Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Monday, March 24, 2008

'I have spent this night IN Spain'

One of the biggest controversies in European history, one that would change the face of religion in England, is whether or not Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII, and his new wife Catherine of Aragon, ever did the deed.

Here are the known facts, at the time of marriage, Arthur was fifteen and Catherine just shy of sixteen years old. Prior to the marriage, Arthur had stated that he found his new wife to be pleasing to him and that he was feeling 'lusty and amorous.' It was also perfectly acceptable for two people of such a young age to be married and engage in sexual intercourse.

The couple were put to bed as was customary in the day. The following morning a joyous Arthur loudly proclaimed his need for water, that he had 'spent the night in Spain' and being a husband was very 'thirsty work.'

There are some that say he may have made these comments to cover up the fact that he hadn't been able to do his deed, but why would he? We know how boisterous and proud Henry VIII his brother was, what's to say that Arthur was not the same when it came to sexual prowess?

The young couple shortly after the marriage moved to Wales where they took up their duties as Prince and Princess of Wales at Ludlow Castle. There they remained for six months until Arthur's death. If Arthur was so weak and sickly why would he be sent to live at the drafty, cold, remote castle?

It was after his death, with the help of her duenna Doña Elvira, that Catherine was able to say the marriage had not been consummated. (However Catherine and her duenna were never close, and she ended up betraying Catherine later in life.)

Historians say that Arthur was frail. What evidence they have is not clear other than he wasn't a great sportsman. The causes of his death are really unknown, and have been attributed to the 'sweating sickness' that claimed many lives during that time. Others who believe the marriage was consummated say Arthur expired from overexertion.

Whatever the uncertainty is, a pregnancy did not result from her short marriage to Arthur, and she became pregnant almost immediately upon wedding Henry VIII.

The Pope believed the marriage had never been consummated and issued a dispensation saying that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated and she was free to marry his brother Henry VIII, however that wouldn't happen for about eight years after Arthur's death. We don't know if Henry thought she was a virgin on their wedding night or not. We do know that in order to set her aside after twenty-four years of marriage so he could wed another, that he did believe she'd slept with Arthur.

Many say that Catherine was such a pious woman, honest and religious and that she would never lie about whether she consummated her marriage with Arthur. If she said she didn't, then she didn't. But we also know of her strong conviction. She was an extrememly powerful woman, and very smart. She knew that if she conceeded to having slept with Arthur that she could indeed be set aside. That her daughter the heir to the throne would be claimed illegitimate and her marriage to Henry VIII annulled. She would not have admitted to such a thing knowing how it would hurt her daughter's future.

What do you think? Did they or didn't they?


Andrea Snider said...

Oh Eliza, now you've got me wanting the TUDORS to come back on even more!!!

Great post!!! I have to tell you, this is a tricky one, but I believe that they DID, I think as you said in your post, she would never had jeapordized her daughters future or her own place as queen.

But only she knows!!! lol, and she wasn't telling!!!

Anne Carrole said...

Let's see a fifteen year old and a sixteen year old together for six months and expected to have relations--hmmmm--Of course they did!-Anne

Pat McDermott said...

Another interesting post, Eliza. Just shows that soap operas aren't a modern invention! Such intrigue. Many people who claimed to be religious back then did so to protect their interests, and set religion aside or manipulated it (as Henry VIII did) when it suited them. Catherine would have been well versed in the machinations of politics. My guess is she had her hanky panky and subsequently played the game well, though she ultimately lost to Anne Boleyn.

Eliza Knight said...

Thank you for all the comments ladies! I agree whole-heartedly!

And I can't wait for the Tudors to come back too, next weekend!!!

Brit Blaise said...

Thanks for making my head hurt...IMHO, if the woman was indeed as smart as is believed, she would do her utmost to protect her daughter. She would say whatever was needed.

Eliza Knight said...

lol, thanks Brit!

I totally agree with you!

Terry Blain said...

There is only Arthur's word that they consummated the marriage. I can't believe Arthur in those circumstances would admit that the marriage was unconsummated.

Catherine, on the other hand, said the marriage was not consummated. They are the only two who know.

Where you might make a case that Catherine said the marriage was unconsummated so she could marry Henry which was a political move to keep Spain and England allied. And, some say, so the Henry VII who was notorious tight with money, wouldn’t have to give Catherine’s dowery back if she returned to Spain. However, later events make it much more likely she was telling the truth.

Catherine was a very pious woman and I don't think she would have lied to the Papal legate about her marriage to Arthur when Henry was trying to divorce her. The only legal grounds for divorce for Henry would be a consummated marriage to Arthur.

At this point, Catherine could have averted the English Reformation if she had gone into a convent and taken Holy Orders - this would make her 'dead to the world', keep Mary, her daughter legitimate and allow Henry to marry another in hopes of a male heir.

This Catherine refused to do – not because she was trying to subvert Henry’s plea for divorce, but because she stated she did not have a vocation. This is a very religious woman, who wouldn’t accept a polite fiction of going into a convent (where her life would have been pretty much the same for her as if she wasn’t in a convent).

Therefore I believe the marriage between Catherine and Arthur was unconsummated.

History Teacher with a MA in Tudor and Stuart England.

Eliza Knight said...

Wow Terry! You pointed out some very interesting facts! I didn't realize that if she went into a convent Mary would still be considered legitimate... I thought that by doing so she would be essentially admitting that she was had engaged in sexual intercourse with Arthur and in such case her marriage to Henry would be annulled and Mary would no longer be in line for the throne? Is it possible that her going to the church he wouldn't have annulled the marriage? And if he didn't annul it wouldn't he be worried she'd change her mind at a later date and come out of the convent?

These are such good questions, I'm going to have to look into them further.

Thank you for your thoughts!

Joy Nash said...

Hmmmm - really interesting post, Eliza.

At first I was leaning toward yes they did, but after reading Terry's post I'm thinking maybe Arthur was gay, and an embarrassment to the family. That would certainly explain all the posturing after the wedding night, and the subsequent banishment to a drafty Welsh castle!

Eliza Knight said...

Joy! I never thought about that! I'm sure it could certainly be a possibility!