Marital woes. The youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragon was betrothed to Arthur, son of Henry VII of England by the age of three and married him on 14 November 1501. Less than six months later, Arthur was dead. Now a widow, Catherine was still young enough to marry again. Henry VII was interested in keeping Catherine's dowry so fourteen months after her husband's death she was betrothed to the much more robust and healthy son of Henry VII: the future Henry VIII. The two married and Catherine was finally crowned Queen of England in a joint coronation ceremony with her husband Henry VIII on 24 June 1509. After giving birth to a stillborn daughter, then a boy who died after only fifty-two days, a miscarriage, and another short-lived son, Catherine finally gave birth to a healthy daughter, Mary. At least two more failed pregnancies followed. Frustrated by his lack of a male heir, Henry VIII remained a devoted husband. Yet, by 1526 he began to separate from Catherine for he had fallen in love with one of her ladies: Anne Boleyn. When his interest in Anne Boleyn became common knowledge, Catherine was forty-two years old and she was no longer able to conceive. Henry's main goal now was to produce a male heir, something his wife could not do. According to Leviticus, if a man takes his brother's wife, they shall be childless. Henry read the texts of Leviticus and though far from childless (he had one living daughter), the King began to petition Pope Clement VII for an annulment in the hope of producing the male heir he so desperately wanted and needed. The political and legal debate continued for six years. Catherine sought not only to retain her position, but also that of her daughter. The situation came to a head in 1533 when Anne Boleyn became pregnant. In desperation, Henry rejected the power of the Pope in England and had Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, grant the annulment. Catherine and her daughter were separated and she was forced to leave court. She lived for the next three years in castles and manors, one of them being Buckden Palace where she writes the present letter.
A letter of remarkable historical importance. Catherine complains of the irresolution of Pope Clement VII in coming to a decision in regard to the validity of her marriage to Henry VIII. Deploring Henry's challenge to papal authority, Catherine entreats the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to aid her to obtain justice and to save her and her daughter, Mary, from their wretched lives in captivity. A virtual prisoner at Buckden Palace, Catherine clearly articulates her great distress: " . . . considering what has, and is taking place respecting the said delay, and perceiving that neither the daily offenses made to God here—which go on the increase—nor my own continual complaints, nor the power of Your Highness are sufficient to induce His Holiness to do [me] justice--for I ask nothing more of him--I was most determined not to trouble Your Majesty any more with my letters but entrust the declaration of the truth of my Justice to God, and accept this [situation] as a remedy for my troubles and a consolation for my life. Yet it seemed to me as if in so doing I should be tempting God, especially when I see that the sin, wherein the king, my Lord lives, brings about other sins every hour, as it would appear from the attempt they have lately made, without fear of God, and to the great scandal of all Christendom, against the authority of the Holy See . . ."
Catherine proceeds to describe the adverse conditions under which she and her daughter are living and her unwavering faith: " . . . there is no need for my relating to Your Highness the sufferings that I and my daughter undergo, as well in the treatment of our lives, as in the surprises and affronts which every day the King's Council puts upon us, for our troubles are matters of universal notoriety, and, indeed, if we did not fortify ourselves with God's help, and by looking upon our sufferings as undergone for His sake; if all the Merciful did not help us throughout, the burden would be insupportable . However, as I consider that my purgatory and my daughter's is in this world, we are both doing what we can in defense of our rights . . . ."
Catherine closes her lengthy letter by imploring Charles for his help and support: " . . .I humbly beseech your Majesty, if the charity hitherto shown to me and my daughter has been somewhat cold that it be warmer in the future, for even if were we not both unified in blood and relationship to each other, it would be Your Majesty's duty to help persons so much oppressed and in such necessity . . . ."
Catherine's pleas to her nephew fell upon attentive ears, for a month after this letter was written Pope Clement VII pronounced Catherine's marriage with Henry to be valid. The English parliament, however, had already declared Anne Boleyn Queen of England in Catherine's stead.
Autograph letters by Catherine of Aragon are of the utmost rarity and seldom found at auction. Only the present letter and one other by Catherine of Aragon have been sold since 1975.
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