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Category: Women in History

  1. On This Day: Birth of Arthur Tudor

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    On this day, 20th September 1486, Elizabeth of York, Queen of England, gave birth to a baby boy at Winchester. He was christened with the name Arthur, and his birth symbolised the hope of the new Tudor dynasty.

    Childhood

    Arthur's birth has caused some historical controversy as his parents were married on 18th January 1486. Over the centuries some have questioned whether Elizabeth of York and Henry VII were lovers before their wedding, citing Arthur's date of birth as proof. Others have argued that he was premature, citing it as a cause for his later illnesses and early death. Regardless, Arthur was given a splendid christening in Winchester cathedral, ordered by his paternal grandmother Margaret Beaufort, with tapestries, carpets, and the font placed on a raised stage so that the crowds could get a good view of their future king. The choice of name was a good propaganda move, as a new king of a new dynasty Henry VII needed to boost the popularity of his line. By naming his son Arthur he was telling the crown that under his family the country would return to the glorious days of Camelot, an extremely popular tale in the medieval period.

    Arthur grew up in Farnham in Surrey, close enough to London for his parents to be able to visit him but far enough away that he was protected from the plague and other virulent illnesses which were rife in the city. As the heir to the throne he was assigned a household to care for him, two years after his birth a woman named Elizabeth Darcy was put in charge of his nursery, she had had a similar role for Arthur's maternal uncle Edward. In time Arthur would be sent to "rule" the principality of Wales, while his siblings (including his brother Henry) grew up at the palace of Eltham.

    Marriagearthur tudor

    The future of the Tudor dynasty, and it's place in European politics, seemed to be cemented when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain proposed a match between Arthur and their youngest daughter Catherine. As the prospective bride and groom were both toddlers at the time it took a while for negotiations to come to a solid conclusion. They finally underwent a marriage "by proxy" in 1499, and in October 1501 Catherine arrived in England. Arthur met her for the first time at Dogmersfield in Hampshire, and would not meet again until their wedding day. Instead Arthur and his father watched Catherine's ceremonial London entry on 12th November from the top floor of a house, out of sight of the Spanish princess.

    On 14th November 1501 Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine were married at St Paul's Cathedral. As with his christening, Arthur's marriage ceremony was held on a specially constructed stage so that all those who had been able to squeeze in to the church could see the heir to the throne. After the ceremony the Royal family travelled to Baynard's Castle for the wedding feast. In the evening the couple were put to bed, an event that would lead to serious controversy several decades later over the question of whether the marriage was consummated or not.

    Death

    Within weeks of the wedding Arthur was dispatched back to Ludlow, taking his new bride with him. They resided in Ludlow Castle, albeit in separate sets of rooms. Their marriage ended up being rather short-lived, on 2nd April 1502 Arthur died after a short illness. The illness that killed him is another cause of debate, with some believing that it was the dreaded "sweating sickness" that had cut through swathes of England in recent years. Others argue that it may have been a measles outbreak, and some believe that it may have been tuberculosis.

    Arthur was buried at Worcester Cathedral, where his monument still stands. His throne and his wife both went to his younger brother, Henry VIII. 

  2. On This day: Death of Empress Theodora

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    On this day in 1056, the Empress Theodora passed away. After starting out life as a Princess, spending most of her adult life as a Nun, and then facing the jealousy of her sister, Theodora ended up ruling despite the best attempts at many others to keep her in a subservient position.

    Born into the Purple

    Theodora was the youngest sister of Zoe Porphyrogenita, a word that means "born into the purple". The two girls were the daughters of a reigning Byzantine Emperor, Constantine VIII, who was joint-ruler with his brother Basil II. The death of both men, neither of whom had a son, pushed both Theodora and her sister in to the limelight.Byzantine Empress Theodora

    Theodora appears to have been a woman with her own mind. Her father had arranged for her to marry Romanos Argyros, who was expected to take the throne and rule through his wife. Theodora refused to go through with the marriage, and in the end Romanos married her older sister Zoe.

    In the following years Theodora was implicated in multiple plots against the royal couple. Many historians believe that these were attempts by Zoe to marginalise her sister, and have her removed from any potential power. Although Theodora played no active role in politics, she would never be safe from her sister's jealousy. Eventually she was pushed in to a monastery and forced to become a nun, which should have stopped her from being allowed to rule in the future.

