Part 2: Catherine of Aragon
The marriage of sixteen year-old Spanish princess Catherine
of Aragon in 1501 to Henry's elder brother, Arthur, prince of Wales, had
allied England to the most powerful royal house in Europe. Catherine
was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castille, one of
the great military partnerships in history. She was impressively educated
and prepared for power.
They got on well and, unusually for a couple so young,
she and the fourteen year-old prince lived together at Ludlow, Arthur's
seat as prince of Wales. But within four months disaster struck when
they both became ill and Arthur died.
Catherine's fate swung in the balance until a betrothal
was formalised in June 1503 to his younger brother Henry, now heir to
the throne of Henry VII. They were to marry two years later, once
Henry had reached the age of fourteen.
The arrangement was all but ended by Henry VII when
Queen Isabella died a year later. Spanish power was weakened by her
death but, upon his succession to the throne in 1509, Prince Henry -
now Henry VIII - still asked Catherine of Aragon to be his wife and
For Henry the marriage assured her father, Ferdinand of
Spain, as an ally in the war that he was determined to fight against the
French. For Catherine, it was her destiny to be queen of England.
'She is descended from great kings,' wrote Sir Thomas
More, 'and she will be the mother of kings as great as her ancestors.'
But Catherine failed to produce an heir. Repeated
miscarriages, a stillbirth, and a christened prince dead at fifty-two
days old were a cruel blow to Henry's hopes.
As a ruler she fared better when, in June 1513, Henry
launched his invasion of France and appointed Catherine as regent of
England. Armies under her command defeated the Scots and, when writing
to Henry to compare her successes with his, the competition was clear.
Double-crossed by Spain when they reached a separate
peace with France, a furious Henry struck his own deal with the French,
masterminded by rising star Thomas Wolsey, to eliminate Catherine as a
possible rival for political influence over the king.