Passion for the PAST from historians of the FUTURE

The Reason: A Story of Catherine of Aragon

A young and beautiful woman smiles at me. All traces of sadness and fear have clearly been erased
from her face, and her rosy skin shines in the light of a beautiful summer’s day. She is glowing. She turns around and I see her hands touch her hair; the beautiful pearls have been laid with such perfection that one touch could shatter the entirety of that moment. Entwined into her braids, is a soft, silver tiara, with emerald and opal gems glistening amongst the top. She smiles at me, and I notice the small mole underneath her nose that makeup was never able to conceal. Her eyes; my eyes, widen with delight as I realize I am looking at a reflection of myself, in the long mirror that stands amongst everything.

I see everyone looking my way, their faces are radiating with such joy that they had stayed to see me get what I had planned on doing. I have always been stubborn, though I knew there was a reason I had stayed in England so long, with no certainty of what the following day would bring. I still did not know this reason fully,  though I trusted in the Lord enough to know that he would show me, when the time was right.

I continue to gaze in the mirror, and try to think back to all those years ago, when I had stood in front of a mirror somewhat like this, in the same position as I am now, feeling the
exact opposite as I do now.

 

 

I had felt beautiful back then, of course. I was only 16 years old, though I was to be married to a
Prince and live as a Princess in England, a completely foreign country to me. Arthur Tudor; Prince of Wales, as he was known; my first husband, and my future husband’s elder brother.

Arthur had looked young in the canopy of flowers that adorned the cathedral above our heads.
People from all around had come to see the marriage of the Princess of Spain and Prince of Wales.  My gown wasunimpressive, though everyone had said it was absolutely splendid after the
ceremony.

People had always told me that when you stand next to the man you are to marry, everything comes
to a stand-still.  The people stop talking; the flowers stop rustling; your heart starts thumping and your breath stops short.  When I stood next to Arthur I felt cold.  I was heavy and my
breathing raced out of fear.  The minister had said the vows, and we said the appropriate ‘I do’s’.  Although I was terrified for the actual ceremony, the festivities that followed were absolutely amazing.

The food was extravagant:  it truly was fit for a King. The music mixed perfectly with the mood: on the brink of a peasant’s dance, though it kept up a tempo so that couples could dance under the candle-light. The costumes of the dancers and entertainers were phenomenal, full of color and light. King Henry certainly knew how to run a wedding in splendor.

The wedding night had appeared horrid to me. I did not know how to be with a man in that way, though it appeared that Arthur had no idea what to do with me either.

 

 

“Miss?’ my young friend Eva asked.

I snapped back to reality. “Yes?” my voice sounded as though I had been gurgling water for some time. I cleared my throat as I waited for Eva to continue.

“You look beautiful  my lady”, she does a small curtsy, smiling as she does so. She is my closest
friend, and I am so happy for her talent in English, so that at least my childhood friend was allowed to come with me from Spain, if not only for her helpfulness of a translator.

I hold her elbow which has been incased with silk that everyone has been trying to prepare so
quickly following the king’s death, and kiss her.

She smiles, obviously pleased that I still consider her my favorite.

“As do you” I say a smile in my voice.  Eva has always looked young and pure, though a now married woman, she still has rosy cheeks and bright eyes that scream for adventure.

We turn to look in the mirror together.  She, with her long legs and honey – blond hair, looks every inch a young beauty.  I, with my darker hair and shorter frame, looks like a doll.  We smile at each
other, both our cheeks turning red, for she is the only person I allowed myself to confide with that I hoped for the Kings death, for this marriage idea would have to come to a head.

I touch my forehead to hers, but a sudden scream turns us around and snaps us out of our little
daydream.

A pile of gems have fallen onto the oaken floor of my quarters. A girl is standing clutching the hat that held them, though now they are all on the floor.  She looks at me, tears in her eyes, absolutely frozen.

I sigh and make my way over to the young girl; she can’t be over 10 years old. ‘Sometimes things fall down, but we just need to learn to pick them up again, for they could be better than when you were holding them’ I say, leaning down to pick up a pearl that has rolled towards the hem of the girl’s dress.

A wave of sadness washes over me as I look at the pearl, so much like the same one I held eight
years ago.

 

 

I remember standing in the cathedral, ready for my dead husband’s body to be brought in a large,
black coffin that had been lined with gold to the front.  Pearls had been embedded into my long, heavy black dress and I pulled one out of its socket just to have something to fidget with. It was perfectly round and white. Pearls were always creamy but this one was startling against the heavy black wool; I started rolling it around my fingers again and again, waiting for it to warm under the heat from my fingers.

I looked up just in time to see the coffin being walked down the aisle by four Tudor relatives.
They grab the coffin with such intensity; it appears all to be an act; as
though Arthur’s funeral had been rehearsed again and again for everyone to be
satisfied that the crowd would have the right amount of sadness for the loss of
a King’s son.

