The Faith of Katharine of Aragon


Every now and again, I revisit the Tudor period and become obsessed all over again with Henry and his wives. Yesterday, I started thinking (not for the first time) about Katharine of Aragon. Anyone who knows me at all knows how much respect I have for her, and how much I greatly admire her both as an individual and as a woman of faith. Katharine was many things – a diplomat, a strategist, a loving mother, an adored queen, but most of all, she was devout. Had she been forced to make the same choice as Sir Thomas More, and choose between her faith and appeasing Henry, she would have made the same decision – to die, rather than give up the church.

I won’t pretend that the Catholic Church in this period was anything other than corrupt. Martin Luther had his reasons for attacking it, and both Katharine and Thomas More had their reasons for despising Luther. But, look beyond the superficiality and sadness of their church experience, and we see a faith so genuine that nothing shook it. Katharine’s motto was “humble and loyal.” Her faith contributed mightily to her ability to be those things, and even in her darkest hours, she found her greatest comfort in prayer. It was she who famously said that if given the choice between happiness or sorrow, she would choose sorrow – for in the midst of sorrow, we remember God, where in happiness we seem to forget him. Who does that? Who would rather choose God and sadness than happiness and not thinking of Him?


Katharine was not perfect. She was stubborn almost to a fault – because she believed that her role as queen was hers by divine right, and also that by proxy, her daughter had every right to the succession. She was Isabella of Spain’s daughter, after all. Stepping aside from that role was unfathomable to her, particularly on the pretense of a lie revolving around her earlier marriage to Prince Arthur. Historians have famously debated whether or not she lied about the marriage being unconsummated, but there I must take her side: I don’t think Katharine put ambition ahead of her faith, and she swore it on her faith. Katharine had the misfortune of not knowing a “loving” God. She never found God the way Martin Luther did. A vow made before her interpretation of God – as a powerful, divine, but ultimately punishing force – would not be made lightly.

But, that is beside the point. The brutal fact is, in comparison to many of our ancestors, and the believers of the past, my faith is superficial and insignificant. God influenced every aspect of their lives, but I struggle to find that connection to Him. Even more so than her relationship with Henry, or her queenly duties, Katharine put God first. He got the credit, He heard her devastated prayers, and she endured whatever life threw at her, out of a belief that God was still in control and that this was somehow in her best interest. She was so forgiving that not only did she forgive her husband on her deathbed, she chastised her maids for speaking ill of Anne Boleyn, because she feared Anne would soon know her husband’s cruelty. Having experienced it firsthand, she could not even muster up the rage to hate the woman indirectly responsible for it.


I want to be that way, to have such a profound relationship with God that I forgive even the gravest offenses. I have more tools than Katharine did, too. I have the actual scripture, where she only had laymen’s sermons and prayer books. But… I can’t seem to find that level of immersion with God. The sermons sound empty. The Bible’s pages seem dry. I yearn for an emotional connection where none exists on a superficial level. Pretending otherwise seems wrong to me. I am not someone who lies, or says what she doesn’t feel. Giving God the credit for everything in life seems insincere to me, probably because it is so uncommon in the modern age. In the past, for good or evil, society was saturated in religion. It was second nature to most people. True, it was a watered down, highly-biased interpretation, but in later periods, the Bible saturated society instead of religion. Children learned to read it in primary school. John and Abigail Adams spoke of faith as second nature, giving God the credit for a good deal – and they meant it. It doesn’t sound superficial, because it was sincere. Yet, ours isn’t. Mine isn’t.

Deep down in my heart, I yearn to make God everything and to be the kind of selfless woman that Katharine was, as an icon of faith, but I don’t know how.

10 thoughts on “The Faith of Katharine of Aragon

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  1. Out of curiosity, what do you mean when you say that Katherine of Aragon didn’t have access to the Scriptures? I don’t know that much about the time period, but I would think that with her wealth, she would be able to own a few books, especially a Bible. Especially since by this time, the printing press had been invented.

    I always love reading your posts, especially the ones involving personality types. And Lord of the Rings. 🙂

    1. Katharine primarily grew up hearing scripture as interpreted by representatives of the Catholic Church. Until Martin Luther translated the Bible, it was not available for laypersons to read — even monks in monasteries were not always permitted to read it (I think Martin had to go study in Rome, in order to have access to the scriptures in full; this is primarily how it was allowed to be distorted so much over the years — because so few people had access to all of it).

      Katharine was so indoctrinated in Catholicism that had she been given a chance to read the whole Bible for herself, she would have declined — believing, as the Church emphasized, that scripture was best left to “official” sources to interpret for her. It was against the law in England to own a Bible or any of Martin Luther or Tynsdale’s writings. Katharine had access to various theological works and prayer books but not the entire Bible. (I THINK Anne Boleyn did, though — she might have brought one to court for her ladies to read, as queen.)

      Well, thank you. I’m glad to provide you with something entertaining to read. 🙂

  2. * applauds *

    I’ll confess to not being as familiar with Katharine of Aragon was I would like, but I know what you mean about reading about people with amazing faith–and thinking that you couldn’t be like that. What you say about the Bible sounding dull and dry is I think one of the causes of the biggest struggles many Christians face. Even more sometimes than the typical “temptations”, we might not “yearn” to engage in drunkenness to the point of puking our guts out, or one night stands with people whose names we don’t remember the next morning, or damaging illicit drug use. But we do yearn for the profound, soulful connection you described.

