Thursday, April 02, 2009

Question from Stephanie - Death of Katherine of Aragon

Does anyone know how Katherine of Aragon died?


djd said...

I think the popular belief is that she died of some sort of cancer or heart disease. I read that her heart had turned black, which could be the result of some disease or cancer. There are also some that believe that she was poisoned by Ann Boleyn or one of her supporters, but there is no evidence to support that claim. After reading several accounts of her symptoms in the months before death, I think she probably had a primary cancer somewhere in her body that metastisized to the area around her heart, as primary cancers of the heart are very rare. No one will ever really know what caused her death, but if anyone could die of a broken heart, it would have been her. A sad end for a remarkable woman.

Foose said...

Modern medical opinion is not entirely united on this subject, but djd is correct about the top contenders.

Katherine herself seemed to believe she was being poisoned, even though she was taking precautions like having her food cooked in front of her in the same room. I have been reading Francesca Claremont's Catherine of Aragon from 1939 and while many of its conclusions about the divorce are out of date the author has some interesting points to make about Catherine's early life in Spain. One reason she had such a fixation on and fear of being poisoned (as recorded in contemporary records, including Chapuys' letters, and much to Henry's irritation) is that poison was the traditional method (at least in popular belief and folk memory in Spain) for doing away with retired, unwanted, divorced or inconvenient royal women in Spain.

Against this you can counter that her sister Juana was plainly inconvenient (being mad) but outlived nearly everyone in her family. However, poison was also believed to be an efficacious agent in inducing "melancholy" and ultimately madness.