Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “Really? He is feeling sorry for himself!”

  “Maria!” Katherine reproved again. “I have commanded you to show no disrespect to the King.”

  “I apologize, Highness.” Maria bit her lip, her eyes fiery.

  “It does not matter, my dear friend. I know you mean well.” Katherine smiled at her and went back to Chapuys’s letter. “The Commons fear that a divorce could have an impact on England’s trade with the Emperor’s territories. Messire Chapuys thinks that Parliament ought to petition the King to take me back and treat me kindly.”

  “As he should! Is there any news from Rome?”

  Katherine read on. “Only that the Pope has postponed the hearing yet again, until November.” She sighed in exasperation. “It seems it will never end!”

  “I grieve for your Grace,” Maria said, reaching over and taking Katherine’s hand. “But take heart. The King did allow the Princess to visit you in January.”

  “I think he felt he needed to placate the people,” Katherine murmured. “But that was four months ago. I have asked several times since if I might see Mary again, and every time I have been told no. I fear that it suits His Grace to keep us apart. The Princess is growing older, and he fears us intriguing with the Emperor against him. As if we would do such a thing! And keeping me from my daughter is a way of punishing me for what he sees as my obstinacy.”

  She bent her head, perusing through a blur of tears the last few lines of Chapuys’s letter. “I do not like this,” she said. “England and France have signed a treaty of alliance against the Emperor. You know what this means. The King now feels that he can count on King Francis’s support. The King of France is a good son of the Church and has influence in Rome. The King is going to meet him at Calais in the autumn.”

  “But your Grace has the support of the Emperor, and he will never allow the French king to browbeat the Pope,” Maria said.

  “I doubt this Pope will be browbeaten by anyone,” Katherine commented resignedly. She had almost given up hope of any good tidings from Rome.


  When the King’s order to move to the palace at Hatfield came a few days later, Katherine was relieved, for life at the More, for all its splendor, had been tedious and monotonous. It would prove to be the same at Hatfield, no doubt, but at least it was a pleasant change of scene.

  She liked the house, which was built of red brick, with four wings around a courtyard. Like Ely Place, it had once been owned by the bishops of Ely but often used by royalty. She could remember Henry telling her that he had stayed there as a child, and that his baby brother Edmund died there. That was probably why he rarely used it. But it was in good order, if not as grand as the More or Easthampstead, and it was spacious, and the grounds and gardens were lovely.

  She was not left in peace to enjoy them for long. One afternoon she was in her spacious presence chamber, playing cards with her women, when Lord Mountjoy was announced. She knew, as soon as she saw the distress in his face, that he brought bad news.

  “Madam,” he said, “I have received an order from the King. He commands that Lady Willoughby leave your household and that you are not to communicate further with her.”

  Katherine felt as if someone had punched and winded her. Maria was her oldest and dearest friend, and one of her staunchest supporters. Save for those ten years of her marriage to Lord Willoughby, whose perfections she still trumpeted, she had been with Katherine through tempest and calm, and was a vital link to their lost youth and the land of their birth.

  “Why?” she gasped.

  Mountjoy swallowed. “I was told that she has been spreading sedition.”

  “That is ridiculous!” Even as she said it, Katherine knew that in Henry’s eyes, Maria’s constant criticism of his behavior would amount to sedition. But how could he have known? Did the walls have ears? Had Thomas Cromwell planted a spy in her household?

  “I cannot let her go, I cannot!” Katherine burst out as Eliza Darrell tried in vain to comfort her. Maria was not there; she had gone to the steward, to hector him over the dusty state of the great hall, which Katherine wanted made ready for receiving guests—should there be any.

  “Madam, the King has commanded it,” Lord Mountjoy said miserably.

  When Maria returned, to find her mistress weeping inconsolably on Eliza Darrell’s shoulder, Lord Mountjoy looking helpless in the face of such distress, and the other women shaking their heads, she was horrified to learn the cause.

