biography · english history · european history · history

The Strength of Queen Katherine

In this post, I wanted to focus on Queen Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. With all the focus on Anne Boleyn, Katherine is typically remembered for her struggles later in life. She is remembered as the old, unattractive, stubborn woman who was being replaced by her young and vivacious lady in waiting. In reality, Katherine of Aragon was an extremely strong woman, a very popular queen and a role model for many of her subjects. She was intelligent and educated. She was also loyal to a fault. She was born of Queen Isabella (who was the queen of Castile in her own right) and King Ferdinand. She was trained for queenship since she was a toddler and prepared entirely for her role as a leader. She was integral to the success at the Battle of Flodden. It is easy to see why she remained popular with England’s subjects even after the King had decided to put her aside.

Queen Isabella was ruler in her own right of the Kingdom of Castile (located in today’s modern Spain). Katherine’s mother was a good example of a powerful Christian ruler during the 15th/16th centuries. With her marriage to King Ferdinand of Aragon, Spain was united for the first time. The co-rulers were focused on boosting the power of Spain and they wanted to become the Catholic powerhouse in Europe. A lot of their reign was dedicated to the campaign of conquering more land and booting the “heretic” Moors (the Muslim population living in Spain) out of the kingdom. In modern eyes, this looks terrible as they viewed those of other religious faiths/backgrounds as inferior and intruders, but this is what they felt their duty was as good Christian subjects. Katherine grew up in this environment of war and strong Catholic values. Queen Isabella also ensured that all her children were well educated. This is out of care, but also likely to help the image of Spain and win advantageous marriages.

September 8, 1505 – Catherine of Aragon Writes to Her Father - Janet Wertman
Young Katherine of Aragon

Katherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur of England was arranged when they were both children. Henry VII was feeling insecure on the throne (remember, the Tudor dynasty was actually very new and Henry VII had taken the throne by force from Richard III and the former Plantagenet dynasty just some years earlier). If they could make an alliance with the strong and established Spanish kingdom, then this could boost their legitimacy. To Spain, they would be gaining an ally against France (the other Catholic powerhouse in Europe). Katherine of Aragon was said to be very beautiful. She had red-gold hair, fair skin, and exhibited a grace that was looked for in queens. She was raised always knowing she had a destiny to be Queen of England and she knew one day she would leave Spain (likely to not return).

Katherine and Arthur married as teenagers (Arthur was 15 and Katherine was 16) , but Arthur died within a year. Both Katherine and Arthur caught the same deadly sickness, but Katherine was the only survivor. The young widow was left stranded in a strange land with her destiny unclear. The alliance that was forged with their marriage also seemed almost dead in the water unless something could be done to mend it. Katherine likely expected to be sent back home, where her parents would be able to find a new husband for their young daughter. Yet, in England, Katherine had a bit more freedom. Those in the Spanish court were raised with a strict etiquette code, but rules were a bit more relaxed in England and the clothing more relaxed as well. Katherine, when she was queen, would have power in this society. Did she really want to leave and have to go back to her childhood home?

Negotiations started between Katherine’s family and Henry VII about possibly marrying his second son, Prince Henry (who was now the heir). Henry VIII in his younger years was fit, handsome, athletic, and charming (contrary to his later years, where injuries had left him almost immobile and a possible head injury may have affected his personality). He loved to hunt and excelled in tournaments. He would become extremely popular. There was a big question though, was Katherine’s marriage with Arthur consummated? This could cause issues with the legality of a new marriage with her former brother in law. If she did, then the pope would likely not approve the new marriage. Katherine was haunted by this question her whole life (especially when Henry VIII had tired of her), but she continued to claim that their marriage was never consummated. Even on her death bed, she still held firm. She was likely telling the truth as she was a god fearing woman and would likely not lie just before her death.

