Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  Little information reached Katherine nowadays. Chapuys clearly had to pick his moments to write to her, for his movements were probably being watched, but she knew that Father Abell had been released from the Tower and was on his way to her. This gladdened her immeasurably. God must have touched Henry’s heart. For a while she had hoped it was true that he was tiring of Anne—Heaven knew, by the sound of it, that he had cause—and was about to acknowledge the error of his ways.

  But then Eliza brought another missive from Chapuys, who confessed that he had concerns about Thomas Cranmer, who was waiting for the Pope to confirm his appointment as Archbishop. Katherine had not thought it strange that Henry sent to Rome for that, for it was proof that he had no intention of creating a permanent breach with the Holy See. But Chapuys was worried: If the Pope knew of the reputation Cranmer has here of being devoted heart and soul to the Lutheran heresy, he would not be hasty in approving the appointment. Dr. Cranmer is a servant of the Lady’s, and should be required to take a special oath not to meddle with the divorce. But I fear that he may authorize the marriage in this Parliament.

  She prayed that Chapuys was wrong. Surely His Holiness would never sanction the preferment of such a man?

  She was surprised and alarmed to receive a letter from the council. It informed her that the King’s chief councillors had assembled several doctors and proposed to them that the unanimous opinion of the universities was that if her first marriage had been consummated, her second was null.

  “But it was never consummated,” she said aloud, for all that she was alone in her bedchamber. Yet there was worse to come. The King, she was told, had found a document, which he had shown to the council, in which his father and King Ferdinand had stated that her marriage to Arthur had been consummated.

  “What document?” Katherine cried out. There was no such thing. It was a forgery!

  Nevertheless, the council had accepted it as proof and agreed that it only remained for the King to proceed to his purpose by the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There was no doubt in Katherine’s mind what that purpose was.

  He was going to take matters into his own hands, as she had feared. He really was going to set her aside and marry Anne Boleyn, regardless of the consequences.


  She waited in a fever of agitation to see what would happen next, bracing herself to stand up for her rights, and the authority of the Holy See, in the face of any pretended divorce that Henry might push through. She waited in vain for a letter from Chapuys, who must be aware of the situation. But what came, in February, was an order from the King that she move to Ampthill Castle in Bedfordshire.

  Katherine had stayed at Ampthill several times; it had been one of Henry’s favorite places to stay when the court was on progress, for the air was healthy and the castle was surrounded by a well-stocked deer park. But it was nearly fifty miles from London, and it felt as if she was being banished there. That impression deepened as her cavalcade approached and the dark, ribbed walls and high battlements took on a sinister aspect, silhouetted against the early dusk.

  They are trying to break my resistance, she thought. Yet her apartments were luxurious enough, and there was a pretty garden for her use.

  “May I go abroad from the castle?” she asked Lord Mountjoy, who had escorted her to this place and was to remain in charge of her household.

  “My orders are that your Grace is to stay within its precincts,” he told her, looking uncomfortable. That was not surprising. He was an honorable man, and he had given her impeccable service for twenty-four years, yet she knew it was more than his office was worth for him to speak out on her behalf or defy orders.

  “My lord, am I a prisoner?”

  “Not strictly speaking, no, madam. You are to enjoy every comfort and go where you will in the castle and gardens.”

  So it was to be a gilded cage. Now she knew how her sister Juana must have felt all those years ago—and, for all she knew, felt now. She wondered if it would be better if she were insane like Juana and in happy ignorance of what was going on around her. Yet poor Juana had endured her incarceration for over a quarter of a century now. It was a living death, and one that no human being should suffer. Living under house arrest, in luxury, could not compare with it.

  But when one had known freedom, one chafed at even small restrictions—the inability to go hunting, or to send letters to friends. The order came—delivered by an evidently shocked Lord Mountjoy—that she was not to correspond with Mary, and that was the hardest thing to bear. Evidently Henry feared that she would incite Mary to defiance. It was intolerable, being cut off from her child, and from news of the outside world. Strict watch was kept on the comings and goings of Katherine’s household, and she feared that any attempt on Chapuys’s part to communicate with her would be discovered. Then she would be in an even worse state. He, brave man, was now the only channel through which she might get news of her daughter.

