Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen by Alison Weir

  “Of course, it is meant to impress,” Henry said. “People expect magnificence of a king. Magnificence betokens power. If I have great palaces, I must be rich enough to fund great armies!” Katherine noticed Prince Henry avidly hanging on his father’s every word.

  “But riches,” Arthur observed, “can also exist in the mind. There is no greater wealth than in learning.”

  “Which is why I welcome so many scholars to my court,” the King said. “Then people are doubly impressed!”

  When they entered the palace, Katherine gasped to see azure ceilings, like the heavens, studded with more Tudor emblems, brilliant tapestries, murals in rich reds and golds in which the King loomed large, and the wealth of portraits that adorned the walls. No one, seeing Richmond, could have failed to be awed by it.

  It was here, the next day, that she bade a sad farewell to the Count de Cabra and the other lords of Spain who had escorted her to England.

  “We will go home, Highness, and tell the King and Queen how magnificently your nuptials have been celebrated,” they told her, kissing her hand one by one. Then they were gone and another link with Spain was broken.

  Afterward, feeling somewhat dejected, and not a little homesick, she had sought out Arthur in the hope that he would play music or walk with her in the gardens, but he said he was tired and wanted to rest. So, thrusting down her ever-present anxiety about him, and dismissing her maids, she wandered into the royal library, which the King had said she might use whenever she pleased. Everything was so quiet today, after the excitements of the past fortnight. They had been sufficient to ward off melancholy humors, but today everything seemed flat and sad, and Katherine found herself once more longing for her homeland and her mother.

  She chose a book on astrology, written in Latin, and sat down at a desk to read it, but it was dull, dull, dull. She could not help thinking about Arthur and fretting because he seemed no better. She had seen the King, the Queen, and Lady Margaret looking anxiously at him, and was sure they were concerned too. It worried her that he did not seem to want her company. She wondered if she might join her ladies and do some blackwork embroidery, to take her mind off things, but lacked the will to make a move. Suddenly, a wave of misery overcame her. She was condemned to spend her life in this kingdom as an exile, a wife but not a wife, a daughter without a mother. Engulfed by sadness, she buried her head in her arms and sobbed.

  There was a hand on her shoulder. She looked up, startled. It was the King, gazing down at her with concern.

  “What is it, child?”

  She made to get up but he would not allow it.

  “Tell me what is wrong,” he said. “Have we not made you welcome?”

  “You have,” she wept. “Sire, you have made me very welcome. It is that—I miss my mother and my home!”

  To her amazement, King Henry put an arm around her shoulders.

  “Ah, poor Katherine! I, of all people, understand that. I was a fugitive and an exile from the time I was five, and separated from my mother for many years. Think you I do not know what it is to live among strangers? Of course I do! But we cannot change our destiny. You would not want to go home to your mother and father leaving all their hopes unfulfilled, would you? You are of sterner stuff than that, am I right?”

  Katherine nodded through her tears, understanding what he was telling her.

  “I have been impressed by your beauty, your bearing, and your dignified manners,” he went on. “I know you will try to do your duty with a happy heart, however hard it is. And remember, Katherine, in me you may be sure that you have found a second father who will ever watch over your happiness.”

  “Thank you, sire,” she said, and faltered, thinking how much easier it was to talk to the King than to Arthur. “Forgive me. I worry about Prince Arthur. He is ill.”

  The King’s arm tightened about her shoulder. “Fear not. The doctors now say it is no rheum but a quartan fever, which can last for weeks and recur. You must not worry. All will be well. Now dry your eyes and send for your ladies, for I have a surprise in store for you!”

  Katherine allowed herself to be reassured, and while they were waiting for her maids to arrive, Henry showed her some of the books in his library: exquisitely illuminated manuscripts, new printed books with marvelous woodcuts, and tiny devotional volumes with embroidered covers and chased gold clasps. Thus diverted, she calmed down, and she was even more cheered when the King’s goldsmith was ushered in and commanded to spread his glittering wares on the table.

