Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “I fear it will win sympathy for His Grace, though,” Maud said.

  “That is my concern too, and that it will win over some who were lukewarm or even hostile.” Katherine sighed. “Now it has come to the point where people are being threatened—I am being threatened. I have never felt so anxious and perplexed in my life.”

  But there was heartening news waiting for her in a note from Mendoza, smuggled in by Isabel de Vargas, telling her that the Emperor had refused Father Abell’s request to send the original of the second dispensation to England. Immediately, she sent her chamberlain to inform the cardinals of that. She could not face seeing them herself. She wondered what they would do.

  There was also a letter from Erasmus, praising her piety and gently urging her to enter religion. Even he had abandoned her, she felt. At least Vives had written begging for her forgiveness after the way he seemed to abandon her; and now, with her leave, he came to see her.

  At the sight of his kind, familiar face, which brought back memories of happier days, Katherine opened her heart. “I am in great distress that the man I love more than my own self should be so alienated from me, and that he should think of marrying another.”

  She wept then, and the wise, gentle scholar abandoned all protocol and took her hands in his.

  “Do not blame me for attempting to console your Grace,” he said. “Everyone praises your moderation. When others would have moved heaven and earth, or sought revenge, you ask merely not to be condemned without a hearing.”

  “I just want my husband back,” Katherine sobbed.


  When the court moved to Greenwich in December, Henry still kept up the pretense that all was well between them. He was plainly on his best behavior, for surely Campeggio would be sending regular reports back to Rome. He visited Katherine almost every afternoon, as he used to do; he dined and supped with her; and he sometimes spent the night with her.

  “You do realize, Kate, that my confessor has forbidden me to touch you while my case is undecided,” he said as they lay two feet apart in the wide bed. It was a convenient excuse, she thought, trying to suppress her longing to be lovers once more. She had thought, when she was young, that those fires might dampen with the advancing years, yet they were as lively as ever, her passionate Spanish blood refusing to be stilled. Having Henry so near, and yet forbidden to her, was cruel and frustrating, especially since the symptoms that had offended him had now disappeared.

  One night it got too much to bear, and she could not stop the tears flooding her pillow. Instinctively she moved toward Henry for comfort, but he put out his hand and stayed her. Then he got out of bed and drew on his nightgown. The fire was dead and it was cold. She could hear him fumbling for the candle.

  “Kate,” his voice came out of the darkness, “are you not aware of the danger that may ensue to me by using you as my wife?”

  “I have told you a hundred times, your conscience may rest easy,” she replied, hurt beyond measure by his rejection.

  “It has nothing to do with my conscience, but with my person,” he told her. “I have refrained from mentioning it, for fear of embarrassing you, but you have a woman’s disorder, and I fear it may infect me, so I am sorry, but I am utterly determined never to sleep with you again after tonight.”

  Katherine was so mortified she could not find the words to protest that she had recovered from her affliction. This was humiliating beyond words, and heartbreaking. She wished now that she had plucked up the courage to consult one of her physicians long ago. She supposed it was natural for Henry to have been put off by her secret ailment, although she was almost sure that it was not catching, just unpleasant. In fact, she even wondered fleetingly if it was at the root of his crisis of conscience. But did he have to be so brutal about it?

  She was relieved when the door closed softly behind him, glad that he had not made a light and seen her flaming cheeks. Yet still she wept, for her lost love and her shame. Would there ever be any loving and gentleness between her and Henry again?

  After that night Henry came less frequently to her chamber and her table, and soon she learned the reason why. Mistress Anne was installed at Greenwich, in a very fine lodging near the King’s own.

  Maria was outraged. “Greater court is now being paid to that slut than has been paid to your Grace for a long time!”

  “I see they mean to accustom the people by degrees to endure her,” Maud observed, “so that when the great event comes off it may not be thought strange.”

  “I think the people have her true measure,” Katherine said.

