Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “Madam, the King approaches,” Chapuys said suddenly. “It would be better if I took my leave.” He bowed and disappeared into a doorway just as Henry hove into view, coming toward Katherine with a purposeful stride. It was at once clear to her that he was in no good mood.

  “Well, Kate, what do you think of this latest iniquity from Rome? By this, His Holiness loses all credibility, and does his office no service.”

  “Why, sir? Tell me, what does he say?”

  “His Holiness has suggested that I might be allowed two wives, and says he could permit that with less scandal than by granting an annulment.” Henry snorted in disgust.

  Katherine was outraged. “But that is against all the laws of Scripture!” She was shaken, not only at the very idea, but also by the fact that the Pope—the Vicar of Christ!—had felt driven to suggest it. “I cannot understand why finding our marriage good could cause scandal.”

  “Well, I could,” Henry said, glowering at her. “It is scandalous that we have lived in sin all these years.”

  “I find it more scandalous that you should even think it!” she retorted, stung. She could not bear anyone to think that she was the kind of woman who would live in sin with a man.

  “My conscience tells me I am right,” Henry countered, “and I regard my conscience as the highest and most supreme court of judgment and justice. I know that God is guiding my actions.”

  “How can you know that? I must say it is presumptuous, and it takes no account of the fact that my conscience tells me differently.”

  “You have always taken a subjective, ill-informed view, Kate.” Henry’s blue eyes narrowed. “But I’m warning you, my patience is wearing out. I will no longer tolerate any defiance. There is this matter of your chaplain, Father Abell.”

  Katherine felt the hairs on her neck rise in fear. That good, brave man. He was not only true and loyal, he was writing a treatise in her defense…

  “I hear he intends to publish a book, in which he argues that by no manner of law is it lawful for me to be divorced,” Henry said. “Well, I will not have it! If he dares, I will have it banned and every copy destroyed. He will learn that he defies me at his peril.”

  “You will not harm him?” Katherine asked, fearful for her faithful chaplain.

  “Not if he abandons his cursed project,” Henry said. “But if he persists in his mischief-making, it will be another matter.”

  “So are you saying that men cannot now speak out in my defense? That you will punish them if they do?”

  “I will punish those who defend the indefensible!” Henry snapped. “Go carefully, Kate, and watch that you do not incite your friends to disobedience.”

  Katherine was too horrified to argue. How far would Henry go? Were these latest threats just his temper speaking, or was he really resolved to break all opposition to his will?


  Wolsey was dead.

  Elizabeth Stafford had come to tell Katherine the details of his end. Despite the sad circumstances, Katherine was pleased to see her, for the Duchess rarely waited on her these days. The Duke, her estranged husband, was firmly allied to Anne Boleyn and disapproved of his wife’s friendship with the Queen. But Elizabeth loathed her husband for his misplaced loyalty and his flagrant infidelities; she was seizing every opportunity to support Katherine.

  “Of course, my lord did not tell me the details himself, as he refuses to speak to me,” the Duchess said, rolling her eyes. “I had them from my son, Surrey. My lord was sent to Leicester to escort the Cardinal to London, to be tried for treason, but Wolsey collapsed at Leicester, and the monks took him into their infirmary. Soon afterward he died and they buried him there in the abbey. When he lay on his deathbed, he said that if he had served God as diligently as he had the King, He would not have given him over in his gray hairs.”

  Katherine crossed herself. “I will pray for his soul,” she said, her voice croaking, which was a legacy of the feverish cough that had racked her these past weeks. She was surprised at how emotional she felt at hearing of Wolsey’s passing, but it was understandable, she supposed, for she was only just recovering and still weak. Henry had not bothered to visit her; he had been disporting himself over at Hampton Court with Anne Boleyn. He had written to excuse himself from coming in person, saying he heard there was plague in Richmond, and then—ignoring the fact that Katherine was confined to her bed, shivering and burning up with the ague—he had hectored her again to take the veil.

