In 1513, Henry VIII’s an initial queen—acting as regent in she husband’s absence—secured a significant triumph at the battle of Flodden


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The second season that "The Spanish Princess" presents a extremely dramatized version of the battle of Flodden. In actuality, the queen (seen here in a c. 1520 portrait) never rode directly into battle. Illustration by Meilan Solly / image via Starz and Robert Alexander / Getty images

She was, in the indigenous of chronicler John Edwards, Henry VIII’s “greatest queen.” however though Catherine of Aragon’s marital relationship to the Tudor king it s long 24 years—collectively, his five other marital relationships spanned simply 14 years—she has actually long been overshadowed by she successors.

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The daughter that Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Catherine came to England as the bride that Henry’s enlarge brother, Arthur, Prince that Wales. However Arthur passed away shortly after ~ the pair’s wedding, leave his 16-year-old widow in a precarious position. Though Spain and also England initially sought to keep their alliance through marrying Catherine to another member the the Tudor family (both Henry and his father, Henry VII, were suggested as potential suitors), negotiations soured together diplomatic relations shifted. Ultimately, Catherine spent 7 years mired in apprehension over her future.

The princess’ fortunes shifted when Henry VII died in 1509, leave the throne come his single surviving son, that promptly married his alluring young sister-in-law. The couple’s love relationship, however, eventually deteriorated due to a absence of a male heir and also the king’s infatuation v Anne Boleyn.

Catherine is often shown as a dowdy, too many pious, stubborn old woman who refused to productivity her place for the an excellent of the kingdom. The truth, however, is an ext nuanced—a truth increasingly reflected in cultural depictions the the queen, consisting of Starz’s “The Spanish Princess” and also West finish hit Six: The Musical, which functions a fictionalized version of Catherine chiding her husband for forgetting the “I’ve never lost control / No issue how many times i knew friend lied.”


Far from gift the troublesome, unappealing mam of well-known imagination, Catherine was in reality a charismatic, intelligent and also much-loved queen. 3 years right into the royal couple’s marriage, Henry was still therefore besotted v his consort that he invite a Spanish visitor come look at her “just to see exactly how bella and beautiful she was.”

In 1513, the queen, then 27 years old, to be entrusted with command of the kingdom while her 22-year-old husband waged war versus France’s Francis I. Henry left behind a little group that advisors, yet as newly found documents demonstrate, Catherine didn’t just defer to these elderly men’s counsel. Instead, she suspect an active function in the governing—and protection—of England.

“When she is left together regent, she is in she element,” claims Julia Fox, author of Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic stays of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen the Castile. “… She has the strength to summon troops, to appoint sheriffs, to sign warrants and to get money native the treasurer that the chamber.”

As Henry and also his troops besieged the French city of Thérouanne, Catherine and her council readied for a clash closer to home. Just over a month into the queen’s regency, France’s ally, Scotland’s James IV, had declared war on England, bringing a duration of peace in between the neighboring nations to an end.

The reality that James was married come Henry’s older sister, Margaret, did small to dissuade one of two people him or Catherine from entering the fray. Follow to 17th-century chronicler william Drummond, the pregnant Scottish queen pleaded with her husband to desist, noting the he to be poised come fight “a mighty people, now turned insolent through their riches at home and also power abroad.” yet James, rescue ring by the possibility of conquest (and of dealing a punch to his egotistical brother-in-law), refused.

Catherine, for her part, appeared to “relish the opportunity” to exercise her full authority, claims Giles Tremlett, writer of Catherine the Aragon: Henry"s Spanish Queen. In an august 13 letter, the queen wrote, “My heart is very good to it.” Wryly express women’s traditional function in warfare, she added, “I to be horribly busy v making standards, banners and badges.”

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Michael Sittow portrait that Catherine, c. 1502 (left), and also portrait that Henry VIII about the time the his an initial wedding windy domain via Wikimedia Commons

Though Catherine did, in fact, order the royal wardrobe to furnish 2 banners bearing the arms of England and also Spain, and also “standards of the lion crowned imperial,” such tasks made up just a small section of she preparations. Working with councilors, she mobilized forces throughout England, connecting with regional authorities to identify how many men and horses their parishes can provide. When the mayor and also sheriffs of Gloucester failed to respond in a stylish fashion, she offered them a deadline of 15 days and emphasized that “writing and also news native the boundaries show that the King that Scots method war.”

