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Infanta Catherine of Aragon (December 16, 1485 – January 7, 1536) was Queen of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII from their marriage on June 11, 1509 until their annulment on May 23, 1533. She was previously Princess of Wales as the wife of Henry’s elder brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales.

The daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Fernando II of Aragon, Infanta Catherine was three years old when she was betrothed to Prince Arthur, heir apparent to the English throne.

Infanta Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England

They married in 1501, but Arthur died five months later. Catherine spent years in limbo, and during this time, she held the position of ambassador of the Aragonese crown to England in 1507, the first known female ambassador in European history.

She married Arthur’s younger brother, the recently ascended King Henry VIII, in 1509. For six months in 1513, she served as regent of England while Henry VIII was in France. During that time the English crushed and defeated a Scottish invasion at the Battle of Flodden, an event in which Catherine played an important part with an emotional speech about English courage and patriotism.

By 1525, Henry VIII was infatuated with Anne Boleyn and dissatisfied that his marriage to Catherine had produced no surviving sons, leaving their daughter Mary as heir presumptive at a time when there was no established precedent for a woman on the throne.

King Henry VIII sought to have their marriage annulled, setting in motion a chain of events that led to England’s schism with the Catholic Church. When Pope Clement VII refused to annul the marriage, Henry defied him by assuming supremacy over religious matters.

In 1533 their marriage was consequently declared invalid and Henry VIII married Anne on the judgement of clergy in England, without reference to the pope. Catherine refused to accept Henry as supreme head of the Church in England and considered herself the king’s rightful wife and Queen, attracting much popular sympathy.

Portrait by Juan de Flandes thought to be of 11-year-old Catherine. She resembles her sister Joanna of Castile.

Despite this, Henry acknowledged her only as dowager Princess of Wales. After being banished from court by Henry, Catherine lived out the remainder of her life at Kimbolton Castle, dying there in January 1536 of cancer. The English people held Queen Catherine in high esteem, and her death set off tremendous mourning. Her daughter Mary would become the first undisputed English Queen Regnant in 1553.

Catherine commissioned The Education of a Christian Woman by Juan Luis Vives, who dedicated the book, controversial at the time, to the Queen in 1523.

Portrait of a noblewoman, possibly Mary Tudor c. 1514 or Catherine of Aragon c. 1502, by Michael Sittow. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Such was Catherine’s impression on people that even her adversary Thomas Cromwell said of her, “If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History.”

She successfully appealed for the lives of the rebels involved in the Evil May Day, for the sake of their families, and also won widespread admiration by starting an extensive programme for the relief of the poor. Catherine was a patron of Renaissance humanism, and a friend of the great scholars Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More.