Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  She welcomed him with a hopeful smile and hastened to give him the shirt she had just finished, but although he thanked her courteously, it was clear from his face that this was not just a courtesy visit. Almost as soon as the venison had been served and the attendants had withdrawn, he was telling her how disillusioned he was with the Holy See.

  “I’ve been abandoned by the Church of Rome,” he said plaintively. “It’s all political, of course. The Vatican is a mire of corruption. And you don’t help, Kate. You show no understanding of my frustrations.”

  Suddenly Katherine could not eat. “I have tried all along to understand why you are doing this but I still cannot agree with you,” she said, laying down her knife.

  Henry glared at her. “You don’t try hard enough!” he snarled. “I need an heir, and no one takes account of that. Clement’s in Charles’s pocket, and you won’t set me free.”

  “Even if our marriage were invalid, I would not see you demean yourself by marrying a woman who is the scandal of Christendom,” Katherine said quietly. “You never think, do you, of what that would do to Mary? But I do! God knows, I have suffered the pangs of purgatory on earth because of this Great Matter, and I feel very badly treated, especially when I am deprived of my child’s company because I dare not bring her to court for fear of what she might witness—and I am lonely when you don’t visit me in private.”

  Henry banged down his goblet on the table. “You have no cause to complain of bad treatment, Kate, for you are still Queen and mistress in your own household, and can do what you please. Don’t accuse me of not thinking of Mary—I too think her best away from court at this time. And I have not visited you because I’ve been much engaged with business. The Cardinal left affairs in great confusion. And I am not your legitimate husband. I have been assured of this by many learned doctors.”

  “Doctors!” Katherine cried, her temper rising. “You know yourself, without the help of any doctors, that you are my husband and that your case has no foundation. I care not a straw for your doctors!”

  Henry flushed. His eyes glittered malevolently. “I warn you, madam, that I intend to canvas the universities for their opinion on my case, and if they decide for me, I will not fail to have their opinions forwarded to Rome. Then, should the Pope not declare our marriage null and void, I will denounce him as a heretic and marry whom I please!”

  She was horrified to hear him talk like that, and prayed inwardly that it was all bluster.

  “You know what the opinions of the universities are worth against the authority of Rome,” she told him, “and you know too that the best lawyers in England have spoken on my side. Let me collect opinions as you are doing, and for every doctor or lawyer of yours, I will find a thousand to hold our marriage good.”

  Henry stood up, puce in the face. “I will not stay to listen to your malice,” he growled. “I am going to seek more congenial company.” And he stamped out, slamming the door behind him. The shirt, which she had spent hours lovingly embroidering, lay forgotten on the floor.


  Katherine was in great grief. The foundations of her world seemed to be crumbling. Henry’s threat had struck a chill into her very soul, and she feared not only for his spiritual well-being, but for the future of Christendom itself, for what might ensue when kings like Henry began questioning the authority of the Pope?

  She was brooding miserably on this when Chapuys sought an audience.

  “Is there word from Rome?” she asked, but the look on his face told her there wasn’t.

  “The King has created the Lady’s father Earl of Wiltshire,” he said, “and now all must defer to her as the Lady Anne Boleyn, while her brother is to be known as Lord Rochford.”

  Henry is preparing her for queenship, Katherine thought. It is less demeaning to marry the daughter of an earl than the daughter of a knight. May God help us.

  She invited Chapuys to be seated.

  “The King held a banquet at Whitehall to celebrate, and the Lady sat by his side, in the Queen’s throne,” he related. “I am sorry to be the bearer of such news, but, madam, it was like a wedding banquet. There was dancing and carousing, and it seemed as if nothing were wanting but the priest to give away the nuptial ring and pronounce the blessing.”

  “I do not want to hear it,” Katherine said, sickened.

  Chapuys spread his hands helplessly. “It cannot be ignored, madam. Such is the blind passion of the King that I fear that, one of these days, some disorderly act will take place.”