  “I will not go,” she declared, her eyes glittering with fury. “I will stay. Let them try to move me!”

  Katherine roused herself and lifted a ravaged face. “You must go, my dear friend,” she said. “You must not disobey the King’s order. Think how that would look. It would reflect on me.”

  “Madam, I cannot leave you,” Maria protested.

  “Maria, I command it!” Katherine ordered.

  The King’s order was to take effect immediately. It was a highly emotional farewell. Not only was Katherine losing her oldest friend, she was also losing the last of her ladies-in-waiting. They were all gone now—Margaret to Mary, Maud to death, and now Maria to banishment. Now she would have only her maids for company. Not that she did not love them—but it would be a sorry household for a queen who had been served by the highest ladies in the land, and now she contemplated the loss of one who was especially dear to her.

  “I will return as soon as I may,” Maria promised. “Oh, madam…” She broke down—Maria, who never cried.

  “God keep you, dear friend,” Katherine said, her voice hoarse. “Take this.” She pressed into Maria’s hand a little miniature painting of herself holding her pet monkey. Poor, sweet Carlo, he had not lived long.

  “I will treasure it, madam!”

  A last hug, and Maria too was gone.

  Just hours later, as Katherine was trying to resign herself to being deprived of Maria’s company, there was a great banging on the outer door of the palace.

  “Open in the name of the King!” a man shouted.

  “What in the world…” Katherine gasped, emerging from her apartments as a company of armed soldiers entered the hall. “Why are you here?”

  The captain bowed hastily. “We are come to arrest your Grace’s chaplain, Father Abell.”

  “My chaplain? On what charge?”

  “For publishing a seditious tract against the King, madam.”

  She had feared this would happen, feared it from the moment Father Abell told her that he had gone ahead and published his book.

  “I assure you, Captain, there is not a seditious bone in Father Abell’s body,” Katherine declared.

  “Then, madam, I must show you this.” The captain drew from his pouch a rather crumpled bundle of pages, smoothed them out perfunctorily and handed them to her. She read the title: Invicta veritas. An answer that by no manner of law, it may be lawful for the most noble King of England, King Henry the Eighth, to be divorced from the Queen’s Grace, his lawful wife.

  “But this is not sedition. It is an honest opinion, the same opinion that I myself maintain. What crime has Father Abell committed?”

  “It’s not for me to question the King’s orders, your Grace. Father Abell is to come with us.”

  Katherine sent Eliza to find the chaplain. “Tell him to hurry and pack some warm clothes and books,” she whispered.

  Father Abell remained composed when told that he was under arrest. His homely, amiable countenance seemed untroubled as he blessed Katherine and bade her farewell.

  “Do not fret about me, my daughter,” he said. “God will protect the righteous.”

  But he left her distraught. Was it now a crime to speak out against the divorce? If so, what punishment might she herself merit?


  Archbishop Warham had died. Katherine received the news in August, not from Chapuys, whose letters came ever more infrequently these days—which was worrying in itself—but from her chaplain, Father Forrest, who had heard it when
assisting at Mass in the parish church at Hatfield.

  She dismissed Father Forrest and sat alone in her chamber, cold with sorrow and worry despite the hot summer’s day. What would happen now? Who would replace the Archbishop?

  Katherine did not have long to speculate. Chapuys managed to get a letter to her.

  Thomas Cranmer is nominated to the See of Canterbury, she read. That was bad news indeed, with Cranmer the creature of the Boleyns; Katherine had not forgotten that it was his idea to canvas the universities. Such a man would not scruple to give Henry what he wanted.

  She was even more disturbed to read that Anne Boleyn’s enmity toward Mary was now as great as it was toward her. The King dares not praise the Princess in the Lady’s presence for fear of provoking her temper, and he keeps his visits to the Princess as short as possible because the Lady is so jealous, Chapuys had written. She has boasted that she will have the Princess in her own train and might one day give her too much dinner, or marry her to some varlet.