  “You may choose as many pieces as you like!” Henry told her. Now her eyes were brimming with gratitude for his kindness. Taking care not to appear greedy, she selected from the treasures before her a necklace of pearls and sapphires, a ruby and gold cross, and a rich collar of goldsmith’s work. The King nodded his approval at her taste, and then informed her delighted ladies that they might have their choice of the other pieces. Katherine wondered how people could think that he was miserly; she had heard it repeatedly from her father, during his frequent haggling over her dowry. Look what Henry had outlaid on her reception and her wedding! Look at his munificence today!


  Two days later she began to wonder if Ferdinand had been right. Don Pedro de Ayala came to her, craving a few moments of her time. They walked in the knot garden, well wrapped against the December chill.

  “Your Highness will be aware that the first installment of your dowry has been delivered to King Henry,” Don Pedro said. “The trouble is, he wants the rest of it. On the advice of Dr. de Puebla, he asked your chamberlain to deliver the gold and silver plate and the chest of jewels, but, as you know, that portion of your dowry is not due for a year.” Katherine had been instructed not to touch or use any of the treasure she had brought from Spain, but to hand everything over to the King when her father commanded it.

  “Dr. de Puebla knows of this, none better,” Katherine said. “He negotiated the marriage treaty! I have received no orders from King Ferdinand about it.”

  “Nor I,” Don Pedro told her. “And your Highness’s chamberlain told the King that he was obliged to retain the jewels and plate. The fact is that His Grace of England would rather have their equivalent in coin. What I have to tell you is distasteful to me in the extreme. I fear that Dr. de Puebla has connived with him to persuade your Highness to use the plate and jewels yourself, so that, when the time comes, the King will refuse to accept them, being used and secondhand, and perhaps dulled and tarnished, and your father would be shamed into sending him their value in money instead.”

  “But then my father would be paying twice,” Katherine protested.

  “Assuredly,” Don Pedro said. “And Dr. de Puebla has told the King that you approve of his little scheme.”

  “I? That is a lie!” she cried.

  It sounded all wrong to Katherine. She could not believe that her father’s ambassador would even think up such a duplicitous plot, let alone involve her in it.

  “But why? He acts for my parents. Why would he suggest something that is so patently against their interests and mine?”

  “Because he desires to please the English King. He has been manipulated, and has forgotten where his loyalties should lie! That is why I felt it my duty to inform your Highness of this. Doña Elvira is aware of the matter. She agreed that you should know.”

  “Doña Elvira does not like Dr. de Puebla,” Katherine told him.

  “Doña Elvira is a wise woman. She distrusts him, and rightly so.”

  “I am glad you have told me,” Katherine said.

  “His Grace wants to see you,” Don Pedro said. “He asked me to tell you to go to him immediately.”

  Trembling with anger and trepidation, she went straight to the King, and was ushered into his study, where she found Henry trying to prevent his pet monkey from ripping up his account book.

  “Desist, Peterkin!” he commanded, setting the animal on the floor. “He ruined my ledger once, you know, Katherine. The whole court was laughing
about it. I know what they say of me—and no doubt it serves me right!” His smile faded. “I wish to make you an apology,” he said. “I am exceedingly sorry that I have asked for the plate and jewels. I should not like to be thought of as a person who asks for what is due before the specified time. I beg that you will write to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and explain that I was deceived by Dr. de Puebla.”

  Katherine gathered her courage. She had to be careful not to accuse the King of conniving at treachery. “Sir, Don Pedro told me that Dr. de Puebla suggested I use the plate and jewels myself, so that they be made unacceptable to you. I must stress that I knew nothing of this plan, nor gave my consent.”

