The History of The Spanish Princess: Katherine’s Road to the Crown

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Not so long ago, I was talking about how I was really impressed with The Spanish Princess and how well it dramatized events. I said that it altered ages and compressed events in the name of a good story, but that nothing about it had made my historian lizard brain need a stiff drink, a lie down or both. But I qualified it with: ‘I’m only halfway through season one. That might change.’ Well. It changed. I have now finished season one, and my lizard historian brain needs a stiff drink, a lie down or both. I’m going to have to write an entire piece I hadn’t planned on Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Dudley. But for now, we look at the protagonist Katherine of Aragon.

Having lost her husband, the Prince of Wales, only a few months into their marriage, Katherine was left in a rather lonely situation in England. In The Spanish Princess she and Prince Harry fall in love relatively quickly and agree to marry. But the path of true love doesn’t run so smoothly when all manner of issues arise including, but not limited to: Harry’s father wanting to marry her himself. Harry sleeping with her sister. Harry almost marrying her niece. And something about political instability in Spain.

Let’s begin.

Did Katherine of Aragon sleep with Arthur Tudor?

This is, and has been, one of the most contentious points in British history. The truth is that we don’t know and can never know what went on between a husband and wife in the privacy of their bedchamber. We’ve had the ‘King’s Great Matter’, a split with Rome and over five hundred years to reflect on the question, and we still are no closer to the truth than we’ve ever been.

Philippa Gregory believes they did which is shown in her books and The Spanish Princess. We are presented with a Katherine who found love with Arthur, consummated their marriage, and then denies it afterwards so that she can marry Prince Henry.

Historically, there is support for both sides. On one hand we have a couple, married for almost five months and put to bed publicly so duty could be seen to be done. They lived together and Arthur was conducted to Katherine’s chamber by his attendants. One the other, they were only married for five months. They were fifteen and sixteen and it was common in marriages made so young to wait on consummation. After all, what was the rush? Personally, I fall down on the ‘they probably didn’t’ side of the argument. Katherine would hardly have been considered damaged goods if she had lain with her husband and her personal devotion was reason enough to think that she wouldn’t lie about it.

In The Spanish Princess, much is made of the idea that if Katherine wasn’t a virgin then she couldn’t marry Henry. As his brother’s widow it’s presented as unthinkable but in truth, this really wasn’t an issue. Whether or not Katherine had slept with her young husband determined what her status was. The lands and money owed to her as Dowager Princess of Wales depended on the consummation of the marriage. Ironically, if Katherine had said that she had slept with Arthur then the following seven years in England would have been a great deal more comfortable for her.

As far as how it relates to Prince Henry though, the issue of consummation was a technicality required for the dispensation. While it wasn’t common for brothers and sisters to marry their in-laws after their died, it was hardly an unusual event in the sphere of international negotiations. The Tudors needed to know if Katherine had slept with Arthur to determine how far the marriage needed to be dispensed of by the Pope, rather than because it posed an impediment to her ever marrying the new Prince of Wales.

Did Henry VII propose to Katherine of Aragon?

There’s also no evidence to suggest that Henry VII was acting on Elizabeth of York’s dying wish

In The Spanish Princess Katherine attends a Tudor family banquet where she and Prince Harry expect King Henry to announce a betrothal. A betrothal he does indeed announce but it is a proposal to Katherine from himself. Escándalo! Katherine is shocked but cannot refuse. Harry is incensed and storms from the room. Henry VII goes on to woo Katherine until her mother writes to her saying she should be glad of such a proposal and tells her to marry the king.

This has little basis in reality. Henry VII didn’t propose to Katherine so publicly and we can assume that he did no such thing privately. Proposals of royal marriage were not a public declaration of affection between two parties. They were the result of treaties drawn up from months of negotiations. If Henry was to propose to her, it would have been done with her parents permission through the appropriate ambassadors, not at a banquet without her prior knowledge. As it happened, a rumour did reach Spain that Henry VII was planning on marrying Katherine himself. Even though it was just a rumour and there is no evidence of it circulating beyond this single instance. Regardless, Katherine’s parents were not impressed at the potential offer. Her father Ferdinand wrote in regards to the rumour:

“Speak of it as a thing not to be endured.”

King Ferdinand of Aragon – Calendar of Spanish Papers I

Did Henry Tudor sleep with Joana of Castile?

When it comes to questions like this, frequently we find ourselves saying ‘well, there’s no evidence that they didn’t sleep together so…’ but with regards to Joana of Castile and the future Henry VIII: No, they really didn’t.

Much is made of the differences between Henry and Arthur as youths, specifically with regards to their virility. There are suggestions that Henry was not a virgin before he married Katherine of Aragon but those suggestions don’t run as far as the idea of a fourteen year old Henry having sex with Katherine’s sister, the twenty-seven year old Queen of Castile.

At any rate, Juana was at court for only five days and there is no particular record of her meeting Henry. Her visit with her sister was curtailed by her husband, Philip and, before she had a chance to get comfortable at court, she was returned to her ships to await her husband. Needless to say, she did not follow all this up by writing to her father to claim that she and Henry had lain together, thus invalidating her sister’s potential marriage.

Did Henry Tudor want to marry Katherine of Aragon?

The focal plot of The Spanish Princess is the love story between Harry and Katherine. They’re young, in love, and look gorgeous together. They defy obstacles for each other and are rewarded when Harry becomes king and immediately vows to marry Katherine as they’d both hoped. The reality might be a little less intense but it was no less romantic.

Henry Tudor and Katherine were betrothed after Arthur’s death but kept separate and saw each other very little. The marriage was delayed and delayed by Henry VII, causing Katherine to slip increasingly into poverty. As Henry approached his fourteenth birthday and thus the age of consent, the age which he could actually marry, his father had him revoke his betrothal to Katherine. He was instead promised to Eleanor of Austria.

Henry VII died on the 21st April 1509 and within six weeks, Henry VIII had married Katherine. Many reasons have been put forward for this. Henry wrote once that it had been his father’s dying wish to honour his original betrothal. It may have been a convenient arrangement between the new king and his council, or Henry may have had genuine feelings for Katherine. Whether he was in love with her or not, there can be no doubt that Henry VIII actually wanted to marry Katherine and chose to do so himself. He had already repudiated his betrothal but now resumed it, and they were married at such speed that her father couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing turn of events.

A week after her marriage, Katherine and Henry were crowned at a joint coronation. By all accounts the two were described as being incredibly happy, and in what we can assume was an expression of genuine warmth towards each other, Katherine fell pregnant within the first few months of her marriage.

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