  “Oh, dear God!” Katherine cried aloud, every instinct urging her to fly to Mary and protect her. And it was clear that Chapuys was alarmed too, for he had again mentioned the attempt on Bishop Fisher’s life, and stated that he did not doubt that the Lady was capable of putting her threats into effect. He would be doubly vigilant, he promised, and knowing his zeal toward Mary, she had no doubt that he would—but he was not living at Beaulieu or Hunsdon, where Mary’s household lodged. Who would protect her there?

  Misery swamped Katherine. How could she bear to live in such fear for her daughter? Dare she write to Henry, begging to visit Mary, or have the girl come to her? But she must, she must!

  Chapuys’s next letter brought a brief glimmer of hope. The King, he wrote, had made the Lady a peer of the realm in her own right, something that had never before been granted to a woman in England. She had been created the Lady Marquess of Pembroke, with much pomp and ceremony. It is important, however, to note that the wording of the patent of nobility leaves some room for speculation, Chapuys had observed, since the phrase “lawfully begotten” has been omitted in reference to any male issue to whom the title might one day descend. Some think this an indication that the King has tired of her and is pensioning her off and providing for any bastard she might bear him.

  But there could be another interpretation, Katherine thought. Maybe Henry was ensuring that any child he conceived with Anne would have a title in the event of his dying before he could marry her.

  Either way, it could only mean one thing: that Henry and Anne really were lovers. And although Katherine had assumed that all along, for all Henry’s protests that she was wrong, having it confirmed at last hurt deeply. It was as if she had lost him all over again.

  She picked up the letter once more, tears misting her vision. It was clear from what Chapuys had written that there was no question of Henry tiring of Anne. The King cannot leave her for an hour. He accompanies her to Mass—and everywhere. He is even taking her to Calais to meet the King of France. He told me that he meant to marry her as soon as possible. I fear they will do so while they are in France.

  The same thought had occurred to Katherine. I pray we are both wrong, she said to herself, and wept again.


  The royal messenger’s expression was impassive as he stood before her. “The King requires your Grace to deliver up to him the Queen’s jewels.”

  “For what reason? I am the Queen, and they were entrusted to me.” They were very precious to her, and she had always felt privileged to be entrusted with such special pieces.

  “The King orders that you surrender them now, so that the Lady Anne can wear them in France.”

  The fierce blood of Isabella the Catholic welled up hotly in Katherine. “The Lady Anne, not being Queen, has no right to these jewels! Besides, this request is offensive and insulting to me. It would weigh upon my conscience if I were to give up my jewels for the base purpose of adorning a person who is a reproach to Christendom and is bringing infamy on the King through his taking her to France!”

  The messenger had gone red in the face. “Your Grace, I have my orders.”

  “But I do not have mine!” Katherine retorted. “You may tell the King that I refuse to surrender my jewels without his express command in writing, since he has commanded me not to send him anything.”

  The man withdrew, looking harassed. Of course, she knew that she was only delaying the surrender of her jewels, yet she was glad she had made the protest. Someone had to.

  Everything she held sacred was being challenged. Worse still, from what her maids and servants told her, the true faith was being steadily undermined in England. And much of it was down to Anne Boleyn and her pernicious influence. As to what might come of this meeting between Henry and Francis, she dared not think.

  She wrote to the Emperor.

  I must warn Your Majesty of the consequences of the Pope’s endless delays. There are many signs of the wickedness being meditated here. New books are being printed daily, full of lies, obscenities, and blasphemies against our holy faith. These people will stop at nothing now to determine this suit in England. The coming interview between the kings, the companion the King takes everywhere with him, and the authority and place he allows her, have caused the greatest scandal and widespread fear of impending calamity. My conscience compels me to resist, trusting in God and Your Majesty, and begging you to urge the Pope to pronounce sentence at once. What goes on here is so ugly and against God, and touches so nearly the honor of my lord the King, that I cannot bear to write it.

