These fascinating and deeply personal original letters show what Henry wanted in a new bride after the death of his wife Elizabeth of York. His first choice was his widowed daughter in law Katherine of Aragon, the dowager Princess of Wales, who had been married to the late Prince Arthur. Katherine’s mother writes to her ambassador in England in reply to the offer of marriage:
11th & 12th April 1503: Queen Isabella of Spain to Ferdinand, Duke de Estrada… We have received letters in which we are informed of the death of the Queen of England, our sister. These tidings have, of a truth, caused us much grief… The Doctor has also written to us concerning the marriage of the King of England with the Princess of Wales, our daughter, saying that it is spoken of in England. But as this would be a very evil thing, one never before seen, and the mere mention of which offends the ears, We would not for anything in the world that it should take place. Therefore, if anything be said to you about it, speak of it as a thing not to be endured. You must likewise say very decidedly that on no account would we allow it, or even hear it mentioned, in order that by these means the King of England may lose all hope of bringing it to pass, if he have any. For, the conclusion of the betrothal of the Princess, our daughter, with the (new) Prince of Wales, his son, (later Henry VIII) would be rendered impossible if he were to nourish any such idea…
June 1505: This letter was sent to Henry answering his questions about one of his perspective brides the Young Queen of Naples:
1, Whether the young Queen speak any other languages besides Spanish and Italian: She understands both Latin and French, but does not speak them.
2, To note well her age, stature, and features of her body: The young Queen’s age is 27 and not much more. Could not come to any perfect knowledge of her stature, by reason of her wearing slippers after the manner of her country. A man could not lightly perceive the features of her body, for that she wore a great mantle of cloth.
3, To mark her visage, whether painted or not, fat or lean, sharp or round; cheerful, frowning, or melancholy; steadfast, light, or blushing: Is not painted; of a good compass, amiable, round, and fat; cheerful, not frowning ; a demure shame-faced countenance; of few words, but spoken with a womanly laughing cheer and good gravity.
4, Clearness of skin: Very fair and clear.
5, Colour of hair: Seems to be of a brown colour Eye-brows, teeth, and lips. Eyes greyish brown ; brows like a wire of brown hair ; teeth fair, clean, well set ; lips somewhat round and full.
6, Nose and forehead: Nose a little rising in the middle and bowed toward the end. Forehead not perfectly to be discerned, for that her kerchief came down to her brows.
7, Complexion: Fair, sanguine, and clean.
8, Arms: Round, and not very small, in length of a good proportion.
9, Hands: Right fair: somewhat full and soft.
10, Fingers: Right fair and small, and of a meetly length and breadth.
11, Neck: Full and comely, not misshapen.
12, Breasts: Somewhat great and full, and trussed somewhat high.
13, Whether any hair on her lips: As far as could be perceived, none.
14, To endeavour to speak with her fasting, and that she may tell them some matter at length, so that they may see whether her breath be sweet: Could never come near to her fasting, but at other times have approached her visage as nigh as they conveniently could, but never felt any savour of spices, and believe her to be of a sweet savour.
15, To note her height: Seemed not to be of high stature; but by reason of her clothing, and being somewhat round, and well liking, she appeareth somewhat lesser.
16, To enquire whether she hath any sickness of her nativity, blemish or deformity: Having considered that such secret causes be to all persons unknown, save to her physician or apothecaries, had applied to Pastorell, who is in a manner physician to both Queens, and who made answer that he had served her many years, and she had ever been in good health, of a noble nature and complexion.
17, Whether she be in any singular favour with the King of Aragon, and whether she resemble him: He right well loveth and favoreth her. It is a common saying in all Spain that she is to be married to the King of England by means of the King of Aragon. Somewhat resembles him in the fashion of her nose and complexion.
18, To enquire the manner of her diet: Is a good feeder, and eateth well her meat twice a day; drinketh not often; most commonly water, sometimes cinnamon water, and sometimes ipocras, but not often.
