Friday, December 05, 2008

Question from Melisondre - Catherine of Aragon's virginity

I've been having a debate with myself about Catherine of Aragon's virginity when she married Henry VIII. She was married to Arthur first, but not for very long. Also, as we all know, she denied having sex with him until the end of her life. However she could have been denying it to keep her marriage and position in tact. So, my question is was Catherine of Aragon a virgin when she married Henry VIII or did she sleep with Arthur first?

[Ed note - I was really surprised that this question hasn't shown up here yet, especially since it has been discussed quite a bit on my email list! It was touched on in the thread below, but not really discussed in full.]


  1. I think the only way to answer this question would be purely by speculation. Going by what I understand of Catherine's personality, I believe her to have been virgin when she married Henry.

    Supposedly, Henry never openly commented about their wedding night. He always danced around the query, leaving it to Cathy One to answer. In a 'hys'terical novel from years ago, the author put forth the notion that Henry, himself, was a virgin. If he were to make any sort of answer, it would be revealed that he really didn't know which end was up (sorry for the pun, couldn't be helped! :) ) and his pride/manhood would be at stake. Thus his silence on either end of Catherine's virginity defense.

    In this case, I find it interesting that Henry never spoke up to refute his wife's statement. He was in the perfect position to call her 'a liar'...after all, who would question him???

    1. He did repudiate her being a virgin, just not in so many words, so he could keep up appearances. The whole thing was that he wanted everyone to think that all he wanted was to keep Katherine as his wife, but couldn't because of god's law. He wanted everyone to think he was the bigger man who was just trying to do the right thing. But in a time where deceit and backstabbing was as commonplace as air, what can you expect?? :-)

  2. I don't believe we will ever know for sure, but Catherine was a devout Catholic, and having a life based on a lie like that just doesn't seem to be in her nature. But, then again, those Tudors were best at decieving themselves as to their motives for their actions. I am sure that Henry VIII convinced himself that his desire for a divorce was based soley on his readings in Leviticus that his marriage would not bear fruit if he married his brothers wife rather than being hot for Anne Boleyn. He even went so far as to swear that he would choose COA all over again if it would please God (before the Pope's people knew about Anne). his delusions were reinforced by the people he chose to be closest to him who would tell him what he wanted to hear.
    From what I have read, Arthur was quite sickly when they got married. Had he even gone through puberty yet? Wasn't it pretty much public knowledge back then that the marriage had not been consummated? Regardless, I don't see devout Catherine of Aragon swearing before God on anything that wasn't absolutely true.

  3. I agree with DJD's initial premise: Katherine was a devout Catholic, and she took an oath to the effect that she had never "known" Arthur physically. Oaths carried a great deal more weight in the 16th century than they do now, and swearing a false oath was a mortal sin. I doubt seriously that Katherine would have endangered her immortal soul simply in order to preserve an earthly marriage. I am of the opinion that she was being entirely truthful in swearing that she never had sexual relations with Arthur.

  4. I realize that we will never for sure one way or the other. I should have put in my question that I'm really interested in the opinions of the people here, and to see which way the popular opinion goes.

    As far as my opinion, I still don't know what to think.

    Granted, I don't know much about Arthur, but wouldn't his father, Henry VII, have tried to make sure that he bedded his new wife?

  5. I think it is generally accepted that she was- David Starkey is the only historian I know of who challenges that belief (and I don't personally agree with his reasoning). I suppose there is evidence on both sides- Arthur was supposed to have commented on it being a 'good passtime' to have a wife and apparently called for water on the morning after his wedding night because 'he had been that night in the midst of Spain' but those stories were dredged up many years later when Henry was seeking annulment of his marriage so I don't think we should set too much store by them. As has already been pointed out, Arthur was only (just) 15 at the time of his marriage and although I don't think his health was as poor as has been sometimes alleged, he may well have not fully reached puberty. Catherine was always adament that the marriage hadn't been consumated and I think we should believe her especially as she swore to it publically on several occasions.

