Burgos. 18 March 1497
Catherine stood on the stage in the great hall at the palace in Burgos, dressed like a little queen. She was now eleven years old and, like her mother and elder sister María, was wearing a brocaded cloth-of-gold gown and a gold-decorated crimson scarf set off by a black mantilla. Her eighteen-year-old brother Juan, heir to his parents’ crowns, was to marry Margaret of Austria. In a court as given over to ritual and formal ostentation as that of Isabel and Ferdinand, the arrival of a daughter-in-law – a future queen consort – was inevitably going to be a pomp-laden affair. The Spanish monarchs liked the natural drama of dusk. Night was falling as Margaret’s cavalcade was ushered into Burgos. Welcoming candles burned in the windows of houses. More than a thousand torches, mounted on stands, lit the streets.
The ambassadors from the other European kingdoms and principalities had been called in. One of them, the Venetian ambassador, spotted Catherine on the tiered stage set up in the palace’s grand hall. The royal family was carefully arranged in order of importance. Catherine was one step down from her sisters María and Isabel, but one up from her illegitimate half-sister, also called Juana. The latter was daughter to one of Ferdinand’s mistresses and seems to have been born before his marriage (though more illegitimate children would be born later).
Margaret climbed the steps to the palace to meet the waiting Isabel. She attempted to kneel but was
lifted up by her mother-in-law. The choreographed pomp, with sixty of Isabel’s ladies in their full finery
queuing up to kiss the new princess’s hand, certainly impressed the Venetian – who went into raptures
over the queen’s maidens. Margaret had appeared
in a dress of gold brocade and crimson lined in ermine, topped off by a black felt hat and accompanied by
some very large pearls.
CATHERINE OF ARAGON, Henry’s Spanish Queen by Giles Tremlett