    Coming To Power

    Zoe went through several husbands over the following years, none of whom were particularly popular. After she was displaced by her adoptive nephew, the people of Constantinople rebelled, and both Zoe and Theodora were brought out of their respective places of captivity. Theodora in particular was furious at being pushed back in to power, but to the people she was the balance against her sister's terrible choice in men, both as husbands and heirs. She was crowned as co-Empress with Zoe, who tried to have her sister sent back to the monastery, only to be overruled by the Senate.

    Theodora is believed to be the more capable of the two women, although how much of that is reflected from people's dislike of Zoe is hard to tell. Zoe wasn't inclined towards any actual ruling, but she disliked her sister taking control and getting things done. Yet another marriage meant that Theodora was required to leave the administration of the empire to her new brother-in-law, Constantine IX Monomachos.

    She outlived both her sister and her brother-in-law, and subverted Constantine's attempts to bypass her in the line of succession. She was proclaimed sole "Emperor", and promptly set about assigning her own favourites as ministers. By ruling as an Emperor she offended plenty of people, who felt that a woman shouldn't be allowed to act as a supreme judge in courts, or appoint clerics. But her death led to over twenty years of fighting between numerous noble families, and after a while it must have seemed to her people that even the rule of a woman was better than the lack of stability caused by her death.

    If you'd like to find out more about her sister, Empress Zoe, you can check out my e-book 30 Women in History Volume 2, which contains a mini-biography on her rival for power.

  3. On This Day: Death of Maria Theresa of Spain

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    "This is the first trouble she has ever given me."

    As Maria Theresa lay dying, her husband's words showed the kind of Queen of France that she had been. Quiet, unassuming, supportive to her husband, and loving to their children. King Louis XIV could not have found a better definition of her time with him.

    Princess of Spain

    Maria Theresa was born in September 1638 the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and his wife Elisabeth of France. France and Spain had been closely connected by marriage in the previous generation, her parents were the siblings of the King and Queen of France, as King Philip's sister Anne had married Queen Elisabeth's brother Louis. Like many such marriages between France and Spain, the weddings had been decided upon in an attempt to bring peace between the two countries, unfortunately it didn't work.

    She grew up in the strict formality of the Spanish court, which encouraged solemnity and serious pasttimes. Her mother died when she was just six years old, and her father remarried several years later. Maria Theresa does not appear to have got on well with her new step-mother, and so may have lacked the kind of warm, affectionate home that her future husband had.

    Queen of Francemariatheresaofspain

    After many years of war a peace deal was brokered between Spain and France, and was to be sealed with a marriage between Maria Theresa and Louis XIV. They were the same age, in fact there were only a few days age difference between them, and the marriage had been hoped for for many years by Louis' mother Anne. Any potential courting between the afianced couple was stifled by Maria Theresa's father, who refused to let his daughter even read a letter from her future groom, and who strictly supervised their first meeting shortly before the wedding (in fact he banned Louis from even being in the same room as Maria Theresa, an order that the King of France tried to evade by lingering in the doorway while his brother chatted to the princess, King Philip continually refused to allow him in to the room).

    It's reported that on their wedding night, Maria Theresa made her husband promise to never spend a night sleeping away from her. Whether or not this was true, it certainly was a habit that Louis stuck to, although it wasn't enough to prevent him having many affairs through their marriage. His wife found herself settling in to her new home, with help from her aunt, who was thrilled to have another Spainiard at court. There was no bickering between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, instead the pair of them frequently prayed and visited convents together.

    In fact Maria Theresa was a little too Spanish for the French court. Her new home was one that loved innovation, fashion, dancing and wit. Her upbringing had left her rather shy, she preferred to keep to herself with a select group of companions, and she wasn't fashionable or quick enough to be a leader of the court. Despite this, she was a good Queen to Louis. She was upset by his frequent affairs, but realised there was nothing she could do to stop them. She even sponsored one of her husband's former mistresses, Louise de la Valliere, when she decided to retire from court and become a nun. Louis in turn protected her from any disrespect on the part of his other women, rebuking them when they declined to show her the deference required by her position. For over ten years her main rival was Athenais de Montespan, whose disrespect as well as her place by the King's side infuriated Maria Theresa.