  Henry frowned. “Nor I, Katherine.” He got up again and began pacing. “It is a monstrous idea.” He paused. “Of course such an arrangement would be greatly to my advantage, but it would be fraudulent, and I would never consent to it. I am content with what the marriage treaty stipulates.” He sat down on the edge of his desk, drawing his furred robe around his spare frame. “I am very angry with Dr. de Puebla for advising me to ask for them now, and King Ferdinand should be aware of how his ambassador is conducting himself. But he has never suggested to me that you use the plate and jewels. You may have noticed, Katherine, that there is much hatred between Dr. de Puebla and Don Pedro, and that whatever one says, the other will try to discredit. If you take my advice, you will make little account of this, for I fear it proceeds from jealousy. Remember that Don Pedro would like to be ambassador here.”

  Katherine went away, promising to think no more of it, but she could not help but worry lest the deadly enmity between Dr. de Puebla and Don Pedro lead to further trouble. It was clear that she could not trust Dr. de Puebla—but could she trust Don Pedro? And was even King Henry telling the truth?


  That evening she dismissed her maids and bade Doña Elvira join her by the fire, then she related all that had happened that day.

  The duenna’s moon-shaped face creased into a frown.

  “Highness, I will not say anything against the King. But Dr. de Puebla is an evil man who owns no loyalty to the sovereigns, your parents.”

  “But is there proof of his treachery?”

  “Don Pedro was present when Dr. de Puebla and the King discussed it; he can vouch for it.”

  “The King denies it.”

  “They are liars both—he and Dr. de Puebla!” Doña Elvira flared.

  Katherine turned on her. “You must not say such things of the King! And I must not hear them!”

  Doña Elvira’s face flushed darkly. “I beg your Highness’s forgiveness,” she muttered, in a voice that sounded anything but humble.

  Katherine decided not to repeat what the King had said about the jealousy between the two ambassadors. She said, “You have never liked Dr. de Puebla, I think—right from the start, and certainly before this happened. Why is that?”

  “He is a Jew!” Doña Elvira’s proud Castilian blood was up. “A lying converso! He should have been expelled from Spain like the rest after Granada fell.”

  Katherine remembered the edict being passed, and the great exodus of Jews that had followed. Ferdinand and Isabella had been determined to purge their realms of heresy.

  “But many of my father’s officers chose to be baptized as Christians, rather than go into exile. Dr. de Puebla was one such.”

  “Hypocrites, all of them! Once a Jew, always a Jew! They always relapse. And this Dr. de Puebla is of low birth too.”

  Katherine said no more. She was sure that Doña Elvira’s deeply ingrained prejudices were coloring her judgment. No doubt some Jews had made a pragmatic decision to convert, but Katherine had known several who embraced their new faith with sincerity. And she had seen no sign of Dr. de Puebla scanting his religious observances.

  She sighed. Adjusting to a new life was difficult enough without having to take into account all the nasty, petty rivalries and intrigues that surrounded her. And it was impossible to decide who was telling the truth and who was lying. On the whole, she was rather inclined to believe Don Pedro.


  The court moved on to the castle of Windsor, a mighty fortress many centuries old that commanded breathtaking views across the surrounding countryside. Katherine and Arthur were allocated lodgings in the medieval royal apartments in the upper ward, with windows overlooking a rather sad vineyard. But the bed, which was eleven feet square, was sumptuous, with its gold and silver canopy and silken hangings. One could get lost in such a bed, and she did feel lost, sleeping there alone.

  Arthur was no better. Katherine thought he had lost weight. He was coughing more and complained of suffering terrible sweats at night. Yet still he made light of his illness, refusing to give in to it. At a feast in the magnificent St. George’s Hall, Katherine saw the Queen watching her son intently, and heard Arthur, who had eaten little, reassuring her that he was better, his appetite was improving, and his cough was on the mend. Whether the Queen heard what she wanted to hear, Katherine did not know.

  “Ought you not to see a doctor?” she ventured one day.

