LEANDA DE LISLE
CATHERINE OF ARAGON: HENRY’S SPANISH QUEEN
By Giles Tremlett (Faber & Faber 458pp £20)
A ROYAL PASSION: THE TURBULENT MARRIAGE
OF CHARLES I AND HENRIETTA MARIA
By Katie Whitaker (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 363pp £20)
HENRY VIII BOASTED to ambassadors of his vivacious eighteen-month-old daughter Mary, ‘this child never cries’. The affectionate father was at the same time also a loving husband to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon. When that changed so did the child, and there were tears aplenty, as well as a legacy of blood and fire.
son was all about his codpiece, and what lay behind it, rather than the Tudor succession and national stability. A male heir from his own loins was a symbol of his manhood, and when Catherine passed childbearing age without giving him one, he was determined to have their marriage annulled. He insisted that he had broken a biblical injunction in marrying his brother’s wife, and that the papal dispensation was invalid. Henry did not approve of divorce and would never do so.
Tremlett’s account of the subsequent battle of wills between the spouses is gripping. Catherine emerges as an extraordinary character, well deserving of a fulllength biography. There is something fascinating and chilling in the detail that even as Henry humiliated Catherine and moved to have their daughter made a bastard, she was always seen smiling and was exquisitely polite to Henry. They would dine together, and at times he even visited her private rooms. With formidable discipline she continued to show him the comfortable familiarity of the affectionate partnership they had once enjoyed, while absolutely refusing to give him the annulment he wanted. In this she had public support.
Henry’s mistress Anne Boleyn was the Camilla Parker
Giles Tremlett’s book is the first full-length biography of Catherine in forty years. Tremlett lives in Spain, where he works as a journalist for The Guardian, and had immediate access to Spanish sources. He paints an engaging portrait of Catherine’s early life in Granada before she was packed off to England to marry Arthur Tudor. Named after a cuckold, Arthur proved a rather unsatisfactory husband. He died, possibly of TB, after only a few weeks of marriage. According to Catherine, they had slept in the same bed no more than seven times, and never had sexual intercourse. Few Englishmen, however, were inclined to see their prince cast in so feeble a light. It was thought that women were by nature more highly sexed than men, and they preferred to believe Arthur had died after having exhausted himself trying to satisfy Catherine’s insatiable lust. When a papal dispensation was sought for the widowed Catherine to marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, it was thought sensible in the Vatican to appease both the Spanish and the English. It was granted on the stated assumption that the first marriage ‘may’ have been consummated. Many years of happy marriage to Henry followed, more than he would enjoy with any of his subsequent wives. But Catherine failed to give Henry the healthy son he wanted. Contrary to myth, the king had male heirs (his nephews). As Anne Boleyn’s biographer Eric Ives once observed to me, with Henry the desire for a
Bowles to Catherine’s People’s Princess. Women in particular were vociferous in their hatred of ‘that goggle eyed whore’. Catherine claimed that Henry knew full well she had been a virgin when she married him, and whatever the talk of the king’s party at court, with their reminiscences of Arthur the groom and his ‘erect and inflamed member’, the English people continued to regard Catherine as their rightful queen. For six years Anne Boleyn was forced to remain always the betrothed, and never the bride. But the farce, and the spats, descended eventually into tragedy.
Possible portrait of Catherine of Aragon, c 1496
Tremlett movingly describes how, as Henry seized absolute power over Church and State, those who opposed him were murdered and martyred. Today, the walls of the Charterhouse in Granada are lined with full-length portraits of the Carthusian monks executed by the king.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently observed that without the prayers these men had offered the king, Henry VIII would surely be in hell. Catherine blamed herself for such deaths. But she died less distressed about the creation of martyrs than fearful that she had driven her husband and his subjects into what she regarded as heresy.
A century later the line of Henry VIII was extinct and the wife of Charles I, the French princess Henrietta Maria, was not enjoying a jot of Catherine’s popularity. As Katie Whitaker’s A Royal Passion describes, the fact
LITERARY REVIEW November 2010