  “They hate her, and they would do more if they had more power,” Maria declared. “When that woman rides abroad in London, they shout, ‘Nan Bullen shall not be our queen! We’ll have no Nan Bullen!’ It does my heart good to hear it!”

  “The only thing that can do my heart good now is a just judgment on the King’s case,” Katherine said. “But I do not look for it in this English court. I just cannot understand why there are all these delays, and why the Pope cannot confirm that the dispensation is good. This waiting is killing me.”

  “They say Mistress Anne is tired of waiting too,” Gertrude Blount offered.

  “As well she might!” chimed in Elizabeth Stafford, who, for all she was Anne’s aunt, hated her. “She’s nigh on twenty-eight, and long past her first youth.”

  “I hear that she is forever complaining to the King, and it’s obvious that there is no love lost between her and Wolsey,” Margaret said. “For some reason she hates him.”

  Katherine remembered an angry young girl who had been deprived of her lover. But the breaking of her precontract with Percy had not been solely Wolsey’s doing; he was acting on the King’s orders. Katherine wondered if Anne knew that. More likely it was the Howards, Anne’s aristocratic kinsmen, who had poisoned her mind against the Cardinal.


  It was a miserable Christmas. Katherine found it hard to feel her usual joy in this holy season, her mind was so troubled. Wolsey and Campeggio were the King’s guests of honor, but Wolsey was clearly feeling the strain. Henry’s welcome had been less gracious than before, and once, at table, he spoke angrily in a low tone to his former friend, the man who at one time could have done no wrong in his eyes. A tense atmosphere pervaded the jousts, the banquets, the masques, and the disguisings, which had all been laid on ostensibly for the cardinals’ pleasure.

  Katherine’s only enjoyment was in the company of her daughter, who had come up from Hunsdon to court for the festive season. Henry, as proud and loving a father as ever, made much of Mary. But more than once Katherine caught Mary’s small, serious face regarding him warily. Of course, the child—although she was twelve now—must have heard something of the Great Matter.

  Katherine asked Margaret Pole if Mary ever said anything about it.

  “No, madam, and it has not been my place to raise the matter. I have done my best to protect Her Grace from idle gossip, and her household have strict instructions, but people will talk. Would you like me to speak to her, madam?”

  “No, Margaret. I will talk to her.”

  One morning Katherine took Mary aside and sat her down.

  “I think you have heard something about what people call the King’s Great Matter,” she said gently.

  Mary swallowed. “Yes, madam.”

  “You must not worry about it,” Katherine said. “Your father has certain doubts about the dispensation given to us by Pope Julius, but Pope Clement is looking into the matter and has sent Cardinal Campeggio here to try the case with Cardinal Wolsey. I have no doubt that the matter will soon be sorted out, and that His Grace’s mind will be set at rest.”

  She thought she had managed rather well, and that if Mary had heard wilder tales, this reassurance would make a nonsense of them. But then Mary spoke.

  “But my father wants to marry Mistress Anne Boleyn.” It was not a question, just a statement. Of course the child could not have been blind to what was go
ing on at court. Henry had spared no thought for her, had made no effort to be discreet.

  “If the Pope finds our marriage invalid, then of course he must marry again, and he wishes to see if Mistress Anne has it in her to be a good queen.” It was only what Henry had said himself, and it still sounded unconvincing.

  “But she is not royal and she is not very nice.”

  “Not very nice?”

  “She scants her respect to me! And to you! I hate her!”

  Katherine was taken back by the venom in her daughter’s voice. She had never heard her speak thus before, and it broke her heart to see how Mary had been suffering on account of this sorry business. How, she asked herself yet again, could Henry inflict this suffering on his child?

  “We must be charitable toward her, for the King’s sake.”

  The child’s eyes, childish no longer, flashed with anger. “My lady mother, I cannot, even to please you. She is a wicked woman, stealing my father away from you.”

