Some sage advice from Catherine of Aragon

American-Statesman Staff

Dear Catherine of Aragon:
My husband shuns me, saying I offend his nose. I know not what to do.

A: Water, we know, is a most dangerous remedy. I trust you keep your clothing and linens fresh (fastidious people will check for an ill color around the wrist and neck) and frequently wipe your face and hands clean. My own husband, Henry Rex, is also quite severe in his olfactory judgments. Indeed, he himself devised a recipe for perfume, which might prove of use to you in your affliction: "Of compound water take six spoonfuls, as much of rose water, a quarter of an ounce of fine sugar, two grains of musk, two grains of ambergris, two of civet; boil will smell of cloves. Other ways to sweeten the air about you: Wear a pomander at your waist or don a perfume necklace.

Q: When we hold a banquet, my husband frequently falls a-quaffing too freely and then brings shame upon both himself and me by groping the serving wenches. Are you beset with such woes?

A: Certainly not; I cannot imagine how the rumor arose. All the better houses have serving men in their employ. Yes, the expense is greater, but I suspect your husband's meanness in hiring girls to do a man's job injures your family's name as much as his deplorable want of decorum at the table.

Q: Will education spoil my daughter's character and chances for a good and happy marriage? Surely Latin is unnecessary for a girl.

A: Not all girls are suited to books, but nor are all boys. Consider that reading moral treatises will occupy a mind prone to wander to lighter and more dangerous subjects, such as love and pleasure, and can instill a greater value for chastity, honesty and godliness. Erasmus himself has praised my learning in Latin, and my love and devotion to both the Church and my husband cannot, I hope, be doubted. Latin is essential for knowledge of the Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostles, the Old Testament, and the church fathers, especially St. Jerome, St. Cyprian, Augustine, Ambrose, Hillary and Gregory. Would you deny your daughter such sources of solace in the times of trouble with which all women are faced?

Your question comes at a time when I have been giving education much thought. My daughter, Mary, now 6 years old, will need a good tutor soon, after all, she is heir to the throne. In her especially would I want to inculcate an unwavering fidelity to the Church. Her father has the same feelings.

Q: My husband likes his food highly spiced, but I am at my wit's end. When we can find spices, we can scarcely afford them. Will Portugal's hold on the trade ever be loosed?

A: My most estimable parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, spared no effort in their attempts for free trade. Let us hope for the success of Spain's latest expedition, under Magellan. One word of warning, if you have maiden daughters under your roof: Highly spiced meat can raise the passions -- keep the girls' food bland.

Q: Melancholy hangs heavy on me by day, and evil dreams haunt my nights. How can I regain a quiet mind?

A: In a word, rosemary. To become merry, take the plant's flowers, make a powder of them and bind it to your right arm in a linen cloth. To drive away evil dreams, put rosemary leaves under your bed. I assume you know that if you boil the leaves in white wine and wash with it, it will render your face and brow fair. You may write for my pamphlet "Rosemary: Miracle Herb" to learn how to ward off moths, gout, headaches, feebleness, evils of the teeth and more.

Alison Parker is a Statesman copy editor, whom few would dare ask for advice in this century.