Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “The Pope is a man like any other, and fallible, as was his predecessor in granting that dispensation.”

  She was shocked. “That is heresy! You are questioning the authority of the Holy See, an authority that was entrusted to it by our Lord Himself!”

  “Kate, the Holy See is corrupt. Everyone knows that. Money talks in the Vatican, and might too. And I see plainly that money must have changed hands when Pope Julius granted that dispensation back in 1503. He had not the authority to do so. Scripture is clear on that.”

  “Why must you constantly misinterpret Scripture?” she cried.

  “Hold your peace, woman!” Henry was red with fury. “I will argue with you no more, as you refuse to see reason. We’re leaving tomorrow for Greenwich, and then I’m taking Anne on progress. We’ll be staying away for the hunting season. You, madam, will take yourself elsewhere!”


  For all his anger, Henry eventually relented and summoned Katherine to join the progress at Woodstock. She suspected this was less on account of any consideration for her than the angry reaction of his subjects when they saw him parading his mistress in his wife’s place.

  Katherine did not want to go to Woodstock, the scene of happier days; it would be hateful to see Henry caressing Anne openly, and she knew they would both be hostile toward her. She would far have preferred to visit Mary, whom she longed to see. But she owed Henry obedience as his wife, so she gave orders to pack and depart. As her small procession made its way along late summer lanes drowsy with sunshine, she reflected that she was luckier than Wolsey, for she had heard that the Cardinal was out of favor and had retired to his manor of the More in Hertfordshire. It was widely held that the legatine court’s failure to declare for the King was Wolsey’s fault.

  Henry’s welcome at Woodstock was cool. There was about him the air of suppressed anger that Katherine had noticed increasingly in recent months. Anne Boleyn mostly avoided her, but when they did come face-to-face, Anne’s dark eyes flashed with unmistakable fury. Katherine was only grateful that Mary was not at court, and thus was spared the spectacle of the woman’s malice.

  The atmosphere became even more charged when the Pope’s summons citing Henry to appear at the Papal Court was served on him, prompting another outburst of fury. Katherine trembled to witness it, fearing that the calling of the case to Rome would alienate Henry still further from the Holy See. She was also brooding over the news that the King had summoned Parliament to meet in November. What did he intend now? Maria, candid as ever, was of the opinion that he would bring about the divorce on his own authority. Katherine had replied that he would never dare. But Henry was in a strange, defiant mood these days; who knew what he might do next?

  It was under this lowering cloud of discontent that, in September, on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, they arrived at the old royal hunting lodge at Grafton Regis. Hard on the heels of the court rode Cardinal Campeggio, come to take formal leave of the King before returning to Rome. Katherine saw him arrive from her window, which overlooked the courtyard. Wolsey was with him—she had not expected that—but of course, his fellow legate must be there for courtesy’s sake.

  The two men, both of them gray-haired and portly, alighted from their horses at the gates, and household officers hastened to conduct Campeggio to the rooms that had been made ready for him. But no one came for Wolsey, and he was left standing at a loss in the middle of the courtyard. He had aged so much in these past months and become an old man, shrunken and uncertain, all his hauteur gone. He looked so pathetic, Katherine was moved by his plight, and found herself wishing that someone would come to his rescue. Then she saw Sir Henry Norris, the King’s Groom of the Stool and great friend, approaching, his handsome face full of apology. The two men spoke, and Norris led Wolsey away in the direction of his own lodging.

  Later that afternoon Katherine took her place beside Henry in the refurbished medieval hall where he was to receive the cardinals. The room was packed, and although Mistress Anne was not present, her faction was there in force. The dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, her brother George, and a horde of Boleyn connections were all prowling like predators waiting for the kill, watching the King closely and enjoying Wolsey’s discomfiture as the two cardinals approached and fell to their knees.

  But Henry confounded them.