  She was painfully aware that her servants were being punished for their loyalty with what was effectively imprisonment. Most of them bore it cheerfully, for love of her, which touched her deeply; but when she saw little Anne Parr leaning out of a window, tapping an impatient foot and gazing wistfully at the world outside, she felt dreadful. What life was this for a young girl? What life was it for any of them? It was then, for the first time, that she knew a moment of doubt. She had only to say the words, the words Henry wanted to hear, and they would all be free. But those same words would brand her child a bastard.

  She could not give in. Too much was at stake.


  It was early April and the trees were festive with blossom when the deputation from the council, headed by the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, came to Ampthill. Lord Mountjoy conducted them to Katherine’s presence, and she received them seated in her high-backed chair by the hearth, filled with trepidation but determined not to let them see it. For when she saw the two dukes, she knew they must have brought her news of some import.

  Norfolk acted as spokesman, his manner as blunt and abrupt as ever. “We have come to inform your Grace that you must not trouble yourself anymore in the Great Matter, nor attempt to return to the King, seeing that he is married.”

  Married? She started at that, and her temper rose. Yes, he was married—to her!

  “Henceforth you are to abstain from the title of Queen and be called the Princess Dowager of Wales,” Norfolk continued in his rasping voice, “though you will be left in possession of your property.”

  Lord Mountjoy stepped forward. “That means, madam,” he said in a quiet voice, “the King will not allow you to call yourself Queen, and at the close of one month after Easter, he will not defray your expenses or the wages of your servants.”

  Katherine stood up. She was incandescent. “As long as I live I will call myself Queen!” she vowed. “As to supporting my household, I do not care to begin that duty so late in life. Failing for food for myself and my servants, I will go out and beg for the love of God!”

  “Do as you please. You have been warned,” Norfolk barked. And with that the lords left her.

  She slumped back into her chair, trembling in disbelief and shock. The words he is married, he is married kept repeating themselves in her brain. How can his conscience allow it? she asked herself. Cranmer had not even proceeded to a judgment on their marriage—it had not been dissolved! This was bigamy, no less. What did the opinions of the universities count against the authority of the Church?

  She summoned her household and told them what the deputation had come for. “Henceforth,” she said, “if you wish to remain in my service, you will not address me by any title other than Queen. Those who wish to leave may do so now, for you should realize that it may go the harder for you if you disobey the King’s command.”

  No one moved. She could see the outrage in their faces, and felt comforted. But after they had all dispersed, Anne Parr hung back.

  “Your Grace, might I go to court?”

/>   Katherine was startled.

  “Not without the King’s permission. You are his ward.”

  “Will you ask him for me, madam?”

  Katherine would have given much to say yes. She had seen for herself how bored and unhappy the girl was here, and she knew that Maud had fretted about her daughter’s future. If Anne stayed, no man of any standing would ask for her.

  “I am afraid that you must ask him yourself, child. I am forbidden to contact him.”

  “Yes, madam.” Anne scuttled away eagerly.

  To her surprise, Henry said yes, and soon Anne was excitedly waving them all goodbye and setting off for London with a small escort, bound for the court. And—there was no doubt about it—the service of Anne Boleyn. It was a small betrayal beside the many others Katherine had suffered, but it hurt. Maud would have been horrified had she known, and Katherine gave thanks that she was not there to see it.


  Henry himself was not ill-natured, she told herself as the clock struck four and she was still awake. It was Anne who had put him in this perverse and wicked temper. When the Emperor heard of this latest outrage, there was no telling what he would do. It might mean war—not that she would sanction that. There must be a better way to root out the Lady and her adherents. She did not doubt that once this accursed Anne had her foot in the stirrup, she would do her and Mary all the ill that she could. And, the most chilling prospect of all, if she had her way, the kingdom would be given over to heresy.

