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I missed this the other day. June 11th is the date my wife and I were married and it is also the date that Catherine of Aragon married King Henry VIII of England in 1509.

This portrait is either Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) or an unknown English noble woman.

Henry VII planned to marry Arthur to a daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon, in order to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France. It was suggested that the choice of marrying Arthur to Fernando and Isabella’s youngest daughter, Catherine (b. 1485), would be appropriate and suitable. The Treaty of Medina del Campo (March 27, 1489) provided that Arthur and Catherine would be married as soon as they reached canonical age. Since Arthur, not yet 14, was below the age of consent, a papal dispensation (i.e., waiver) allowing the marriage was issued in February 1497, and the pair were betrothed by proxy on August 25, 1497. Two years later, a marriage by proxy took place at Arthur’s Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley, near Worcester; Arthur said to Roderigo de Puebla, who had acted as proxy for Catherine, that “he much rejoiced to contract the marriage because of his deep and sincere love for the Princess.”

One reason Catherine of Aragon was chosen was due to the English ancestry she inherited from her mother. England had recently completed a long dynastic struggle for the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII, as the new King who had a weak genealogical claim to the throne sought to strengthen his hold on the crown through marriage. First Henry married Elizabeth of York to unite the two warring branches of the English Royal House of Plantagenet. Secondly he also desired to grant a strong ally in Catholic Spain, who also had a claim to the English throne.

By means of her mother, Queen Isabella I of Castile, Catherine had a stronger legitimate claim to the English throne than even King Henry VII himself through the first two wives of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster: Blanche of Lancaster and Constance of Castile. In contrast, Henry VII was the descendant of Gaunt’s third marriage to Katherine Swynford, whose children were born out of wedlock and only legitimised after the death of Constance and the marriage of John to Katherine. The children of John and Katherine, while legitimised, were barred from inheriting the English throne, a stricture that was ignored in later generations.

Because of Henry’s descent through illegitimate children who were barred from succession to the English throne, the Tudor monarchy was not accepted by all European kingdoms. At the time, the Spanish House of Trastámara was the most prestigious in Europe, due to the rule of the Catholic Monarchs, so the alliance of Catherine and Arthur validated the House of Tudor in the eyes of European royalty and strengthened the Tudor claim to the English throne via Catherine of Aragon’s ancestry. It would have given a male heir an indisputable claim to the throne. The two were married by proxy on May 19, 1499 and corresponded in Latin until Arthur turned fifteen, when it was decided that they were old enough to be married.

Arthur, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.

On November 14, 1501, the marriage ceremony finally took place at Saint Paul’s Cathedral; both Arthur and Catherine wore white satin. The ceremony was conducted by Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was assisted by William Warham, Bishop of London. Following the ceremony, Arthur and Catherine left the Cathedral and headed for Baynard’s Castle, where they were entertained by “the best voiced children of the King’s chapel.

What followed was a bedding ceremony laid down by Arthur’s grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort: the bed was sprinkled with holy water, after which Catherine was led away from the wedding feast by her ladies-in-waiting. She was undressed, veiled and “reverently” laid in bed, while Arthur, “in his shirt, with a gown cast about him”, was escorted by his gentlemen into the bedchamber, while viols and tabors played. The Bishop of London blessed the bed and prayed for the marriage to be fruitful, after which the couple were left alone. This is the only public bedding of a royal couple recorded in Britain in the 16th century.

In March 1502, Arthur and Catherine were afflicted by an unknown illness, “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air.” While Catherine recovered, Arthur died on 2 April 1502 at Ludlow, six months short of his sixteenth birthday.

Arthur’s death thrust all his duties upon his younger brother, the 10 year old Henry, Duke of York. After a little debate, Henry became the new Duke of Cornwall in October 1502, and the new Prince of Walesand Earl of Chester in February 1503. Henry VII gave the boy few tasks. Young Henry was strictly supervised and did not appear in public. As a result, he ascended the throne “untrained in the exacting art of kingship”.

Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain, by offering his second son in marriage to Arthur’s widow Catherine. Both Isabella and Henry VII were keen on the idea, which had arisen very shortly after Arthur’s death. On June 23, 1503, a treaty was signed for their marriage, and they were betrothed two days later. A papal dispensation was only needed for the “impediment of public honesty” if the marriage had not been consummated as Catherine and her duenna claimed, but Henry VII and the Spanish ambassador set out instead to obtain a dispensation for “affinity”, which took account of the possibility of consummation. Cohabitation was not possible because Henry was too young.

Isabella’s death in 1504, and the ensuing problems of succession in Castile, complicated matters. Her father preferred Catherine to stay in England, but Henry VII’s relations with Fernando had deteriorated. Catherine was therefore left in limbo for some time, culminating in Prince Henry’s rejection of the marriage as soon he was able, at the age of 14. Ferdinand’s solution was to make his daughter ambassador, allowing her to stay in England indefinitely. Devout, she began to believe that it was God’s will that she marry the prince despite his opposition.

Henry VIII, King of England. Age 18 in 1509.

Henry VII died on April 21, 1509, and the 17-year-old Henry succeeded him as King Henry VIII. Henry would turn 18 on June 28. Soon after his father’s burial on May 10, Henry suddenly declared that he would indeed marry Catherine, leaving unresolved several issues concerning the papal dispensation and a missing part of the marriage dowry. The new king maintained that it had been his father’s dying wish that he marry Catherine. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I had been attempting to marry his granddaughter (and Catherine’s niece) Eleanor of Austria to Henry; she had now been jilted.

Henry’s wedding to Catherine was kept low-key and was held at the friar’s church in Greenwich on June 11, 1509. On June 23, 1509, Henry led the now 23-year-old Catherine from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation, which took place the following day. It was a grand affair: the king’s passage was lined with tapestries and laid with fine cloth. Following the ceremony, there was a grand banquet in Westminster Hall. As Catherine wrote to her father, “our time is spent in continuous festival”.