Ancestors of Katherine of Aragon
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On the Spanish side of her family, it is said that Katherine could trace her ancestors back to the Visigothic kings of Spain, who first settled in the country in 410. The last of these, King Roderick was defeated and killed by Moorish invaders at the Battle of Guadalete in 711. Thereafter, the Christian kingdoms of Spain gradually pushed back the Moorish boundaries until the reconquest was finally completed by the surrender of Granada in 1492, an event which Katherine witnessed.
Unsurprisingly, Katherine's forebears included many heroic warrior kings and many accomplished and powerful queens. Below are some of the best known:
Alfonso 'the Battler', King of Aragon was born in 1073, the younger son of King Sancho Ramirez of Aragon. He participated in the recapture of Huesca from the Moors in 1096 and inherited the throne in 1104. As his nickname suggests, Alfonso spent most of his life at war with the Moors, and fought twenty nine battles against Moorish and Christian opponents. His greatest triumph was the recapture of Zaragoza from the Moors in 1118. Alfonso made the city his capital and it remains the capital of Aragon to this day. He went on to capture other major towns: Cervera, Castallon and Tarazona in 1119, Lerida in 1123 and Monzon in 1129.
However, Alfonso was less successful in his matrimonial affairs. He married Urraca of Castile in 1109, but the two quarreled over the government of Castile, which Urraca was determined to keep to herself. Alfonso's habit of sleeping in his armour is unlikely to have improved his conjugal relationship! The Pope declared the marriage of Alfonso and Urraca null and void in 1110 but the stormy marriage limped on until 1114, when the couple finally separated
Following an unsuccessful attempt to capture further territory at the Battle of Fraga in 1134, Alfonso died on 8th September 1134.
Petronilla, Queen Regnant of Aragon (pictured right) was born in 1136 and succeeded to the throne of Aragon when she was a baby. Her father Ramiro, a monk, was forced to leave his Order on the death of his elder brother Alfonso 'the Battler' without heirs. He married Agnes of Poitiers, and as soon as she had produced a daughter, renounced the throne and returned to his monastery.
Petronilla married Ramon Berenguer, Count of Barcelona, thus uniting Aragon and Catalonia under the same rulers, when she was eight years old, although the marriage was not consummated until she was fifteen. Petronilla and Ramon ruled their kingdoms until Ramon's death in 1162 and had five children. In 1163, Petronilla abdicated in favour of their son Alfonso II, although she continued to advise and counsel him.
Petronilla died on 15th October 1173 and was buried in Barcelona.
Urraca, Queen Regnant of Castile (pictured left) has already been mentioned as the unhappy wife of Alfonso 'the Battler' of Aragon. She was born in 1079 and was married to Raymond of Burgundy in 1087. The marriage produced two children, including a son and heir Alfonso VII (through which the Kings of Aragon descended), born in 1105. Her granddaughter through Alfonso VII, Sancha of Castile, married Alfonso II of Aragon, son of Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona and Petronilla of Aragon (see above). Urraca became Queen of Castile and Leon in 1108, following the death of her father Alfonso VI. Urraca was queen regent of León, Castile, and Galicia, and claimed the imperial title as suo jure Empress of All the Spains from 1109 until her death in childbirth, as well as Empress of All Galicia. Her stormy second marriage produced no children and was dissolved by the Pope. Unusually for a medieval Queen, Urraca openly took lovers and had an illegitimate son by one of them.
Urraca was described by a contemporary chronicler as 'prudent, modest and of good sense'. She was able to hold her kingdoms together and pass them on intact to her son Alfonso VII on her death in 1126. Alfonso went on to continue the Reconquista and to be one of the most successful of Spanish medieval kings.
When Henry died on 11th December 1474, and in Ferdinand's absence, Isabella had herself proclaimed queen.
She was immediately challenged by Joanna and her supporters, who obtained the backing of King Alfonso of Portugal, her uncle and later fiance. The civil war that followed lasted five years, but the outcome was not in doubt after Ferdinand's victory over Alfonso at the Battle of Toro on 1st March 1476. The Treaty of Alcacovas which settled the war provided for the marriage of Princess Isabella to the heir of Portugal.
After some initial wrangling, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed a power-sharing deal by which each could wield power in Castile jointly and severally. After his father's death in 1479, Ferdinand extended the same powers to Isabella in Aragon. Despite their very different personalities, or 'the contrast of character between the uncompromising, devout and chaste Isabella and the worldly, flexible and frequently unfaithful Ferdinand' (Henry Kamen), their equal partnership proved a great success. However, like other women of her time, Isabella had to turn a blind eye to her husband's frequent affairs (he had at least seven illegitimate children, all by different women), and no doubt gave good advice to Katherine on that score.
Ferdinand and Isabella had five children who lived to adulthood, one son and four daughters. They were careful to present all their actions as being made jointly, to exclude any possibility of the nobility attempting to play one off against the other, to the extent that the chronicler Pulgar once recorded that 'the King and Queen gave birth to a daughter!'