    Strangely–sadly enough I often think it’s the search for this connection that drives Christians toward other religions, they find a fresh appreciation for nature in Wicca, a serenity in Buddhism, order and structure in Islam–all the things which they should’ve found in Christianity–but somehow never did.

    I also know that I’ve had more than one friend say they struggled with praying for God take care of things, leaving everything in His hands–while secretly trying to think up their own plan B in case “God didn’t come through”. Something I’ve done all too often, sometimes going so far as to come up with plan C or D, and even treating prayer as an afterthought or last resort.

    Another great post!

    1. I think you nailed it. We yearn for something to fill the void in our lives. Some people fill it with drugs or sex, as you mentioned. Others search out a new religion. It’s hard to feel connected to God sometimes, and I’ve done plan B before, too.

      1. I think it is hard to have faith sometimes. But we need to take comfort in what Jesus said — blessed were those who saw Him and believed, but even more so, those who never saw Him in the flesh yet still believed. I go through periods of unbelief, but always come back to Him in the end.

    2. I’m way more familiar with her than some people would like – I talked about nothing else for over a year, while doing research. Basically, I adore her. If Protestants could have patron saints, she’d be mine. LOL

      Life during that period was awful. It was full of ignorance and superstition, and “religion” seeped throughout society; everything in some way was tied to faith – albeit, a watered down, highly politicized, downright brutal faith, but faith nevertheless. There are dangers in this (all of which I contemplated at length last night) because it was a time of “God-ordained” monarchies. Isabella felt it was her God-given duty to conquer the known world, defeat the Moors, run the Jews out of Spain (why is it they always forget that JESUS was a Jew?), and evangelize the Indians – but in the process, her efforts paved the way for the Inquisition, the bloodiest, most awful enforcement of religion throughout history. Henry, too, felt a “divine right” in his appointment – which He thought gave him the power to do whatever he wanted, and have God “okay” with it. Yet, in spite of all the trappings, in spite of the statue worship, purchasing of indulgences, immoral priests, and so forth… people still had a deeper faith in God than we do in the modern age. Look at many highly successful modern Christian nonfiction writers, and in comparison to the depths plumbed by Luther, or More, or even Katharine in her personal faith, they are as deep as a child’s wading pool. Is this because our faith is so altered, or because our society has become shallow, and faith along with it?

      But… that’s fodder for an enormous post forming in my head about all my reasons for hating the Reformist invasion of England. I think it was one of the worst things to happen in England, and it effectively paved the way for generations of abuses that have led to major problems within the English Protestant Church. Like I said… more on that later.

      But yes, I yearn for a soulful connection with God, for it to be mystical and mysterious. I can’t help but thinking that’s one reason I have a soft spot for the Catholic Church. Above all things, it is mystical in its nature, and that appeals to me. It’s as you mentioned – we want a connection, if not to something REAL and tangible (such as nature), then to a philosophy that FEELS deep. Christianity IS deep, but so few writers or pastors ever plumb its depths that we’re left with the superficial trappings, raped of all mysticism and miracles. Either you see a devil behind every bush, or the “magic” of Christianity is dead. How can it not be, when Christians have such an intense fear of anything that even LOOKS like magic?

      Sadly, I want to believe in God taking care of people… but He so often doesn’t in appearance that I too want to come up with secondary plans. Why would He take care of me and keep me from bad things happening, when other, more faithful of his servants have suffered so many abuses?

      1. Hmm…I read once actually that the diminishing faith in God might be directly related to increasing technology, the example given was that the fishermen setting out alone in a wooden sailboat were more likely to pray for safety than the fishermen in the motorboat, with life jackets and who could radio back to shore in the event of an emergency.

        The irony is that Isabella’s policies probably seemed fairly humane compared to some contemporaries–I mean, she was giving Jews, Muslims and Indians the option of converting RATHER than dying! Compared to those who believed in simply putting them all to the sword.

        What you say about their being many downsides to the English reformation is interesting–because I think we sometimes forget how much historical culture influences our view of religion–for the worst. For instance I think we’ve “inherited” a lot of our ideas about sexuality from the Greeks and Romans–but more on that later. I’ll also say that I think in the past century or so, Christians have slipped into an neo-Victorian mindset of being respectable rather than moral. Although the Victorians themselves were often more practical.

        1. I imagine that is very true; in a time period where there was no option except God, they relied on Him more. Then too, our civilizations are greater and more powerful, further from nature and we only remember how insignificant we are when natural disasters remind us of that fact.

          Isabella’s policies were humane in the sense that she did offer conversion or in other cases, banishment — she ran them out of Spain instead of killing them (except when they resisted). However, forcing one’s religion on someone else isn’t any different than what Henry tried to do in England with his false Reformation — convert, swear your loyalty to me, and I will let you live. He might have killed his own daughter, if she had not signed away her loyalty to the Catholic Church. It’s… sad, the abuses individuals have done in the name of Christ.

          True, the Victorians put up a facade of morality, when in reality, many of them were falsely pious and openly immoral — just behind closed doors. sigh

  3. I don’t know what to say. I do know that my deepest times of faith have come during my deepest grief or pain or sorrow. Because of that, I can understand why she’d pick sorrow over happiness.

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