Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  Mountjoy looked stricken. Norfolk growled at her. “Your obstinacy might cause the King to withdraw his fatherly love from your daughter. That ought to move you, if nothing else does.”

  It was a bluff—surely? Henry would never take out his anger against her on Mary. But he had already, hadn’t he, by keeping them apart?

  “The Princess my daughter is the King’s true child,” she replied, “and as God has given her to us, so I will render her up to the King, to do with her as his pleasure dictates, trusting to God that she will prove an honest woman. Neither for my daughter, nor for any worldly adversity or the King’s displeasure, will I yield in this cause, or put my soul in danger!”

  The Duke of Suffolk stepped forward. “By your obstinacy, you are indeed putting yourself in danger of the King’s anger and its consequences!”

  Katherine stared at him evenly. “Not for a thousand deaths will I consent to damn my soul or that of my husband the King.”

  The lords looked at each other, shaking their heads.

  “There’s no more to be said,” Norfolk muttered. “We are wasting our time.”

  They turned to go.

  “Wait!” Katherine said. They looked at her, plainly hoping she had come to her senses, as they would see it. Well, they would wait forever.

  “I have to ask you,” she said. “Was any judgment given concerning the status of the Princess? For even if my marriage were null, she is legitimate, owing to the lawful ignorance of the King and I when we entered into it. Surely the Archbishop has not dared to be so shameless as to declare her a bastard?”

  “He has not, madam,” Dr. Stephen Gardiner said, his manner terse. He was Henry’s man through and through, and had been active on his behalf in Rome itself.

  “That is one blessing,” Katherine sighed. “Has the Princess been informed of his judgments?”

  “We informed her ourselves,” Norfolk told her. “And we have commanded her, in the King’s name, not to communicate in any way with your Grace.”

  Katherine felt as if she was dying inside, but she smiled grimly. “By that, I take it that she told you she would accept no one for Queen except me.”

  They would not tell her, but she saw in their faces that she was right.


  She was punished for her defiance. Before that month of July was out, the King’s command came: she was substantially to reduce her household and remove to the Bishop of Lincoln’s palace at Buckden in the county of Huntingdon.

  Go where I may, I am still his wife! she said to herself as she fell to pondering on who should be let go. It was a difficult choice, but Lord Mountjoy had informed her there would not be room to accommodate everyone, and on her reduced income, she knew it would have been a struggle to support all her servants.

  With a heavy heart she summoned her people and dismissed those she could not take with her, thanking them for their service. It was hard to let them go, to see the tears in their eyes as they took the blow and the money she pressed into their hands. She realized it would not be easy for them to find new places, for who would take on any who had loyally served a discarded queen? Yet she had no choice—they understood that.

  When they had dispersed to gather up their belongings, she gave the order to pack, trying not to cry at the prospect of the difficult farewells that lay ahead, and thinking it was not only in the big things that wrong had been done to her, but in seemingly small, insignificant matters like these.


  As her cortege wound its way to Buckden, late in July, the country people ran after it in hordes, wishing her joy, comfort, prosperity, and all manner of good things, and they were vehement in invoking misfortune on her enemies. Men and women, some with tears in their eyes, came begging her to let them serve her, and several declared that they cared not a fig for the King or his harlot, and they were all ready to die for her sake. She thanked them all for their kindness and goodwill and continued on her way, her litter crammed with humble gifts of posies, butter, eggs, cherries, honey, and homemade wine.

  As they drew nearer their destination, Katherine noticed a gradual change in the countryside. Soon they were crossing tracks along dikes built across a vast, flat landscape of water and sedge. Here and there were a few humble dwellings of wattle, daub, and thatch. Occasionally they saw the odd, barely human person making his way across the wetlands on flat boats or even stilts. The inhabitants looked bent but hardy, their skin leathery from long exposure to the weather. The wind blew unhindered here, and the place felt remote and inhospitable.

  “This is the Great Fen, madam,” Lord Mountjoy told her, riding alongside the litter.

  In this strange world of endless water, reed beds, and wet woodlands, Katherine espied beavers, otters, and numerous birds.

  “It looks to be a very unhealthy place,” Blanche said, peering out of the carriage window with dismay. She and Eliza were sharing the litter with Katherine. “Mark me, we’ll all catch fevers.”

  “I trust not,” Katherine said, hoping that wasn’t what Henry had intended. Certainly he had meant for her to be even more isolated from the court and the world at large. It was his revenge on her for her defiance. In this desolate wilderness it would be even more difficult to maintain contact with Chapuys and her other friends.

  Her spirits sank lower still when Buckden loomed up ahead. It was a forbidding place with a high old tower, surrounded by a secure moat and a wall and set apart from the nearby church and a tiny village. The only good thing one could say was that it was near the Great North Road, which might make communication with Chapuys easier.

  All the houses in which Katherine had lived since leaving court had been suitably grand and well maintained, but it was clear from the first that at Buckden she would be living in greatly reduced circumstances. She was dismayed to be shown to apartments located in a corner turret of the Great Tower, which was fifty years old and looked it. Immediately, she became aware of the damp that rose from the Fens. It was apparent in the stale air and in ominous green patches on the walls. Even though it was July and warm outside, she ordered that a fire be lit, but the rooms remained chilly and uncomfortable.