The young King and Queen (pictured left) faced an uphill struggle to restore order in Castile after the anarchy of Henry's reign, but succeeded in curbing the power of the nobility, boosting the power of the towns and restoring law and order. Although some writers have claimed that Katherine was brought up in Granada, she only spent a few months there, as the Spanish court was itinerent - in the thirty year reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, it travelled well over two thousand kilometres. The monarchs did more travelling than any other ruler in Spanish history, with the possible exception of the current King, their descendant Juan Carlos, who has the advantage of modern methods of transportation rather than going everywhere on horseback. This had the advantage of giving their subjects some sense of cohesion, as the kingdoms otherwise functioned internally as separate entities.
The Moorish kingdom of Granada was still a separate state within the peninsula, but in 1481, the Moorish capture of Zahara sparked a war which would last for ten years. Ferdinand led the army and fought with great courage and Isabella organised supplies and men. Contrary to the opinions of some writers, she never led the army in battle, although she occasionally wore armour whilst reviewing the troops.
Whilst the Spanish forces suffered some reverses in the early years of the war, their superior organisation, manpower and firepower meant that the outcome was never really in doubt. They were also aided by feuds within the Moorish royal family, which Ferdinand exploited with his usual skill. The young Katherine was present during the blockade of the city of Granada, which lasted from 1491 to the beginning of 1492. Granada officially surrendered on 6th January 1492. Under the terms of the surrender, the Moors were allowed freedom of worship.
Pictured right - The Alhambra, Granada
In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV granted permission for the establishment of an inquisition in Castile. This was not a new idea - Aragon already had an inquisition and previous tribunals had operated elsewhere, including southern France. The main purpose was to ensure the religious orthodoxy of the conversos, those who had converted from Judaism, many of whom clung to Jewish customs. The operation of the Spanish Inquisition is rightly regarded as a terrible event in history. However, by the standards of the time, the Inquisition was not particularly harsh and the great majority of those found guilty of heresy were fined or penanced rather than executed. Due to concerns that the remaining Jews influenced their converso friends and relatives adversely, the Jews were expelled from all the Spanish kingdoms on 31st March 1492. This was a another horrifying act, but again this was not a new idea - Jews had previously been expelled from England, France and parts of Italy. About half converted to Christianity and around 80,000 left the country, although half of those later converted and returned.
In the same year, Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to sponsor the Genoese sailor Columbus. His discoveries led to the expansion of the Spanish Empire. In 1494, by the Papal Bull Inter Caetera issued by Alexander VI and the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Americas were divided between Spain and Portugal.
Up until 1492, both Ferdinand and Isabella had concentrated primarily on solving Castilian problems and conquering Granada. Thereafter, Isabella was mainly occupied with church reform and Ferdinand with foreign policy. He gradually built up the best diplomatic service in Europe, which ensured that he was far better informed about his rivals and their plans than they were about him. After surviving a near-fatal assassination attempt in Barcelona on 7th December 1492 (which must have been extremely traumatic for the seven year old Katherine), Ferdinand successfully recovered the counties of Rousillon and Cerdagne from Charles VIII, who wanted a free hand to conquer Naples (Treaty of Barcelona, 19th January 1493). Naples was ruled by his brother-in-law and cousin, Ferrante I, but Ferdinand had never given up his own claims. He formed the Holy League in 1495, in which the Pope, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Venice and Milan combined together to drive the French from Italy. The marriages alliances of his children were designed to encircle the old enemy, France.
In 1500, Ferdinand changed sides and allied with Louis XII of France to eject the illegitimate line of Aragonese kings from Naples and divide the kingdom between them. The erstwhile allies soon quarrelled, and war broke out in 1502. Initially, the French were successful but the Spanish army under Gonsalvo de Cordoba gradually wore them down and by the end of 1503, the entire kingdom was in Spanish hands. Ferdinand also increased his influence on the small kingdom of Navarre, ruled by descendants of his sister Eleanor.
Ferdinand was at odds with Isabella over the government of Granada. He objected to the heavy-handed actions of Cardinal Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, which soon provoked a rebellion. Following the suppression of the revolt, all Moors who refused to convert to Christianity were expelled from Granada in 1501 and from Castile in 1502. The majority coverted, but with little sincerity. Ferdinand refused to implement the same policy in Aragon, where the Moors continued to enjoy freedom of worship until 1525. In 1503 Ferdinand and Isabella became heirs to the Eastern Roman Empire and thus Ferdinand became de jure Roman Emperor.