    If royal marriages were designed to create peace and provide an heir, then Maria Theresa failed in the first part, France and Spain were still consistently at war over the years. But in the second part she succeeded, as she gave birth to six children, of whom three were sons. The first, also called Louis, was born on 1st November 1661. Sadly it was only this eldest child who would outlive her, her eldest surviving daughter lived for five years, and her other children mostly died within weeks of birth.

    Maria Theresa's own death would come as a surprise, as her illness was sudden, and her decline swift. She reporedtly surprised the court by never complaining about the agonising treatments she went through, medical intervention still didn't include any pain relief. She died on 30th July 1683, leaving her husband to utter the simple, but evocative, summation of their life together.


    Interested in biographies of Royal women? You might like my Unlucky Princess blog series.

    Fan of King Louis XIV? He has a badge!

  4. On This Day: Death of Joan of England

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    On this day, 1 July 1348, Joan of England died in Gascony. The daughter of King Edward III of England and his wife, Philippa of Hainault, Joan had been on her way to marry Peter of Castile. Her wedding trousseau had been stuffed with sumptous fabrics and jewels, her household furniture was the finest quality that money could buy, and her wedding dress was designed to show the Castilian court that England was wealthy and powerful, and it's princess was a valuable treasure. Sadly none of it could stop the terrible ravages of the Black Death.

    Princess Joan

    Joan was born in 1334 at the Palace of Woodstock in Oxfordshire, the third child and second daughter of Edward and Philippa. In total her parents had fourteen children, and Joan grew up in a loving household. She and her siblings had a retinue of servants, but they were still close to their parents, who took an active interest in their children's lives.

    Like many Royal girls, Joan was betrothed at a young age to a suitable man from another noble family. At the age of four Joan and her mother travelled to Herenthals, where Joan was placed in the care of her aunt, Philippa's sister Margaret. Together with a suitable retinue, Joan travelled across Germany to meet her fiance Frederick, son of the Duke of Austria. Since she was only a little girl there was no chance of Joan pulling the same trick as her sister Isabella, who consistently refused to wed various men that caught her attention, and at one point came within a week of marrying before she changed her mind.

    Instead Joan's marriage was called off after her future father-in-law died, leaving his brother to act as regent. The alliance that Joan's marriage was meant to cement was called off, as was the wedding. The little girl had barely arrived in her new home before circumstances meant that she had to turn around and return to Ghent, where her mother was still residing after giving birth to another son.

    Joan's second wedding was arranged with just as much care. The Castilians were allied with the French, and their ships were a perpetual problem for English merchant ships, which were frequently attacked. A marriage between a Castilian prince and an English princess would hopefully pacify the Spainish, if not lead to a proper alliance. It wasn't the first time there was a wedding between the two kingdoms, Joan's great-grandmother was Eleanor of Castile (this connection naturally meant that a papal dispensation had to be arranged for the couple), but it was the last such wedding for over one hundred years, when Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Isabella of Castile) married King Henry VIII.

    The Plaguejoan of england

    At the age of fourteen, Joan was considered old enough to be sent to Castile. Although she had been sent to Germany at a young age, it had been anticipated that the wedding itself wouldn't have been until she was a more suitable age. Her sisters were all married in their late teens, older than expected for the time, and it may be that Joan and Peter weren't expected to live together until the bride was a little older.

    The first stage of the journey was the sea voyage from her home, to the English county of Gascony in France. At the time she left the plague hadn't reached England, although stories of it were becoming known. Her household and belongings were carefully packed up on to several ships, a grand farewell was held, and then Joan set sail. As the ships arrived at Bourdeaux, they were told not to come on land. The town was in the grip of the plague, and it wasn't safe for the English retinue to be there. The warnings were ignored, the party moved to the castle in the town, but two weeks later members of the group started to fall ill.

    Those that were currently healthy, including Joan, fled towards Castile. But sadly the disease caught up with them quickly. Joan fell sick, and died in the village of Loremo, having never met her betrothed. Mystery still surrounds the fate of her remains, some stories state that she was buried in a local church, others say that she was repatriated to England at the insistance of her distraught parents. A memorial was raised to her in Westminster Abbey, but no tomb has been found, suggesting that if she was indeed buried in a church near her place of death, then it would have been the kind of anonymous grave that many plague victims were given. 

