Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  She was cheered when she saw the avenue of flares lighting her arrival at Ely Place, that great palace that was the London house of the bishops of Ely and had been home to many royal personages over the centuries. And there was the beautiful chapel, dedicated to St. Etheldreda, soaring gracefully above the other buildings in the rambling palace complex. At the entrance to the state apartments, she was received with a fanfare of trumpets and courteously welcomed, then conducted by the new sergeants-at-law to a fine chamber where tables had been set out, with a chair of estate at the center of the high table—a single chair, to which she was shown. But where would Henry sit? Was he not here after all?

  Her heart sinking fast, she asked where the King was.

  “His Grace will be dining in the great hall,” she was told, “and the ambassadors in the little hall.” At that moment another fanfare could be heard, and much cheering, which could only signal Henry’s arrival. Katherine, walking to her place past ranks of bowing guests, no longer had a view of the entrance. He was here, so close, and yet she could not see him—and she was being deliberately kept apart from him, whereas in previous years she and Henry had dined together in the great hall. It was cruel—cruel! And although she should have been glad to be gracing a state occasion again, she was sick to her stomach and could barely eat anything.

  How she made conversation, she did not know. All she could think was that Henry was here and yet had made no attempt to see her. She was only present, no doubt, because the sergeants-at-law had invited her, according to custom, and it would have looked odd if she’d stayed away. She could fool herself no longer: this arrangement of separate feasts was almost certainly at the King’s command.

  Her only hope was to see him as she left, although what she might say to him on so public an occasion she did not know. Dare she throw herself on her knees and make an abject plea to him? If there was any chance that it would move him, she was ready to abase herself. But because she had to get back to Hertfordshire, she was obliged to leave early, so even that opportunity was denied her. As she thanked her hosts at the outer door, she could hear music and the loud hum of conversation coming from the great hall. It took all her resolve to walk away and climb into her litter, leaving Henry behind.

  The next day she wrote to the Emperor.

  What I suffer is enough to kill ten men, much more a shattered woman who has done no harm. I can do nothing but appeal to God and your Majesty. For the love of God, procure a final sentence from His Holiness as soon as possible. I am the King’s lawful wife, and while I live I will say no other.

  She read it over, and signed it:

  At the More, separated from my husband without having offended him in any way, Katherine, the unhappy Queen.

  She gave the letter to Maria to pass on to Chapuys’s messenger when next he came.

  “It is yet another appeal to His Imperial Majesty,” she said, shaking her head, because after four years all the pressure that Charles had so far brought to bear on Pope Clement had been to no avail.

  Maria’s temper flared. “I cannot bear to see your Highness so sad. It is a very strange and abominable thing, that the lust of a foolish man and a foolish woman should hold up a lawsuit and inflict an outrageous burden upon such a good and blameless queen!”

  “Enough, Maria! You must not say such things of the King. Whatever faults may be imputed to him, he is still my husband and sovereign of this realm.”

  Maria fell to her knees. “Forgive me, Highness! It is just that I cannot bear to see you suffer!”

  Katherine smiled at her sadly. “I understand that. Get up, my friend; never feel you have to kneel to me. I know God sends these trials to test me. Sometimes I think He must love me to confer on me the privilege of so much sorrow!”

  “Dear madam, let us pray that the Pope soon puts an end to your suffering.”


  Late in November, Maud Parr caught a chill that rapidly settled on her lungs. Deeply anxious about her friend, Katherine summoned Dr. de la Saa, who prescribed a posset infused with chamomile and poppy juice, but it made no difference. Maud lay there pale and wan, her skin clammy, her curly hair damp with sweat. Fearing for her, Katherine summoned Dr. Guersye, but he was of the opinion that Dr. de la Saa’s treatment had been the most appropriate and that they should try it once more. Again Katherine was distressed to find that it proved ineffective.

