Back to the Past with Ed Grimsdale: Catherine of Aragon

Catherine of Aragon holding a pomegranate PNL-140906-153805001

Catherine of Aragon holding a pomegranate PNL-140906-153805001

The second person in the Buckingham’s important people series is Catherine of Aragon.

Catherine arrived in England aged only 16 in 1501, after a dreadful sea voyage from Spain which “occasioned great illness for Donne Catalina”.

She came to marry our sickly teenager, Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. Married in November, the unlucky Catherine was widowed the next April. Possessed of a bright intellect, Catherine stayed in England becoming the first female ambassador in European history. In 1509, she married Arthur’s brother. Within a fortnight, he became King Henry VIII and she was crowned our Queen.

Catherine of Aragon’s greatest triumph is associated with Buckingham. While her husband was playing away, fighting in France, King James IV nipped over the Scottish border to usurp him. Our regent, Queen Catherine, was equal to the task. She organised the English force that defeated James at Flodden Field in 1513.

Meanwhile, Queen Catherine was in Buckingham on the day of the English victory with her reserve army of 30,000 troops camped nearby. She was staying with Edward Fowler at one of his two Buckingham homes, probably Castle House.

The Flodden field disaster left Scottish bodies piled high. It took 48 hours to find King James’ remains among the former cream of Scotland, then a messenger brought his torn tunic to Buckingham. Catherine was a famous needlewoman and she took King James’ coat, fashioned it into a ‘baner’ before as a victory token to Henry in France, with a diplomatic letter attributing the victory to his. Before Queen Catherine left Buckingham, she gave her ivory crucifix to our town to say thank you. It’s in the Old Gaol.

England’s Bluebeard divorced her in 1533 because their marriage was uncanonical. After three lonely years spent in the dank castle at Kimbolton, Catherine died and was buried in Peterborough Abbey (now a cathedral).

Buckingham loved Catherine for saving our country, showing us a Mediterrean diet (lettuce and apples), creating schools for girls, showing skills with needles (reflecting Bucks growing cottage lace trade) and giving girls a positive model.

Her character mirrored her emblem, the pomegranate: outwardly tough but soft within. We named an aisle in Buckingham Old Church after her, and her route out of north Bucks became Catherine Way.

In the next century, many more Catherines than Henrys were christened in north Bucks despite the probability that Henry slept with Anne Boleyn in our university’s car park, then a manor house owned by relatives of Anne.

Maybe, Anne’s cheeky crest upset us: a white falcon pecking a pomegranate. OFF WITH HER HEAD!




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