  5. On This Day: Eleanor of Aquitaine's Second Wedding

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    You may remember my blog post a few weeks ago about Eleanor of Aquitaine's divorce from King Louis VII of France. Their marriage had been rocky for years, a split was virtually inevitable. Louis tried to ensure that he still had some say in Eleanor's life, by including a clause that stated that she had to ask his permission before remarrying. In this way he hoped to prevent her from allying herself with someone who would pose a danger to his kingdom.

    Unfortunately for Louis, on this day, 18th May 1152, remarrying without permission was exactly what Eleanor did. Her groom was none other than Henry "Plantagenet", Duke of Normandy, and their marriage united two of the biggest duchies in France, creating exactly the kind of problem Louis wanted to avoid.

    Henry Plantagenethenryplantagenet

    The young groom, who was nine years younger than the bride, was the son of Duke Geoffrey of Anjou and his wife the Empress Matilda, a princess of England by birth and technically the rightful heir to the English throne (once you got past her gender). This was another rocky marriage, but unlike Eleanor it wasn't one that would be put aside. Matilda had originally been married to Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor, and she continued to be known as "Empress Matilda" for the rest of her life. She had no children by her first husband, and his death meant that she had to leave the Empire and return to England.

    Her second marriage, arranged by her father Henry I of England, was designed to prevent the Duke of Anjou from being a pain in the neck. Unfortunately Matilda hated her new husband, and he wasn't exactly taken with her. Henry had to step in several times to prevent them from becoming completely estranged. In the end though they settled down enough to conceive several children, the eldest of whom was named Henry after his grandfather.

    Henry's life was dominated by the war his parents waged against Matilda's cousin, Stephen, the new King of England. To this day historians argue over whether Stephen stole the throne from Matilda, or had been privately acknowledged as Henry I's heir. Either way, Matilda and Geoffrey were not about let an opportunity pass, and while Geoffrey focused on attacking strategic points in Normandy, Matilda travelled to England and waged war with the support of her illegitimate half-brother. "The Anarchy" as it became known, went on for years and decimated the English population. In the end a compromise would be reached, Stephen would reign as King, but his heir on his death would be Matilda's son Henry.

    The Marriageeleanorofaquitaine

    Of course, there was no guarantee that Henry really would be King on Stephen's death, at the time of the wedding it wasn't even much of a consideration. Stephen had sons of his own, and the English nobility may choose to support one of them instead. But Henry had learned a lot about successful warfare from his father, and was quickly gaining a reputation for being both brave and skillful. For a woman who had a Duchy to maintain, against enemies both inside and out, he was the obvious choice. Even as Eleanor was making her way home she had already decided to marry him.

    The journey back was dangerous. In the medieval period a woman's consent to a marriage was considered a technicality rather than a necessity, and
    there were several men who plotted to kidnap and marry her themselves, including Henry's brother Geoffrey, so they could claim Aquitaine. But through a combination of bravery and speed, Eleanor managed to evade the plotters and reach Aquitaine safely. Henry arrived soon after, and the hasty wedding took place at Poitiers.

    Louis instantly reacted by gathering a force to invade Aquitaine. Henry collected his own troops, fully supported by his wife, and was quickly successful. Louis was humiliated twice over, not only was he beaten in the field of battle, but a year later Eleanor gave birth to a healthy baby boy, giving Henry the heir that Louis had always wanted from her, and proving once and for all that if there was a fertility problem then it certainly wasn't hers.

    The enmity between Louis and Henry would continue for decades, and would see Louis successfully turn Henry's sons against him, and lead to Eleanor's imprisonment for supporting them over her husband. But at least on this day in 1152, she would have started to feel safe for the first time in weeks, if not months.

  6. On This Day: Nancy Wake Returns To France

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    On this day (technically the night of 29th April, or the early morning of 30th April depending on your point of view) in 1944, an SOE agent named Nancy Wake was parachuted in to France. She already had a five million franc price on her head, had been captured and freed, and it had taken her six attempts to get out of France in the first place. To say she was returning to the lion's den would be a bit of an understatement. She is also, for many reasons, one of my favourite women in history.

    Before The War

    Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand but raised in Australia. As a teenager she moved to the USA, where she became a journalist, and then on to France, where she met and married a wealthy Frenchman named Henri Fiocca. When Germany invaded France she volunteered with the French Resistance as a courier, while she and her husband let their holiday home be used as a safe house for people trying to escape.