Prince Henry and Katherine already had created a bond. Henry looked up to Katherine in a way and, as he grew up, it seems Katherine fell in love herself. Henry turned to her for comfort and advice. When Katherine’s mother died though (during the negotiations), Spain was no longer united which gave Henry VII pause. Katherine was left in a limbo for years. During this time, she was treated extremely harshly by her former father in law. He cut her allowance during these “negotiations” which left her in a very difficult situation. She no longer had money for food, for new clothing, or to pay her ladies who came with her from Spain. She led a difficult life during this time and had to go into debt in order just to feed herself/her household and obtain the basic necessities. Even her father ignored her letters. She was left on an island while the men debated the fate of her life. She could not even go and experience freedom at the English court, instead she was basically a prisoner. Yet, she persevered through this knowing that she still had a destiny. She was born to be a leader. She wrote frankly to her father about her situation. She worked hard to try to get the necessities that she and her household needed. It was not just about her. In 1507, her father actually appointed Katherine as his ambassador to England. She was the first female ambassador in European history! Her father through their correspondence believed in his intelligent daughter to act in his stead. Finally, her position in the English court was raised and she would not get pushed around by Henry VII’s continued attempts at manipulating her. Through this experience, she gained more knowledge of the ways of politics and showed her strength as a leader. It is easy to see why young Prince Henry greatly respected her early in their relationship.

As she continued to wait for a decision on her fate, she continued to be treated harshly. This lead to fighting within her household, money troubles, depression, and bouts of sickness. It was not until Henry VII’s deathbed that he gave permission for Katherine and Henry VIII to finally be free to wed.

A very young Henry VIII, shortly after his coronation

There was a five year age gap between the two. Katherine was 23 years old (old for an unmarried woman in 16th century standards) and Henry was 18. The new King and Queen seemed to be bringing the onset of a golden age. A new Camelot was awakened for the populace. Both of their rulers were very young and beautiful, they seemed very much in love, and the court was always active in showing off their wealth with dazzling pageants, parties, etc. Queen Katherine took a great interest in education and was an avid reader of the Scriptures and philosophy. She would help to financially support universities. She worked hard to learn English (which had been difficult for her at first) and was very pious. She went to mass daily which was a source of strength for her. She was the model Queen of the era.

Early on, Katherine of Aragon was very involved in matters of state and would often give advice to the King. Henry VIII would insist that Katherine be involved and he needed her opinion on matters first before decision was made. Naturally, Katherine used this power to bolster the Spanish interests (basically an anti-France policy). Henry VIII wanted her approval on his actions which shows his admiration of her. In 1513, Henry VIII took his army on campaign to France and leaves Queen Katherine as regent in his stead. There have been some examples of Queens taking the regency while their husbands were away, but not many. This really showed the trust that Henry VIII had in his wife.

Within a month of Katherine’s regency, James IV of Scotland declared war and invaded England. The Scots saw their chance with an absent King and army. This was her chance to really show her leadership. Katherine took a very active role in the preparations to defend her adopted nation. It seems from some of the letters that Katherine enjoyed and relished the challenge she was faced with. The Queen, with her councilors, mobilized troops to form a defense force, she contacted local governments to determine how many men and horses would be provided, and provided strict deadlines. Their country was being invaded and there was no time to waste. She took control of the financial aspect. She (likely with the help of councilors) calculated and provided the proper funding for supplies, artillery, etc. This may not seem so shocking to the modern eye, but at the time this was very unusual for a woman to be so involved in the male dominated arena. Yet, Katherine had the example of her mother who took great part in the wars in Spain. Did she think of her mother at this time and use her example for her own leadership?

Queen Katherine did not just do the bare minimum in this case either. She even left the safety of London and rode north behind her troops. She brought with her over 1500 sets of armor. She kept the spirits of her men high and gave a rousing speech to the reserve army. She likely reminded them that they were to defend their nation and that the English strength and courage was superior to all. Though the reserve army never did have to actually fight. The main force quickly defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden. King James IV himself was killed in action. This was a great victory for England and for Queen Katherine who was the acting regent. She sent a piece of the James IV’s bloody surcoat to her husband in France (she actually wanted to send James IV’s head, but that was not possible). She wrote proudly to King Henry regarding the English victory. Katherine was born into a world where she grew up seeing women heavily involved in battles, so this was finally her chance to take up where her mother left off. Despite being a “model” type Queen of the era, Katherine was not meek or a coward. She was strong and would not accept defeat. Even later in life, when she faces one of the most difficult battles of her life, she would not go down without a fight. Katherine was already popular with the people before this, but her success as regent likely cemented it even more.

The Spanish Princess': Why the Story of Catherine of Aragon at Flodden  Matters | Telly Visions
Interpretation of the Battle of Flodden by Starz’s series, The Spanish Princess. Quite a few liberties were taken with regards to historical accuracy, but her passion and spirit are illustrated here.