  As inevitable as death came the King’s written order to surrender her jewels, and with a heavy heart she gave them up.

  But it seemed that Anne was angered at her obduracy, and the jewels were not enough to satisfy her. Katherine was horrified to hear from Chapuys that she had made Henry give her the Queen’s barge, then had Katherine’s coat of arms shamefully mutilated before it was burned off. The King was very much grieved, Chapuys wrote. God grant that the Lady may content herself with your Grace’s barge, your jewels, and your husband.

  Katherine was at least gratified to learn that none of the French royal ladies were prepared to receive Anne. Yet the Lady was still going to Calais. Chapuys had written: Many people speculate that the King will secretly marry her in France, although I can hardly believe that he will be so blind as to do so, or that the King of France will lend himself to it. The King of France, Katherine thought, would lend himself to anything, if it were to his advantage. But the Lady, Chapuys continued, has made it very clear that she will not consent to it. She will have it take place here in England, where other queens have usually been married and crowned.

  Pray God his Holiness speaks soon! Katherine thought in desperation.


  At Henry’s order, Katherine spent Christmas at the royal manor of Enfield, a three-sided courtyard house with large bay windows, much older than Hatfield and not so luxurious, but in good repair and comfortable. If the move was a subtle way of telling her she would suffer materially if she persisted in her obstinacy, then Henry would soon realize that a less splendid residence was not going to make a difference.

  Katherine could take no joy in the season, though, for Henry had again refused her request to have Mary spend the season with her. She had not seen her daughter for ten months now, and she was missing her dreadfully. She could only hope that Margaret Pole was taking care to ensure that Mary’s Christmas was as full of good cheer as possible.

  She felt more isolated than ever, for Henry had now specifically forbidden her to communicate with Chapuys. She had always prided herself on being an obedient wife, but in this she was prepared to defy him, and she was aided by Chapuys himself, who stationed one of his men at an inn near the palace and arranged a rendezvous with Eliza Darrell at a postern gate in the grounds, where letters could be passed through a lattice.

  By this means Katherine continued to press for the Pope to give sentence. I take full responsibility fo
r the consequences, she wrote. I still believe that if the Pope decides in my favor, the King would even now obey him, but if he does not, I will die comparatively happy, knowing that the justice of my cause has been declared and that the Princess will not lose her right to the succession.

  She wrote too of her fears for the Church.

  The Pope must be warned that the King has already seized for his own use much of the wealth of the Church, and he will be encouraged to go further because of the kind of people who surround him, like the Lady and her father, staunch Lutherans both of them. If sentence should be pronounced now, the majority of people here are such good Catholics that they would compel the King to obey. But unless the Pope acts at once, he will be deprived little by little of his authority here, and finally his censures will go unheeded.

  In the letters smuggled in by Eliza, Chapuys showed himself confident that, if provoked, the people of England would rise on her behalf. If a tumult arose in your favor, I know not if the Lady, who is hated by all the world, would escape with life and jewels.

  Katherine hoped it would never come to that; she could not bring herself to wish it on even her rival. In fact, she hoped to forestall such an evil. Wrapped in furs against the cold winter night, she had candles lit and sat down by the fire to write again to the Emperor, once more impressing on him the urgent need for the Pope to act. There can be no danger in what I ask, she told him. As you know, the thunders of this land hold no lightning for any head but mine.


  Katherine sat alone at her writing desk. Through the closed door she could hear the bustle of life elsewhere, servants moving about the house and her maids giggling as they stepped lightly through the corridors, intent on their little interests and intrigues. They were young girls still, she thought, and for a moment her mind wandered to the children who should have been gathered around her. Tall, redheaded sons; sisters for Mary to gossip with. Her tiny Isabella would have been fourteen now. She blinked back tears and looked again at the pile of letters she had received since her husband sent her away.

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