  These fears, and the enormity of what had happened, plagued Katherine’s mind as she went about her quiet daily affairs. There was no means of discovering what was going on in London. For all she knew, Anne might be crowned by now. She crossed herself at the thought. God was a little hesitant with vengeful thunderbolts these days, but she must have trust in Him, for everything happened for His greater purpose. Doubtless He was testing her—but, sweet Jesu, when was it going to stop?


  A week after the deputation had left Ampthill, Lord Mountjoy came before Katherine. Looking shamefaced, as well he might, he made the mistake of calling her the Princess Dowager.

  “That is not my title!” she blazed. She had never had occasion to speak so sharply to him.

  “But, madam, the council has issued an order commanding that from henceforth you be styled Princess Dowager.”

  “I shall not talk to you if you address me thus,” she insisted. “I reject it utterly.”

  “Then, madam, I cannot give the courtesy that is your due. I came to tell you also that I have received a message from the King, bidding me warn you that you must soon retire to some private house of your own, and there live on a smaller allowance.”

  He named a figure that would scarcely be sufficient to cover her expenses for three months.

  “I shall beg my bread,” Katherine declared. “How will that look to the King’s subjects, and to the world at large? I cannot believe that a prince of His Grace’s great wisdom and virtue will consent to putting me away thus. If he has no regard for men, he should have some respect for God! I have been married to him for twenty-five years. We have a daughter endowed with all imaginable goodness and virtue, and of an age to bear children. Nature alone must oblige the King to consider her rights.”

  “Madam, I may not comment on such matters,” Mountjoy said, clearly distressed.

  “Be assured that the Emperor will never recognize the Lady Anne as Queen, and that any annulment the King has procured can have no validity in law!” Katherine asserted.

  When the chamberlain, looking mournful, had gone, and her anger burned itself out, she sat back and took stock. The future looked black indeed, unless by a miracle the Pope came to her aid. It dawned on her that now, more than ever, her very existence posed a threat to Anne’s security. Anne, she knew, could be vindictive, and her influence over the King was considerable. Remembering what had happened to Bishop Fisher, she knew to be on her guard from now on.


  At the end of April she received a summons to appear before a special ecclesiastical court that Archbishop Cranmer was convening in the priory at Dunstable, just four miles away. Now she knew why she had been sent to Ampthill. They had planned this all along.

  She would not go. She would not collude in this travesty. It showed only how low her husband had sunk. Where was his care for the succession, that he had thought fit to enter a bigamous union that any fool might dispute?

  “I utterly refuse to accept Archbishop Cranmer as my judge,” she declared. “I look to none other than the Pope for a decision on my marriage.”

  The young clergyman who had brought the summons regarded her with piteous contempt. “May I remind your Grace that the recent Act of Restraint of Appeals prevents any person from appealing to Rome for any cause whatsoever.”

  “If I am not the King’s wife, then I am not his subject and therefore not bound by his laws,” Katherine said.

  “The Archbishop may declare you contumacious,” the objectionable young man warned.

  “Let him!” she replied.


  “Look at this, madam!” Blanche de Vargas cried, thrusting into Katherine’s hands a pamphlet. “It was pushed under the door.”

  Katherine looked. The pamphlet was entitled, Articles Devised by the Whole Consent of the King’s Most Honorable Council, to Exhort and Inform His Loving Subjects of the Truth.

  She did not need to be told what it contained.

  “Burn it!” she ordered. “I will not read these blasphemies.”

  Later that day she summoned Eliza. “My dear friend, can you do me a great favor? Do you have any kinsfolk who live near London?”

  “My brother and his wife are lodging in London, for he is sitting in Parliament.”

  “Good! Can you pretend that his wife is ill and asking for you?”

  “Of course, madam,” Eliza agreed. “I would do anything for you. My sister-in-law will not mind. Edmund is for the King, but secretly she supports your Grace.”

