Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours ~ Catherine of Aragon's Wedding

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month it's the turn of writer and historian Susan Abernethy. Journey with her as she attends the wedding of Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur...


The Wedding of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon
By Susan Abernethy

It was hard to decide what day to witness in history but I ended up going back to the era that got me interested in history to begin with.  There are many monumental days in the Tudor era but this event is significant for the early days of the Tudor dynasty, allowing Henry VII to gain entrée into the great ruling houses of Europe, defuse any Yorkist plotting against his regime, secure allies and make an impression on his subjects.

Arthur, Prince of Wales

About mid-morning on November 14, 1501, Catherine of Aragon emerged from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace of Lambeth and walked along a wide blue carpet escorted by Arthur’s brother, Prince Henry who was dressed in silver tissue embroidered with gold roses.  She made her way past various English and Spanish nobility who were lavishly dressed for the occasion.   Catherine’s dress was made of white satin, pleated in the Spanish style and embroidered with pearls and gold thread.  Under the dress were hoops called farthingales, the first ever seen in England.  She wore a white silk veil that fell to her waist and had a border of gold and precious stones.  Her hair was loose, hanging over her shoulders symbolizing virginity.

Portrait thought to be of 11-year-old Catherine.

Catherine and Prince Henry arrived at the west door of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.  (This is another reason I would enjoy the scene as I would be able to see Old St. Paul’s before it burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1660.)  An elevated walkway had been constructed from the door to the altar so everyone could witness the proceedings.  It was six hundred feet long and covered with red carpet which had been tacked down with gilded nails.  King Henry and Queen Elizabeth observed the wedding ceremony from a small closet inside the cathedral behind lattice windows.  The walls of the cathedral were covered mostly in tapestries.  Under the rose window, surrounding the high altar, was a display of gold plate, ornaments and relics encrusted with precious stones.

The family of Henry VII, depicted on an illuminated page.

The bride and Prince Henry processed slowly down the walkway.  At the high altar where the ceremony was to take place, a round stage had been built that gave the effect of looking like a mountain.  Arthur entered the cathedral from a side door and appeared on the stage, also dressed in white satin.  He was surrounded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, eighteen bishops and attendants dressed in colored silks and cloth of gold.  Henry turned the bride over to his brother.

The bishops celebrated the nuptial mass which lasted for three hours.  After mass, the newlyweds knelt to receive the blessing of the King and Queen.  They turned in every direction toward the crowd holding hands.  After a celebratory mass and refreshments, Arthur left as he had come in by the side entrance.

Portrait, either of Mary Tudor c1514,
or of Catherine c1502

Catherine and Henry returned to the west door along the raised walkway.  As they came out, they were greeted by a green mountain covered in precious metals.  This was meant to signify King Henry VII’s kingship, his Rich Mount (Richmond).  At the top of the mountain there were three trees and in front of the trees stood three kings dressed in armor.  In the middle was King Arthur flanked by the kings of Spain and France.  From Arthur’s tree, which was covered in red roses, a wild dragon emerged.  From the mountain’s core a spring of wine flowed.  Catherine and Henry watched as the crowd filed through a gate to the fountain to drink.  Trumpets blared and the crowd shouted King Henry and Prince Arthur’s names.  The entire wedding party made their way to Lambeth Palace where there was a grand, sumptuous feast and a formal bedding of the newlyweds.

Tapestry depicting the court of Arthur & Catherine

It must have been a magnificent sight.  This day was perhaps the greatest triumph of diplomacy and foreign relations for King Henry VII, demonstrating recognition of the new Tudor dynasty by a continental power.  It was also a glimpse into the future.  Catherine’s gallant escort, Prince Henry, would marry her in June of 1509 after he became King Henry VIII.

Young Henry VIII after his coronation

Sources:  “Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales:  Life, Death and Commemoration” edited by Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton, “Winter King:  Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England” by Thomas Penn, “The Sisters of Henry VIII” by Maria Perry, “Elizabeth of York:  A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir, “Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen” by Amy Licence


Susan can’t remember a time when she didn’t love history. At the age of fourteen, she watched “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on TV and was enthralled. Truth seemed much more strange than fiction. She started reading about Henry VIII and then branched out into many types of history. This even led her to study history in college. Even though she never did anything with the history degree, it’s always been a hobby of hers. She started her blog to write about her thoughts on all kinds of history from Ancient times to mid-20th Century.
Find her blog, The Freelance History WriterHERE

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