In addition to recruiting soldiers, the queen dispatched money (£10,000, to it is in exact), artillery, gunners, a fleet the eight ships and also supplies varying from serial to tube of beer and also armor. She had Thomas Howard, Earl that Surrey—a combat-hardened, 70-year-old veteran of the 1485 battle of Bosworth—and his military of about 26,000 mount a an initial line of defense close to the border through Scotland and asked Sir cutting board Lovell to command a second force in brothers Midlands.

What Catherine did following was unprecedented, specifically for a kingdom where war was thought about an exclusively male domain. As records recently uncovered at the joined Kingdom’s nationwide Archives testify, this daughter the Ferdinand and Isabella—two famously bellicose rulers who’d spent Catherine’s childhood driving the Muslim Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula—left the security of London and also headed north towards the English-Scottish border with 1,500 sets of armor, and a golden “headpiece through crown” the Tremlett likens to “an armored sunlight hat,” in tow.

“The brand-new details show off the queen more deeply together a manager of occasions rather than a passive figurehead managed by those the Henry’s counselors left in England,” Sean Cunningham, the archivist who found the papers, said the Times’ note Bridges in May. “… allow us know that Catherine to be heading for Warwick and also the Tower had pretty lot been emptied of armor.”

Catherine and her troops were all set to confront the scotsman if James IV controlled to loss both Surrey’s and Lovell’s forces. One contemporary, Peter Martyr, reported the the queen, “in imitation of her mom Isabella,” regaled she reserve army with a speech compelling them to “defend their territory” and “remember the English ship excelled that of all other nations.”

This event is commonly referenced—including in one upcoming illustration of “The Spanish Princess,” i m sorry will feature a extremely exaggerated variation of Catherine, clad in armor fashioned to accommodate she visible pregnancy, riding directly into battle—but many historians now take into consideration Martyr’s account apocryphal. (Ambassadors’ correspondence indicates that the queen yielded a premature son who passed away shortly after birth in October 1513, but the pregnancy’s veracity stays a suggest of contention; in Sister Queens, Fox argues, “it appears unlikely that she would have risked a much-wanted son by accompanying the army from London.”)

Tremlett deems the decided “almost definitely invented” yet points out that this “doesn’t median it reflect the heart of the moment.” Fox, meanwhile, states Catherine more than likely made “a speech, … however whether that was fairly as rousing or together wonderful, ns don’t know.”

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Memorial come the dead at the site of the fight of Flodden The land via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

As the turned out, no Lovell nor the queen finished up see action. On September 9, Surrey’s troops and James’ military of much more than 30,000 involved in battle. The English wielded the bill, a simple hooked weapon acquired from an agricultural tool, if the scotsman opted for the longer, steel-tipped pike. One afternoon that “great slaughter, sweating and travail” ensued, and by its end, part 10,000 Scots—including 12 earls, 14 lords, one archbishop, a bishop, 2 abbots and also James himself—lay dead. Comparatively, the smaller sized English military only lost approximately 1,500 men.

The Scottish king brutal fate was, in a way, evocative that the more comprehensive blow inflicted top top his country in the wake of the defeat: As historian Leanda de Lisle explains, “James’ left hand was virtually severed, his neck gashed, and also an arrowhead was shot v his lower jaw.” (Additional ignominies, including one in ~ Catherine’s very own hand, awaited the king corpse.) through the Stuart monarch’s passing, his infant son, James V, came to be the leader of a grieving, much-reduced nation.

According to Fox, the fight of Flodden (which paint, etc its surname from adjacent Flodden Edge) left Scotland “in a powerless situation.” She adds, “Not only have you just defeated them in a spectacular way, however in disarray. Scotland is virtually at mercy.”

Prior to Cunningham’s find, historians had actually only known that Catherine was in Buckingham, around 60 mile north that London, as soon as she received word the Surrey’s victory. Yet the brand-new evidence suggests that the queen intended come travel further north, if not straight into battle like Joan the Arc, climate at least right into the vicinity of combat.