  “My Lord Cardinal!” he cried. “You are most welcome!” And he actually stepped down from the dais and helped Wolsey up from his knees, then led him by the hand to a window embrasure where he spoke with him privately. Katherine, making polite conversation with Campeggio, was aware of the irate faces of the Boleyn faction, and tried not to smile. Then she heard Henry say to Wolsey, quite genially, “Go to your dinner, and after dinner I will talk with you again.” Whereupon Norfolk and George Boleyn immediately left the room, no doubt to report back to Mistress Anne.

  Katherine dined alone, with just the Otwell sisters in attendance, acting as servers, and looking grand and pleased with themselves in the new gowns of tawny damask lined with velvet that she had ordered for all her chamberers. Henry, she guessed, was with Anne. But when she walked in the gardens late that evening, savoring the sweet-scented night air and the solitude, she looked up and saw Henry and Wolsey silhouetted in a window, deep in conversation. She wondered, with some trepidation, what this portended. Was the Cardinal back in favor? If so, he would no doubt be so grateful that he would redouble his efforts to get Henry what he wanted. And Wolsey was a clever man…

  The next morning, Wolsey sat in counsel with the King, which gave rise to much angry muttering among Anne’s supporters. The atmosphere was icy. But there was Anne Boleyn, apparently blithely unconcerned, giving strident orders for a picnic to be prepared, to be taken in the open air before the afternoon’s hunt. Henry duly left with her, having bidden a warm farewell to Wolsey in front of everyone.

  “I will be back before you depart for London,” he said.

  But he wasn’t. The hour when he had said he would return came and went. The cardinals waited as long as they dared to leave Grafton before night fell and the roads became dangerous. Katherine did her best to entertain them, aware that Wolsey was growing increasingly anxious. She watched him droop with disappointment and at length rise reluctantly, an old, defeated man once more, to take his leave of her.

  “I had hoped to see the King before I left,” he said.

  “I am sure your Eminence will see him soon,” Katherine replied, with more assurance than she felt.

  “No, madam,” he said. “The night crow has got at him. She seeks my ruin. He will not send for me again.”

  Katherine could find no words to answer that. She knew that Wolsey was right.

  It was several hours before the hunting party returned. Mistress Anne was in an especially gay mood, flashing her dark eyes at Henry, who was gazing at her with hungry adoration. There was about the woman an air of triumph.

  Katherine suppressed her distaste.

  “The cardinals left hours ago,” she said. “They had hoped to see your Grace, and were sorry they could delay no longer.”

  “I am glad to see the back of them both,” Henry said.


  Katherine had not been informed that the Emperor was sending a new ambassador to England, so she was delighted when Eustache Chapuys, a black-gowned man in his late thirties, was presented to her at Grafton. For months she had felt the lack of a stout supporter such as Mendoza had been, and when she met the dark-haired, sober-faced Savoyard lawyer and cleric with the large kind eyes and prominent nose, whom Charles had sent to represent her interests and his own, she knew within a few minutes of their conversation that she had found another champion.

  “His Imperial Majesty would like to do so much more for your Highness,” Chapuys told her, “but the Turks are at the gates of Vienna, and he must needs deploy all his forces to push them back. However, we are confident that the Pope will give a ruling very soon, and in the meantime, if your Highness has any
concerns, you may rely on me to address them.” He spoke with vigor and assurance.

  “I could never consent to the use of armed force against the King my husband,” Katherine said, touched by the zeal of the new ambassador, but alarmed at the implications of what he had said.

  “Highness, rest assured, my master hopes it will never come to that, and has asked me to use gentleness and friendship to bring about a reconciliation between your Grace and the King.”

  “Alas, I fear the King will not listen. Cardinal Campeggio tried to do that, and failed.”

  “There is no harm in trying again, Highness.” Chapuys smiled. “I hear that my predecessor found it difficult to speak privately with you.”

  “The Cardinal set his spies to watch on me, but they are gone now.”

  Chapuys lowered his voice. “The word is, Highness, that the Cardinal is finished. The Lady—you know to whom I refer—would have it that way, and it is clear that she rules all.”

