Queen Katherine of Aragon Controversies

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COA contempary portrait
Historical Controversies
about Queen Katherine of Aragon
who was described by contemporaries as
"more beloved than any queen who ever reigned"

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Was Katherine's first marriage to Prince Arthur Tudor consummated?

Here are the known facts, at the time of marriage, Arthur was 15 years old and Katherine just shy of 16 years old. Prior to the marriage, Arthur had stated that he found his new wife to be pleasing to him and that he was feeling ‘lusty and amorous.’ It was also perfectly acceptable for two people of such a young age to be married and engage in sexual intercourse.

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Tudor Historian David Starkey in his book Six Wives describes how the couple were put to bed which was customary for the day and says:

"What happened then, only God knows.The herald, a strictly contemporary witness, assumed that nature had taken its course. 'And thus these worthy persons concluded and consummate the effect and complement of matrimony'. Many of those present, when questioned thirty years later, asserted the same. George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered accompanying Arthur to the wedding chamber and leaving him there. The Earl said he had consummated his own marriage at fifteen. Arthur was a similar age, and he took for granted that Arthur has done so too. The Marquess of Dorset recollected Arthur getting into the bed where the Lady Catherine lay under the coverlet 'as the manner is of Queens in that behalf'. He likewise, assumed that the marriage was consummated since Arthur was 'of good and sanguine complexion' - that is fit and healthy. But Catherine was to tell a very different story.

The Morning after: There had been hot competition to be part of Arthur's wedding-night party. One of those who struck lucky was Sir Anthony Willoughby, a body servant of Arthur's. He was sneaked in by his father, Lord Broke, the Lord Steward of the Household and Catherine's escort on her journey from the west country. The morning after, Willoughby claimed, Arthur had boasted of his exploits. 'Willoughby', he had ordered, 'bring me a cup of ale for I have been this night in the midst of Spain'. There were, Willoughby asserted, several witnesses to the remark. Later, the Prince had said openly, 'Masters, it is good pastime to have a wife'. The words stuck in men's memories, as well they might, and at least one other witness confirmed the story.
Memories? False memories? Or downright lies?

Whatever had or had not happened on the wedding night, Catherine and Arthur had plenty of time to recover from their exertions. Catherine spent the day following, Monday 15 November, in strict solitude receiving no one, save Oxford who brought a warmly paternal message from her father-in-law. On the Tuesday, the King, the Prince and the Duke of York [[[King Henry VIII|Henry VIII]]] processed solemnly back to St. Paul's to give thanks to God 'that so prosperously His goodness had suffered everything of this laudable [marriage] to be brought to its most laudable conclusion.' For this ceremony, roles were reversed and it was Catherine's turn to watch from the privacy of the Closet on the north side of the nave. Afterwards, she received Henry VII in her lodgings and father-in-law and daughter-in-law exchanged 'right pleasant and favourable words, salutes and communications'. That day, too, at dinner she was served for the first time as an English Princess, not as a Spanish Infanta.

Would all this have been done if the marriage had not been consummated? Would Catherine have behaved as she did?"

The young couple shortly after the marriage moved to Wales where they took up their duties as Prince and Princess of Wales at Ludlow Castle. There they remained for six months until Arthur’s death. If Arthur was so weak and sickly why would he be sent to live at the drafty, cold, remote castle? It was after his death, with the help of her duenna Doña Elvira*, that Katherine was able to say the marriage had not been consummated. (However Katherine and her duenna were never close, and she ended up betraying Katherine later in life.)

Some historians say that Arthur was frail. What evidence they have is not clear other than he wasn’t a great sportsman. The causes of his death are really unknown, and have been attributed to the ’sweating sickness’ that claimed many lives during that time. Others who believe the marriage was consummated say Arthur expired from overexertion.

Whatever the uncertainty is, a pregnancy did not result from her short marriage to Arthur, and she became pregnant almost immediately upon wedding Henry VIII. We don’t know if Henry thought she was a virgin on their wedding night or not. We do know that in order to set her aside after many years of marriage so he could wed another, that he did believe she had consummated her marriage with Arthur.