  An attempt had been made by the custodian to brighten up her lodging with woolen hangings and embroidered cushions, and when her own furniture and belongings were set out, the rooms did look more welcoming. But the dampness prevailed. Despite the hot bricks placed in her bed by her chamberers, the sheets felt clammy at night; mold formed in unworn shoes; and her lodgings never got properly warm. It was not long before she found herself with a permanent sore throat and wheezy cough, and her attendants frequently complained of sore eyes and skin rashes. It was all down to the damp, she was sure.

  She lay in bed at night wondering if Henry had known about the state of Buckden. Certainly he had chosen it for its remoteness, but her whole being shied away from the possibility that he had also had a sinister motive in sending her here. Probably he had hoped thereby to secure her speedy submission and intended all along to move her on quickly to a more salubrious house. She could not believe he had purposed anything worse. She knew Henry. He could be cruel when thwarted, he could be vengeful, but he liked everything to be lawful. He was not a man to do things in an underhanded way, and he would never stoop to murder. He would readily threaten those who opposed him, but with the full might of his laws.

  Anne Boleyn was another matter. Katherine was sure that she would have no compunction in doing away with her enemies by secret means. One only had to remember the attempt on Bishop Fisher, and Anne’s threats to him and to Mary. Katherine could imagine Anne secretly seeking out the most unhealthy houses in England and then making an innocent suggestion to Henry, twisting the truth to suit her purpose.

  She would not be intimidated. She would stand fast, whatever they made her suffer.


  “Visitors are forbidden, by the King’s express command,” Lord Mountjoy had said when Katherine arrived, “and no one is permitted to leave the house w
ithout permission.” But pretty Eliza had no trouble flirting with the guards at the gatehouse, and before long she had prevailed on them to let her out to buy food in the village.

  “If they tell Lord Mountjoy,” she said, “I will show him what I have bought.” She produced for Katherine a loaf of new bread, some cheese, and a pot of quince marmalade.

  It was but a step from there to smuggling out a letter to be given to a carter bound for London—and then it was a matter of hoping and praying that it reached Chapuys. In the meantime Katherine fretted about how little money she had to support herself and her servants. They would have to live carefully, and what there was to spare she would give in alms to the poor folk hereabouts.

  Fortunately, the Fens provided a great abundance of fish. Her table was graced with perch, roach, turbots, and lampreys. Of meat there was little, but that did not worry her, for she had taken to fasting for the health of her soul, not just on Fridays but at other times. Through self-denial and penance, she might better reach God and move Him to look kindly on her.

  It was in prayer that she found the greatest solace. There was a little chamber with a squint that afforded a view of the altar in the castle chapel. Here, Katherine would kneel, all by herself, for much of her days and nights, praying at the window, leaning on the sill. Often she left it wet with tears shed in loneliness, in sorrow, and in yearning for Henry and Mary. The rest of the time she spent with her women, making altar cloths and vestments that were to be given to churches near Buckden. That way she could continue to do good to her adoptive land.


  They had not been at Buckden long when Lord Mountjoy brought a letter for Jane Seymour.

  “Is it bad news?” Katherine asked gently, observing the young woman’s face as she read it.

  “Yes, madam. My father commands me home without delay. He says that he has found me a place at court and has bought it dearly for me.”

  “With the Lady Anne?” Who else would Jane serve at court? Sir John Seymour was evidently a man who seized his advantage.

  “I fear so, madam.” Jane was weeping. “Let me stay, your Grace! Oh, do let me stay! You could write to my father and command it…”

  “Hush, child, do you think my word would carry any weight? Besides, it is more to your benefit to be serving one who is in favor than one who is not. Your father is wise; he sees this.”

  “But I cannot serve her. I hate her and all she stands for!”

  Katherine was startled to see the normally meek Jane so vehement.

  “I am very sorry,” she said, “yet there is no remedy. You must obey your father and go, but you go with my blessing.”

  At that, Jane wept afresh. “I will never have such a kind mistress,” she sobbed, her pale eyes pink with distress. “I wish—I so wish—your Grace and the Princess a happy ending to your troubles.”

  In streams of tears Jane went away and packed her things, while Lord Mountjoy arranged horses and an escort to take her south. She clung tightly when Katherine embraced her and bade her farewell.

  “Your Grace knows that I am not going willingly!” she cried.

  “I know that,” Katherine soothed. “May God be with you always.”

  One final curtsey and Jane was gone.

  She watched from her window as the little cavalcade set off down the drive and the great doors of the gatehouse swung open to let it through. How she envied Jane, going to freedom, going to court, going where Henry was…


  The royal messenger bowed and presented the letter. Katherine took it warily, broke the seal and read it. It was from the Privy Council. The King had requested the Princess Dowager to send the rich triumphal robe and bearing cloth that she had brought from Spain to wrap up her children for baptism, for the use of the child that his most entirely beloved wife, Queen Anne, was soon to bear him.