  Katherine was impressed at his speedy and astute summing up of the situation. “She is all-powerful here, and I can have no peace until my case is decided at Rome.”

  “I am confident that the Emperor will ensure a favorable outcome, and soon.”

  “God let it be soon,” Katherine said. “I have been wondering if His Holiness has determined to delay judgment indefinitely in the hope that the problem will resolve itself.”

  “Judging by what I have seen of the King’s affection for the Lady, I regret to say that I do not think it will. But rest easy, Highness—an end to your troubles is in sight.”


  Katherine was not surprised to hear that Wolsey had been stripped of his office of Lord Chancellor, or that for accepting the office of Papal Legate back in 1518, he was deemed guilty of introducing an illegal foreign authority into England. For this, his lands and goods were declared forfeit, and he was ordered to retire to his house at Esher. How are the mighty fallen, she thought, but there was no sense of triumph in her. Instead she could feel only sympathy for an aging man who had done his best to serve his King and failed.

  Henry gleefully appropriated York Place, Wolsey’s London house.

  “He is having it done up for her,” Maria sniffed. “It is to be renamed Whitehall.”

  “I imagine she is elated about that,” Katherine said, “for it lacks a queen’s lodging, and for a long time she has resented having to give me precedence. Well, I shall be glad not to be there to watch her holding court as if she had usurped my place already.”


  When the court was at Greenwich that autumn, Chapuys came to see Katherine, looking worried. She dismissed her ladies, anxious about what he might say, and gestured for him to sit with her by the fire.

  “Highness, when Parliament sits next month, I fear that something may be brewed there against you.”

  “I fear it too,” Katherine said. You never knew with Henry these days. One day he was like his old self, the next hostile and cruel. He was a man possessed—and a thwarted man possessed, at that. She believed he would stop at nothing to have Anne, and she supposed she should not be surprised that bending Parliament to his will would be his next move.

  Elizabeth Stafford, Duchess of Norfolk, had friends in high places, and she warned Katherine that Henry had been using his persuasions on several lords known to be waverers.

  “My husband has played his cards so well that he is likely to get a majority of votes in his favor,” Katherine told Chapuys. “He may be tempted to obtain by this means what he has not been able to get in any other way.”

  “His Majesty has banished the one man who could help him.”

  “Poor Wolsey, I pity him,” she replied. “I pray the King now leaves him in peace.”

  “That is unlikely, Highness, if the Lady’s party has anything to do with it. But I have better news to impart. I’ve just heard that the King has chosen Sir Thomas More to replace Wolsey as chancellor. He is an upright and learned man, and a good servant of your Highness.”

  Katherine’s heart leapt. There could be no better man to replace Wolsey. Surely More would exert a restraining influence on Henry, who utterly revered him.

  “Now that is good news!” she declared.

  After Chapuys left, she sent for More at once. As he was ushered into her apartments, she rose from her chair to welcome him.

  “I hear that you are to be congratulated, Sir Thomas,” she said, smiling. “I cannot tell you how delighted I am to learn of your advancement.”

  “It is a great honor, of which I am unworthy,” he said, his sensitive face troubled. “And it is a bait to catch a quarry, I fear, for the King wants my support in his Great Matter. Having little skill in spiritual law, I have never meddled in the divorce, yet His Grace has for some time been earnestly persuading me to agree with him on the matter. Alas, I cannot do so, even now, and that saddens us both. I fear he is disappointed in me.”

  Of course Henry was disappointed. More had a great reputation throughout Christendom, none better, and his scholarship and wisdom were universally respected; thus his support would be of inestimable value.

  “Did he press you?” she asked.

  “No, madam. He told me he does not wish me to do or say anything against my conscience; he said I must first look to God, and after God to him. But his mood may change, as it often does these days. So you can see why I am reluctant to accept the chancellorship. It will be no easy office. And my lord of Norfolk, who is a friend of mine, is now made Lord President of the Council, but he is uncle to Mistress Anne, and she is above all. Her brother boasts that the lords have no influence except what it pleases her to allow them.”

