On This Day: Catherine of Aragon dies
January 7th, 1536: Catherine of Aragon, first of Henry VIII’s six wives, dies. It is said that Henry dressed all in yellow, with a white feathered cap, and hosted a celebratory banquet at Greenwich. The accounts of his exultant behaviour are probably exaggerated, but the King must have felt some relief at the news. A difficult episode in his life, and reign, had come to an end.
Before setting eyes on wife number two, Anne Boleyn, from 1527 onward Henry had been fretting the lack of a surviving male heir through his union with Catherine. His response was to seek the marriage’s annulment by arguing that the Queen’s previous marriage to Henry’s late brother, Arthur, broke divine law. Catherine resisted with stubborn dignity, maintaining that her first union had never been consummated and that she remained the rightful queen. She refused to accept Anne’s coronation, nor did Catherine accept her relegation to Dowager Princess of Wales.
Retaining public affection, for a time it may have seemed to Henry that she was a potential rallying point for his opponents. She would have made an unlikely rebel, however. The final months of her life were spent in Kimbolton Castle, where she confined herself to one room only leaving it to attend Mass. Henry permitted her to receive occasional visitors but forbade her from seeing her daughter Mary. Mother and ddaughter were also forbidden to communicate in writing, but sympathisers discreetly conveyed letters between the two. Henry offered both mother and daughter better quarters and permission to see each other if they would acknowledge Anne Boleyn as the new queen. Both refused.
Catherine died in Kimbolton Castle on January 7th, 1536 aged 50. She is buried in Peterborough Cathedral where it is not unusual to see pomegranates, a symbol from Catherine's coat of arms, laid on her grave. The Cathedral also commemorate Catherine’s death and burial each year with a special service and programme of events.