Many say that because Katherine was such a pious woman that she would never lie about whether there had been a consummation with Arthur. Therefore, if she said she didn’t, then she didn’t. However being religious does not make you infallible hence the need for the confessional. It was known that in later life she took to wearing hair shirts, a form of penitence for "sins". She was also a very smart woman and she knew that if she conceded to having consummated her marriage with Arthur that she could indeed be set aside. This would mean that her daughter and heir to the throne would be claimed illegitimate and her marriage to Henry VIII annulled. There is no way, she would have admitted to such a thing, knowing how it would hurt her daughter’s future.

Although Dr. Starkey considers that the marriage may have been consummated, other historians have argued cogently that this was very unlikely. In his classic biography of Katherine, Professor Garrett Mattingly describes the heated discussion between the Spanish ambassador, Rodrigo De Puebla (who had initially assumed that the marriage had been consummated), and Katherine's duenna, Donna Elvira:

'She, Donna Elvira, and all the matrons of her lady's household would swear, of their personal knowledge, that Princess Katherine was virgo intacta..., and examination by qualified persons would prove as much. Neither party could guess that the question of Donna Elvira's veracity would be vigorously argued for four hundred years..., but both knew that Donna Elivira's assertion was a serious one, and both knew - what some modern historians seem to have forgotten - that in canon law and sixteenth century usage, virginity was a term of definite, fixed content...and verifiable in fact. The truth of what Donna Elvira said could be tested and if it proved she was lying, she would never dare face Queen Isabella again. It is hard to see what motive could justify so risky a lie. Dr. De Puebla, at least, was convinced that Donna Elvira spoke the truth'.

Antonia Fraser, in her book on the 'Six Wives', points out that it would have been better from the Spanish point of view if the marriage had been consummated and that Henry himself, repeatedly challenged by Katherine to say that she was not a virgin when they married, never did so. She also says that Chapuys gathered information from witnesses which showed that Arthur was impotent. Even those witnesses who gave evidence could only say that they assumed that the marriage had been consummated and that Arthur had made remarks which suggested this - they could not say for certain that it had been.

It is interesting that the Dispensation issued by Pope Julius covered both a consummated and a non-consummated marriage showing that Henry VII was unsure and wanted to cover both possibilities.

Another thing to consider is - would such a religious woman have lied on oath in Court and in front of a Cardinal, bishops and notaries? Only Katherine knows and we are left to speculate all these years later.

* Footnote :

Doña (the Spanish word for madam) Elvira Manuel was the Spanish duenna of Princess Katherine of Aragon. Katherine's mother Isabella of Castile trusted Doña Elvira but after Isabella's death (shortly after Katherine's husband's death, Prince Arthur Tudor), she betrayed Katherine. Katherine was then betrothed to Prince Henry of Wales, the future King Henry VIII, but Henry VII made his son repudiate his betrothal. Instead he was secretly engaged to Katherine's niece, Princess Eleanor of Austria. After the death of Queen Isabella of Castille, it was only Aragon that was left for Henry VII, and he saw that an alliance with Austria and Castille would do him better, for Katherine's sister, Joanna of Castille was now Queen. Archduke Philip of Austria ruled as consort for Castille. Joanna had a mental disability and could not properly rule as Queen; it was Philip who did all the work for her. Philip then turned against his father-in-law, Ferdinand II of Aragon and took matters into his own hands by, with Henry VII, arranging his son, the future Charles V to be married to Princess Mary Tudor and his daughter Eleanor to Prince Henry. Doña Elvira took part in this as a spy, for she absolutely loathed Ferdinand. When Katherine discovered Doña Elvira's betrayal, she immediately dismissed her from her service. It would be six more years till Katherine would get married to Henry VIII.

Inability to Provide a Living Male Heir::
Some historians have said that Katherine had as many as 10 pregnancies but only 6 are confirmed by primary sources.