19, To enquire for some cunning painter who may draw a picture of the young Queen, to agree as nearly as possible in every point and circumstance with her very semblance; and if at the first or second making thereof it be not made perfect, then the same or some other most cunning painter shall renew it till it be made agreeable in every behalf to her very image: No answer made to this article…
6th August 1506: Memoir respecting the the projected marriage of the King of England: …It is generally believed that the negotiations between the King of England, on the one part, and the Kings of Castile and of the Romans, on the other part, respecting the marriage of Henry with the Archduchess Margaret, are carried on with great vigor. But the Archduchess dissimulates only in order to gratify the said Kings. She is not inclined to marry the King of England… in french
8th August 1506: The Count of Montfort, and Claude Carondelet, to Maximilian, King of the Romans: Have travelled with all haste to Savoy in order to see the Archduchess Margaret, whom they found in company of the President of Flanders. Pressed her very strongly to consent to marry the King of England. Her answer, however, was that, although an obedient daughter, she will never agree to so unreasonable a marriage… Stuttgart. — in French
24th September 1506: Maximilian, King of the Romans, to Henry VII: Has not yet been able to persuade his daughter, the Archduchess Margaret, to marry him. Will go to see her in order to persuade her.
15 April 1507: De Puebla to King Ferdinand Of Spain: …There is no King in the world who would make so good a husband to the Queen of Castile as the King of England, whether she be sane or insane. Thinks she would soon recover her reason when wedded to such a husband as Henry. King Ferdinand would at all events be sure to retain the regency of Castile. If the insanity of the Queen should prove incurable, it would perhaps not be inconvenient that she should live in England. The English seem little to mind her insanity, especially since he has assured them that her derangement of mind would not prevent her from bearing children…
Katharine of Aragon, Princess of Wales, to her father King Ferdinand of Spain about her sister Juana Queen of Castile: The King of England is very impatient to have an answer respecting his intended marriage. It is most inconvenient to him to wait, because he has other marriages in view. The King of England says he fears that the affair will be much protracted, and the answer of the Queen of Castile unfavourable. Tells him that he must be patient; the King her father has scarcely arrived in Spain, and such a delicate business as this cannot be hurried… In Spanish. In cipher.
Queen Juana of Castile and her sister Katherine of Aragon
1507: If the Queen is to marry again she shall marry none but the King of England. Will do all in his power to promote the marriage, but must inform him that the Queen of Castile still carries the corpse of her late husband, King Philip, with her. All efforts to persuade her to bury the corpse have been in vain. Her state of health is such as to render it very dangerous to contradict her. Intends to persuade her, by slow degrees, to bury the corpse of her deceased husband.
On his arrival in Castile, the Queen had made up her mind to have the usual honours paid to the dead body of the King on New Year’s Day. Did not like to speak to her about a new marriage before that strange ceremony was over. Soon afterwards broached to her the affair of a new marriage. She said she would do his behests in all things, but begged him not force her to give an answer about such a matter before her deceased husband was buried. Has not insisted any further, because he was convinced that all would be in vain. Has written to the Pope, and asked him to send a brief to the Queen of Castile respecting the burial of her husband. Intends to speak with her again, after the burial, about her re-marrying; and, if she consents to it, will take care that her future husband shall be no other person than the King of England. Will inform him, as soon as possible, of all the further steps he may take in this matter, and also communicate to the King of England the conditions of the marriage… In Spanish.
July 1508: King Ferdinand of Spain to Gutierre Gomez de Fuensalida, Knight Commander of Membrilla: … as Henry has written begging him to allow Stile to deliver to the Queen of Castile the letters which he had written to her, and to permit him to speak to her on Henry’s behalf, he had sent Stile to the place where she was, and left him with her. But the Queen being in the same state she was before, it had been impossible to draw anything more from her than a reference to the words she had formerly said. The state in which she is cannot be described by letters, nor how necessary it is, in order to obtain anything from her, to proceed in a roundabout way. Even then it is with difficulty obtained ; but to endeavour to obtain the object in a shorter way would only be to defeat it. Therefore, the business must be conducted in harmony with the state in which the Queen is, in order that it may not fail of success. Is sure that if all the wise men in the world were to meet and consult together, they could not do more in this matter than has been done. Has tried all he could to prevail on her to bury her husband, but has not succeeded. Each time she has replied that there was no hurry, and to drive her against her wishes would he entirely to ruin her health. It it necessary not to oppose her, for she has a very strong will, but to proceed by roundabout ways. If Stile write the truth, he will not be able to say anything beyond this. Membrilla must tell all this to Henry, and show him that nothing is concealed from him, and that all that can be done will be done in the matter…
Calendar of Letters, Dispatches, and State Papers, Relating to the Negotiations Between England and Spain, Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere, Edited by G. A. Bergenroth. 1862: Letters: 436, 478, 480, 490, 511, 526, 560, 586.