Catherine of Aragon – written by Hattie Bates
Catherine of Aragon, born in 1485, was the first wife of Henry VIII and died believing she was his only rightful wife. Indeed, her gravestone reads ‘Katherine Queen of England’, despite the fact that Henry had definitely moved on by the time of her death in 1936. The most striking thing about her from my perspective is, however, her patronage and commissioning of the book The Education of Christian Woman, written by Juan Luis Vives. It claimed that women, christian women, had the right to an education in the same way that a man did, however not all of Vives’ work was quite so virtuous.
It seems this work was not totally disinterested on Catherine’s behalf. She herself had been educated and was good friends with scholar Erasmus, who testified that she ‘studied literature with success’. Her book patronage is likely to have been an attempt at accessing and justifying an education for her only surviving child of six, Mary I. Nevertheless, the thought was there, as well as the recognition that an education was indeed useful for a woman, be it a royal one. Catherine herself started a trend for women’s education, and herself visited many colleges and continued to develop her academic interests during queenhood, again as a bid to educate her daughter.
She also has the claim for the first female ambassador in history, serving as the spanish ambassador in Britain before marrying Henry’s elder brother Arthur, and served as regent during the Battle of Flodden in France. Both posts are a testament to her intelligence and the unusual amount of power she was granted, be it fleeting.
To end, Thomas Cromwell said of her: ‘if not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of history’. To me this shows a rare determination.