King Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce his wife, Katherine of Aragon had caused great controversy not only throughout his kingdom but across Europe. With Henry putting increasing pressure on the Pope to annul the marriage the Pope was also facing pressure from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to ensure the marriage was saved. Charles V also happened to be the nephew of Katherine and therefore had a personal interest in saving the marriage.
Matters had gone as far as they could before the Pope had no choice but to send a representative to England to preside over the divorce hearing before a decision could be made. Cardinal Campeggio was sent to England with the hope of delaying Henry’s desires for as long as they could.
On 21st June 1529, a Papal Legatine court was held in Blackfriars where Cardinal Campeggio and Cardinal Wolsey began to hear the evidence regarding Henry’s request for his marriage to be annulled. Henry protested that by marrying his brother’s widow he had done wrong in the eyes of God and that is why he had not been blessed with a son. Katherine maintained that her first husband, Arthur, and she had never lay as man and wife and their marriage was never consummated.
As the proceedings began for the day both Henry and Katherine were present to give their testimonies regarding the matter. As Katherine was asked to make her case known she went and knelt in front of her husband and spoke directly to him by saying;
“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 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!”
With her plea over Katherine stood up, curtseyed to her husband and walked out of the courtroom. There were many attempts to get Katherine to return that went ignored until she responded “On, on, it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.”
Katherine did not return to the Legatine Court almost as if she knew her cause would go unanswered.
Katherine pleading her case in front of Henry VIII and the Legatine Court
Painted by Henry Nelson O’Neil