Katherine of Aragon biggest failure ( in the eyes of the contemporary court ) was her “inability” to give birth to a son. In 1511, Katherine did give birth to a son, Prince Henry, who died just days later. She would go on to have (estimated) about 6+ pregnancies in a very short amount of time. Only one living child resulted, the Princess Mary. This took a huge toll on Katherine physically and mentally. She proved to be a very devoted mother to Princess Mary and one can only imagine how painful it must have been to lose more potential children.

Mary Tudor - Death, Facts & Husband - Biography
Young Princess Mary

Even worse, it also caused the King’s displeasure. This caused Katherine great stress that induced sickness. She turned to religion more and more during this time, even fasting to the extreme (which likely did not help with her pregnancies either). To our modern eyes sometimes it is difficult to understand Henry’s obsession with having a son. Yet, as stated earlier, it is easy to forget that the Tudor dynasty was still very new. His own father had just conquered and taken the throne from the previous dynasty (who still had supporters out there). A son was crucial to secure this dynasty his father began. Henry began to turn to his advisor Cardinal Wolsey more and more. Katherine’s father also betrayed England and Henry began to look more towards a French alliance. All of these matters combined marked the end of Katherines up close involvement in government. Despite these setbacks, Katherine still maintained the decorum of the Queen, she was always loyal and kept her head held high.

Catherine of Aragon - Wikipedia
Later Queen Katherine

By the time Anne Boleyn came around, the Queen had aged rapidly. The stress of her daily life and the multiple pregnancies took a toll on her looks. She stood in great contrast to the young King just hitting the prime of his life. Yet, Katherine continuously held the popular favor with the people. Anne Boleyn was never really liked by the people of England. This is evident in her own coronation where the onlookers looked on in complete and eerie silence or when she was attacked by a mob of angry women. Queen Katherine looked and behaved how the ideal medieval monarch should be. She was respected and she was a role model. Despite being bullied and threatened to abdicate her position, go into a nunnery, or “tell the truth” of her wedding night, she always maintained that she was Henry’s true wife and the true Queen of England. She was born for this and no one was going to take this away from her. To her, Anne Boleyn was nothing. Even when Henry “annulled” his marriage and broke from the Catholic Church of Rome she would not accept it. As a result, she was treated terribly and was banished to homes with minimal staff. She was barred (even at her deathbed) from seeing her only daughter, Mary. That had to have been so upsetting and so depressing that likely any person would have just stepped down. Yet, even on her deathbed (she likely died of cancer) she still declared she was Henry’s true wife and the true queen. She did always believe that Henry would come back to her. Despite the abuse she faced from him and the poverty she was subjected to yet again, she always showed the utmost respect to the King.

Through the Tudor obsession in the media, Katherine is always looked at as the dowdy old woman who was set aside. Yet, she was actually much different than that. She had an inner strength, determination, and leadership skills that made her stand out as Queen.

Sources:

Weir, Alison. Six Wives of Henry VIII

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-catherine-aragon-led-englands-armies-victory-over-scotland-180975982/

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol1/pp997-1012

https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Flodden

https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/battle-flodden-battlefield-scotland-scottish-invasion-guide-facts-dates/

https://heroinecentral.wordpress.com/tag/battle-of-flodden-field/

biography · english history · history · Scottish History

Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)

Part One ( The Great Cause (Part 1) )

Part Two ( William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2) )

In 1297, the Robert the Bruce was 22 years old. In part 1 of this series, his grandfather (also named Robert Bruce) was one of the contenders for the Scottish throne but lost to John Balliol. The Bruce family was still one of the most powerful Scottish families and were determined to see their claim to the throne fulfilled. They sided with Edward I when the first rebellions broke out.  This was because they refused to back their rival John Balliol and hoped others would support their claim. Now, the young Robert Bruce, against the wishes of his father, decided to join the Wallace’s rebellion in 1297. In 1298, Bruce was named Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn (the nephew of John Balliol), was also named co-Guardian. The men disliked each other and again were beginning to split into factions, just like their previous relations. Yet, despite these factions, in 1302 Edward received oaths of allegiance from all parties. Was young Robert the Bruce going to honor this oath?

Continue reading “Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)”

biography · english history · european history · history · Scottish History

William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)

In part one of this series (The Great Cause (Part 1)), Edward I had forced the Scottish nobles and their King to swear an oath of allegiance to him as their “overlord”. As he believed he had finally subjugated Scotland, the English king attended to affairs in other parts of his kingdom. After the betrayal of John Balliol and a failed rebellion, Edward I completely occupied Scotland. He sent soldiers to ensure his rule would continue. The people of Scotland were taken advantage of and abused under this military occupation. Scotland needed a new champion to take up their cause for freedom. Their nobles had failed them with their infighting and military defeats, so it was time for one of their own to pick up his sword.

