Saturday, January 7, 2017

Remembering Katherine of Aragon at Peterborough Cathedral

Katherine of Aragon died on January 7, 1536. Peterborough Cathedral hosts its annual Katherine of Aragon Festival at the end of January. Festival events include a Catholic Mass (I must say this is the only religious service Queen Katherine would recognize!), tours of the cathedral, and two lectures:

Character and Conscience: a Dynasty of Catholic Queens: The Katharine of Aragon Festival Lecture 2017 will be given by historian, author and broadcaster Dr Suzannah Lipscomb.

Katharine of Aragon was both daughter and mother to important queens-regnant, yet there is often too much focus on the biological functions of her role as queen-consort. This talk aims to re-evaluate Katharine instead as a spirited woman of integrity and faith, and to examine her in the context of the legacy of her mother, Isabella I of Spain, and to her daughter, Mary I of England.


Katharine and her Ambassadors: A talk by historian and author Lauren Mackay, at Peterborough Museum

Perceptions of Henry's first queen are often influenced by his Great Matter, but Katharine of Aragon’s relationships with her ambassadors, recorded in their numerous reports, reveal the true Katharine - her wit, vulnerability, and passionate nature. This talk will explore the Tudor queen through the eyes of these ambassadors – men whose reports are often overlooked, but who offer insights into lesser known elements of her character.

In my short stack of books to review is Amy License's Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife from Amberley Publishing:

Catherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII's first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry's elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry's true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman. However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility meant life or death. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. One of the most remarkable women of the Tudor era, Catherine’s legendary focus may have contributed to the dissolution of the way of life she typified.

It seems that both of the scholars speaking later this month at Peterborough are following License's lead: think of Katherine/Catherine of Aragon as something more than a woman who failed to bear a son who survived infancy:

Catherine is principally remembered in the twenty-first century as the wife that Henry divorced. This is misleading, as it casts her in the role of a victim, a poor tragic woman who failed to produce a son and was set aside for a younger model. Yet Catherine was so much more than this. She was a humanist queen, a figure of erudition, with a Spanish inheritance of learning, crusading and exploring. She was perhaps even more educated and intelligent than Henry himself, who was eulogised across Europe in his early reign as a perfect model of scholarly kingship. Erasmus certainly believed her to be more than the king’s match. She was a warrior, a crusader, a scholar and a patron, the daughter of the most famous marriage in the early modern world, coming from the largest, most evolving empire, in the name of which her parents had fought cultural and religious campaigns against heresy. She had been her father’s ambassador, her husband’s adviser and her country’s regent at the time when England won its greatest victory over the Scots. She was the figurehead of worship, a role model of piety, an archetype of beauty, the symbol of an Anglo-Spanish union that reconnected two branches of the ancient Lancastrian bloodline. Catherine was all this. Yet she is remembered today for the one thing she did not do: bear a son that survived to adulthood.

May she rest in the peace of Christ. May her soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

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