  “They have no pity, none of them!” Elizabeth spat. “My lord cared not a fig for Wolsey’s sufferings, or the Duke of Suffolk. They offered him no comfort.”

  Katherine could imagine that. King’s men, both of them. They would have been merciless.

  “This comes of Mistress Anne’s malice,” the Duchess said as Maria and Gertrude entered the room. “I have no doubt that it was she who prevailed on the King to have the Cardinal arrested.”

  “It must have been, for it was Henry Percy who was sent to make the arrest!” Maria exclaimed as she set a hot posset down on the table, within reach of Katherine’s chair, then spread the warm blanket over her mistress’s skirts; it was a fierce winter, and the Queen must be kept warm. “It’s all over the court!”

  “There’s some justice in his being chosen,” said Gertrude, tart, bending to rake up the fire.

  “I never thought to say it, but I feel grieved for Wolsey,” Katherine admitted. “It was an ignominious way to die.”

  “Better to die ignominiously than by the headsman’s ax,” Maria observed. “Some might say it was less than he deserved.”

  “We must be charitable, my dear,” Katherine reproved her, sipping the posset. “I cannot believe that His Grace would have gone so far as to execute a cardinal in holy orders. How would that serve his case in Rome?”


  Henry seemed fairly nonchalant about Wolsey’s death.

  “He failed me, but I wish he had lived,” he said, when finally he came to see Katherine. She took it as proof that he would never have had the Cardinal executed.

  But Anne Boleyn’s vindictiveness toward Wolsey was as lively after his death as it had been before. Informed that there was to be a masque staged at court, Katherine joined Henry on the dais to watch the evening’s entertainment, but was shocked when it turned out to be a cruel farce about Wolsey going to Hell, which had been devised by George Boleyn. Everyone seemed to find it hilarious, and roared with laughter at the sight of the King’s fool, in red robes padded out to make him look corpulent, being dragged down by demons into a fiery pit. Glancing at Henry’s stony face, and, a little farther away, the jubilant triumph of Anne and her relations, Katherine felt sickened, and retired as soon as she decently could.


  Chapuys had been stalwart. He had never ceased pressing the Emperor to ensure that her case was brought to a final conclusion. He understood the urgency, even if no one else seemed to.

  “The King stops at nothing to gratify his blind, detestable, and wretched passion for the Lady!” he announced one day as he and Katherine were coming from the chapel after Mass. “They are canvassing the universities now, and she is preparing for queenship.”

  “What worries me is that there are an increasing number of men holding radical or even heretical views in the universities these days,” Katherine told him, leading him up the secret stair to her lodgings. “Luther’s heresies proliferate. It seems that the word of God is now debated by all and sundry and that the Church is held increasingly in disrepute. If only His Holiness would speak—and confound them all!”

  “Take heart, madam. For every radical doctor there are probably ten who hold to the old faith,” Chapuys reassured her.

  They had reached her apartments, where she had ordered her ladies to set out places for two for dinner in the privy chamber.

  “How very kind of your Grace to invite me!” Chapuys exclaimed.

  They sat as the waiting ladies arranged their napkins over their shoulder
s and poured wine, then they broke the manchet bread on the side plates and helped themselves to the rich venison stew.

  “This will make your Grace smile,” Chapuys said. “The Duchess of Norfolk told me yesterday that the Lady had commissioned the College of Arms to draw up a family tree tracing her descent from a Norman lord who settled in England four hundred years ago.”

  “I thought her forebears were merchants,” Katherine interjected.

  “And so, I believe, they were, so this genealogy was patently an invention, and the King was most displeased with it. But he was even more displeased to learn that the Lady had provided her servants with new liveries embroidered with the device Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne.” So it will be, grumble who may.

  Katherine laughed. As she and Chapuys well knew, the true and proper form was Groigne qui groigne, vive Bourgogne! Grumble who may, long live Burgundy! It was a device of the Emperor and his forebears, the dukes of Burgundy.