  She sat with Maud, chafing her hands and willing her to get better. Maud was not yet forty—far too young to die—and her children still needed her. Katherine herself needed her! She knew how Maud fretted about her clever daughter, Kate, now nineteen and married to an ailing husband. The younger daughter, Anne, was sitting at the other side of the bed, weeping, frightened that her mother might die. Anne had often hinted that she missed the court and all its excitements and longed to be back there, but for now the only place she wanted to be was with her mother.

  On the first day of December, Katherine went into Maud’s chamber to see how she was, and found little Anne Parr weeping over a corpse.

  “Oh, madam, she’s gone! Oh, Mother, Mother!” Anne laid her head on the dead woman’s breast, sobbing woefully.

  Katherine crossed herself. “Oh, my dear child.” She raised Anne and clasped her in her arms. How tragic for the poor girl, to lose her mother at such a vulnerable age. Anne was not much older than Mary.

  “She did not know me,” the girl wept. “I tried to rouse her, and speak to her, but then I saw that her eyes were open and that she had stopped breathing.” She broke into more heartrending sobs.

  Katherine stroked her hair and made her kneel with her by the bed. She grasped Maud’s limp hand. “Blessed Mother of God, pray for her. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death…”

  Anne joined in, as the other ladies clustered into the room, each silently kneeling in turn and joining in the prayers.

  When at last Katherine rose and laid Maud’s hands in the form of a cross on her breast, Anne wept again. “Oh, Mother, my mother! What shall I do?”

  “You will come with me and have some wine to calm you.” Katherine felt her own voice break. Maud had been her friend for so long, and she could not imagine a world without her. As she led the sobbing Anne from the room, she looked back at the still figure on the bed. We are all going to miss her dreadfully, she thought.


  The Emperor, Chapuys reported, was now pressing the Pope to excommunicate Henry, in the hope that it would bring him to his senses. Katherine was shocked to the core. Charles had gone too far this time! Never would she have sought such a thing, however well meant, or wished it on her husband. For once, she was glad that Clement was reluctant to provoke Henry; and she resolved to oppose his acting on the Emperor’s suggestion.

  “The Lady governs all,” Chapuys had written. He had heard from a Venetian envoy about an ugly incident in London recently, when Anne was dining in a house by the Thames. Word had apparently spread quickly through the City that she was there, and before long a mob of seven or eight thousand women, and men disguised as women, attempted to seize her. “Had she not escaped by taking to her barge and crossing the river, she would have fallen a victim to their anger.”

  “It would have solved a lot of problems!” said Maria tartly. “And good riddance too!”

  “I could not wish that on anyone,” Katherine said, “but I do wish that the Lady Anne would go away, or that the King would tire of her. Were His Grace once free from the snare in which he has been caught, he would confess that God had restored his reason—I know he would. But she and her friends goad him on like a bull in the arena.”

  She did not think she could take much more. Some days she thought she would give in and go into a nunnery after all; to be truthful, she would welcome the peace and tranquillity, and be glad to escape this miserable world. But there was Mary to consider; she had to stand up for Mary’s rights. And what if she took holy vows and the Pope then found her marriage good? Whatev
er Henry had done—the schism he caused, his blind passion for Anne, the statutes he had passed—she was convinced that beneath the bluster and the threats, he was still at heart the man who had been a good son of the Church, and that a favorable judgment from Rome would bring him to his senses. And so she must hold herself in readiness for when that day came.

  “Oh, if only His Holiness would put us all out of our misery!” she said, sighing. “I do not see the difficulty, and I must confess that I am amazed at him. How can he allow a suit so scandalous to remain so long undecided? His conduct cuts me to the soul.”

  Christmas was wretched, celebrated with great solemnity, yet lacking in merriment and jollity, and Chapuys reported that it had been the same at Greenwich. “Everyone said there was no mirth because your Grace and your ladies were absent.”

