The question over whether or not Katherine of Aragon was a virgin when she married Henry VIII is one that has been debated for about 500 years! Katherine maintained that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Henry VII likely had some doubts about this, given that he desired her to marry Henry (who now would be king), but he kept delaying their official betrothal. Maybe he was just stringing along Spain, until the dowry was given in full, but he also might have wondered if she was lying about bedding his first son!
Henry VIII when he was young was incredibly desirous to marry his brother’s widow, who was six years his senior. Katherine was young and beautiful, as well as intelligent and strong. It did not hurt that Henry saw her as a damsel in distress, who his father was neglecting. Henry was romantic at heart and would love to play the hero! At this point he had no reason to doubt what Katherine told him. Besides he was besotted so he would have believed her even if there was reason for uncertainty. This is how after his father’s death, and his ascension to the throne, he married Katherine immediately! This served to secure the alliance with Spain, which had hung in limbo since Arthur’s death.
Henry and Katherine were crowned together, and would soon be expecting a child. This child, as with most they conceived, would not live. They had one son who lived only a few weeks, and many still births and miscarriages. This is a tragedy undoubtedly, and the only child to live was their daughter Mary. It was this lack of a son that made Henry begin questioning his marriage, and Katherine’s honor!
Being that Katherine was six years older than Henry, she became barren much earlier in their marriage then would be optimal. She tried for many years to have a healthy child, and only succeeded in giving the king a daughter. When she could no longer provide children, and Henry was without a male heir, he needed a new way to get one. This is the truth as to why he began to search for a new bride. The fact that his mistress Bessie Blount had given him a healthy son, only made Henry more suspicious of his marriage’s legitimacy.
When he met Anne Boleyn it was a turning point, he was already looking for new marriage prospects, and he found a woman that he fell deeply in love with. Anne stood by his side for nearly seven long years as they fought to get his marriage annulled, so that they could marry.
Henry pointed to a passage in Leviticus that stated that marrying your brother’s widow is incest, as a reason for the marriage never having been valid. He also became utterly convinced that Katherine had lied about her virginity when they had wed, after all he likely would not have wed her if she was not a virgin (alliance with Spain or not).
When Katherine was put on trial this was brought up, and she remained obstinate in her statement of her virginity at the time she married Henry. Henry brought forth people who had heard bragging coming from Arthur the morning after the wedding. Arthur had said that he had “been in the midst of Spain” and it was a “good hobby to have a wife.” Some historians believe this was a boy’s posturing. However, there was no reason at the time to have believed he was so sickly as to not be able to consummate (as Katherine had claimed). He did not get very sickly until a couple of months into their union. It is my opinion that the marriage was undoubtedly consummated, after all they were hormone fueled teenagers! Many may disagree, but this is my opinion after having studied the Tudors for most of my life!
I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on the question of consummation. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a picture of The Spanish Princess version of Katherine, and an actual painting of her. I found the image on smithsonianmag.com.
- The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
- Henry VIII by Alison Weir
- The Tudors (2007-2010)
- The Spanish Princess (2019-2020)