  “This is nothing new,” Katherine said. “Her pride will be her undoing in the end. The King will come to resent her interference.”

  More shook his head.

  “Alas, I fear that day is a long way off. You will have heard that the Boleyns have a new chaplain?”

  “Why should I have heard that?”

  “Because it may be significant. The man is called Thomas Cranmer. The King’s secretary, Dr. Gardiner, met him when he lodged at Waltham Abbey after returning from Rome last month.”

  “What was he doing in Rome?” Katherine asked sharply.

  “He was there on the King’s business, but I gather that His Holiness would make no concessions. What worries me more is the influence of this Dr. Cranmer, who is a dangerous radical. He gave it as his opinion that the King’s case should be judged by learned doctors in the universities, and not by the Pope. When the King heard of this from Gardiner, he summoned Dr. Cranmer to see him, and the man is now writing a treatise on his views. Mistress Anne’s faction, needless to say, are fawning over him, and her father has made him his chaplain.”

  Katherine frowned. “I do not like this,” she said. “It smacks of heresy. Even if all the universities pronounce in my husband’s favor, only the Pope can dissolve our marriage. But what if the King acts without the Pope’s sanction? Where would I stand in the eyes of the Church, and Mary?”

  More shook his head. “In faith, your Grace, I cannot say. I fear that the whole of Christendom will be turned upside down. You will recall what I said to you many years ago—that if the lion knew his strength, it would be hard to rule him. With the Cardinal gone, the King is now intent on becoming absolute ruler in his realm.”


  Katherine could not but be aware that Henry and Anne had moved into Whitehall Palace. Her ladies were scandalized by it.

  “She is attended like a queen, she goes about decked like a queen, and she dispenses patronage like a queen!” Elizabeth Stafford fumed, turning up her aristocratic nose. “It is your Grace who should be there beside him, not abandoned here at Greenwich!”

  Katherine sighed. What could she do about it?

  “Mistress Anne pretends to be devout!” Maria sneered. “They say she makes a big show of reading St. Paul’s letters, but she makes no secret of the fact that she hates all priests, and she has no
love for the Pope.”

  “She is a heretic, and may lead the King into sin if he is not careful,” Katherine said, her heart bleeding for the man who had once defended the Holy See against such attacks.

  “I heard that she complains about the long delay in settling her future, with no end to it in sight,” Elizabeth Stafford related.

  “I might say the same myself,” Katherine observed wryly, “although it seems strange to be in agreement with Mistress Anne.”

  “But, madam,” Elizabeth answered, “you bear it in patience. She has become vindictive. You should be wary of her.”

  “She is insecure,” the Marchioness of Dorset observed, “and she knows that all she has is the King’s love. Unlike you, madam, she lacks powerful friends abroad. And she is developing a great talent for making enemies!”

  If only Henry were not so blind, Katherine thought.


  Katherine sat close to the fire, embellishing the neck of one of Henry’s shirts with the blackwork embroidery for which she had become famous. It pleased her to do the ordinary domestic tasks for him, just as she always had: it gave an illusion of normality.

  After opening Parliament, he had returned with Anne to Greenwich, and seemed to be at pains to convince everyone that he and Katherine were still on good terms. She was summoned to accompany him whenever he appeared in public, and both of them took care to observe not only the courtesies but to put on a display of togetherness. It was exhausting for Katherine to maintain a mask of calm dignity while her emotions were in turmoil. To be so close to Henry, knowing that he wished her elsewhere, was torture.

  “Your forbearance is more than human!” Maria told her, scowling at the shirt Katherine was working on. “This pretense of the King’s is all a means to an end, to convince the Pope—and the world—that he is sincere in his love for you.”

  Katherine winced. Sometimes Maria could be too outspoken. But she spoke truth, for in private Henry never came near her. She was surprised therefore when, on a stormy November night, he joined her for dinner in her chamber.

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