07 January 2013

Catherine of Aragon Dies: 7 January 1536

On this day 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon Queen of England would die, and pass into eternity. She was the first queen of King Henry VIII, and the mother of Queen Mary I of England. Queen Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

 Even as her earthly life left her, minute by minute, Catherine was thinking of the man she still considered to be her husband. Catherine gave Henry her full forgiveness for all the agony he had inflicted on her, and prayed for him. She worried for Henry's spiritual well-being even as her death was imminent.  Henry had inflicted emotional torment on Catherine for years by the time of her death, and his treatment of the wife of his youth had shocked the world. Catherine had been separated from her only living child, Mary, for several years prior to her death. This caused the queen untold anguish.  Never having enjoyed very good health, there is little doubt that Catherine's sufferings contributed to her early death. Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle. Kimbolton was a desolate place, a cold, unhealthy habitation far from those she loved most. And those Catherine loved most had been, and would always be her husband Henry, and her adored daughter Mary.

After Catherine's death, some feared she might have been poisoned at the command of Anne Boleyn. Catherine's attendants reported that she drank a large draft of Welsh beer and had declined almost immediately after consuming the drink. Poisoning is extremely unlikely, and largely dismissed by most historians.

Catherine had been sick a long time prior to her death at Kimbolton. Initially, her last illness was not a cause for any unusual concern. Chapuys had been worried about Catherine's health, but her doctor reported that she was relatively stable.  However, on 29 December the same doctor would send Chapuys a frightening message: Catherine had relapsed and Chapuys should head for Kimbolton as soon as possible. Henry again declined a begging request from Chapuys to allow Mary to visit her mother. Upon his arrival, Chapuys would find Maria de Salinas, one of Catherine's oldest and most dearest friends, at Catherine's bedside. She had devised a method of visiting the queen. Maria de Salinas (Lady Willoughby) was determined to be with her former mistress in her time of sickness. Maria would find Catherine desperately ill. Catherine was in an extremely weak state, and had been unable to eat or drink for days. Maria provided comfort and loving care to the queen, and Catherine's health would improve somewhat, though very briefly. After a few days, Chapuys felt confident enough to set back for London.

Catherine was troubled in her mind and heart those last days. She worried and wondered aloud if she had blame in the incredible events that had followed Henry's petition for a divorce.  Were any of the miserable consequences of the huge rift her fault? Had Catherine been wrong, she wondered, to stand so steadfastly against Henry?

On 6 January, Catherine had been able to sit up, and even arranged her own hair. However, by evening Catherine was growing restless. By midnight Catherine knew she was imminently near death. She dictated a letter to Henry giving instruction on how to proceed with her goods, and asking that she be buried in the chapel of the Observant Friars.

With death approaching, Catherine prayed, asking pardon for her soul. By two o'clock in the afternoon of 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon had taken her last breath. She was 50 years old at the time of her death.

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