Friday, December 05, 2008

Question from Melisondre - Catherine of Aragon's virginity

I've been having a debate with myself about Catherine of Aragon's virginity when she married Henry VIII. She was married to Arthur first, but not for very long. Also, as we all know, she denied having sex with him until the end of her life. However she could have been denying it to keep her marriage and position in tact. So, my question is was Catherine of Aragon a virgin when she married Henry VIII or did she sleep with Arthur first?

[Ed note - I was really surprised that this question hasn't shown up here yet, especially since it has been discussed quite a bit on my email list! It was touched on in the thread below, but not really discussed in full.]


Anonymous Tracey said...

I think the only way to answer this question would be purely by speculation. Going by what I understand of Catherine's personality, I believe her to have been virgin when she married Henry.

Supposedly, Henry never openly commented about their wedding night. He always danced around the query, leaving it to Cathy One to answer. In a 'hys'terical novel from years ago, the author put forth the notion that Henry, himself, was a virgin. If he were to make any sort of answer, it would be revealed that he really didn't know which end was up (sorry for the pun, couldn't be helped! :) ) and his pride/manhood would be at stake. Thus his silence on either end of Catherine's virginity defense.

In this case, I find it interesting that Henry never spoke up to refute his wife's statement. He was in the perfect position to call her 'a liar'...after all, who would question him???

December 05, 2008 9:06 AM  
Blogger djd said...

I don't believe we will ever know for sure, but Catherine was a devout Catholic, and having a life based on a lie like that just doesn't seem to be in her nature. But, then again, those Tudors were best at decieving themselves as to their motives for their actions. I am sure that Henry VIII convinced himself that his desire for a divorce was based soley on his readings in Leviticus that his marriage would not bear fruit if he married his brothers wife rather than being hot for Anne Boleyn. He even went so far as to swear that he would choose COA all over again if it would please God (before the Pope's people knew about Anne). his delusions were reinforced by the people he chose to be closest to him who would tell him what he wanted to hear.
From what I have read, Arthur was quite sickly when they got married. Had he even gone through puberty yet? Wasn't it pretty much public knowledge back then that the marriage had not been consummated? Regardless, I don't see devout Catherine of Aragon swearing before God on anything that wasn't absolutely true.

December 05, 2008 9:42 AM  
Anonymous PhD Historians said...

I agree with DJD's initial premise: Katherine was a devout Catholic, and she took an oath to the effect that she had never "known" Arthur physically. Oaths carried a great deal more weight in the 16th century than they do now, and swearing a false oath was a mortal sin. I doubt seriously that Katherine would have endangered her immortal soul simply in order to preserve an earthly marriage. I am of the opinion that she was being entirely truthful in swearing that she never had sexual relations with Arthur.

December 05, 2008 2:40 PM  
Blogger Melisondre said...

I realize that we will never for sure one way or the other. I should have put in my question that I'm really interested in the opinions of the people here, and to see which way the popular opinion goes.

As far as my opinion, I still don't know what to think.

Granted, I don't know much about Arthur, but wouldn't his father, Henry VII, have tried to make sure that he bedded his new wife?

December 06, 2008 8:22 PM  
Blogger Merlin said...

I think it is generally accepted that she was- David Starkey is the only historian I know of who challenges that belief (and I don't personally agree with his reasoning). I suppose there is evidence on both sides- Arthur was supposed to have commented on it being a 'good passtime' to have a wife and apparently called for water on the morning after his wedding night because 'he had been that night in the midst of Spain' but those stories were dredged up many years later when Henry was seeking annulment of his marriage so I don't think we should set too much store by them. As has already been pointed out, Arthur was only (just) 15 at the time of his marriage and although I don't think his health was as poor as has been sometimes alleged, he may well have not fully reached puberty. Catherine was always adament that the marriage hadn't been consumated and I think we should believe her especially as she swore to it publically on several occasions.

December 07, 2008 9:17 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I think there is two sides to this question. It is one of the most contested and controversial topics in tudor history. I think because she was such a devout catholic she could have been telling the truth,, bur she was desperate to become queen of england, she had been trained for it since birth, and Arthurs sudden death jepodised that. This veiw of the debate is represented really well in Phillipa Gregorys' The Constant Princess, and is well worth reading. However, there have been testimonys by people at the time who swore Arthur needed water after his wedding night. I think this is another of the highly controversial debates of history which cannot be resolved.

December 08, 2008 9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arthur's great need for water and his boastful comment about being in "the midst of Spain" sounds like the words of a willful teenaged boy with a wounded ego, if you ask me!

December 08, 2008 1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am assuming that the "hysterical novel" someone mentioned is the one written by Margaret George...
Anyway, a well-nourished, well-cared for boy in any time period would be well into puberty by the age of fifteen and I, logically, cannot see a fifteen year old boy staying off his wife for the entire time they were married. Maybe their marriage wasn't consummated on the first night, if he was shy, and all that stuff about water and "being in Spain" was just embarrassed boasting, but I would bet both my legs that the marriage was consummated sooner or later. And Catherine understood her duty and what was required of her (based on what we know of her character later in life); she would have been willing and probably encouraging.
In my opinion, which could be wrong, I think she lied. I don't blame her for lying or think that it's wrong that she did, but there's no way on Earth a fifteen year old boy would pass up on having sex.

August 19, 2009 10:19 AM  

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