William Wallace’s background is hazy and was thought to be the son of a minor feudal lord in Renfrewshire or Ayrshire. He seems to have grown up with military training which contributed to his later success. He was a very tall man . He was over six feet when the average male height was about 5’6” (though this physical characteristic was highly exaggerated in legends). Walter Bower (author of  the Scotichronicon) describes him as having “a certain good humour, had so blessed his words and deeds with a certain heavenly gift, that…he won over to himself the grace and favour of the hearts of all loyal Scots.” Bower also described him as “fair in his judgments”, compassionate, patient, and a skilled orator. Yet, English sources would describe him as “a vagrant and a fugitive”, a “bloody man”, and “a chief of brigands” (Morris, pg 303).

Continue reading “William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)”

english history · european history · history · Scottish History

The Great Cause (Part 1)

This month I was supposed to be travelling to Scotland with one of my best friends. Scotland has been a dream trip of mine for a while, but it seems 2020 had other plans for me and so many others in similar situations. I hope to re-schedule, but, in the meantime, I would love to share some Scottish history in a new three-part series. This series will focus on the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1328). This was a time that was filled with fascinating characters, intriguing military battles, and cunning tactics. On the English side, we have Edward I, “The Hammer of the Scots”. Edward was one of the strongest monarchs in English history, but also has a reputation of being a tyrant. Later, his weaker son, Edward II, will struggle to carry on his father’s legacy. There are some familiar names on the Scottish side such as: William Wallace and the legendary King Robert the Bruce. Along the way there will be a sprinkling of minor characters, including a brilliant sneaky re-capture of Edinburgh by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. I am greatly looking forward to this series and I hope it will provide an interesting read!

The Lothians - East, West & Midlothian | VisitScotland
A photo of Edinburgh, which was our travel destination (https://www.visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/edinburgh-lothians/)

In 1286, Alexander III of Scotland died and ended what had been considered a golden age of the Scottish kingdom. At 45 years old, King Alexander decided to risk it all and take a dangerous ride through a stormy night in order to spend the night with his new young bride of twenty-two years old. The next morning, he was found dead at the rocks at the bottom of a cliff. It was a disaster for Scotland as Alexander III had survived all his children and his new young wife had not yet produced an heir. With the throne up for grabs, powerful factions began to form which threatened the stability that had been a constant in the prior Kings reign. The main players were John de Balliol and Robert Bruce (senior, his grandson will become the more famous Bruce). Rebellion and civil war threatened Scotland due to the succession crisis and infighting between the two factions.

Continue reading “The Great Cause (Part 1)”

biography · english history · european history · history

Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In this post I wanted to highlight a new book by author and historian, Hallie Rubenhold. The Five is a history that involves the now infamous story of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer that terrorized Victorian London. In the modern area, it seems his killing spree has almost been glorified through the media and tourist attractions. It is all about Jack the Ripper, his mysterious identity, and his modus operendi. His victims are only remembered as “prostitutes”, but can any of us even recite their names?

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Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall

The final season of the popular show Game of Thrones is almost upon us, but much of the world that George R.R. Martin created was inspired by true events. This would include Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. These walls were the boundary of the known world for the Romans during the second century. Just as fan favorite, Jon Snow, looked out into the great unknown from atop the icy Wall, it would have been just as intimidating for the Romans who looked over these historical walls at the expanse of Scotland. They were at the edge of their known world, which could have been very intimidating. So, while there may not have been white walkers, to the Romans, there could have been anything.

Image result for the wall game of thrones
The Wall from HBO’s Game of Thrones

With this post I wanted to pay more attention to the lesser known Antonine Wall rather than the more established Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall was the furthest point that the Roman empire stretched into Britannia. It was only manned for about twenty five years before the wall was abandoned. The wall cut modern Scotland in half as it crossed the land between Clyde to Forth (about 37 miles long). It was made mostly out of layers of turf rather than stone (like Hadrian’s) with a deep ditch that ran along with it. Forts would have been laid out along the wall, including Rough Castle, which would hold the 7,000 men that would have been stationed there. There would have also been a military service road that connected those at the wall with the rest of the empire in Britain. Continue reading “Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall”

biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

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english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

Image result for all together now statue
“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

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english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

Continue reading “Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?”

biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

Image result for testament of youth real
Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

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