The heavy curtains
that framed the cathedral stayed with me for long after. They kept all the
light out, and the funeral was even more solemn than I ever could have
imagined. Everything was completely black, also to add to the effect I had
guessed.

Black made people
think of bad things: like a secret whispered in the night that was never meant
to be shared, a sin; hot and evil, growing larger until it reaches a point when
it can never leave you.

Black reminded me of
death, so standing in a beautiful cathedral, adorned with stained glass windows
of the Savior and the Madonna; awaiting the burial of my dead husband made me
feel lost, and unworthy of anything good again.

Eva had followed me
outside when it had ended, her head turned down, tears dripping quietly from
her eyes; heavily framed with dark makeup. In her world, my pain was greater
than her own. I had always loved her for this, though back then I had felt
terrible; for there were no tears on my face and no sorrow in my heart for the
loss of Arthur.

She had covered my
shoulders with a shawl, stuttering repeatedly how sorry she was for my loss. Ladies-in-waiting
had filed out of the cathedral after us and we all waited for the carriage that
would escort us through the streets of London, back to the castle where there
would undeniably be a feast, though there was nothing to celebrate.

My mother had always told me that death was
nothing to celebrate or be joyful about. Death meant the end, and the end was
always bad. I am still not sure if I look at life this way, because Arthur’s
death opened a door to whole new possibilities, perhaps better than what was
already set out for my life.

Outside, I was
huddled against Eva, her long honey hair brushing my face: she smelt like her
daughter Rosanna: pure, young and innocent.

The pearl was still
between my pointer-finger and thumb. Though it had been there for at least an
hour, it was still as cold as it would have been when it had been plucked out
of the ocean’s waters.

The girl is staring
at me, completely wide-eyed, as is everybody else in this crowded room we must
share.

The pearl I am
holding is hot and wet. I reach my hand up to my face and feel a single tear
sliding down past my nose. Mother had always said not to show weakness in front
of those who could use it to their advantage. There are few I trust anymore, so
I sniff and smile at the girl and pat her head, noticing that everyone has
begun to continue their preparation for the wedding.

Eva is looking at me,
a smile on the edge of her lips. I walk over to her: she smiles, takes my arm
and leads me from the room. Girls everywhere follow us down the hallway and out
the door, all the while clutching at flowers or my dress train.

In the carriage,
London is keeping pace with procession, as they will be the entire way to the
Cathedral, when, finally, I will be permitted to view my Prince, take his hand
and rule a nation, as I have known this is what God has always wanted me to do:
to serve my family, though most importantly, to serve God through helping
others.

My first proper
acquaintance with Henry Tudor has always puzzled me. He had been standing with
his face downwards in our chapel in London, his tousled brown hair over his
eyes. As a boy who nobody ever saw upset this was every confusing for me.
Mother had always said that people can show their true colors in the light of
the Lord, and that they mustn’t ever be afraid of people judging them.

When he turned to go,
his hand had reached up to wipe his hair from his eyes; I saw the blue in his
eyes pierce mine, before I realized that I had stopped breathing.

He had come over to
wear I was kneeling, and sat down next to me, taking my hand gently, and
placing his lips lightly on my knuckles.

‘My lady’, he had whispered, just a breath, barely a sentence, though it has
stayed in my mind clearly, as I often repeat the conversation we had, on the
floor of the chapel.

My English was still
rather terrible back then, though we understood enough of each other’s language
to continue.

We stayed talking
long enough for an entire procession of nuns to finish for the morning and
leave. When Henry realized we were the last people in the small, circular room,
he stood, offering his hand. I took it: it was warm and still, totally
confident as he looked into my eyes, the blue of his swallowing my entire
being, so that I did not realize where I was, or who I was. It saddened me when
he blinked and we came back down to earth. He had thanked me and wished me good
luck in all of my endeavors. I had smiled and said the same thing back, though
when he walked out, he paused; one hand on the tall pillar that ran up the
chapel walls. His head turned and he smiled, so faintly it could have been my
imagination, and then he kept on walking.

In the cathedral I am
standing next to Henry. It feels like it did the first time he ever made eye
contact with me. So many years ago, though his eyes have not changed: there is
still wonder in them. As we turn, he stares me right in the eye and everything
stops. There is no sound; the flowers are no longer rustling, the people are no
longer muttering under their breaths. My breath has stopped. I can feel the
blood racing up to color my cheeks, and my whole body is on fire. The loud
bombing of my heart is audible in my ears as Henry takes my hand and turns us
towards the crowd.

The meaning is clear
to me now. I stayed because the Lord knew that one day I would be here. Under
this roof; in this country; holding the hand of this particular person, the
person who will make me feel this way; forever.

I am Catherine of
Aragon, son of King Ferdinand of Spain and wife of King Henry VIII of England.

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