Friday, August 26, 2016

Coincidentally: Katherine of Aragon's Grave

When two stories about Katherine of Aragon's grave at Peterborough Cathedral appear in my in-box, I just can't ignore the coincidence:

K.V. Turley writes about a journey to visit her grave and pray for her in Crisis Magazine, beginning with the circumstances of her death, including Henry VIII's refusal to let the Princess Mary see her mother one last time:

By December 1535, she lay dying. Banished from the Royal Court, she was at Kimbolton Castle with a few faithful attendants. As the end drew near, the king continued to refuse her pleas that she might see their daughter, Mary. Suffering was all this queen was to know, and, indeed, had known for many years; those final few years were to prove bitter fare indeed for Katherine. She had watched a younger woman, Anne Boleyn, bewitch her husband and then covet Katherine’s royal title. Nevertheless, not for a moment did Katherine countenance divorce, nor would she have any part in the theological games Henry played in his attempt to salve a guilty conscience. Throughout it all, she saw his predicament not as a constitutional one but as a moral one.

This was no ordinary woman. It is sometimes forgotten that Katherine was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Like her mother, she was Catholic first, a monarch second, understanding her life and vocation in that order. Her faith was to be no pragmatic political piety; under her royal robes she wore the garb of the Third Order of St. Francis. Each day her religious devotions took many hours; a rosary was never far from her hands. Even in the forlorn days of exile from Henry’s court, she prayed earnestly for her husband.

At the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, Linda Fetterley Root describes the graves of the first three of Henry VIII's wives, starting with Katherine's:

On the morning of her death, Henry VIII’s discarded wife dictated two letters, one to her kinsman The Holy Roman Emperor, and the other, to the husband who had put her aside. It is not the scornful lament to which she was entitled and which the king deserved. In it, she wishes him well and requests Henry to extend benevolence toward their daughter and generosity to her servants. But it ends as the last letter written by a lover: 'Lastly, I make this vow. That mine eyes desire you above all things.’

When the king heard of her death, he donned clothes of celebratory yellow and frolicked the night away. He was not dancing with his wife, Queen Anne, for whom he had all but moved mountains to marry. He had already tired of her.

And thus, the daughter of the legendary lovers Ferdinand and Isabella was taken to the nearby Abbey of Peterborough and interred in the choir aisle to the north of the altar, with no more pomp than due a Dowager Princess of Wales, the title to which she had been demoted. She was put to rest as Arthur’s wife, not Henry’s. Katharine died on January 2, 1536, and was buried 22 days later. A mere three months after that, on May 2, Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested, and 17 days later, she was dead. Four months and a week after Katharine's death, Lady Jane Seymour was Queen of England.[ii]

In his excellent biography Catherine of Aragon, written in 1941, Garrett Mattingly remarked that few of the hopes the Queen still held when she died had been realized.[iii] However, her burial site at Peterborough may well have been an incidental beneficiary of her death. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, achieved by a legislative scheme orchestrated by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541, Peterborough Abbey Church was confiscated but spared. By royal edict, Henry granted Letters Patent to Peterborough making it a Cathedral and named the former abbot as its bishop.[iv] Thus, Peterborough was appropriately Anglicanized. Some historians think it was spared because it housed the remains of a royal who had once been considered Queen of England. It is just as likely that Henry saw it as a potential source of revenue for the Crown.

May she rest in the Peace of Christ.

Image Credit: Released by author into Public Domain.

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