  “That is my fear too,” Katherine admitted. “I think it is no longer a case of what the King might do, but what he will do.”


  It was Christmas Eve. Katherine was watching with Mary and Henry as, accompanied by much mirth and good cheer, the Yule log was hauled into the great hall and placed on the hearth, where it would burn throughout the festive season. But Henry seemed to take no pleasure in it. He had been in a prickly mood all evening, no doubt because his sweetheart was absent at Hever, and still there was no word from Rome. Katherine saw Mary watching her father, saw the incomprehension in the troubled little face. Her constant prayer was that Clement would speak soon, not only for her own sake, and Mary’s, but because it might be the one thing that would deflect Henry from doing anything rash.

  Toward the end of the evening, after Mary had gone to bed, hippocras and marchpane comfits were served to the King and Queen, and Katherine accepted them with a smile.

  “I don’t know what you’ve got to look happy about,” Henry muttered. “You should be considering your future.” His voice was blurred; he was slightly drunk.

  “I consider it constantly,” she told him.

  “Then mind this,” he said. “If the Pope pronounces sentence against me, I will not heed it.”

  “Sir!” Katherine hissed. “I cannot believe I am hearing this. I beg you to think on what you are saying, and consider the safety of your soul.”

  “Oh, I know what I am saying, madam,” Henry answered, his tone menacing. “I would have you know that I prize and value the Church of England as much as people across the Channel prize the Holy See, and if I have to, I will sever it from Rome.”

  Katherine summoned her courage. “Sir, that would be a thing repugnant to all the faithful, and I cannot believe that it is what you really intend.” It was the drink talking, it must be.

  “And do you not believe that this long silence from the Pope is proof that my case is being deliberately shelved? That being so, why should I not take matters into my own hands?”

  “I beg of you to wait!” she urged, trying to keep her voice low, for people were staring at them.

  “I cannot and will not wait any longer,” Henry insisted.

  “Does that mean you have consummated your relationship with the Lady Anne?” She was surprised at her own boldness, but the question had to be asked.

  Henry rounded on her. “No! Would that I had!”


  “The King says she is not his mistress,” Katherine told Chapuys two days later when he sought an urgent audience with her. “I do not know if I believe it.”

  “Many say that she is,” he answered, “although it makes no difference, save to confirm everyone’s low opinion of her. But I came to tell your Grace that I have discovered something that may help your case. My spies tell me that the King once meddled with her sister.”

  “Mary Carey? Never!” She could not credit it.

  “Apparently it is true. Gossip has it that one of her children is the King’s.”

  “My good friend, I would not heed the gossips. They will tell you anything, and they enjoy making mischief.”

  “I had this from at least two reliable sources, madam. Concerned people have spoken quite openly of it. Think on its significance, for had the King listened to his conscience, as he asserts, there would be a greater affinity in his intended marriage than in yours. Your Grace could expose him as a hypocrite.”

  Katherine sighed. “I would
have known, I’m sure. I was aware that Mary Carey had a reputation, but I cannot believe there was anything between them. And if your informants are wrong, I would make a great fool of myself in Rome by alleging this impediment.”

  “Let me find you proofs, Highness.”

  She smiled sadly. “The fact that you are offering to do so confirms my suspicion that your information is flawed. No, Messire Chapuys, do not take this further. I command it. I still live in hope that my husband will eventually come back to his senses.”

  There was compassion in Chapuys’s eyes as he regarded her. She knew he did not believe it. But he did not know Henry as she did. Remove Anne Boleyn’s influence, and the King would be a different man.


  It was spring again. As Katherine rode with Henry to Windsor, the trees were glorious with blossom and lambs gamboled in the field—but her heart was heavy, for Henry had ordered Mary to remain at Beaulieu, and still the Pope had not spoken. She thought she would go mad with frustration. She had sent letter after letter to Rome, beseeching Pope Clement to pass sentence soon, but there was never a reply. She had, though, been cheered by the demonstrations of love that the common people hereabouts had made when she passed among them. Henry, plainly furious to hear them calling out their support for her, had reined in his horse beside her litter and abruptly ordered her to stop nodding and waving at them.