    During The War

    Wake became an absolute pain in the neck to the Gestapo. They named her "The White Mouse", and she was so effective that they issued a 5 million franc reward for her capture. Under increasing pressure as members of her network were arrested, she eventually chose to flee Marseille. Her husband opted to stay behind, and was eventually captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Wake herself was arrested in Toulouse, but was freed after a friend claimed they were having an affair and her secretive behaviour was due to her worry her husband would find out. Had the Gestapo got hold of her they would have done the same to her as they did to her husband.

    She eventually managed to escape France in to Spain, via the Pyrenees, and from there got a ship back to Britain. She promptly volunteered with SOE, nancy-wakewhere she earned high praise for both her attitude and abilities. She was then parachuted in to France, where she met up with a local network. Her role was to oversee the groups finances and handle the division of weapons and supplies dropped by the Allies, but she was soon helping recruit new members, plan and oversee operations, and eventually came to lead over 7000 men. She claimed that her greatest moment was cycling a 300 mile round trip to get new wireless codes. She also killed a German sentry to prevent him raising the alarm, and shot a woman who was a German spy. In total her team killed around 1400 Germans, while suffering only 100 casualties.

    Post-War

    In the years after the war Nancy Wake was awarded multiple honours, including Britain's George Cross. It was only after the war that she found out her husband had been killed by the Gestapo. She spent several years back in Australia where she attempted a political career, returned to England where she met and married her second husband, and then moved back to Australia once again. After her second husband passed away Wake once more returned to England, where she spent the final years of her life. After her death in 2011 her ashes were scattered in the countryside near Montluçon, the French town close to where her team had operated.

    In many ways I think that Nancy Wake is so often forgotten because she survived. Had she been caught and executed she would no doubt be remembered as a valiant heroine who died for the cause. But the fact that she came through the war without being killed doesn't diminish how brave she was. When she escaped to Britain, with a 5 million franc bounty still on her head, she could have simply settled there in relative safety. Instead she chose to join SOE and jump straight back in to danger, and that is why she is one of my favourite women in history.

  7. Death of Mary of Burgundy

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    Death of Mary of Burgundy

    On this day in 1482, Mary of Burgundy died from injuries she suffered after a fall from her horse. Her early death was the last tragedy of a life that had suffered many such encounters.

    Mary of Burgundy was born in February 1457. Her father, Charles the Bold, was the Duke of the wealthy duchy of Burgundy, while her mother was maryburgundyIsabella of Bourbon. Her mother died in 1465, leaving Charles with Mary as his only heir. The general view at the time was that a girl couldn't possibly rule, and therefore Charles decided to remarry. In 1468 Mary acquired a step-mother, Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of King Edward IV (and later, Richard III) of England. Margaret and Charles never had a child, but Mary became close to her step-mother, and it was Margaret who guided Mary's steps when tragedy struck again in 1477, when Charles died in the Battle of Nancy.

    Charles had spent most of his life fighting against the French, and King Louis XI wasn't about to let sympathy for an orphaned girl stop him taking advantage of the situation. Luckily for Mary her step-mother was still alive, and she advised Mary to follow the marriage plans her father had set in place before his death. In August 1477, eight months after her father's death, Mary married Maximilian of Austria. They became co-rulers, with Margaret assisting in the background as both a mother figure to Mary and a popular Dowager Duchess to the people.

    In July 1478 Mary gave birth to a son, named Philip, thereby ensuring the succession for her family. A daughter named Margaret followed in 1480, and another son called Francis in 1481, who died within a few months. Philip and Margaret would go on to have a double marriage with Infanta Juana and Infante Juan of Spain, the sister and brother of Catherine of Aragon.

    Sadly though, Mary would never see her children's marriages. While out hunting in March 1482, Mary's horse fell, throwing her from the saddle, the resulting injuries left her in agony for several days before she died on the 27th March, aged just 25. Philip and Margaret were 4 and 2 years old respectively, and had to learn to rule Burgundy without their mother's advice.

  8. Annulment of Eleanor of Aquitaine's Marriage

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    On this day in 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine officially became a single woman. Her fourteen-year marriage had begun when she was just a teenager, now she was a mother of two daughters, and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. Her now former husband, King Louis VII of France, made sure that part of the divorce meant that Eleanor would have to ask his permission to remarry. Unfortunately for Louis, it wouldn't work out that way.

