Catherine – Rebecca Bately [Short Story]

Today we have a post from Rebecca Bately! Rebecca is a historian and archaeologist who has decided to dive into the wonderful world of fiction! She has sent in a great story about Catherine of Aragon!

If you would like to check out Rebeccas blog, CLICK HERE

Catherine by Rebecca Bately

People were to tell me later that I was too young to remember the blood. The shocking, spurting flash of red that curdled slowly in the sand as beneath a hail of spears the mighty bull bled out, or the golden beauty of the glistening matador, whose feet pounded out the timeless challenge of man against beast.

I was 3 years old that day and sitting secure on my mother’s knee, and she held me forward so I might get a better view. 

I remember the dogs scrapping like Moors tearing into the bulls putrefying flesh.  My nurse had pressed cloves to her nose to hide the stench and my mother; she kept turning to look at two men seated to our left. They were dressed all in black and looked hot and uncomfortable in the sharp heat.

I did not know who they were

‘Englishmen’ my mother whispered when she saw the direction of my gaze.

Blood and England, my first memory.

 30th December 1535, Kimbolton, England.

‘I am the Queen of England’ 

I whisper the words to my own reflection; there is no one else now to hear them.

 I am dying, but it is my body and not my will that grows weak. They are watching me, these attendants  of mine, anxious in case any suspicion of poison or foul play should reach my peoples ears. 

My husband might be both deaf and blind, but my gaolers are not and they know the regard in which the people hold their rightful queen. 

I almost laughed when Chapuys told me of the farce that was the great whores’ coronation parade, with the people hurling filth and abuse down into the streets as she passed. I can see so clearly how Henry would have attempted to shield her from their hate, to comfort her as once he had done me, but he would not have fooled Anne either. 

Her tired, pale face sometimes finds me even here, and I remember Anne before Henry more often than I would like. 

It is cold here, the middle of winter, my walls are bare and the damp permeates into my very bones. Reminding me of my first winter here so long ago when Maria de Salinas and I having survived gods own tempest to reach England’s shore felt certain that we would die of the cold. The desire to see her face again, bites so sharp it spikes the pain in my belly.

My physicians cannot decide what is going to kill me, cancer or foul humours, and I think they care only that no hint of suspicion should fall upon their heads.

It will be dark soon, the night encroaches early here. It is a comfort these days, because in the darkness I can believe I am still in Spain, still young, still beautiful. I can believe that I see my daughter, my beautiful Mary, laughing, playing, at prayer or just at my side. I imagine I can feel her hand upon my cheek. She is my greatest comfort, my only solace; I care for nothing else now as the hour of my death draws close.

 For her I must remember everything, everything I have seen, and everything I have done. My darkest fear is that she has forgotten the lessons of her girlhood. That she has forgotten who she is:

A daughter to the Queen of England, Granddaughter to the warrior queen Isabelle, and that the might and fire of God’s own Spain courses through her veins.

A Queen can never forget. 

 Summer 1497, Burgos Palace, Spain

Finally outside the gate, I fling back my mantilla and take a bite of pomegranate, raising my face to feel the full force of the burning Spanish sun. Juice bursts on my tongue, this I think, is what heaven must be like. I drag in a deep breath of warm dusty air into my lungs and exhale slowly, I can smell lemon on the breeze.

‘Catalina, Catalina!’ I lower my face, momentarily blinded as my eyes adjust to the shadow. Juana’s voice is shrill with impatience and I can hear her feet pounding fast on the stone floor, Juana never walks anywhere.

‘Where have you been?!’ her voice is breathy and accusing, I smile knowing she will not stay angry for long. She holds out her hand, her long balck hair swinging freely down her back, so different from my own copper tresses. 

‘Come the queen is waiting’

I take her hand and we walk through the palace, my slower step checking hers. 

My mother is waiting when we enter the chamber I share with her and my sisters, our safe place. 

‘Juana, Catalina’ her voice is measured but we both feel the displeasure in her gaze and lower our heads obediently. 