  “Mary!” Katherine placed her hands firmly on her daughter’s shoulders. “Never let the King, or anyone else, hear you say things like that. You owe him respect and you must not arouse his anger at such a time. Soon all will be well, and Mistress Anne will be forgotten.”

  Mary stood up. “I pray for it. May I go and play with my puppy now?”

  Katherine watched her go, her heart breaking.


  Anne was determined to play her part in the festivities, even though she could have no official role. While Henry and Katherine kept open house at court, she did the same in her luxurious apartments, and there was a scramble of courtiers, eager to stay in favor, falling over themselves to visit her there. It was clear that Henry was unwilling to flaunt her in front of the cardinals, but Katherine also suspected that Anne did not want to come face-to-face with her.

  “She is too proud to bow the knee to your Grace,” Maria sneered.

  “Presumably she agrees with the King that your Grace is not his lawful wife,” Maud said drily.

  “Well, she would!” Gertrude Blount put in.

  “There is more to it than that,” Maud said. “It seems she is now setting herself up as the champion of reform within the Church.”

  “Some say she is a heretic, and that her brother is more Lutheran than Luther himself!” That was Maria, who tended to exaggerate, bless her.

  “If that is true, then she is more of a threat to the unity of Christendom than I feared,” Katherine observed. “In his besotted state, the King might well heed her!”


  Her situation was becoming intolerable. It hurt to see Anne going about decked in the jewels Henry had showered on her, and she found it almost unbearable to see him caressing the woman openly in public, as if she were already his wife.

  With the court case looming, Mary had been sent away, back to Hunsdon. Katherine could not forget the child’s wan little face as they said farewell. Wolsey too was looking wan, and haggard, and the suave Campeggio gave little away. Fearing more than ever that she would get no impartial justice from either of them, Katherine lodged a formal appeal in Rome against the authority of the legatine court.

  Sometimes she wondered if it would ever sit. She was now convinced that the Pope had ordered Campeggio to drag out matters as long as he could. First Campeggio had been ill; then there was the drawn-out business of the second dispensation. It was not until Easter that Wolsey smugly informed Katherine that he had sent envoys to Rome to make a search for the Vatican’s copy, but they had found no trace of it.

  “That does not surprise me, my lord!” she retorted.

  “Probably they did not look hard enough!” Maria commented afterward, and Katherine feared she was right.

  Then more envoys were dispatched to Spain to see the Emperor’s copy. This time Wolsey took evident pleasure in informing her that it was clearly a forgery, and that there was no point in producing her copy as evidence in court.

  “He would say it was a forgery even if the Angel Gabriel told him it wasn’t!” Maria averred.

  Throughout these terrible months of waiting, people talked of nothing but the Great Matter and the coming trial of the King’s case. The very machinery of government all but ground to a halt as preparations went ahead for the hearing.

  In April, when the court was at Richmond, Henry visited Katherine. “I want you to choose the best clerks of my realm to act as your counsel and do the best for you,” he said.

  She did not tell him that she had no intention of recognizing the court. As an obedient wife, she chose Archbishop Warham and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester. Fisher was staunch in her cause, Warham cautious and ill at ease.

  “Remember, madam, ira principis mors est!” he kept saying. “The wrath of the Prince is death!”

  There was no help to be had from Warham, that was clear. She reminded herself that her counselors were still her husband’s subjects, and if the verdict should go in her favor, the King’s anger, and Anne Boleyn’s too, might well be visited upon them. She did not expect them to give her disinterested advice. Instead, she continued to pray that the Pope would realize she could hope for no justice in this English court, and revoke the case to Rome.

  The court had moved to Bridewell Palace in readiness for the hearing at the adjacent Black Friars’ monastery when Katherine contrived another “chance” meeting with Mendoza in the gardens. Under cover of admiring the early blooming roses, he murmured that the Emperor had insisted that the Pope revoke the commission granted to Campeggio and Wolsey; but it was thought that Clement was too well disposed toward Henry to agree.

