Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine of Aragon


As queen, Catherine of Aragon's first duty was to bear children. Always alive to duty, Catherine experienced six pregnancies over nine years (1509-1518). Only two of her children were born alive, however. A male child, Henry, born in 1511, lived under two months, dying shortly after an enormous tournament held to celebrate his birth. More children - always envisioned as princes - were expected to come. But they did not.

Henry and Catherine's only surviving child was Mary, born in 1516. But female children were not considered safe bets for preserving dynasties. Henry needed a male heir - a need that spurred his efforts in to divorce the middle-aged Catherine of Aragon.

Mary I (1516-1558): Her mother's fate haunted Mary throughout her life. Feted as Henry VIII's heir apparent and "greatest pearl" for the first 10 years of her life, Mary spent the time until she came to the throne in a never-ending, bitter struggle against bad health and bad treatment. Upon her parents' divorce in 1533, Mary was declared a bastard and stripped of the title of princess. She served as lady-in-waiting to her half-sister, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) and, under Anne Boleyn, feared for her life.

With the advent of Jane Seymour, Mary was finally reconciled with her father - but at a price. After much pressure, Mary signed documents recognizing her parents' marriage as invalid and her father as head of the church in England. It was an action for which she would never forgive herself.

More challenges lay ahead - Edward VI disbarred his half-sister from the succession in favor of his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey. After Mary overthrew this nine-day queen (and had her executed), she went on to a particularly unpopular reign as England's first woman ruler. She would be remembered as "Bloody Mary" for burning at the stake some 300 Protestants as heretics. Her marriage to her cousin Prince Philip of Spain would not be happy. She would also lose Calais, England's last continental land holding - a loss that would trouble her to her death.

After two phantom pregnancies, Mary finally died in 1558, possibly from cancer.

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