  Katherine had suffered many blows in the past few years, and endured many cruelties, but this felt like the ultimate betrayal. Learning that Anne was to bear Henry’s child was like being forsaken all over again. It was tangible evidence that her husband now belonged to another, even if he was not lawfully married to her, and it brought home to Katherine a new and painful awareness of the intimacy between those two.

  And that was not the whole of it! Was Anne not sufficiently satisfied with what she had taken from her already that she should demand that her own child go to the font in the robe that Katherine’s daughter and her precious firstborn son had worn? The idea was not to be borne! Besides, the robe was Katherine’s personal property, given to her by her mother; it lay, yellowing slightly but cherished and lovingly folded away, in the bottom of her traveling chest. She wondered how Henry could have been so insensitive to agree to such a request. No doubt he feared to anger or upset Anne when she was near to her time.

  She sent the messenger to the kitchens for something to eat—poor fellow, it was not his fault that he had brought such shocking news—and sat down to compose a reply. It was brief but succinct. “You may tell His Grace that it has not pleased God that I should ever be so badly advised as to give assistance in a case as horrible as this.”

  There was no response. It was a little victory.


  Eliza’s plan had worked. Katherine’s message had found its way to Chapuys, who now had one of his men lodged in the Lion Inn at Buckden. She thanked God fervently. At last she was in touch once more with her dear friend, who was still working tirelessly in her cause.

  Mary was well. That, above all else, was what she wanted, and needed, to hear. But one other piece of news stood out from Chapuys’s letter, and it made Katherine go cold. Henry’s sister, the French Queen, was dead. She had been ailing for some time, apparently, of a disease in her side, and had passed away at Westhorpe in June. And I did not know! Katherine thought. Her sister-in-law had been, what, thirty-seven? Far too young to die and leave behind her children. All that golden brightness and beauty brought low, never to shine again. The French Queen had been a good and outspoken friend, fearless of offending her brother the King, who must, for all their disagreements, be feeling her loss. Katherine grieved for her, and for Henry.

  Wiping away a tear, she turned to the rest of Chapuys’s news. His Holiness, angered that the King had gone ahead and married the Lady without Papal sanction, had immediately declared their union null and void. Furthermore, he had threatened the King with excommunication if he did not send the Lady away by September.

  “Heaven forbid!” Katherine cried out loud, bringing her maids running to see what ailed her. “I would never wish that on anyone, least of all my lord.” She could not bear the thought of Henry being cut off from the Church and all its consolations, and cast out of the Christian community. Immediately, she wrote to the Pope. I beg Your Holiness not to put the sentence of excommunication into effect, lest it should drive the King further into schism and wreck my hopes for a reconciliation. For, of course, Henry would blame her, since it was she who had made the appeal to Rome. Then Eliza took the letter, flirted her way past the guards, and tripped off jauntily into the village. Soon it was an established routine.

  It was some days before a reply came from Chapuys. Katherine was both heartened and alarmed to read that the Emperor was outraged at the way in which she had been treated, and had declared that if she expressly wished it, he would declare war on England on her behalf.

  “No,” she said to herself. “Never!”

  Her maids looked up in puzzlement, and she realized that she had again spoken aloud. Not for the first time she regretted the fact that since Maria’s departure, her household had been bereft of great ladies in whom she could confide. How she missed Maria and Margaret and Maud. She could not speak freely to Lord Mountjoy, who was in a difficult enough situation as it was. Nor dared she speak of her fears to her maids of honor. Willing, loving, loyal as they were, they were still young and loved to gossip, and they were not her equals. They had not yet learned the discretion that comes with age and high rank.
And war was a serious matter indeed.

  Trembling a little, she read on. It was clear that Henry feared what Charles might do. Cromwell had sounded out Chapuys on the likelihood of an invasion. But I would not be drawn, the ambassador wrote, for of course he did not yet know what course she herself would take. She sensed that he was hoping that she would tell the Emperor to do his worst. It was what Chapuys, given his head, would have done; he would have said that Henry deserved to have the might of Spain and the Empire vengefully descending upon him.

  Cromwell knew her courage, and evidently he feared her. He had observed to Chapuys, “It is as well that the Princess Dowager is a woman. Nature wronged her in not making her a man. But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.”

  She was gratified to hear it, but she did not want war. It was the last thing a good wife would wish on her husband, and she resolved again never to sanction it. She would not call down more ills upon a people who had so warmly taken her to their hearts. Besides, if Henry got any inkling that she had in any way endorsed, or appeared to endorse, the Emperor’s threats, he could righteously proceed against her for incitement to war, which was treason in anyone’s book, never mind the niceties about whose subject she was.


  The next news from Chapuys was incredible. It seemed that Henry had begun to tire of Anne. He had been unfaithful. Chapuys did not say who the lady was; he was more concerned to report that, infuriated by the Lady’s tirades when she found out, the King had told her she must shut her eyes and endure as well as more worthy persons had done; and she ought to know that it was in his power to humble her again in a moment, more than he had exalted her before. He had not spoken to her for two or three days, and after that relations between them were frosty. Katherine was beginning to hope that this was the beginning of the end, when she saw that Chapuys had dismissed it all as a love quarrel and warned her to take no great notice of it.

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