February 15, 2011

I imagine we're all at least familiar with the story of King Henry VIII. He was definitely what we would now call 'a player', back then, a scoundrel. But since he was royalty, he felt he could do whatever he wanted. And he did, for the most part.

Which is why I found this letter fascinating, from Katherine of Aragon - Henry VIII's first wife. She had originally been betrothed to Henry's elder brother Arthur and the two were married in 1501, but Arthur died shortly afterwards. Katherine then married Henry in 1509, just weeks after Henry succeeded to the throne. They were married for 20 years and for the most part were content, aside from the series of miscarriages and stillbirths. They only had one surviving child, Mary, born in 1516 but in everything, Katherine was a most competent woman, taking care of the affairs of state in Henry's absence. The rupture that happened later on, which ended in Henry annulling their marriage, declaring Mary illegitimate and putting his aging wife aside for Anne Boleyn, was truly horrific. Katherine, after the humiliating court trial which ended her reign as queen, was sent to the provinces of England where she vehemently defended the validity of her marriage to Henry, refused to recognize Anne Boleyn as queen and refused to sign an oath recognizing Anne's children as legitimate successors to the throne. She died in England in 1536 and this letter was written during that time, shortly before she died. To the very end, she loved and cared for Henry - which is so painfully evident - and that speaks volumes about her character.  She truly was a great woman.

To Henry VIII, 1535

My Lord and Dear Husband,

I commend me unto you. The hour of my death draweth fast on, and my case being such, the tender love I owe you forceth me, with a few words, to put you in remembrance of the health and safeguard of your soul, which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and tendering of your own body, for the which you have cast me into many miseries and yourself into many cares.

For my part I do pardon you all, yea, I do wish and devoutly pray God that He will also pardon you.

For the rest I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage-portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants, I solicit a year's pay more than their due, lest they should be unprovided for.

Lastly, do I vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.

Excerpt taken from the book "Love Letters of Great Women", edited by Ursula Doyle. St. Martin's Press.


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