Raising infanta Catalina de Aragón to be Catherine Queen of England
By Theresa M. Earenfight
Anuario de Estudios Medievales, Vol 46, No 1 (2016)
Abstract: This study examines the household of infanta Catalina de Aragón, youngest daughter of Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragon, to demonstrate how trusted women at court provided the foundation for Catalina’s transformation from Spanish infanta to English queen. Using account records from the court of her mother and records from English royal sources, this essay focuses four women in particular –Inés Vanegas, María de Rojas, María de Salinas, Elvira Manuel – who were deeply embedded in a complex kin and patronage network at court. Their tutelage and loyalty prepared Catalina to navigate the complexity of court politics in Tudor England.
Introduction: Catalina de Aragón (1485-1536) is a surprisingly marginalized queen. Most Spanish scholars neglect Catalina as English, while English scholars marginalize her as Spanish. To biographers, both scholarly and popular, she is the wife who prompted the King’s Great Matter, the Divorce, the English Reformation. They sentimentalize her, first as the young widow of Arthur and then as the pious, dour, dowdy wife of Henry VIII (1491-1547) who was displaced by the more elegant Anne Boleyn (d. 1536). More often than not, her life is from the perspective of the men in her life or as a victim of the ambitions of men.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, generations of scholars –mostly men, but some women– touch lightly on her early life as prelude to the main event, Henry VIII. Thus, they focus on her life in England, her brief first marriage to Arthur (1486-1502), widowhood and precarious life at court in England, her marriage in 1509 to Henry VIII, motherhood, divorce, and her death in 1536. These narratives employ her as a conventional, dutiful, and ultimately tragic wife. Unschooled in feminist theory and methodology, the authors give her an over-determined femininity as bride, wife, and mother, and pay little attention to other aspects of her life, such as her role as Henry’s adviser in the early years of the reign, her term as regent and her participation in the battle of Flodden, both in 1513.
Many scholars rely on old-fashioned political theory on kingship and relegate Catalina to the margins of political events. But this is deeply problematic. This is a one-dimensional reductionist view of a very complex woman that privileges kingship over queenship, and results in an incomplete and skewed version of her life and reign that considers what was done to her, not what she did. Recently scholars have begun to shift the focus to the queen herself, but most of this work has examined visual or literary depictions. What is missing is her practice of queenship.