s trade was suffering!

  Draining his goblet, Henry leaned back in his chair. “I think we did the right thing in sending Mary back to Hunsdon. I’m sure it’s safer for her, being deep in the country. I trust that Fetherston is pleased with her?”

  “He is indeed,” Katherine replied, angry with him for avoiding the subject. “I’ve heard already that she is settled and doing well.” Pray God this Great Matter would be resolved before it touched Mary adversely. She was twelve now, old enough to be wed to the Duc d’Orléans, although all talk of her marriage had ceased now that Henry’s nullity suit had cast doubts on her legitimacy. She was certainly old enough to understand what was going on. Katherine and Margaret Pole had done their best to shield her from it all, yet the country was lively with gossip and it would be a miracle if Mary had not heard some talk.

  “Let’s hope this sickness passes soon and we can see her again,” Katherine said. She hated being apart from Mary, especially at such a time. Her longing to be with her daughter was a constant ache.

  “Amen to that.” Henry swallowed. “Kate, let us set our differences aside for now and wait to see what God wills in this matter.”

  “I am content to do that,” she agreed. “What of Mistress Anne?”

  “She is…not content,” Henry admitted. “Kate, you have it all wrong about Anne.”

  “How can you say that?” Katherine asked. “Have I ever complained about her, or criticized her? I treat her with honor, for your sake.”

  Henry shrugged. “She might see it somewhat differently. But never mind. What I want you to know is that she does have the qualities that make a good queen. She is virtuous, believe me, whatever people say about her.”

  Katherine pursed her lips. “The world says she is your mistress.”

  “No, Kate. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I can assure you, none better, of her constant virginity. And she is descended of right noble and royal blood; she’s well educated—and apparently apt to bear children.”

  “Given h
er constant virginity, how can you know that?” Katherine had not meant to argue with Henry, but she could not help herself, and she knew she sounded tart.

  “She is young,” Henry said.

  That was cruel, and it spurred Katherine to further tartness. “She is older than I was when we wed. And she spent years at the French court, a byword for licentiousness. They say never a gentlewoman leaves it a maid. Truly Mistress Anne must be remarkable.”

  “I don’t like what you’re insinuating, Kate.”

  The pink flush in Henry’s cheeks should have warned Katherine, but her proud Spanish blood was up. “I insinuate nothing! But a woman who encourages the attentions of a married man—and steals another woman’s husband—cannot be virtuous!”

  “Kate, I am not your husband!” Henry said angrily.

  “I say you are! And until the Pope has confirmed it, Mistress Anne should not be getting ideas above her station. And you are wrong to encourage her, for she is going to be bitterly disappointed!”

  “I’ve had enough of this,” Henry barked, and stood up.

  “Henry, why are you doing this to us?” Katherine cried. “We have a good marriage, and you are destroying it—and you are breaking my heart!” Great, tearing sobs burst out of her; she could not help herself. “My grief is the greater because I love you so much!”

  “You know very well why I am doing this,” Henry said coldly. “You just don’t listen, do you? You don’t want to listen.”

  “I could say the same about you!” Katherine retorted, dabbing at her eyes. As she looked up, the door slammed. Henry had gone.


  She spent a miserable afternoon, trying to be cheerful for her ladies’ sake but fearing that she had wrecked this special opportunity of a reconciliation with Henry. After all, he had come to her, ready to share bed and board until the Pope had spoken, just in case he was wrong. She prayed that Clement would not delay too long.

  In the evening she was looking for her psalter when she saw the book that had made Anne Boleyn frown. Of course. It was Queen Elizabeth’s old missal, the one in which Henry had written, in that golden summer when the world was young and glorious, I am yours forever. He will never love Anne like that, she told herself.

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