  “Yes, madam, and the King told her whose motto it was, and he said she must not suffer her servants to wear those liveries.” Chapuys was gleeful. “She was mortified!”

  “It is a pity he does not curb her in other ways,” Katherine said, dipping her bread in the spicy sauce. “That masque, for example. It was scandalous. And the King let her do it.”

  “One day, we must pray, he will tire of her behavior.”

  “That day cannot come soon enough!” Katherine said with some vehemence.


  At Christmas, Katherine joined Henry for the traditional festivities at Greenwich. She was overjoyed that Mary was there too, although concerned to see that haunted look on her daughter’s face, and the stiffening of her expression whenever Anne Boleyn was mentioned or made her presence felt—which she did often, paying the barest of reverences to the Queen and the Princess.

  “I detest her!” Mary burst out in private. “She is a wicked woman. How can my father do this to you, madam?”

  “Hush, child! You must not speak of your father so, and you must be charitable toward the Lady Anne for his sake.”

  “My lady mother, you have the patience of a saint!” Mary cried. “I cannot be like you, however hard I try.” Katherine started. Was this her meek and dutiful daughter? But there were tears in the girl’s eyes. Seeing them, Katherine was seized inwardly with fury. Why should her cherished child’s young life be blighted in this way? Henry must stop flaunting his mistress in front of her!

  On Christmas Eve, when he came to her chamber, she was ready for him.

  “You are setting a scandalous example by associating with the Lady Anne!” she said. “Mary is very upset at having to witness it.”

  “There is nothing wrong in my relations with the Lady Anne, madam, as I have told you,” Henry barked, clearly riled. “I intend to marry her, and marry her I will, whatever the Pope might say, so Mary had better get used to the idea.”

  He was immovable. Katherine had chosen the wrong moment, for over the holiday it became clear that Henry was feeling very sorry for himself. Even at Twelfth Night, when they sat enthroned together and there were masques, games, and a great banquet, he was full of self-pity, and did little but grumble about the interminable delays in Rome and how badly the Pope had used him. In the end Katherine gave up trying to get him to show some mirth for Mary’s sake. She almost felt sorry for him. This madness was all of his own making, yet she still believed he had been led astray. Once, she had blamed Wolsey, but now she knew who the real culprit was. And Henry was too greatly in thrall to see it!

  She was sure that for all his bluster and unkindness, his natural virtues and goodness would win through in the end. If only she could have him with her for a reasonable time—for just two or three months—as he used to be, she would be able to make him forget all about a divorce. But, of course, Anne was clever. She knew that Henry’s heart really lay with his wife, so she was constantly trying to prevent his being with her. And while Henry was with Anne, he remained under her influence.

  New Year’s Day had not long dawned when Chapuys came to Katherine’s chamber in some alarm.

  “Highness, I have been told by a well-informed gentleman that the King’s marriage to the Lady will be accomplished in this coming session of Parliament.”

  “That is what we feared last year, and the year before,” Katherine reminded him, sounding more positive than she felt, “and still it has not happened. Anyway, the King cannot marry her without first obtaining a divorce.”

  “The Lady feels assured of it, I hear.”

  Maria, who was present, snorted in disgust. “She is braver than a lion! Do you know what she said to me the other evening? She said that she wished all Spaniards were in the sea. I told her such language was disrespectful to her mistress, the Queen, but she said she cared nothing for the Queen, and would rather see her hang than acknowledge her as her mistress.”

  “You see her malice plain, Highness,” Chapuys chimed in, plainly angry.

  “I care not what the Lady Anne thinks,” Katherine said. “Her enmity is born of insecurity.”

  “Pah! I’m sorry, madam, but she is becoming more arrogant every day, even to the King!” Maria persisted. “The Duchess of Norfolk says the King has complained several times to the Duke that she is not like your Grace, and that you had never in your life used ill words to him. And when he said this he had tears in his eyes.”

  Katherine felt like crying too. It was hard to imagine Henry comparing her favorably to Anne, but maybe he was seeing sense at last.