They are as follows:
  • 31 January 1510 she gave birth to an unnamed daughter who was stillborn.
  • 1 January 1511 she gave birth to a son, Henry, who was given the title Duke of Cornwall. He died, only 52 days old.
  • November 1513, another son named Henry was born, and lived only a few hours.
  • December 1514, A stillborn, unnamed son was born.
  • 18th February 1516, the only child to survive infancy, a daughter Princess Mary Tudor was born
  • 10 November 1518, Katherine's final pregnancy produced another unnamed, stillborn daughter

After the first miscarriage in January 31, 1510 and this was documented by her physician who reported her menstrual cycle returning, she seemed to have either a phantom pregnancy or some kind of infection. Her belly continued to grow and she thought she was still pregnant. She took to her chambers in March to await the birth.

It both L&P, vol. I i, 394 and the Spanish Calendar - Supplements to volumes I and II. All the English - Spanish official correspondence stated that the miscarriage of a daughter, which took place on January 31, was recorded by Katherine of Aragon's confessor, Fray Diego. He stated she had no warning except for a pain in her knee the night before; she was then brought to bed, and delivered of a six months developed daughter. The confessor, two Spanish ladies in waiting, the physician knew about it - the King was immediately informed. There is no doubt as to this miscarriage.

Apparently, the physician claimed "the Queen remained pregnant of another child and it was believed" even after her menstrual cycles resumed, the charade continued on for three months, until Katherine retired to her chambers to await the birth. Apparently, the new Spanish Ambassador, Luiz Caroz, although not having heard about the January miscarriage upon arrival in England, somehow doubted the Queen was actually pregnant - he'd heard her cycles had resumed, and was astonished at how all had been duped into thinking a menstruating woman could possibly be pregnant.

Both Diego and Caroz sent full accounts of this bizarre situation back to Spain.

Fray Diego, in late March, reported "it has pleased our Lord to be her physician in such a way that the swelling decreased". Katherine remained in seclusion until late May.

In May, Katherine of Aragon sent her father a letter where she lied stating she miscarried of a daughter "some days before", and that "her child was still born is considered to be a misfortune in England . . . do not be angry with me, for it has been the will of God."
It was also recorded that Henry was angry with the queen regarding this situation when she came out of seclusion.

Source: <a class="external" href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110303153114.htm" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="Science Daily">Science Daily</a>