“Many a queen would have actually quite simply hotfooted it to the Tower of London, traction up the drawbridge and sat there relatively safely,” says Fox. “… but she doesn"t do that. She’s no milk sop. She’s no taking refuge. She yes, really is out on the road.”

Three job after the battle, Catherine penned a letter to her husband, who had actually successfully caught Thérouanne and was currently besieging Tournai. She started by emphasizing Flodden’s significance, writing, “o my reasoning this battle hath been to your grace, and all your realm, the greatest honour that might be, and an ext than have to you success all the crown of France.” together one could expect of such a deeply religious individual, the queen proceeded to say thanks to God for the victory—and subtly remind Henry to perform the same.

Catherine’s missive then took a rather unexpected turn. She’d sent her husband a piece of the Scottish king’s bloodied surcoat (“for her banners”) however lamented that she’d originally hoped to send a much more macabre trophy: the embalmed body of James himself. Unfortunately, the queen reported, she soon realized the “our Englishmen’s hearts would not experience it.”

This “gleeful and somewhat bloodthirsty” sentiment might seem the end of character for a mrs renowned for her piety, but as Tremlett points out, “Plenty that pious human being were also violent, plenty of world were violent pious.” few exemplify this seemingly contradictory mindset and also Catherine’s own parents, who waged a relentless, violent campaign against all non-Christians in your kingdom.

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Catherine and also Henry later on in life public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Ferdinand and Isabella’s reconquest that Spain culminated in the January 2, 1492, autumn of Granada, which marked the finish of 780 years of Muslim ascendancy in the Iberian Peninsula. Climate an impressionable 6-year-old, Catherine saw the Moors’ surrender, and also her mummy leading duty in the military crusade.

“This through her,” states Fox. “This idea that a woman connected in war is there. And when she actually pertains to the divorce question, she look at it together a battle. She look at fighting for her own marital relationship as just as essential as fighting for the Catholic faith.”

Though Catherine was mindful to worship her husband’s success in France, she and also other modern observers knew the Henry’s triumphs paled in comparison come Flodden.

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As Antonia Fraser write in The Wives the Henry VIII, “he Scottish risk was eliminated for a generation by the slaughter the its leaders. … contrasted to this, the fight of the spurs won over the French, although component of an high value campaign, was a purely momentary check, forget the following year when the King rotate his international policy ~ above its head.”

Catherine no the first English queen to assume the reins of strength in the absence of a male monarch. Sixty years prior, another foreign-born princess, Margaret that Anjou, took charge of the kingdom amid the wars of the Roses, fighting for she son’s inheritance and also making major decisions on instead of of she disastrously it is not enough ability husband, Henry VI. Much more recently, Henry VIII’s grandm Margaret Beaufort—an “uncrowned queen,” in the indigenous of chronicler Nicola Tallis—had acted together regent in the brief duration before the young king came of age. (Years after ~ Catherine’s death, she beloved daughter, mar I, adhered to in her mother’s footsteps by rallying troops to her cause and also seizing the throne from those who had actually sought to thwart her.)

Combined v the example collection by Isabella and other relatives, claims Tremlett, “Catherine had some really strong function models for females who can rule, for women who might fight.”

Whereas Margaret that Anjou’s seizure of power made she deeply unpopular, Catherine’s regency cemented her already sterling reputation. In the mid-1520s, as soon as Henry first raised the concern of divorcing his wife, he found that windy opinion to be firmly ~ above the queen’s side. She perceived the survive of her marital relationship as inextricable from the survive of the Catholic Church, follow to Fox, and also refused to earlier down in spite of immense pressure.

Catherine’s legacy, add to the historian, “is the of a wronged mrs … that did no accept defeat, who dealt with for what she thought to be appropriate until the breath left her body.”

Henry, for his part, never ever forgot the tenacity his wife had demonstrated in the work leading as much as Flodden. Together he later on reflected through no small amount the trepidation, she to be perfectly capable of transferring “on a battle … as fiercely together Queen Isabella, she mother, had actually done in Spain.”