    The Marriage

    Eleanor and Louis had married in July 1137, within months of her father's death. As the eldest surviving daughter, with no brothers, Eleanor was the eleanorofaquitainenew Duchess of Aquitaine. Prince Louis' father spotted an opportunity to increase his kingdom, and promptly dispatched his son and heir to marry her.

    Their marriage was not a happy one. There was a strong clash of personalities and cultures, there was a big difference between Louis' French court and the Aquitainian lifestyle that Eleanor was used to. Louis was also extremely devout, while Eleanor simply followed more traditional piety. They had one child, a daughter named Marie, before they went on Crusade together. While they were in Antioch, rumours flew around that Eleanor was having an affair with her uncle Raymond. Sources state that she suggested to Louis that they divorce, but he refused.

    On their eventual journey home they visited the Pope, who worked to reconcile the arguing couple. Eleanor became pregnant with her second child, which turned out to be another daughter. This little girl's birth is probably what saved her from continuing her marriage to Louis, as the French court helped persuade him to divorce her, so that he could marry another woman who would give him a son. The annulment was granted on 21st March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity, meaning that the Church felt the couple were too closely related. Eleanor once again became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, but Louis had to approve any future marriage she might consider. Their daughters were also left to be raised in the French court, rather than sent to Aquitaine with their mother.

    The Aftermath

    Eleanor raced back to Aquitaine, escaping several attempts to capture her and force her in to marriage. The fact that she travelled as quickly as she did shows that she was well aware of the danger she was now in, while travelling at all shows just how brave and determined she was to make her own life from now on.

    In fact she was so determined that she ignored the requirement to see permission from Louis, and remarried eight weeks after her divorce. Her choice of groom was Duke Henry of Normandy, their marriage combined two large Duchies to create the kind of border problem that Louis had wanted to avoid. Henry was everything that Louis wasn't; brave, decisive, quick to take action. She and Henry would go on to have five sons and three daughters, and become King and Queen of England.

    While the ending of her marriage to Henry was far from positive, at least the start of it was better than her marriage to Louis.

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    Fans of Eleanor of Aquitaine should check out her badge!

  9. Execution of Catherine Howard

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    On this day in 1542 Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded at the Tower of London. Her execution was the final chilling parallel to the reign of Anne Boleyn, Henry's infamous second wife, who was related to Catherine.

    How were Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn Related?

    The actual family relationship between Catherine and Anne is pretty straightforward, despite the multiple marriages of various Howards. Anne's mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, was the younger sister of Catherine's father Lord Edmund Howard. Anne and Catherine were first cousins through a shared grandfather, and nieces of the powerful Lord Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was high in King Henry's favour for most of his reign, and did his best to ensure that he stayed there.

    How Similar Were They?

    Apart from the manner of their deaths and their marriage to Henry, there's very little similarity between Catherine and Anne. The exact years of birth of both women aren’t certain, but the age gap could be somewhere around twenty years. Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, was a diplomat from a wealthy family. Thomas used his connections to ensure that his children were given good educations in some of Europe's greatest courts. Anne herself served in the courts of Burgundy and France before she returned to England, where her mother and sister were serving Catherine of Aragon.catherinehoward

    Catherine's father on the other hand was almost constantly in debt, he served at Henry's court but doesn't seem to have had the same flair and abilities as his older brother, or his brother-in-law. He eventually fled to Calais, often a stopping point for men whose debts were more than they could handle. Unable to raise his children himself, he had them farmed out to various wealthy relatives. Catherine, who was five years old when her mother died, was sent to live with Agnes Howard, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and step-mother to Thomas, Edmund and Elizabeth (making her a step-grandmother to Anne and Catherine).

     

    Their backgrounds affected their education. Anne spoke several languages, played the lute, composed songs and could argue a theological case with the King with ease. Catherine, whose education was seriously neglected, could read and write. She was taught to dance, and had some music lessons with a man named Henry Maddox (with whom she also had a relationship), but she far from the educated, sophisticated woman that Anne was.

