Sunday, October 11, 2009

Question from Helen - Autopsy of Catherine of Aragon

It has been written in various sources that Catherine of Aragon had some kind of growth on her heart, or discoloration after her death. This has led some reseraches to believe that she might have died from melanoma rather than some other kind of cancer. My question is - why was an autopsy performed on Catherine? Was there any suspicion as to the cause of her death, or was it a common thing to do - although I've never heard of the autopsy results for Elizabeth I or Mary Tudor, for example.


  1. Catherine's body was opened and inspected by the chandler at Kimbolton. He said that there was a large black and hideous growth on her heart but that her other organs appeared normal. The chandler was a candlemaker, not a physician so I don't think one could call it an autopsy. He was preparing Catherine for burial. I think a winding sheet or shroud was coated with wax at that time.

  2. - I have read that there were many suspicions that Catherine had been poisoned by Henry or Anne Boleyn to try and get her out of the way altogether. Its not unlikely that people would want to find out if they actually did poison her.
    - For more information on the topic I would suggest reading:
    The other Boleyn Girl as some references to your question are mentioned in the book.

  3. The Other Boleyn Girl is fiction so be careful about what you take as truth and what as fantasy.

    There is some information in the Ives biography of Anne Boleyn as well as the several 'wives of Henry VIII' books in the non-fiction section of the library/bookstore.

    There were several rumours that Catherine had been poisoned - fostered by the Spanish Ambassador.

  4. The Rose CrownedOctober 12, 2009 1:18 PM

    I have also heard this theory stating that on the Death of Katherine of Aragon an autopsy was made and the report was she had a growth on her heart.Katherine had died at Kimbolton on the 7th of January 1536.The following Day the news reached the king.Rumours were rife around the time of Catherines death.No doubt being made by Anne's catholic enemies that Anne or Henry had poisoned her.I pesonally do not think that his was the case.It is understood by people of the medical profession that Catherine of Aragon died from cancer.Even if perceived to be true Anne or Henry would have had someone do the deed for them.

  5. I always wonder how modern historian can be positively sure Queen Catherine wasn't poison,considering Doctor are cautious about diagnosing patient over the phone, so how can they diagnose someone who died over 500 years ago? Historian Paul Friedmann makes a good case for the possibility that Queen Catherine might have been poison. You can read it about it on google books. Pages 168. 174 thru 178


  6. This is an interesting question re: poison. Friedmann wrote his book in the late 1800s - do any of the current historians mention that the Queen was poisoned? I think that Weir doesn't.
    There are 2 facts that might go againt the poison theory: the Queen had her food tasted before eating it, and the second argument is that her daughter Mary died of cancer. This could have been genetic.

  7. @Anonymous,

    Just because a book was written a long time ago, do not mean it should be dismiss. In fact some time the opposite is true. Sometime old books have more facts, because sometime people are still alive,or documents are still in tact. Paul Friemann never stated that Queen Catherine was poison as a fact. Friemann just take a in depth look at the rumor surrounding Queen Catherine's death,and explore the possibility of her being poison. Friemann ask readers to take a closer look at the mystery surrounding Catherine's autopsy ,and explain how it 'could' be possible for her to have been poison. Friemann notes that while Catherine always watch as her food was prepared(Henry VIII had removed her food taster), she became sick after drinking a beer. He also note that Queen Catherine was doing better after Chapuys visit her. She was doing so well that Chapuys did not feel the need to stay. Catherine had a relapse after Chapuys left,and died a couple of days later. Friemann points out that poison given over a period of time can go undetected. It's a really interesting perspective.

    Pages-168.174 thru 178 (copy and paste the link)

    1. What is the source for Henry sacking Katharine’s food taster? I cannot find it!

  8. The Paul Friedman book is a good source, he goes into a lot of detail about the politics of the court. I have read a lot about this period but I have gained a lot more information from his book. Henry was desperate to get rid of both Catherine and Mary and stated so, openly. It is perfectly possible someone sought to do his bidding. After the death of Catherine, there was much feasting and rejoicing in Henry's immediate circle, which was thought shocking by everyone else. Having read the account of Chapuis, it is very plausible Catherine was poisoned. Chapuis was very close to events and he certainly believed it was so. The fact the body was encased in lead, and her doctor was not allowed to be at the opening of the body, are both very suspicious.

  9. Her heart was hideous and black at her death, that suggest she had cancer and died from that like her daughter Mary Tudors.. Many rumors were started mostly by the Catholic fraction, but most likely it was a simple thing like cancer.


All comments are moderated so your replies may not show up immediately. Please be patient. Thanks!