The marriage of a toddler and baby is arranged
Catherine of Aragon was barely two years old when her father Ferdinand of Aragon suggested a marriage between her and Prince Arthur. The prince was the eldest son of Henry V11 th of England and the boy, the current Prince of Wales , had not yet reached his first birthday.
In the following year, 1488, a commission was set up under Dr Roderigo Gonzalva de Puebla to negotiate the marriage details. King Henry, known for his financial economies and general reluctance to spend more than was necessary questioned the amount of the dowry. De Puebla responded by reminding the King of his less than stable position within the country and by brazengly referring to the recent civil war and Battle of Tewkesbury. He suggested that "it was surprising that Ferdinand and Isabela should dare to give their daughter at all". Henry swallowed these insults and the treaty of Medina Del Campo which followed in March 1989 found Spain and England united against the French, with Spain no longer a refuge for the Yorkist pretenders who threatened the English throne.
Catherine of AragonCredit: Michael Sittow (circa 1469(1469)-1525) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsCredit: Michael Sittow (circa 1469(1469)-1525) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The first bethrothal at Woodstock
Catherine was brought up with the idea of an English marriage yet there were many precedents where early arrangements did not end in marriage. The infant mortality rate was such that it was not uncommon for one or both parties to die before maturity.
In August 1498, Catherine, now aged eleven years was betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales at Woodstock in England. The bride did not attend, being represented by De Puebla. It was a solemn betrothal "per verba de proesenti" (one with immediate present effect) and Catherine was now Catherine, Princess of Wales.
Whilst negotiations over the payment of her dowry and the age that Catherine should come to England were taking place Catherine received letters from her soon to be mother in law which were full of advice to the young bride. She was advised to learn French so that she could speak the language at court and get used to drinking wine as the water in England was to quote the Queen "not drinkable".
Further Proxy marriages
The marriage of these two children took some time and involved a number of ceremonies although their first marriage was believed to be binding. On 19th May 1499 Prince Arthur, not yet fourteen years od declared that he would marry Catherine of Aragon, now Catherine, Prince of Wales. Again De Puebla stood in for Catherine and stories related that he put his leg in the marriage bed to symbolise a physical union between Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine.
Prince Arthur was permitted to write letters to Catherine in their common language, Latin. A further marriage took place after Prince Arthur's fourteenth birthday, again with De Puebla standing in for the bride. These were outward illustrations of love and ceremony whilst behind the scenes negotiations for the payment of the dowry and Catherine's arrival were taking place.
Catherine's family endured a number of tragedies during 1500- it was a very bad year for the family. Catherine's brother the Infante Juan died which affected his mother badly and left the Kingdom without a male heir. Catherine's sister Isabel named after her mother Isabella and now Queen of Portugal, died giving birth to a son Miguel who died shortly after his mother. Catherine's elder sister was sent to Portugal to marry her brother-in-law so it was in the summer of 1501 that Catherine tried to put all this bad news behind her and sail to England and her husband.
Catherine's journey was not comfortable at all- crossing Spain she suffered from many indisposition which may have been fu ike symptoms or simply depression a teenager who had lost the company of her family and was moving to a strange land for ever. The voyage to England was eventful, a violent storm blew up and the ships were forced to return to Spain. Catherine finally arrived in England on 2nd October 1501, landing at Plymouth Sound in Devon.
Catherine's arrival and final marriage in England
On her arrival Catherine was greeted by the King and Prince of Wales who found her to be a short girl with a fair complexion and "pleasing shaped opal face". Prince Arthur, although now aged fifteen was even shorter than his wife with delicate child like features and a "worrying pallor".
Catherine of Aragon's arrival in London on 2nd November 1501 was welcomed by spectacular pageantry that had been organised and rehearsed over the previous two years. The marriage took place two days after at St. Paul's with Catherine escorted up the Aisle of the church by her husbands younger brother, Henry, Duke of York.
The wedding banquet saw Catherine seated at the right hand side of her father in law but her husband sat at the children's table with his younger brother and two sisters. This was seen as a deliberate demonstration that the marriage was not yet to be consummated.
The ceremony of the Wedding Night
The ceremony of the wedding night then took place. The young couple were put to bed by their attendants and left there together until morning. It is highly unlikely that the marriage was consummated, Catherine always maintained that this had not happened and King Henry V111th was reported as saying that she was chaste when she married him. It is likely that any physical contact would have been allowed the attendants were placed outside their room to spy and report and throughout their marriage they shared a bed on only a few occasions. The court would not have wished to risk the health of the young Queen by early child-birth- they required a strong young woman who could produce many strong mae heirs rather than a child destroyed by early child birth.
A bride and a widow
After the marriage Catherine accompanied her husband to Ludlow Castle. The couple arrived in the winter which was followed by a cold spring which brought sickness to the town and the castle. By the end of March 1502 the Prince's fragile health had begun to deteriorate, perhaps from the "sweating sickness" which was ploughing through the neighbourhood. Catherine also became ill it was seen that some victims recovered but others could die in as little as two or three hours
Catherine became a widow on 2nd April 1502 when she was still seriously ill from the sickness that killed her husband. At just sixteen years old she had been married and widowed yet still retained her chastity.