    Their Marriages and Deaths

    Their courtships by King Henry VIII were also very different. Anne had to wait six years before she was able to marry the King, as he was already married to Catherine of Aragon, and she refused to consent to a divorce. When Anne and Henry did marry it was in secret, Anne was already pregnant so speed was required, but her grand coronation was meant to make up for it. Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and had several miscarriages before she was arrested and put on trial. She was charged with adultery and incest, and had to go through the ordeal of a public trial before she was found guilty and executed. In total she was married to Henry for three years, although their relationship had been going for nine years if you count the time it took to get a divorce.

    In comparison Catherine had a relatively short tenure. She joined the court as a maid in waiting to Anne of Cleves, Henry's fourth wife, sometime in early 1540 when Anne came to England for her wedding. By July 1540 Henry had divorced her, a much quicker process when the wife doesn't argue against it, and Catherine became Henry's wife on 28th July 1540. Theirs was a quiet wedding, and Catherine was never formally crowned so there was no coronation to make up for it. It's generally believed that she never conceived, she certainly never gave birth and there's no mention of any miscarriages in historical sources. In November 1541 Catherine was arrested and imprisoned in Syon Abbey. Instead of a public trial she was found guilty of adultery by a "Bill of Attainder". At the time of her execution she had been married for less than two years, and probably hadn't even reached her twentieth birthday.

    The final difference between these  two women is their guilt. Many historians now argue that Anne certainly wasn't guilty of incest with her brother, and probably wasn't guilty of incest with the other men executed alongside him. On the other hand it's generally believed that Catherine was guilty of having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, although many historians continue to debate just how far they had gone, and whether they were in love, or if Culpeper was using Catherine's affections for him to manipulate her.

    After she was beheaded Catherine was buried near her place of execution, in the in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.  This was also where Anne Boleyn and her brother George were laid to rest after their executions. These two women, who lived their lives with so many parralels, now continue the pattern in death.

    (Image used above is one that is believed to be of Catherine Howard. This particular image was from WikiCommons)

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  10. On This Day: Death of Catherine of Aragon

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    On 7th January 1536, Catherine of Aragon passed away at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire.

    As her name "of Aragon" shows, Catherine was a Spanish "Infanta" by birth, the daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. Her parents had united Spain and driven out the Muslims, and then married off their children to various European Royal families to cement alliances. Two of her sisters were married to Kings of Portugal, one sister was married to the powerful Habsburg family, and Catherine herself was sent to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor.

    catherinearagon2As any student of Tudor history will know, that was a marriage that did not last long or end happily. Catherine spent several years as a widow before marrying King Henry VIII within weeks of his father's death. There followed over twenty years of heartbreak as Catherine frequently miscarried, gave birth to stillborn babies or lost live children within weeks of their birth, with only one daughter name Mary surviving in to adulthood. To this day the reasons why the family was hit by so many tragedies has baffled scientists, especially as it then continued with Anne Boleyn (Jane Seymour had one live son but died herself, Henry's following three wives never had children by him).

    Many people blame Anne Boleyn for Henry's attempts to divorce Catherine, despite evidence showing that he was considering getting a divorce before Anne was on the scene. Catherine was a strong woman, the daughter and sister of Queens, she fought Henry's divorce attempts with every weapon she had. But in the end Henry left her for Anne and she was moved from the comfort of beautiful palaces such as Greenwich, to cold stone castles in the damp East Anglian countryside. Her household was reduced, she was banned from seeing her daughter Mary, and she was spied upon. Eventually she succumbed to illness and died in Kimbolton Castle. Rather than bury her in Westminster Abbey, among other late Queens, she was interred in Peterborough Cathedral.

    In a further piece of historical scandal, when the embalmers discovered a black growth on Catherine's heart. To the highly superstitious people of Tudor England, this was a clear sign that their beloved Queen had been poisoned, perhaps on the orders of her angry husband, or Catherine's long-term enemy Anne Boleyn. Nowadays it's safe to say that her cause of death was cancer, and even if Henry had kept her as his wife she would have died from it.

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    You can visit Catherine's grave at Peterborough Cathedral, where many tourists stop by to see one of England's best-loved queens. Nowadays the Cathedral holds an annual "Katharine of Aragon" festival, which includes laying flowers at her tomb and children dressing up in Tudor costume. You can find out more about it at their website. And if you're a fan of Catherine, we have a badge just for her supporters (or one for Henry)!

    (Images from WikiCommons)