Pictured left - Ferdinand and Isabella c. 1485
By this time, Isabella's health was beginning to fail. Her only son John, eldest daughter Isabella and grandson Michael had died, and she was increasingly worried by the mental health problems of her daughter and heiress Joanna, wife of the Archduke Philip of Austria, Duke of Burgundy. By September 1504, it was clear that Isabella was dying of cancer. In her Will, she specified that Ferdinand should serve as Regent of Castile until her grandson Charles was twenty if Joanna was 'unwilling or unable to rule'
Isabella died at Medina del Campo on 26th November 1504 at the age of fifty three. She was a woman of great determination, resourcefulness, ability, and courage, but her piety was marred by bigotry and her resolution by inflexibility. She had proved that an able woman could rule successfully in a male-dominated world, a lesson which was not lost on her daughter Katherine and granddaughter Mary.
Right - Statue of Isabella
Isabella's death left Ferdinand - and by extension, Katherine - in a very difficult position. Although he succeeded in persuading the Cortes of Toro to ratify his title of Regent in 1505, he faced opposition from the Archduke Phillip. Phillip had previously stated that Joanna was insane, but he was now anxious to press her claims in an effort to win power for himself. With the Emperor Maximilian supporting his son's claims and Henry VII sitting on the fence, Ferdinand reversed his traditional policy and made an alliance with France (Treaty of Blois, 1505). Under the terms of the treaty, Ferdinand married Louis' niece, Germaine de Foix, who also had the advantage of possessing Andorra and a claim to the throne of Navarre. According the Venetian ambassador, he was no more faithful to her than he had been to Isabella. Their only son, John, died a few hours after his birth on 3rd May 1509.
The support that Phillip gained from the Castilian nobility, who wanted a weak King so that they could wield more power, forced Ferdinand to withdraw from Castile in June 1506. Sailing to Naples, he spent seven months reorganising the administration of that kingdom before meeting Louis XII at a summit meeting at Savona. By this time, Phillip had died in somewhat suspicious circumstances and Joanna showed no inclination to exercise power, allowing Castile to fall into a state of anarchy.
Ferdinand's return to the Regency in 1507 was generally welcomed by the nobles as well as the people, and after making an example of the rebellious Marquis of Priego, he had no further problems in establishing his control over Castile. Joanna retired first to Arcos and then, in 1509, to the Castle of Tordesillas, where she remained imprisoned until her death in 1555. Ferdinand was now able to turn his attention to Katherine's situation in England He made Katherine his ambassadress to England (the first female ambassador in recorded history) and made the remainder of her dowry available. Negotiations recommenced, although without significant progress until the young Henry took the throne.
Ferdinand's adherence to the League of Cambrai (1508) , under which the majority of European powers joined together to crush Venice, brought him the return of the Neapolitan ports lost to the Republic in 1495, and the subsequent War of the Holy League extended Spanish influence into northern Italy. Spanish expansion in the Americas continued, and Florida was discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513. In the same year, Niccolo Machiavelli used Ferdinand as a major role model in his famous political work, 'The Prince'. Between 1507 and 1509, many ports on the coastal strip of North Africa known as the Maghreb fell to Spain.However, the most important event of the last part of Ferdinand's reign was probably the conquest of Navarre.
Navarre had been inherited by Ferdinand's great-niece Catherine and her husband John d'Albret. Louis XII had been inclined to support the rival claims of their cousin Gaston de Foix as a way of keeping them in line, but Gaston's death at the Battle of Ravenna (1512) meant tnat his claims passed to his sister Germaine, the wife of the French King's greatest rival. .Louis therefore made a defensive pact with them (Treaty of Blois, 1512). Anticipating this, Ferdinand (pictured right) had manipulated Henry VIII into sending an amy into Guienne under the Marquis of Dorset. He also published an alleged abstract of the Treaty of Blois which misrepresented it as a planned attack on Spain rather than a defensive alliance.
With the attack on Navarre apparently justified and backed by the Pope, and France effectively rendered unable to support the Navarrese sovereigns due to the presence of Dorset's army, Ferdinand's army had little trouble in conquering the entire kingdom. John and Catherine fled to France. The Cortes swore allegiance to Ferdinand in 1513, and most of Navarre remains part of Spain to this day.
By 1515, the foundations of the great Spanish Empire had been laid, and Ferdinand was able to declare to the Cortes of Burgos that 'in the past seven hundred years, the Crown of Spain has never been so great or so resplendent as it is now and all, after God, by my work and my labours'. Increasingly ill with coronary disease, Ferdinand continued to travel throughout Spain. On a journey to Seville in January 1516, he apparently suffered a heart attack near the small village of Madrigalejo in Extramadura, and died there a few days later on January 23rd 1516 at the age of sixty three. Under the terms of his Will, the Spanish kingdoms were in practice inherited by his grandson Charles V, although Joanna remained the theoretical sovereign. The news of his death was concealed from Katherine until after the birth of Princess Mary on 18th February.
Ferdinand was brave, charming, highly intelligent, resilient, witty and charismatic, but was also devious, unscrupulous, duplicitous, promiscuous and utterly ruthless when it came to promoting Aragonese interests. For good or ill, his actions had shaped not just Spain but Europe at a critical turning point in history.
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