The break up we are going to talk about today is that of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon,
a falling apart that led to England splitting from the Catholic church and Henry going on
to have 5 more wives.
As you know, two of those would lose their heads, but it is this first breakup which
could be said to have had the most profound repercussions.
It’s also one of the saddest, most brutal love stories you’ll ever hear.
Let’s start from the beginning.
On 14 November 1501, Catherine got married, but her first marriage wasn’t to Henry.
It was to Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VII.
It’s said these two quickly fell in love with each other, despite the fact that their
pronunciation of Latin was so different they could barely understand each other in that
She called him a “a true and loving husband”, but their happiness as a couple wouldn’t
As they swooned over each other the sweating sickness was sweeping over Europe.
Historians believe they both got it, but Catherine survived and Arthur died aged just 15.
In 1502, just months after they had married, Catherine was single again.
We must also remember that Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain,
so she was a stranger in a strange land living in Wales.
Now she was all alone under dark, cloudy skies.
There was another problem, too, and that was the dowry that had been paid when the two
It was large, and British monarch Henry VII didn’t want to give it back.
While he wanted Spanish-British relations to be strong, Catherine’s life hung in the
She was kept virtually as a prisoner in England, while Henry VII thought about what to do with
He even thought about marrying her, although it’s not hard to understand why marrying
your dead son’s wife might be looked upon with some frowning.
But Pope Julius II had made it possible, thanks to a dispensation he said the church would
give the couple.
This was because Catherine said she had never consummated her marriage with Arthur, which
just means sleeping with each other.
Only a marriage with Henry VII didn’t happen, because Henry VIII was about to take the throne
at the age of 18.
The couple were married on 11 June 1509.
Catherine was 23 and Henry was 18.
Yes, we know you might be thinking that already in this show we have talked about a lot of
young people, but when most folks died before they hit 40 you had to get things done quickly
in those days.
Soon after marriage, Catherine fell pregnant and Henry was over the moon.
He so wanted a son to one day take his place and carry on the Tudor line.
He didn’t get one, because on this occasion Catherine miscarried a girl.
Then around a year later she gave birth to a son.
He was named Henry of course.
This delighted the couple; guns were fired over London; lanterns were lit and the people
were asked to rejoice in the good fortunes of their rulers.
Then little Henry died after 52 days.
Two years later and she had another boy but he was a stillborn.
In 1515, she had another stillborn child, a boy again, which must have torn Henry to
Then her fifth pregnancy happened.
Many people thought the result would be the same, but she had a girl, and the girl survived,
and that girl would become the future queen of England, Mary I. Henry still wanted his
son, but Catherine would have another miscarriage and then a baby girl that lived in the world
only a few hours.
So, we have a vibrant ageing king; we have a highly educated, brave ageing woman, but
we have a relationship that has been filled with loss and pain.
We also have an unpredictable king, one who would die with much blood on his hands.
Catherine was getting on in years and Henry didn’t believe she would be able to give
him a son.
He had to get rid of her.
This became known as “The King’s Great Matter.”
And then who should Henry set his eyes on?
One of Catherine’s ladies in waiting, the pretty Anne Boleyn.
In 1525, Henry would start seeing young Ann, and he would also accuse his wife of lying.
Henry believed, or he just said this, that Catherine must have slept with her departed
husband Arthur, and the reason for all those lost children was that God had punished them
because she had lied and they had committed a sin.
Now we have the start of perhaps the world’s worst breakup.
Henry wanted to annul the marriage, but Catherine did not.
She said, “I am the King's true and legitimate wife.”
But that didn’t matter, because Henry wanted her gone; he wanted Ann and he wanted his
Catherine said at the time, “My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the
plans daily invented to further the King's wicked intention, the surprises which the
King gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is
what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine.”
The rest is history, and we mean Henry created history.
It’s a long story, but the pope didn’t grant Henry a split from his wife; so what
did he do?
Henry split from the Catholic church in 1533.
He sidelined Catherine and made her 'Princess Dowager of Wales', but he left her for dead
in some ways, while his new lover and wife Ann became pregnant.
We are told that all Catherine’s luxuries were removed and she was forced to live mostly
alone in damp castles.
We are also told she was forced to wear a hair shirt, which is a very uncomfortable
garment filled with rough animal hair that itches and hurts the skin.
This was a form of punishment back then, or at least penitence.
Some sources say she was made to wear it, others say she chose to wear it to show her
devotion to God and to her husband.
At this time she wasn’t even allowed to see her daughter, Mary, although she could
have an occasional visitor.
But Henry left her alone and when she died on 7 January 1536, Henry didn’t even turn
up for her funeral.
She was, however, loved by the British people as she often helped the poor and was said
to be kindhearted.
She loved the king until the end it seems, writing in a letter just before her death,
“My most dear lord, king and husband.
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such,
to commend myself to you.”
And get this, on the day of Catherine’s funeral, Ann Boleyn miscarried a child, and
that child was a boy.
She never gave him a boy and Henry would take her head in the end.
He might not have killed Catherine, but it was this breakup that was the worst.
In fact, we can’t think of a bigger breakup ever.
Let us know in the comments!