  “I have seen too many doctors!” Arthur retorted. “There is nothing wrong with me! Stop fretting!”

  But she could not. She had seen people suffering from a quartan fever, and none of them had coughed. True, Arthur sweated and had headaches, but his fever was constant, not intermittent.

  She confided her fears to her own physician, Dr. Alcaraz.

  “This must go no further,” she told him as she described Arthur’s symptoms. The doctor listened gravely.

  “His Highness does seem to me to be overthin, and what you tell me is worrying, but I can make no diagnosis without examining him, and I cannot be seen questioning the expertise of the English physicians. But I will discreetly observe His Highness as much as I can.” He paused. “Forgive me, my lady, but it would be wise not to tax his strength by lying together.”

  “The King agrees with you,” Katherine revealed, feeling her cheeks growing hot. “We do as he commands. Our marriage is in name only.”

  “Very wise, Highness,” Dr. Alcaraz said.


  One evening, after dinner, the King summoned Katherine to his study. As Dr. de Puebla was present, she realized that she was there to discuss a matter of importance.

  “Be seated, child,” Henry bade her, swooping up Peterkin from the floor and settling him on his lap, caressing his ears. “As you will be aware, it is necessary for Prince Arthur to go back to Ludlow to continue learning how to rule his principality of Wales. It is an excellent apprenticeship for kingship.”

  Katherine was shocked. Ludlow, Arthur had informed her, was a hundred fifty miles from London—and he ought to know, having lived there since he was seven. She was on the point of protesting that he was not well enough to travel so far, especially in the middle of winter, but in truth she was too in awe of the King, and feared to be seen questioning his judgment. Arthur was his son, after all; he must know all about his state of health, and he had surely considered the risks and the dangers.

  As if he had read her mind, Henry said, “I have had a long talk with Arthur. It had been agreed that he should return to Ludlow after the wedding festivities, yet I did say to him that if he did not feel well enough, he could wait until the spring. But he is adamant that he should be at Ludlow.”

  Arthur would say that, Katherine thought. She knew enough of her young husband to appreciate that he wanted no one to think him not meet for the duties required of him.

  “The question is,” the King said, “whether you should go with Arthur, or stay with the Queen and Princess Margaret, at least for the winter. For myself, I do not wish you to go. I feel, as I know he has told you, that Arthur is not old enough to give free rein to the duties of a husband, and that you should wait a while before you live together. My councillors agree, on account of the tender age of my son. And we are all worried that coming from Spain, you would find it hard wintering on the Welsh border. We would not
want the King and Queen your parents to think that we had made you do it, especially if it affects your health.”

  Katherine said nothing. This was a matter for the King to decide, and it sounded as if he had already made up his mind that she should stay.

  “However,” he was saying, “I do not wish to risk offending King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella by keeping you and Arthur apart, so I have consulted Don Pedro de Ayala and Doña Elvira. They have both urged that you remain behind. I honestly do not know what to think. Tell me, Katherine, what is your opinion?”

  She noticed Dr. de Puebla shaking his head at the mention of Don Pedro and Doña Elvira.

  “Your Grace, my advice is that the Princess should go,” he said. She was not surprised—he would disagree with them on principle.

  She had the impression that she was being embroiled in an elaborate game of strategy, and that the real issues were beyond her comprehension. Would her parents be content for her to make the decision herself? It might be that the King’s care for her really was the chief issue, although she knew he feared for his son, and guessed that he was worrying that once alone together in the remote castle at Ludlow, she and Arthur might be tempted to forget his command to wait. Yet she could not help wondering if this had something to do with the matter of her dowry. If the King sent her to Ludlow and she found that she needed to use the plate, her parents might say he had forced her to it. Yet if she went to Ludlow of her own volition and did so, knowing what it was for, that would be her fault—wouldn’t it?

  “I will be content with what your Grace decides,” she said.

  Henry left it at that. “Think on it,” he said. “We will talk another time.”

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