henry-8th

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January 7th 1536: Catherine of Aragon dies

On this day in 1536, Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII, died aged fifty. Born near Madrd in 1485, Catherine was a noble in her own right as the daughter of the Catholic monarchs of Spain - Ferdinand and Isabella. By the time she was three years old, she was already betrothed to Prince Arthur, oldest son of King Henry VII of England. The pair married when Catherine was sixteen, but Arthur’s premature death led to her betrothal to his brother Henry, the new heir to the throne. Henry became King Henry VIII in 1509 upon the death of his father, and married Catherine the same year, once her short marriage to his brother was annulled. Catherine and Henry lived happily for several years, but their inability to produce a male heir - their three sons died at a young age, leaving the couple with just their daughter Mary - caused tension in the marriage. Henry took up with his mistress, Anne Boleyn, and sought to have his marriage to Catherine annulled so that he could marry Boleyn, who, he hoped, would give him a male heir. Catherine, who had already proved herself a competent ruler while the king was abroad, refused to acquiesce to Henry’s wishes, and fought for the rights of her and her daughter. In desperation, Henry married the pregnant Anne in secret, and passed the Act of Supremacy in 1533, declaring himself head of the English church, allowing his mariage to Catherine to be annulled. After the end of the marriage, Catherine lived in semi-exile, unable to visit her daughter, and continued to protest the annullment. Catherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton House in 1536, best remembered today as the first of Henry VIII’s six wives, and for her valiant defiance of the infamous monarch.

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The Field of the Cloth of Gold. In June of 1520, King Henry the 8th of England and King Francis the 1st of France met near Calais. The event was designed for diplomatic talks between the two kingdoms. No expense was spared as each king tried to outshine the other, with dazzling tents and clothes, huge feasts, music, jousting, and games. The event was named after the sheer amount of outfits and tents which were made of gold cloth. Both kings engaged in games and grand festivities throughout the day. Aside from the splendour of the occasion, little diplomatic value was achieved from the event. Francis the 1st was eager to gain reassurance that England would remain a neutral power in Europe in the face of the Holy Roman Empire. However an anti-French agreement with Charles 5th, the Holy Roman Emperor seemed more likely at this point as Papal attitude was very anti-French and the Pope felt increasingly threatened by French expansion. England also had a traditional hostility towards the French and Henry was jealous of Francis’s conquests. An agreement with Charles the 5th would also safeguard England’s trade routes with the lowland countries such as the Netherlands which were under the rule of the Habsburg Empire. And so it came to be.that an agreement was drawn up with Charles the 5th that if France would not end it’s hostilities with the Holy Roman Empire, both them and England would launch and invasion of France. In 1522 the Earl of Surrey led a raiding party from Calais and into Normandy. Despite the aid of a French rebel army under the Duke of Bourbon, the English expedition came to nothing and was a total flop as the army fell apart due to the lack of supplies and bad weather. Both the Field of the Cloth of Gold and the expedition into France had both provided huge wastes of money as they accomplished nothing in an ongoing bicker between European nations. 

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Armour of King Henry VIII of England from the 16th Century on display at the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London

This complete field armour may be the earliest product of the royal armour workshop which King Henry VIII established at the Palace of Greenwich in 1511. The armour is richly decorated with engraving, silvering and originally gilding, with scenes from the lives of St George and St Barbara, the patreon saints of Henry and the his wife (at the time) Katherine of Aragon.

The skirt or base of the man’s armor bears their entwined initials, H and K.