Boy Meets Girl: Katharine of Aragon and Arthur Tudor

by Heather R. Darsie

On 4 November 1501, a fifteen-year-old girl made her entrance into England to marry the fifteen-year-old prince of that kingdom. Their parents, especially the boy’s, hoped that the dynastic marriage would secure the future of their family on the throne. Much excitement surrounded the safe arrival of Katharine of Aragon from Spain to England. She and her husband-to-be, Arthur Tudor, were engaged years before and spent their time exchanging letters in Latin, the only common language they shared.

Queen Catherine (of Aragon), British (English) School, 16th century.Similar versions are at: the National Portrait Gallery (163), Merton College, Oxford (ex-Northwick Park), National Museums of Wales and the Museum of Art, Boston.

The anonymous author of, “The Receyt of the Ladie Kateryne”, or “The Reception of Lady Katharine”, gives one of the main primary accounts of the first interactions between Katharine of Aragon, Henry VII, and Arthur Tudor. The author is thought to be someone who was part of Henry VII‘s household, but is otherwise unknown. The author tells us (in English modernised by me) that:

“Then as soon as this glad entry of the lady [Katharine of Aragon] was known… to the estates and [nobles]…with all goodly manner and haste [they] sped themselves with right honourable gifts to repair to that noble princess. And there they goodly with all required points and features of courtesy saluted and welcomed her…with their pleasures, presents, and there attendance, … and guiding to the said princess into the further entrance of the Realm of England toward… the ancient City of London, where at the time the King’s noble Grace was lodged and abiding.”

Portrait of Katharine of Aragon c. 1502 by Michael Sittow

After Katharine’s difficult journey by sea from Spain to England, there was a collective feeling of joy and relief that she arrived in one piece. After arriving, being conducted to London, and refreshing herself, Katharine met her new father-in-law,

“Notwithstanding, His Highness and Grace [Henry VII] was not so intensely satisfied with the cheer, service, and diligent attention of his said subjects… but bounteously let himself with a seemly company of his estates, to be the 4th day of November [1501] removed from his manor of Richmond towards the meeting of this goodly lady [Katharine of Aragon]… the day right spent, so late were horsed at their said remove, the silence full hastily did them approach, that they [Henry VII and his entourage] were compelled by convenience at Chartsey, not very far from the said manor of Richmond, to purvey…for their reposing that night.”

Portrait of Henry VII c. 1505 by Anonymous

By the time Katharine was conducted close enough to London, the day was too far gone for Henry VII to meet and receive her. The waited until the next day, when Henry VII and Arthur went to Easthampstead. The king and prince were well-received there. Henry and Arthur stayed there all day, Henry setting out final arrangements regarding Katharine.

On the next day, 6 November, Henry and the Proto-Notary of Spain met. The Proto-Notary told Henry that,

“they had received by straight injunction and commandment of their Sovereign Lord… that they should in no manner-wise permit nor suffer their Lady and Princess of Spain… to have any meeting, nor use any manner of communication…unto the inception of the very day of the solemnization of the marriage. Whereupon after certain musing of this mind of the King of Spain… the King’s Grace of our Realm of England let all them that were of his…council to be in that matter advertised how they thought most reasonable and agreeable, either to incline to this [the King of Spain’s] declared purpose, or has he [Henry VII] intended to that lady he should maintain his passage.”

Upon meeting with the Spanish representative, Henry VII was told that King Ferdinand of Aragon did not want Katharine and Arthur to meet until they were at the marriage altar. Henry VII humored this for a time, then put it to his council to decide whether to follow Spain’s wishes or Henry’s. Needless to say, Henry’s wishes won out.

Portrait of Arthur, Prince of Wales c. 1500 by Anonymous

After making their choice, Henry VII left Arthur behind and headed toward Katharine’s lodgings. He went to Dogmersfeld, where Katharine had arrived a couple hours earlier. Katharine was, “right well accompanied and right richly seen, so as heretofore have been seen none like her…” Katharine was abed at this point, likely worn out from her journey. Henry was told of this, and Henry,

“answered in such form, that if she were in her bed, he would see and commune with her, for that was the mind and intent of his coming. And thus convenient leisure to her respite, she gave him an honourable meeting in her third chamber, where were perused the most goodly words and uttered of the languages of both parties to as great joy and gladness as in any persons might ever…had.”

Henry was impressed enough with the young princess. Henry changed out of his riding clothes. About an hour later, it was known that Prince Arthur was very close. Once Arthur arrived,

“[Henry and Arthur] made their second resort together to the chamber of the princess, and there through the interpretation of bishops the speech of both countries by the means of Latin were understood.”

Effectively, both parties tried to speak in Latin with each other, but their pronunciations were too different. Katharine’s bishop translated with Henry and Arthur’s bishop. After this first meeting, Henry went away to enjoy his supper. It seems that Arthur left Katharine when Henry did, and likely ate with Henry. Next, Henry and,

“the Lord Prince [Arthur] visited the lady [Katharine] in her own chamber. And then she and her ladies let call their minstrels, and with right goodly behaviour and manner they solaced themselves with the disport of dancing, and afterward the Lord Prince in like demeanor with Lady Guilford [Elizabeth Grey, 6th Baroness Lisle] danced right pleasant and honorably.”

All in all, the first meeting of Henry VII and Arthur Tudor with Katharine of Aragon went swimmingly. Traditionally, it is given that the date of the first meeting between Katharine and Arthur took place on 4 November 1501, but it appears from at least this primary source that it did not occur until 6 November. Either way, the two got on fine and were able to enjoy each other’s company.

Sources and Suggested Reading

  1. Kipling, Gordon, ed. The Receyt of the Ladie Kateryne. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1990).

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