  Now here he was again, angrily invading the peace of her chamber where she was composing a new letter to Dr. Ortiz, whom the Emperor had recently appointed to represent her interests in Rome.

  “Do you know what the common people are saying? They are spreading rumors that I have separated you from Mary, out of spite. This is your fault, madam—you have long encouraged them to think ill of me. Well, I will put paid to this nonsense. We’ll have Mary brought here to give the lie to it.”

  That at least was good news, but Katherine knew that Henry was summoning Mary from Beaulieu, where she had been living since Christmas, only because he was concerned about his popularity. Yet she was overjoyed to see her daughter—it had been too long since they were together.

  “My dear child!” Katherine cried, embracing Mary as she arrived with her ladies and servants in a flurry of activity the next day. “Let me look at you!”

  Mary was growing up fast. Every time Katherine saw her there had been a change. The Princess was fourteen now, still small and slight, but showing the first curves of womanhood. She retained her childish prettiness, and her manner was as sweet and charming as ever. Yet there was that wariness, that nervous reserve about her that troubled Katherine.

  Waiting behind Mary was Margaret Pole. Katherine raised her from her curtsey and kissed her warmly, delighted to be reunited with her old friend. “We must talk later,” she said. “I shall look forward to it.”

  She spent the rest of that day with Mary, asking her about her lessons, daily life, and devotions. She could not have been more pleased with the child’s answers, but then Mary said, “My lady mother, I have been worried about you.”

  Katherine was taken aback.

  “There is no need to worry about me,” she said, “I am very well.”

  “But my father’s Grace is still trying to put you away.” There was such a pitiful look of distress on the child’s face that Katherine’s heart turned over.

  “We are both waiting for the Pope to pronounce sentence on our marriage,” she said carefully. “I am sure he will do so soon. There is nothing to worry about. Your father and I are as perfect friends as ever.” If only it was all true!

  “But he is always with the Lady Anne.” Mary seemed to be on the verge of tears.

  Katherine made a supreme effort. “He will only marry her if he is not allowed to return to me, which is what he wants, of course. And that is unlikely to happen, so please do not fret about it. Now, let me hear how you play on the virginals!”

  Mary stared at her with eyes that looked old before their time, eyes that said her mother was a fool if she really believed what she was saying. But the girl was dutiful; she said nothing.

  As Mary was playing—and playing beautifully—Henry came in. Immediately she curtsied gracefully, then knelt for his blessing. He swept her up into his arms.

  “How does my dear child?” he asked, kissing the wary look away.

  “I am well, sir. I trust that your Grace is too.”

  “That was an excellent performance,” he complimented her. “I could hear it as I approached.” Henry sat down next to Katherine, who could see Mary eyeing them both speculatively. “Now, how are you progressing in your studies?” he asked.

  It was a pleasant interlude—almost like old times. He stayed for two hours, and was even merry with them. His love for Mary was a pure thread in his life—there was nothing feigned about it—and in that he shared a common bond with Katherine. When he left, Katherine was in little doubt that Mary’s fears had been allayed.


  “The Princess is certainly troubled about the situation,” Margaret Pole confided later, when Mary had gone to bed and she and Katherine were catching up over a late night posset of aleberry, which Blanche de Vargas had fetched from the servery of the great kitchen. “She does not say anything, but she clearly knows more than she lets on.”

  “It is not surprising, considering that the matter is notorious,” Katherine observed. “Fortunately, His Grace spent time with us both this afternoon, and I do believe that Mary was reassured by it. But, Margaret, it does worry me how this may affect her. This long delay in obtaining sentence does not help. She is getting older and wiser, and we cannot protect her forever.”

  “Rest assured, dear madam, I will continue to do all I can to shield her,” Margaret promised.

