Sunday, April 04, 2010

Question from Eric - Catherine of Aragon and the convent

I keep finding it asserted that Catherine of Aragon was advised to enter a convent, in order that she may retire honorably and allow her husband, Henry VIII, to remarry lawfully. I first came across this watching The Tudors, and now again watching the BBC miniseries "The Six Wives of Henry VIII"

I feel this needs to be corrected - Catholicism does not, and never had, taught that a CONSUMMATED marriage might be dissolved by one spouse having entered a convent. Once a Christian marriage is consummated, it may only be dissolved by death - a spouse may consent to his mate entering into religious life, but the spouse "left behind" in the world is not thereby free to remarry. He is still married, if continent, to his wife in religion.

Does anyone know that I am wrong on this, and if so, where is the documentation? I can't seem to find any documentation for Catherine having been told her marriage can be dissolved by entering a convent, just passing references to it, from sources apparently oblivious to Catholic doctrine.

In terms of my own sources, I cite my former seminary education, along with this from St Thomas Aquinas:

Also, see the old Catholic Encyclopedia articles, "Sacrament of Marriage" and "Religious Profession".

Religious profession only dissolved a marriage that has not been consummated, which would not apply to Catherine.

PERHAPS it was the case that Cardinal Campeggio and other hierarchs meant simply for Katherine to retire to the convent, take vows, and not dispute Henry's case for annullment? Which IS what happened to her contemporary St Joan of France, and which is something VERY different from saying her religious profession would have dissolved her marriage.

Do I have this right/


Aly said...

Eric, I think they simply meant Katherine to go to a convent and not dispute the annulment. And of course, Henry didn't believe he was truly married to her, so by asking her to retire to a convent, the problem, for him and his conscience anyway, would "go away."

Anonymous said...

Katherine of Aragon was offered the option of going to a Monastery but she would not take it. Henry gave her this option other than divorce or annulment. Henry VIII was looking for an easy way out and Katherine said no. She stood her ground.

Michelle said...

You're correct about the Catholic stance regarding a true, sacramental, valid marriage; it can only be dissolved by the death of one of the spouses.
Sending Katherine to a convent was not an alternative to annulment or divorce, the annulment was to proceed anyway. It was more for political purposes that she was 'offered' the nunnery. Since she was such a high rank in her own right - a daughter of Spain, aunt to Charles V, etc, (sidebar - don't forget too - Pope Clement was a prisoner of Charles V for a time - this, along with other political factors were a big reason Henry did not get the annulment at first - point being, there's much more at play here than is often oversimplified) she did have many supporters, including those in England who did not agree with the annulment process. If she was made to seem that she accepted the annulment and as a result retired to a nunnery, there was much less chance of an uprising for her support. Henry was not trying to avoid the annulment.
Also, it is extremely important to recognize that Henry truly believed that his marriage to Katherine was invalid. He truly believed that as the King, (whom God himself appointed - as was believed), he had a special relationship with God - a relationship that only other princes shared. Henry truly believed that the fact that he had no legitimate male issue with Katherine meant that God was displeased with the marriage, and it was therefore invalid. This fact often does not get its due today, because to modern eyes this seems hard to swallow, but in the 16th century, this was a heartfelt and true belief.

Luv said...

I'm not sure. however a lot of Queens were sent to a convent in order for their husbands to take a new wife, and sire a male heir. I agree , Henry VIII wanted to send Katherine to a convent so she would not protest the
annulment, but also if she was to remain in the convent, couldn't Henry VIII charge Queen Katherine with abandonment and get the marriage annulled on those charges?

Alia said...

Hi. You are right about the Catholic belief considering a consummated marriage, like Michelle said. However, what Henry VIII said was not 'our marriage is lawful, go to a convent.' He said that the marriage was not lawful because in the Bible it is said that you cannot marry your brother's widow and have a righteous, childbearing marriage. Catherine argued that the marriage with Arthur, Prince of Wales (Henry's brother, to whom she was married to before she was married to Henry) was not consummated because they were so young and him so sickly.
Hope this helps :)

Foose said...

Geoffrey de C. Parmiter's The King's Great Matter is a standard source for many historians studying the matter, and it agrees with your assessment:

"It is true that even had Catherine agreed to enter a convent, the king would not have been free to marry again, but such a course would have removed one of the principal difficulties that faced Wolsey and Campeggio and the marriage suit could then have proceeded in the absence of the queen and judgment by default could have been given against the marriage."

He goes on to state that subsequently, following the failure of Campeggio's persuasions, the king's envoys at Rome, Sir Francis Bryan and Peter Vannes, were instructed "to inquire, whether in the event of the queen being induced to enter the religious life, the pope might ex plenitudine potestatis grant the king a dispensation for a second marriage; ... and whether, if the queen [in her convent] were still reputed to be his wife, the pope would grant a dispensation to enable the king to have two wives ..."

I agree that too many writers accept that the queen's embrace of a religious life automatically dissolves her marriage when the reality is a bit more subtle. By retiring to a convent, the queen would not challenge the nullity suit, which would make everything easier for Henry, as Aly and Michelle note. Once Catherine had taken vows, she would (I think) be under Church authority and strongly deterred from fomenting rebellion, as Michelle points out.