All told, Katherine of Aragon had a pretty tragic life. She is most renowned for her last years, when she was battling it out with her husband, Henry VIII, on the European stage over the state of their marriage and the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. Or perhaps for her widowhood when she was stranded in England in a strange limbo state, Prince Arthur having died, her virginity uncertain and her betrothal to Prince Henry up in the air. But for a few years in the beginning of her second marriage, I like to think Katherine was happy. Specifically, I like to think about the 52-day period in 1511 when she had successfully delivered her husband a son and the idea that there would be five subsequent queen consorts after her would have seemed absurd.
Of all the characters that made up Henry VIII’s court, perhaps none are as famous as his second wife, Anne Boleyn, except the King himself. Equally as notorious was the family behind her – the Boleyns, yes, but also the immensely powerful Howards. At their head was Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (her mother, Elizabeth, was his sister).
By the time Thomas ascended the dukedom in 1524, he was already a central figure in Tudor politics. Ten years later, when his niece was on the throne, he seemed unstoppable. Indeed, he was a force to be reckoned with, even up against the skills of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Like a cat with nine lives, he managed to survive Anne’s downfall in 1536. He saw life again when another of his nieces, this one via his brother, Edmund, married Henry as his fifth wife – the ill-fated Katherine Howard. Once again, he made it through her divorce and execution in 1542.
It wouldn’t be until his eldest son and heir, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, began to eye the throne in preparation of Henry VIII’s death that father and son would be arrested in December 1546. Surrey would be executed on January 19, 1547, while Norfolk would be granted a reprieve by Henry VIII dying before his execution was carried out. His life spared, he spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London, only to be released when Mary I ascended the throne in 1553 and he was duly restored to his offices and titles for the remainder of his life.