  “He will tire of her soon, mark my words,” said Chapuys.

  “Pray God let it be so!” she breathed.


  These days Henry was in an even angrier mood. The Pope had finally cited him to appear in Rome to defend his case.

  “I intend to ignore his summons,” he growled across the dinner table one dark January night. His face was flushed in the candlelight.

  “But, Henry,” Katherine protested, “this is the way to get our case decided.”

  “Do you think I’m going all the way to Rome as a plaintiff?” Henry roared. “What of my kingdom? I’d be away for months—years, knowing how Clement dithers. No, Kate, I am finished with the Pope.”

  His words struck chill into her heart. He had threatened this before, but somehow this time it seemed more than bluster.

  “My lord, I beg of you to consider well what you are saying,” she pleaded.

  “I have thought of little else!” he shouted. “I am convinced that the English Church would be better off with myself, the King, as its head, rather than owing allegiance to this weak, dithering Pope.”

  Katherine dropped her knife in shock and sat, frozen, aghast at the heresy of his words. He was threatening everything she held sacred. If Henry abandoned the Holy See, it would mean schism and the overthrow of religion. It might mean war. She must stop him at all costs.

  She rose and walked around the table, then fell heavily to her knees. “Sir, you are known as a good son and champion of the Church,” she remonstrated. “I beg of you, do not break with Rome! It would be the work of the Devil!” Of course she knew perfectly well that Anne was behind this—Anne and her faction, who were hot for Luther’s heresies and enemies of the true Church. Devils, all of them!

  “Kate, get up,” Henry said. “If anyone is in league with the Devil, it’s Clement. He serves Mammon rather than God. He is meant to be defending and promoting God’s laws, yet he shrinks from his duty for political considerations. How can Christ’s vicar stoop so low? You must agree—it is a scandal.”

  The awful thing was, she did agree. Yet respect for the Holy See was so ingrained in her that she could not bring herself to criticize it.

  “But he has summoned you, Henry. He will give judgment soon.”

  Henry frowned. “I care not a fig for his judgments!”


  That the King was in earnest very soon became clear. Over supper one evening Chapuys informed Katherine that the clergy had
assembled at Westminster.

  “I think this meeting will be significant, Highness, and that the King desires the bishops’ consent to some matter of great moment.”

  Katherine swallowed. Was Henry about to carry out his threat to divorce her without recourse to the Pope? And if he did, where would that leave her? Completely isolated, she suspected—which was probably what he wanted.

  “I hope it is nothing too extreme,” she said at last, pushing her plate away, her appetite gone.

  There was a pause—just a heartbeat.

  “Does your Grace know Thomas Cromwell?” Chapuys asked.

  “Slightly,” Katherine said, signaling to Maria to pour more wine. “He was in the Cardinal’s service, and I believe he has now transferred to the King’s. I see him sometimes about the court.” He was a thick-set, portly man in his forties with black hair and small, porcine eyes, and rather clever, by all reports.

  “He has just been appointed to the Privy Council.”

  “Why are you telling me this?” Katherine asked.

  “Because this is a man with few scruples, and he is high in the King’s good graces. Like the Cardinal, he comes from lowly stock; the Duke of Norfolk in particular looks down on him because he is the son of a blacksmith, and because he is hot in the cause of Church reform. The Duke, as you know, is a great conservative, and a snob.” Chapuys permitted himself a grim smile, but his face instantly became serious again. “Thomas Cromwell is all for having a sovereign state supported by Parliament, the law, and an efficient civil service. There is no room in his vision for the Church of Rome. I’ll wager that he is behind this summoning of the clergy.”

  Katherine shivered. “It sounds as if I have another enemy to contend with.”

  “I fear so,” Chapuys said. “I have been watching Cromwell’s moves for some time. He is a radical in his opinions. He wants the Bible to be made available in English, that all might read it.”

  “But it is for the clergy to interpret the Scriptures! It is heresy to read them in any language other than Latin. And the King would never agree to it. He has banned William Tyndale’s translation.”

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