  “Then ask Lord Mountjoy for permission to visit her. I want you to get a letter from me to Messire Chapuys. I will give you gold. Go to your brother’s lodging, so that none suspects you, then when he is out hasten to the convent of the Austin Friars in Broad Street and ask for Messire Chapuys’s house. I know it lies near their church. Make sure this reaches him.” She gave Eliza a note folded into a tiny square. “I have not signed it. He will know who it is from.”

  In fact it bore just the one line: Tell the Emperor and the Pope that I now consider my cause to be desperate.

  She prayed that her message would reach Chapuys. Its very brevity would make clear to him the seriousness of her situation. She did not know how he could do more than he had before, but she was hoping that once the Pope heard of Henry’s illicit marriage to Anne, he would be provoked into giving judgment. And that could not be a moment too soon, for if Anne were to become pregnant and bear a son, the King was sure to immediately have Parliament swear fealty to him as his heir. There was no time to lose!


  Lord Mountjoy acted as spokesman for this latest deputation from the council, which waited on Katherine at Ampthill early in July, and his demeanor was grave. Katherine forced herself to stay calm and dignified. Whatever they said, she would not be cowed.

  Mountjoy cleared his throat, obviously not relishing his task.

  “Madam,” he began, and he did not call her by any title. “I am commanded to inform you that the King is lawfully divorced and married to the Lady Anne, who has been crowned Queen.”

  “How can that be?” Katherine asked, stunned. “The Pope has yet to give judgment.”

  “The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm,” Norfolk interjected.

  Katherine outfaced him. “I will abide by no sentence save that of Rome.”

  “It is too late for that, madam,” Mountjoy said. “The sentence has been given by the judgment of His Grace of Canterbury. The King cannot have two wives, and therefo
re he cannot permit you to persist in calling yourself Queen. As his marriage to the Lady Anne is irrevocable, and has gained the consent of Parliament, nothing that you can do will annul it, and if you persist you will only incur the displeasure of Almighty God and of the King.”

  He handed her a parchment, not looking her in the eye. “Here are the King’s terms for your submission, and your acknowledgment of his marriage.”

  Katherine turned to Blanche de Vargas. “Bring pen and ink,” she said, and when it was given to her, she sat down at the table, took the parchment and struck through the title Princess Dowager wherever it appeared, so vehemently that the nib tore the parchment.

  “I am not the Princess Dowager but the King’s true wife!” she declared. “And since I have been crowned and anointed Queen, and had lawful issue by the King, I will call myself Queen during my lifetime!”

  “Madam, the rightful queen is now Queen Anne,” Lord Mountjoy said, looking warily at the scowling, wrathful lords.

  “All the world knows by what authority it was done!” Katherine cried. “It was much more by power than by justice. There has been no true divorce, and the whole matter depends not on the universities but on the Pope.” She paused, calmer now. “It is not that I desire the name of Queen, but only for the discharge of my conscience that I declare I have not been the King’s harlot for the past twenty-four years. I do it not for vainglory, but because I know myself to be his true wife.”

  Mountjoy addressed a point past her shoulder. “As the King’s subject, you are bound to obey him.”

  “You call me the King’s subject?” Katherine cried. “I was his subject while he took me for his wife. But if he says I am not his wife, I am not his subject! I did not come into this realm as merchandise, but as his lawful wife—not as a subject to live under his dominion. I have done England little good, and I should be loath to bring it any harm. But if I should buckle to your persuasions, I should slander myself and confess to having been the King’s mistress—and that I will never do!” Her steady gaze took in every man in the room. “This cause has been determined here in the King’s realm before a man of his own making, not an indifferent person, I think; being the King’s subject, his judgment is partial and suspect. I think there would have been a more indifferent outcome had the case been judged in Hell, for I think the devils themselves do tremble to see the truth so oppressed.” She spread her hands in earnest. “If it can be proved that I have given occasion to disturb or offend my lord the King or his realm in any way, then I desire that I be punished according to the law.”

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