Catherine of Aragon and the Speech of her Life
King Henry VIII’s Great Matter ran rampant through the English Court, through the universities of Europe and to the heart of the Vatican. Henry blamed his lack of a heir on the fact he married his brother’s widow. Catherine maintained that the marriage with Arthur was not consummated, so it was not a true marriage. Ordinarily, a dispensation would not be a big deal, but Catherine’s nephew held the Pope in his power. Charles V did not take kindly to the implications that his devout aunt was in error. This left the Pope in a pickle. Therefore, he instructed his representative to delay.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Cardinal Campeggio, Cardinal Protector of England and Papal Legate, finally convened a court to decide the question of the royal marriage. Both the King and the Queen were to testify about the validity of the marriage. However, Catherine took this opportunity to turn the court into a public relations coup.
She knelt in front of Henry in absolute submission, and made the speech of her life.
“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel…
Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did any thing to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me…
When ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here, I most lowly beseech you, let me remain in my former estate… Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God – who is the just judge – to spare me the extremity of this new court, until I may be advised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much impartial favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause.”
Henry tried to raise her to her feet, but she refused until she was done. Then rose and left with utter dignity. She was called back into court, but left with her head high. She was called back into court but refused saying, “On, on, it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.”
This bombshell derailed the court and set the stage for the showdown between Henry and the Vatican.
Sources available on request