The following letter was written in Spanish by Katharine while she was Princess Dowager of Wales. Katharine only wrote in English after her marriage to King Henry VIII. Her mother, the famous Queen Isabella of Castile, had died in the previous year; her father was beset by diplomatic troubles, particularly with the English (he was unable to force Castilian acceptance of a trade agreement with England, which resulted in loss of money for the parsimonious King Henry VII.)
In 1502, Katharine’s husband and Henry VII’s heir, Prince Arthur, had died. Katharine was put in an untenable position, and spent seven years of miserable widowhood in England before Arthur’s brother married her. Her father was never able to pay the full amount of her dowry to Prince Arthur. This issue became even more pressing when she was then betrothed to Prince Henry. Ferdinand and Henry VII were equally wily monarchs, each unwilling to compromise in order to make Katharine’s life in England bearable.
The marriage to Prince Henry, though formally recognized in 1504, was not to be celebrated until two years later when the prince came of age. The Spanish ambassador Dr De Puebla had negotiated the contract, and assumed Henry VII would gladly support Katharine for those two years. But Henry gave her barely enough money for food; she had no money to pay servants’ wages or buy clothing, among other things. She lived in extreme poverty and with a frightening lack of attention or respect. Henry VII made it clear that if her dowry was not paid, he would renege on the marriage to Prince Henry. And Ferdinand made it clear that he lacked the funds to pay the dowry; indeed, it was not even a priority in his tumultuous life.
In this letter, Katharine mentions an ‘Infanta Isabel’; this was her older sister Isabella. She also unfairly maligns the amiable Dr De Puebla. Katharine’s duenna Dona Elvira despised De Puebla for political reasons and poisoned the young woman’s mind against him.
This letter, a litany of complaints – all politely phrased – is fascinating, and offers invaluable insight into Katharine’s life as Princess of Wales. She was poor, hungry, and desperately ill; ‘I shall soon die,’ she wrote to her father in despair. She survived, of course, but these conditions explain why she considered her marriage to King Henry VIII to be so miraculous. This letter also offers a funny glimpse into Henry VII’s miserly nature.
Most high and most puissant lord,
Hitherto I have not wished to let your highness know the affairs here, that I might not give you annoyance, and also thinking that they would improve; but it appears that the contrary is the case, and that each day my troubles increase; and all this on account of the doctor de Puebla, to whom it has not sufficed that from the beginning he transacted a thousand falsities against the service of your highness, but now he has given me new trouble; and because I believe your highness will think I complain without reason, I desire to tell you all that has passed.
Your highness shall know, as I have often written to you, that since I came into England, I have not had a single maravedi, except a certain sum which was given me for food, and this such a sum that it did not suffice without my having many debts in London; and that which troubles me more is to see my servants and maidens so at a loss, and that they have not the wherewith to get clothes; and this I believe is all done by hand of the doctor, who, notwithstanding your highness has written, sending him word that he should have money from the king of England, my lord that their costs should be given them, yet, in order not to trouble him, will rather entrench upon and neglect the service of your highness. Now, my lord, a few days ago, donna Elvira de Manuel asked my leave to go to Flanders to be cured of a complaint which has come into her eyes, so that she lost the sight of one of them; and there is a physician in Flanders who cured the infanta donna Isabel of the same disease which which she is affected. She labored to bring him here so as not to leave me, but could never succeed with him; and I, since if she were blind she could not serve me, durst not hinder her journey. I begged the king of England, my lord, that until our donna Elvira should return his highness would command that I should have, as a companion, an old English lady, or that he would take me to his court; and I imparted all this to the doctor, thinking to make of the rogue a true man; but it did not suffice me – because he not only drew me to court, in which I have some pleasure, because I had supplicated the king for an asylum, but he negotiated that the king should dismiss all my household, and take away my chamber-equipage, and send to place it in a house of his own, so that I should not in any way be mistress of it.
And all this does not weigh upon me, except that it concerns the service of your highness, doing the contrary of that which ought to be done. I entreat your highness that you will consider that I am your daughter, and that consent not that on account of the doctor I should have such trouble, but that you will command some ambassador to come here, who may be a true servant of your highness, and for no interest will cease to do that which pertains to your service. And if in this your highness trusts me not, do you command some person to come here, who may inform you of the truth, and then you will have one who will better serve you. As for me, I have had so much pain and annoyance that I have lost my health in a great measure; so that for two months I have had severe tertian fevers, and this will be the cause that I shall soon die. I supplicate your highness to pardon me that I presume to entreat you to do me so great favor as to command that this doctor may not remain; because he certainly does not fulfill the service of your highness, which he postpones to the service of the worst interest which can be. Our Lord guard the life and most royal estate of your highness, and ever increase it as I desire. From Richmond, the second of December.
My lord, I had forgotten to remind your highness how you know that it was agreed that you were to give, as a certain part of my dowry, the plate and jewels that I brought; and yet I am certain that the king of England, my lord, will not receive anything of plate nor of jewels which I have used; because he told me himself that he was indignant that they should say in his kingdom that he took away from me my ornaments. And as little may your highness expect that he will take them in account and will return them to me; because I am certain he will not do so, nor is any such thing customary here. In like wise the jewels which I brought from thence [Spain] valued at a great sum. The king would not take them in the half of the value, because here all these things are esteemed much cheaper, and the king has so many jewels that he rather desires money than them. I write thus to your highness because I know that there will be great embarrassment if he will not receive them, except at less price. It appears to me that it would be better if your highness should take them for yourself, and should give to the king of England, my lord, his money. Your highness will see what would serve you best, and with this I shall be most content.
The humble servant of your highness, who kisses your hands.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her father, King Ferdinand II of Aragon 2 December 1505" https://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-katharine-of-aragon-to-her-father-king-ferdinand-ii-of-aragon/, February 24, 2015