  Katherine spent the season missing Henry and wishing that Mary could have shared it with her, but Henry had commanded that Mary keep Christmas at Beaulieu, her own residence. It was clear to Katherine that he was keeping her and Mary apart, careless of his own daughter’s happiness. He fears that I might try to influence her against him! But that was unfair, for Mary had eyes, and she had ears, and she was of an age to make up her own mind, and had done so without her mother’s help.

  Katherine had always given Henry a special gift at New Year, and she was determined that this year should be no different. As his wife, she would be failing in her duty if she did not send him something. So she ordered a gold cup and dispatched it to Greenwich with a loving and humble message, to which he could not possibly take exception. But back came the cup, with a curt message enclosed: I command you not to send me such gifts in future, for I am not your husband, as you should know.

  That almost broke her. But still she would not be cowed.


  In January, to Katherine’s astonishment and joy, Mary was permitted to visit her at the More. It had been six months since they had seen each other, and Katherine was moved to see that her child, at nearly sixteen, had now become a woman.

  But growing up had brought a new gravity to Mary. She was too serious, too opinionated for someone so young, and overpreoccupied with rights and wrongs and the sheer awfulness of what her father was doing. Katherine’s heart bled for her. Mary should not be burdened with such things; at her age, she should be thinking of her studies, of pretty clothes to wear, and perhaps of handsome young men.

  They talked. How they talked. Even at night Mary would appear at Katherine’s door, needing comfort and reassurance, and they would cuddle together in the big bed. Katherine knew that Mary was struggling to reconcile Henry as he had been with Henry as he was now, and knew that it was important for the girl to be reminded of the good that was in him, and how much he really loved her.

  But then the conversation would stray into dangerous waters, with Mary voicing her vehement hatred of Anne Boleyn, and hotly defending the Pope and the Church, and bursting into tears at the thought of the evil that Cromwell and Cranmer and other heretics were wreaking.

  “Hush!” Katherine soothed. “Forget them. Let us enjoy this quiet time together.”

  And for hours on end they did. They read together, as they always had, played music, took walks in the wintry gardens, and played endless games of cards by the fire.

  Katherine wondered what had prompted Henry to send Mary to her. Was it just an unexpected kindness on his part, intended mainly for Mary? Or was he worried about public opinion? For surely there would be murmuring at his wife and daughter being kept apart.

  Katherine knew he was worried about her influencing Mary against him, so she voiced no opinion on the divorce. She did not need to: Mary did it for her, and quite vociferously too. She had to warn her daughter to watch what she said in the presence of others. Even to sympathetic friends, it did not do to criticize the King so passionately.

  All too soon the day came when Mary had to leave. Katherine held her close, kissing her sweet face and urging her to have patience and pray for strength, for all would soon be well. Then she let her go, and watched the too-slender figure of her precious child clamber into the waiting litter. A last smile and a wave, and Mary was gone.


  Katherine walked slowly to her favorite part of the garden, seeking solace in the warm May air and the scent of spring flowers, holding Chapuys’s latest letter. The news that Sir Thomas More had resigned as Lord Chancellor saddened her deeply. He had surrendered the Great Seal of England to the King, pleading ill-health, but Katherine knew that his conscience could never be reconciled to Henry’s demands.

  The clergy of England had not been so scrupulous. They had renounced their allegiance to Rome, and were pardoned by the King for their misplaced loyalty, on payment of a heavy fine. Henceforth they would answer to their sovereign only.

  To Katherine, isolated and hearing only the news that Chapuys could smuggle to her from court, it felt as if the world had shifted further out of kilter. Her faith and obedience to the Holy See remained as strong as the day she made her first confession, yet the man she loved most had made a mockery of all she held dear.

  She hoped that Henry’s admiration and respect for his old friend was staunch enough to override any anger and disappointment he felt over More’s resignation. She knew how much he would have given to have More support his cause. But by the very act of resigning at such a time, More had made it plain that he could not give it, or endorse the King’s reforms. Surely, for all his silence on the subject, that meant he was against the divorce? It was a comfort to learn that More had been allowed to return to his house at Chelsea to enjoy a quiet retirement with his family and his books.