  She was just digesting this unpalatable information when Mendoza, that good, loyal man, turned to face her. He seemed to be struggling with himself. At length he said, “I must tell you that the Emperor wishes to demonstrate his disapproval of the King’s case by not being officially represented in England while it is being heard. So, Highness, it is with the profoundest regret that I must take my leave of you, for I have been recalled to Spain.”

  Katherine could have cried. To be deprived of this true and indefatigable friend in her hour of need was a bitter blow. But she remembered her dignity and the courtesy due to Spain’s ambassador.

  “I am heartily sorry to hear that,” she said. “I cannot thank you enough for all your kindness to me, and your support. I hope that you will return to England when this sorry business is over, and that we shall meet again in happier times.”

  “It is my fervent wish also, Highness,” said Mendoza with feeling. “May God preserve you and send you a happy outcome to your troubles. I will pray for you.”

  “God go with you,” Katherine said, and extended her hand to be kissed.


  It was June, and the day when the King and Queen would be summoned before the legatine court had dawned at long last. Katherine commanded her ladies to attire her in a gorgeous gown of crimson velvet edged with sable, its skirts open at the front to display a kirtle of yellow brocade. From her girdle they hung her gold pomander with its watch dial. On her head they placed a hood lavishly adorned with goldsmiths’ work. If she could not look beautiful, she would at least look queenly.

  Crowds had massed outside the hall of the Black Friars where the court was to sit, and when Katherine passed along the open gallery that connected Bridewell Palace with the monastery, they shouted their support. “Good Queen Katherine! How she holds the field! She’s afraid of nothing! Victory over your enemies!”

  She paused, nodding and smiling, and waved, then went into the monastery.

  It was obvious that great thought had been given to preparing the hall, for of course it had never been heard of for an English king to be summoned to appear in a court of law, still less to await the judgment of a subject, and the arrangements made must reflect the importance of the occasion. On the dais at the far end, behind some railings, the legates sat on two chairs upholstered in cloth of gold. Before them was placed a table covered with a Turkey carpet for their pap
ers, of which there were several piles. To the right, below the dais for once, was the King’s throne beneath a cloth of estate, and to the left a rich chair awaited the Queen.

  As Katherine entered, a hush descended on the packed hall, and there was a scuffling and a scraping of chairs as nobles, lawyers, theologians, and prelates all leapt to their feet and bowed. Katherine was aware of a hundred eyes watching her speculatively as she walked to her place, four of her ladies following. She was grateful to have the support of a simmering Maria and stouthearted Maud on this fateful day.

  Then Henry arrived. How handsome he still was! She could not help thinking it, even now, when he was attempting to divorce her. Tall, majestic, and gorgeously dressed, he dwarfed and eclipsed every man in the room.

  As soon as the King was seated, the crier demanded silence and called, “King Harry of England, come into the court!”

  “Here, my lords!” Henry answered in a loud, firm voice, in which could be heard confident anticipation.

  The crier than called, “Katherine, Queen of England, come into the court!”

  Katherine sat there, her heart pounding. She would make no answer. Henry gave her a questioning look, to which she remained impassive, and there was a bewildered pause before he turned to the legates.

  “My Lord Cardinals, I am come here because I wish to have my doubts resolved for the discharge of my conscience,” he said. “All I ask is that you determine whether or not my marriage is lawful. I have, from the beginning, felt a perpetual scruple about it.”

  Katherine’s resolve to keep quiet flew out of the window. She could not let that pass. “This is not the time to say so after so long a silence!”

  Henry looked at her sorrowfully. “If I kept silence, it was on account of the great love I had, and still have, for you. Madam, I desire more than anything else that our marriage should be declared valid.”

  “And do you think it will be in this court?” she asked him. “It is no impartial court for me.” She turned to the legates, who were regarding her with some severity. “I beg you, my lords, to have the case referred to Rome.”

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