I see my sister Maria is already dressed and she comes to sit with me as the servants bring forward out gowns. I feel the brush being dragged through my hair. 

We are all to be dressed identically tonight, miniatures of our mother so that everyone who sees us will know that we, like her are of Christ, and born of the same mettle. Our gowns are the colour of saffron and will glow like the sun beneath the light of a thousand candles that my mother has ordered to be lit in the great hall tonight. We are there to meet Margaret of Austria, our brother Juan’s bride. 

I regard my reflection critically as Louisa set about fitting my veil. I may not be as striking as Juana but beneath the jewels may hair shines, and the black sets off my complexion. My father says my hair is my best feature, probably because it makes me look more like him. 

3 years older than me Maria already has the womanly curves that grace the women in our family. It will be her turn to marry next, and then it will be mine. 

I have been betrothed since I was 3 years old to Prince Arthur, heir to the kingdom of England, eldest son of King Henry. When I am 14 I shall sail from Spain, God willing, to England where I shall be his wife and bear his sons. I have always known this, that this is my duty. I belong to England and to Arthur. Together we shall build a new Camelot. 

I risk a glance at Maria but she is staring straight ahead, I wish I knew what she is thinking. 

A messenger approaches and falls to his knees before my mother, they are here.

We all move quickly into our positions. I stand on the dais beneath Maria and my eldest sister Isabel, but above Juana who only shares half our blood. Our other sister also Juana was married last year to Philip the fair and I wish she was here, she loves these celebrations and always makes us laugh. I hope that she is happy with Philip, he looked very handsome in his portrait, but Juana does not take well to submission and Isabel says the secret to marriage, is obedience, if so I pity Philip. 

It has been weeks since I last saw Isabel and she does not look at me, she looks at no one. Dressed all in black, her skin is as white as the marble tiles and I know from the way her gown hangs she still takes nothing but bread and water. Our mother is concerned for the Poruguese alliance though she does approve of Isabels’ gesture. She understands that Isabel must make her own peace with Christ. Her husband, a great love match, died 4 months ago in a riding accident, so she has come home to mourn and pay due respect to him. 

I understand this, though Maria teases her for her devotion to a husband she had known for barely 6 months. 

‘They are coming’ Juana whispers and we all stand still, the low pound of the drums reverberating through us, moving closer. Juan shifts,  he is nervous, every inch our father in appearance he fears he does not have his constitution, nor his wiles. 

What if Margaret finds him lacking?

No I cannot imagine that, Juan is so handsome with beautiful golden curls, our mother calls him her angel with good cause, and of course he brings with him the crown of Spain. Not just the crown of Castile or Aragon, but Spain, new forged through the marriage of our parents. A great match for the daughter of obscure Maximillian. 

Very slowly I rise up on tip toe, rocking on my heels anxious to catch the first glimpse of her. I gasp and Juan flushes, even Maria stirs. I have never seen such a gown, it is gold like ours but lined with crimson and covered in hundreds of pearls. She looks like an angel indeed and I feel a flicker of fear, but it is gone in an instant and Maragaret falls to her knees before our parents. Her voice is stilted, and I detect the faintest tremble in it, but then my mother is there raising her to her feet. 

I cannot make out her words but she is using the same tone she uses to comfort me when I fall from my horse, and I know that however sweet it may seem that it speaks to her will of iron. My mother speaks Gods’ will and we are all in her service. 

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

One thought on “Catherine – Rebecca Bately [Short Story]

  1. A very interesting am plausible profile of Catherine of Aragon’s final days, with a flashback to her youth in Spain when she was looking forward to becoming the wife of the English prince, Arthur. Sadly, she was not to know that her dreams would be dashed a little over 4 months into their marriage, with his unexpected death, and further disappointment was to ensue with her marriage to his brother, Henry. I found this short story very thought-povoking, making me feel more sorry for Catherine and the fate she endured in England.

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