  Katherine sat down on a stone bench to continue to read Chapuys’s letter. She waved her ladies away, wanting to be alone to absorb the news. She was fearfully aware that More’s resignation had left Cromwell free to push through his reforms unhindered. Chapuys had recently warned her that Cromwell had risen above everyone save the Lady Anne, and currently had more credit with the King than even Wolsey had enjoyed. Now there is not a person who does anything except Cromwell, he had written. Who knew what Cromwell would do now? He had made his malice toward her and the Church all too evident.

  When Katherine read that Cromwell’s friend Thomas Audley was to be made chancellor in More’s place, it became more than clear to her which way the wind was blowing. But now here was a surprise: Chapuys wrote that Archbishop Warham, whom she assumed was a stout King’s man, for he’d never put much heart into her defense, had spoken out against Henry. Warham was aging now, and ill, and she could only conclude that he was less in dread of an earthly king than a celestial one, for he had stood up in Parliament and protested against all laws that impugned the Pope’s authority. Effectively, he had denied the King’s supremacy over the English Church.

  Reading that, Katherine held her breath, wondering what had befallen Warham for his defiance. But it seemed that Henry had let him be, by which she supposed he believed that the old man was not long for this world. At least he had not vented his anger on him, which was a good sign. She wondered if Warham had supported her all along but been afraid to say so. She was glad that she could think of him more kindly now, for without the Archbishop’s cooperation there could be no formal declaration that her marriage was invalid. In the end, he had served her magnificently.


  It seemed, from Chapuys’s letters, that the world was full of protests.

  “The Abbot of Whitby has slandered the Lady Anne,” Katherine told Maria as they lingered at table after supper one evening. “I will not, for delicacy, repeat what he said, but he has been censured for it.” And the Nun of Kent had waxed vocal again. “She has accused the King of wishing to marry the Lady Anne only on account of his voluptuous and carnal appetite. I rather wish she would stop. She only angers him the more by her sayings and prophecies, and she embarrasses me.”

  “You did well to refuse to see her, madam,” Maria said, sipping her wine.

  “I wi
ll not give them any grounds for complaint,” Katherine said drily, returning to the letter and reading on. “Listen to this! You remember Friar Peto, who was the Princess’s confessor? Well, on Easter Sunday he preached before the King and the Lady Anne at Greenwich, and warned His Grace that their marriage would be unlawful, and that if the King went ahead he would be punished as Ahab was, and his blood would be licked up by dogs.”

  “By God! What did the King do?”

  “He was so angry that he walked out of the chapel, with the Lady Anne following, and then he had one of his chaplains preach a sermon denouncing Peto as a dog, a slanderer, a base and beggarly rebel, and a traitor. Now he has put Friar Peto in prison.”

  Even the King’s own sister, the French Queen, had stood up for Katherine. “For some years now she has refused to come to court when the Lady Anne is there,” Katherine noted, “but now she has criticized her openly, deploring her morals and her lack of decorum.”

  “That will ruffle the Duke’s feathers,” Maria observed gleefully. She hated Suffolk, hated his being her daughter’s ward. “I would not like to be at their breakfast table right now. I imagine the atmosphere will be frosty, to say the least!”

  “A Member of Parliament has moved that the Commons ask the King to take me back,” Katherine went on, scanning Chapuys’s long letter. “The King told the Speaker he marveled at it, and said the matter was not to be determined in Parliament, for it touched his soul, and he wished for our marriage to be found good.”

  “Hah!” interjected Maria. “We’ve heard that before.”

  Katherine frowned at her in reproof. “But he also said that the doctors of the universities had determined it to be void and detestable before God, and it was his conscience that caused him to abstain from my company, and no foolish or wanton appetite.”

  Maria muttered something that could have been, “Arrant nonsense!”

  “The King reminded Parliament that he is forty-one years old, at which age the lust of man is not so quick as in lusty youth.”

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