25 January 2011

Catherine of Aragon: Womanly virtues

Queen Catherine was the quintessential woman, monarch, and wife. (Did you hear that Henry?)  Catherine was a woman who held to her virtues in the face of incredible rejection, and a long series of personal heartbreaks.

Catherine was loved by the English people from start to finish. Most modern portrayals of Catherine feature women with dark eyes and raven locks. As stunning as those features are, Catherine in no way resembled such a woman.  Catherine of Aragon had luxurious strawberry blonde hair, and pale blue eyes.  She was of a fair complexion with a rose to her cheeks. Catherine had a buxom figure, and after many pregnancies her figure was rather fulsome.

The lonely queen's life was anything but easy, and she experienced a long series of health problems and depression.  How much of her sufferings were caused by her genetics, or the incredible stresses she endured in England are hard to gauge.

Catherine's life was nearly unbearable in the time after Arthur's death and up until her marriage to Henry.  There would be some happiness, followed by years of sorrow. Even so, Catherine remained a kindly woman, one who chose to pardon her enemies.  Some have criticized her harshly for refusing to let go of the king when he decided he would have Anne Boleyn as his wife. It may have been immeasurably better had she released her husband rather than oppose the divorce in a schism that cracked England in two.  But her reasoning was that her husband's soul was in danger if he persisted with the divorce and eventual remarriage to Anne.

Catherine's personal symbol was the pomegranate of Granada.  Palace walls were embellished with Tudor roses, pomegranates, and the initials H for Henry, and K as then Catherine's name was usually spelled as Kateryne by the English people.

Catherine's natural beauty would fade relatively early. Contemporary reports record that she had very unusual, and unhealthy eating habits. Despite her stoutness, gluttony was not her problem.  Rather, she seemed to eat too sparingly, and with little dietary variety.  The queen was also in a more often than not constant state of pregnancy.  Catherine also had to worry early on about Henry's marital fidelity, or lack of.  Catherine was only 29 when the cracks in her marriage were beginning to show.  To the queen, her identity as wife and mother was her very essence. And it is not difficult to understand how the stress she endured rapidly  evidenced itself on the long-suffering queen's once cherubic face.

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