Solving the Puzzle of Henry VIII

ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2011) — Blood group incompatibility between Henry VIII and his wives could have driven the Tudor king's reproductive woes, and a genetic condition related to his suspected blood group could also explain Henry's dramatic mid-life transformation into a physically and mentally-impaired tyrant who executed two of his wives.
Research conducted by bioarchaeologist Catrina Banks Whitley while she was a graduate student at SMU (Southern Methodist University) and anthropologist Kyra Kramer shows that the numerous miscarriages suffered by Henry's wives could be explained if the king's blood carried the Kell antigen. A Kell negative woman who has multiple pregnancies with a Kell positive man can produce a healthy, Kell positive child in a first pregnancy; But the antibodies she produces during that first pregnancy will cross the placenta and attack a Kell positive fetus in subsequent pregnancies.
As published in The Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press), the pattern of Kell blood group incompatibility is consistent with the pregnancies of Henry's first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. If Henry also suffered from McLeod syndrome, a genetic disorder specific to the Kell blood group, it would finally provide an explanation for his shift in both physical form and personality from a strong, athletic, generous individual in his first 40 years to the monstrous paranoiac he would become, virtually immobilized by massive weight gain and leg ailments.
"It is our assertion that we have identified the causal medical condition underlying Henry's reproductive problems and psychological deterioration," write Whitley and Kramer.
Henry married six women, two of whom he famously executed, and broke England's ties with the Catholic Church -- all in pursuit of a marital union that would produce a male heir. Historians have long debated theories of illness and injury that might explain the physical deterioration and frightening, tyrannical behavior that he began to display after his 40th birthday. Less attention has been given to the unsuccessful pregnancies of his wives in an age of primitive medical care and poor nutrition and hygiene, and authors Whitley and Kramer argue against the persistent theory that syphilis may have been a factor.
A Kell positive father frequently is the cause behind the inability of his partner to bear a healthy infant after the first Kell negative pregnancy, which the authors note is precisely the circumstance experienced with women who had multiple pregnancies by Henry. The majority of individuals within the Kell blood group are Kell negative, so it is the rare Kell positive father that creates reproductive problems.
Further supporting the Kell theory, descriptions of Henry in mid-to-late life indicate he suffered many of the physical and cognitive symptoms associated with McLeod syndrome -- a medical condition that can occur in members of the Kell positive blood group.
By middle age, the King suffered from chronic leg ulcers, fueling longstanding historical speculation that he suffered from type II diabetes. The ulcers also could have been caused by osteomyelitis, a chronic bone infection that would have made walking extremely painful. In the last years of his life, Henry's mobility had deteriorated to the point that he was carried about in a chair with poles. That immobility is consistent with a known McLeod syndrome case in which a patient began to notice weakness in his right leg when he was 37, and atrophy in both his legs by age 47, the report notes.
Whitley and Kramer argue that the Tudor king could have been suffering from medical conditions such as these in combination with McLeod syndrome, aggravated by his obesity. Records do not indicate whether Henry displayed other physical signs of McLeod syndrome, such as sustained muscle contractions (tics, cramps or spasms) or an abnormal increase in muscle activity such as twitching or hyperactivity. But the dramatic changes in his personality provide stronger evidence that Henry had McLeod syndrome, the authors point out: His mental and emotional instability increased in the dozen years before death to an extent that some have labeled his behavior psychotic. McLeod syndrome resembles Huntington's disease, which affects muscle coordination and causes cognitive disorder. McLeod symptoms usually begin to develop when an individual is between 30 and 40 years old, often resulting in damage to the heart muscle, muscular disease, psychiatric abnormality and motor nerve damage. Henry VIII experienced most, if not all, of these symptoms, the authors found.
Fetal Mortality, Not Infertility Is the Kell Legacy
Henry was nearly 18 when he married 23-year-old Katherine of Aragon. Their first daughter, a girl, was stillborn. Their second child, a boy, lived only 52 days. Four other confirmed pregnancies followed during the marriage but three of the offspring were either stillborn or died shortly after birth. Their only surviving child was Mary, who would eventually be crowned the fourth Monarch in the Tudor dynasty.
The precise number of miscarriages endured by Henry's reproductive partners is difficult to determine, especially when various mistresses are factored in, but the king's partners had a total of at least 11 and possibly 13 or more pregnancies. Only four of the eleven known pregnancies survived infancy. Whitley and Kramer call the high rate of spontaneous late-term abortion, stillbirth, or rapid neonatal death suffered by Henry's first two queens "an atypical reproductive pattern" because, even in an age of high child mortality, most women carried their pregnancies to term, and their infants usually lived long enough to be christened.
The authors explain that if a Kell positive father impregnates a Kell negative mother, each pregnancy has a 50-50 chance of being Kell positive. The first pregnancy typically carries to term and produces a healthy infant, even if the infant is Kell positive and the mother is Kell negative. But the mother's subsequent Kell positive pregnancies are at risk because the mother's antibodies will attack the Kell positive fetus as a foreign body. Any baby that is Kell negative will not be attacked by the mother's antibodies and will carry to term if otherwise healthy. "Although the fact that Henry and Katherine of Aragon's firstborn did not survive is somewhat atypical, it is possible that some cases of Kell sensitization affect even the first pregnancy," the report notes. The survival of Mary, the fifth pregnancy for Katherine of Aragon, fits the Kell scenario if Mary inherited the recessive Kell gene from Henry, resulting in a healthy infant. Anne Boleyn's pregnancies were a textbook example of Kell alloimmunization with a healthy first child and subsequent late-term miscarriages. Jane Seymour had only one child before her death, but that healthy firstborn also is consistent with a Kell positive father. Several of Henry's male maternal relatives followed the Kell positive reproductive pattern.
"We have traced the possible transmission of the Kell positive gene from Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the king's maternal great-grandmother," the report explains. "The pattern of reproductive failure among Jacquetta's male descendants, while the females were generally reproductively successful, suggests the genetic presence of the Kell phenotype within the family."