  6. I think there is two sides to this question. It is one of the most contested and controversial topics in tudor history. I think because she was such a devout catholic she could have been telling the truth,, bur she was desperate to become queen of england, she had been trained for it since birth, and Arthurs sudden death jepodised that. This veiw of the debate is represented really well in Phillipa Gregorys' The Constant Princess, and is well worth reading. However, there have been testimonys by people at the time who swore Arthur needed water after his wedding night. I think this is another of the highly controversial debates of history which cannot be resolved.

  7. Arthur's great need for water and his boastful comment about being in "the midst of Spain" sounds like the words of a willful teenaged boy with a wounded ego, if you ask me!

  8. I am assuming that the "hysterical novel" someone mentioned is the one written by Margaret George...
    Anyway, a well-nourished, well-cared for boy in any time period would be well into puberty by the age of fifteen and I, logically, cannot see a fifteen year old boy staying off his wife for the entire time they were married. Maybe their marriage wasn't consummated on the first night, if he was shy, and all that stuff about water and "being in Spain" was just embarrassed boasting, but I would bet both my legs that the marriage was consummated sooner or later. And Catherine understood her duty and what was required of her (based on what we know of her character later in life); she would have been willing and probably encouraging.
    In my opinion, which could be wrong, I think she lied. I don't blame her for lying or think that it's wrong that she did, but there's no way on Earth a fifteen year old boy would pass up on having sex.

  9. Catherine believed absulutely in the divinity of The Pope and He pronounced an annullment of her marriage to Arthur, so whatever had happened in those six months between C and A as soon as The Pope made his pronouncement it became literal truth. So Catherine did not lie, whatever the technical truth might have been. If The Pope said black was white then Catherine would have defended that to death. We must read this story with 16th Century eyes, very different from our own. She endured countless pregnancies,no joke in those times,and had to put up with continual complaints about her failure to reproduce a male, (whose fault was that?).I think Catherine was an extrmely brave and loyal Lady,who would not say what was required of her for any amount of bribes. And after all Henry had put her through her final message to him was "above all my eyes desire you". What a gal!!

  10. Speculation, but I belive that the marriage was consummated. Isabelle of Spain when getting papal dispensation made sure that it was worded that it was alright for her to marry Henry, whether the marriage to Arthur was consummated or not. Me thinks she was a smart women, and made sure that all her bases where covered. Would she have done that if she doubted the validity of Arthur's marriage to her daughter. She would have been well informed from Catherines ladies in waiting and sevants. The state of the marital sheets and the frequency of visits, ect. It would be unlikely that they didn't know. And papal dispensation was all that Catherine needed, as a god fearing women. It was her belief that god wanted her on the throne of England. Would god not forgive her for her lie, if it was for the right cause?

  11. I completely believe that she lied. I dont blame her but I do find it strange that a marriage would not be consummated within 5 months. Anf blood stained sheets (a traditional act) were sent to Spain after the wedding. A gift which Spain would not greenback possibly yo dam their own daughter. The more I read on this and collect I begin to feel for henry but he more than makes up for it later in life.

  12. Giles Tremlett says that the supposed bloody sheets were a lie made up by Wolsey.

    And in Christianity, there is no sinning for a good cause. It doesn't matter what the motives are, a sin is still a sin. I find it hard to believe that KOA would tell such a lie and risk getting a false dispensation, because at first I believe her dispensation was to be on the grounds that her marriage to Arthur was unconsummated. People talk of duty, but a Queen's duty was to get legitimate heirs to the throne.

  13. The recording herald: “And thus these worthy persons concluded and consummated the effect and complement of the sacrament of marriage.” Do you think that they would have recorded " After an examination of the connubial bed, and finding the presence of blood,we hereby declare the marriage consummated"? Why did they have to wait and see if Catherine was pregnant before proceeding to hook her up with Henry? Henry knew full well she wasn't a virgin, but wasn't going to get graphic about how he knew.Catherine, on the other hand,had no qualms having her ladies in waiting graphically disparage her former husband's private parts to back up her pathetic lie. That tells you something about "pious" Catherine.


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