The destination for history

Catherine of Aragon’s arrival in England


On 27 September 1501, fifteen-year-old Catherine of Aragon bid farewell to her beloved Spain and boarded a ship from Laredo bound for England and the beginning of a new life. After more than a decade of marriage negotiations, Catherine was to marry Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and heir to the Tudor throne.

Catherine watched nervously as the coastline faded in the distance. This was the second time in a month that the Infanta, as Spanish princesses are known, had been called upon to say goodbye to her homeland. Just weeks earlier, on 25 August, Catherine and her entourage of around sixty people had set out from La Coruña, but within a week of their departure a violent storm in the Bay of Biscay had forced the vessel to return to Spain. This time, there would be no going back. Catherine would never again feel the warmth of the Castilian sun on her face or smell the scented gardens of the Alhambra Palace, where she’d largely lived for the last two years of her life.  

To ensure the safe arrival of his eagerly awaited daughter-in-law—and her handsome dowry—Henry Tudor sent one of his best captains, Stephen Brett, to steer the ship safely to English shores. This was no mean feat even for this experienced seafarer. They set sail in calm weather but it wasn’t long before another tempest ensued, bringing with it ‘waves so fearfully wrought’, wrote the unknown author of The Receyt of the Ladie Kateryne, who was almost certainly a member of Henry VII’s household. The gale force winds and huge waves so terrifying that many of those on board ‘thought…they should return their course’. ‘Where within short season,’ continued the author, ‘it contended Almighty God that more pleasant winds should goodly rule the journeys of the clear airs above, through whose help and aide to the English ports they were right shortly conveyed…’

The notoriously dangerous crossing gave the princess ample time for prayer and reflection. Her thoughts likely ricocheting between the promise of the glittering future that lay ahead and the family she’d left behind. For Catherine’s parents, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, the last five years had been marred by personal tragedy: the death of their only son and heir, John, and that of their eldest daughter Isabella, and their grandson, Miguel. Their heartache intensified by the departure of their daughters Joanna and Maria to Flanders and Portugal, and now their last-born was on the brink of fulfilling her destiny in England. The once vigorous Catholic Monarchs, lacked the energy to traipse across the country in the punishing heat, and so Catherine and her parents had parted ways in Santa Fe, four months earlier.

Her Spanish life was behind her now and on 2 October 1501, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Catherine’s ship entered the harbour at Plymouth where, ‘she could not have been received with greater rejoicings, if she had been the Saviour of the world,’ wrote her doctor, Licentiate Alcaraz. Margaret Beaufort, the king’s mother, noted the event in her Book of Hours, where only the most important occasions were recorded.

The original plan was for Catherine to land at Southampton, however, after the terrifying storms, it seems that any dry land was a blessing. She was greeted by the West Country’s nobility, who the Receyt reports, ‘with all goodly manner and haste sped themselves with right honourable gifts… saluted and welcomed her.’ The welcoming party also included Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and his wife Agnes Tilney, Duchess of Norfolk.

Not long after stepping on English soil for the first time, Catherine went in procession to the church to give thanks for her safe arrival. The church was St Andrews, originally a Saxon, wooden building, rebuilt in stone in about 1170 and extended over the following centuries. The facade of the church, looks much the same today as it did when Catherine visited in 1501. While King Henry was not there to welcome his daughter-in-law in person, he did pen her a letter telling her of how happy and relieved he was that she’d finally arrived.

After an exhausting three months spent travelling across Spain under a baking sun, a failed crossing attempt and a six-day treacherous sea voyage, Catherine must have been utterly exhausted. But there was little time for rest. The Spanish princess would now travel in stages to London, where she’d make her formal entry on 12 November. It would take Catherine’s entourage more than a month to reach Dogmersfield, where she’d meet her father-in-law and future husband for the first time, despite the strong protestations from her Spanish household, headed by the formidable Doña Elvira Manuel and her husband, Pedro Manrique. They were under strict orders from Isabella and Ferdinand to not allow Catherine ‘to have any meeting nor any manner of communication or company until the start of the very day of the solemnisation of the marriage.’ This edict failed to take into account that in England, Henry ruled.

From Dogmersfield, Catherine travelled onto Chertsey, Kingston upon Thames and Lambeth. Two days after making her formal entry into London, amid great pomp and pageantry, Catherine married her fifteen-year-old Tudor prince at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was now one step closer to fulfilling her destiny of becoming England’s queen.

The future looked bright for the auburn-haired princess but she could not have possibly imagined that in the distance, a storm was brewing – one that would turn her life upside down and swallow her destiny whole.

By Natalie Grueninger

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