  “I cannot thank you sufficiently. You are a true friend. And it is clear that Mary has blossomed in your care.”

  Katherine went to bed feeling somewhat relieved. It was wonderful to have Mary with her, and to know that she was in good hands when she herself could not be with her.

  But the next morning, as she sat going over a French translation with Mary, a messenger came to inform the Queen that the King was leaving Windsor for Whitehall, and that she and the Princess were to remain until the time came for Mary to return to her household at Hunsdon.

  He was leaving them, without even saying goodbye, to go off with his mistress. Katherine struggled to hide her dismay from Mary. Then she saw that nervous look in Mary’s eyes once more. Her heart burned with fury at Henry, who had done this to their precious, precious child.


  Wolsey had been sent north to York, there to carry out his duties as Archbishop.

  “The Lady would have had him arrested for treason, but the King refused to proceed against him,” Chapuys told Katherine as they stood in the garden at Beaulieu, watching the courtiers playing bowls in the summer sunshine. He lowered his voice. “The Lady is a dangerous enemy to have. She has not ceased to work against the Cardinal.”

  “I thank God that so far the King has resisted her demands,” Katherine murmured. “I never liked Wolsey very much, and he was no friend to me, but it saddens me to see him treated so ungratefully. At least he has retained his archbishopric of York.”

  “And by all reports carries out his duties diligently and reverently,” Chapuys informed her. “Bravo!” he cried out loud, as everyone clapped.

  “I used to deplore his worldliness,” Katherine said when everyone’s attention was back on the game. “All those benefices and high offices—and no sense of piety. Yet now, in adversity, he seems to have found his true calling.”

  “There is something interesting I have to tell you, Highness,” Chapuys went on, bending to her ear. “It seems the Cardinal has not quite bowed himself off the political stage. I had a letter from him, inquiring how your case is progressing and urging strong and immediate action in it. He plainly thinks that once this business is settled, he has a good chance of returning to power.”

  “The Cardinal is working
for me?” Katherine asked, stunned.

  “I think he was for you all along, madam. I am informed from Madrid that he supports the Emperor in asking the Pope to order the King to separate from the Lady until judgment is given.”

  “Well, I am surprised, to put it mildly. And I am grateful to the Emperor for his efforts on my behalf.”

  “My master has not ceased to press His Holiness to pronounce in your Highness’s favor. Yet he fears that the King will marry the Lady with or without the Pope’s consent, and because of that he is granting me special powers to act on your behalf.”

  “My dear friend,” Katherine said, touched to the core, and liking Chapuys more every time she saw him, “you cannot know what it means to me to have you and your master so zealous in my cause.”

  Chapuys flushed with pleasure. He bent over her hand and kissed it. “I am proud to serve so virtuous and high-hearted a lady,” he said.


  As the summer faded into a cool and wind-whipped autumn, Katherine embraced her beloved child, helped her into her litter, and watched her disappear into the distance. Then she returned to Richmond with the court, deeply uneasy about her future.

  “I think the Pope has abandoned me,” she confided to Chapuys as they strolled through the cloisters surrounding the gardens, Katherine’s ladies following at a discreet distance. “It’s a year now since we expected judgment to be given, and already this dreadful business has dragged on for over three years.”

  “Your Highness might be forgiven for thinking that,” Chapuys replied. “It is not for the want of pressure, Highness. The Emperor, Dr. Ortiz, and I myself have all urged His Holiness to proceed to sentence. And the King has too, many times, I have no doubt.”

  Katherine had no doubt either. Where others would ask, Henry would bully. He was like a baited bear these days. Anger at the interminable delays, and frustration at not having his way, were changing him. He was less kind, less considerate, more sharp-tongued, more suspicious, and apt to flare into frightening tempers.

  She looked at Chapuys anxiously. “It is more imperative than ever. The Princess is older now, and all too aware of what is happening. I do not want her anxieties prolonged, or her faith in the Holy See undermined.”

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