Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Burial of Katherine of Aragon

Portrait of Katherine c.1520 by an unknown artist
Having breathed her last on the 7th January in banishment at Kimbolton Castle in the Cambridgeshire fens Katherine of Aragon was laid to rest on this day in 1536. Her body had been treated by an embalmer who "found all the internal organs as healthy and normal as possible, with the exception of the heart, which was quite black and hideous to behold". Investigating this further he dissected her heart, washed it through and examined the black growth clinging to its outside. Its strange appearance led some contemporaries to conclude that she had been poisoned, although modern medical opinions have indicated that a secondary melanotic sarcoma is a more likely cause. So it seems as though Katherine died of a broken heart.

Peterborough Cathedral
Katherine had wished to be buried in the Chapel of the Observant Friars with appropriate respect paid to her position as Queen of England, which she had died staunchly professing herself to be despite Cranmer's pronouncement on her marriage. Sadly her wishes were not respected and Henry VIII ordered that she be interred in Peterborough Abbey (as it was then known) as Dowager Princess of Wales. The funeral was an elaborate and solemn affair with the royal banners of both England and Spain being displayed and Francis Brandon, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, acting as chief mourner. Katherine's daughter Mary was not allowed to attend and her close friend Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, refused to attend due to her not being buried as Queen.

In 1541 after the Dissolution of the Monasteries Peterborough was deprived of its status as an abbey but it was made the Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Peterborough, allowing it to survive and prosper. Some say that Henry VIII chose to save Peterborough out of lingering respect and affection for the woman that he spent over twenty years of his life with.

Katherine's tomb lies in the North Presbytery Aisle, to the left of the altar and in place of any grand monument or effigy she lies beneath a plain granite slab. In the early 20th century Mary of Teck ordered the royal arms of England and Spain to be displayed above her tomb, and they are there to this day, proudly declaring her pedigree. The railings behind her tomb are decorated with large gold letters declaring that it is the resting place of 'Katherine the Queen', defying Henry VIII's desperate attempts to deny her the title of queen. Affection for this neglected Queen has passed down through the centuries with Englishwomen also named Katherine raising money in the 19th century to replace the stone on her tomb and to hang a wooden plaque which declares her to be "A queen cherished by the English people for her loyalty, piety, courage and compassion". Evidence of her being 'cherished' is further shown through the Katherine of Aragon Festival which is held in Peterborough ever year in late January (for more information click here) and the way that her tomb is usually surrounded by floral tributes and pomegranates.

Further reading:
- Sister Queens by Julia Fox
- Catherine of Aragon by Giles Tremlett
- Catherine of Aragon by Garret Mattingly
Katherine's tomb in Peterborough Cathedral

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, your blog gas helped me a lot in writing a story set in 14th century Aragon. I have a question, what did names in Aragon at that time sound like? Does Martin, Grac and Souraz sound good? Thanks and keep up the good work.