Catherine of Aragon was the first queen of King Henry VIII and his longest marriage. Did Henry VIII love the first of his six wives?
Henry VIII loved Catherine of Aragon for many years, though she was treated very poorly when they divorced. When Catherine failed to produce a male heir, Henry cast her aside after 24 years and married Anne Boleyn. Catherine was devoted to Henry until the end.
For more on Catherine of Aragon and her marriage to Henry VIII, read on.
Catherine of Aragorn was the daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, who together controlled an effectively unified Spain. Aragon and Castile were still technically separate kingdoms at the time but Ferdinand is widely considered the first king of Spain.
In her teens, Catherine was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and heir of his father, King Henry VII of England. It was felt that their union would form a strong alliance between England and Spain, in opposition to France.
Catherine sailed to England and married Arthur but her new husband became increasingly ill. The couple did not spend much time together, as Henry VII felt it more important that Arthur focused on overcoming his illness.
In time, Henry relented and the young royal couple spent some time in each other’s company. However, Arthur’s condition worsened and he died just six months after his marriage.
Catherine was still only sixteen years old and Arthur’s death largely undid any diplomatic progress between Spain and England. The English suggested that Catherine marry another member of the Tudor family, with both Henry VII and his son, Prince Henry, offered as potential grooms.
When Henry VII died in 1509, Prince Henry became King Henry VIII. The young king was keen to marry his widowed sister-in-law and soon did so. When they were married, Catherine was 23 years old and Henry was 17.
Henry had two reasons for marrying Catherine. Firstly, it ensured strong relations between England and Spain for as long as they were together. Secondly, Henry loved Catherine; she was a strong character and they shared similar interests, such as horseriding and hunting.
The King and Queen were an efficient political partnership and enjoyed each other’s company greatly, but there was one part of their marriage that they couldn’t control. Henry felt that he needed a male heir to continue the Tudor dynasty.
In 1516, Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary, who later became Queen Mary I. She had at least five other pregnancies during their marriage but none of them survived into adolescence.
Though Henry was disappointed that their only surviving child was a girl, Mary’s survival gave him hope that Catherine might one day produce a son. Unfortunately, she did not, and the age gap between Henry and Catherine made it increasingly apparent that they would not have more children together.
In the early 1520s, Anne Boleyn became Catherine’s lady-in-waiting and Henry took an immediate liking to the younger woman. Henry wished to divorce Catherine, fearing that marrying his brother’s widow had cursed their marriage and prevented him from having a son.
As the Pope would not allow Henry to divorce Catherine, Henry turned to the question of whether or not Catherine was a virgin. He accused her of having consummated her marriage to his brother, Arthur, which would have rendered their union invalid.
Catherine maintained that she had not been intimate with Arthur. Given his illness, this was very possibly true. In any case, Henry didn’t care until he wanted a way out of the marriage.
Refusing to be denied his divorce, Henry separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, establishing a new state faith. In 1533, he divorced Catherine and she was dismissed from court, as well as being cut off from Mary.
Three years later, Catherine, still living in England, died at the age of 50, likely from cancer. She had maintained that she was the rightful Queen of England and continued to love Henry until the end, despite being cast aside.
Catherine and Henry were married for 24 years, a decade longer than his other five marriages combined. Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was brief and also failed to produce a male heir, giving him a daughter, Elizabeth.
The superstitious Henry again looked elsewhere and accused Anne of adultery. In 1536, just three years after their marriage, she was beheaded at Tower Green.