Katherine of Aragon as Regent of England

Katherine of Aragon (Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery)

King Henry VIII was resolved to go to France and wage war. This decision set in motion a series of significant events, none which was beneficial to James IV, King of Scots. Scotland had initiated the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France in 1290 and it had been regularly renewed through the centuries. This agreement stipulated that Scotland and France would come to each other’s aid in the event of an attack by England. But James had also ratified the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1503 with King Henry VII.

The terms of the 1503 treaty called for dire consequences if Scotland or England attacked each other. One of the more significant penalties awaiting the king who initiated the attack was excommunication by the Pope. The Treaty of Perpetual Peace allowed James to maintain his position as an independent monarch in Europe and for Henry VII to strengthen his dynasty. For the most part, the two kings observed these terms until King Henry VII’s death.

In the meantime, there had always been trouble along the border area between England and Scotland, mostly consisting of raids on both sides. James IV had been incensed with the murder of Sir Robert Ker, his Warden of the Scottish Middle March. His assassin was the illegitimate son of a prominent Northumberland family, known as Bastard Heron. Heron had been allowed to remain free in England with impunity for his crime. This act had been something completely different from the mere raids perpetrated by the Reivers on either side of the border.

In preparation for his sojourn to France, King Henry VIII drew up grants on June 6, 1513 giving his Queen complete power as Regent before his invasion fleet left Dover for France. The first grant, by Letters Patent, stated: “Katherine, Queen Consort. To be Regent and Governess of England, Wales and Ireland, during the King’s absence in his expedition against France”. Her mandate allowed her to make commissions of muster and array; to grant licenses to elect to the chapter of conventual churches not being cathedrals [no bishops]; to present to vacant churches, in the king’s gift, rated between 20 and 40 marks; to appoint sheriffs; to issue warrants under her sign manual to John Heron, treasurer of the king’s chamber, for payment of such sums as she might require; and to sign warrants to the king’s secretary, keeper of his signet, to the Chancellor for the use of the great seal.

Katherine would have the advice of a small council, led by the Lord Chancellor, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Sir Thomas Englefield, Speaker of the king’s first House of Commons, and Sir Robert Southwell, chief butler of England, as well as the Treasurer of the Household, Sir Thomas Lovell. Henry selected these men to give the Queen advice but the King made it clear Katherine’s word must be taken as his own.

The Letters Patent also included the ability “to fight and wage war against any of our enemies in our absence”. She had “full power to convoke and bring together, when it seems necessary and opportune to the Queen, each and every one of our subjects who are most suitable and capable of defending and protecting our kingdom of England…to arm and equip them for war and to station, prepare and lead them…”. He gave her the power to issue mandates to the treasury to pay any sums of money she might appoint for the defense of the kingdom.

Henry placed his ultimate trust in Katherine to provide additional supplies for the war in France and, as guardian of the realm, to defend England against any Scottish invasion. He was complimentary of his queen, stating in the Letters Patent that Katherine’s “honor, excellence, prudence, forethought and faithfulness” could not be doubted. Katherine’s loyalties were to Henry and England and Henry recognized her faithfulness by giving her an extraordinary amount of authority. It is clear Katherine  exercised most of these powers and usually signed off on any documents with her name alone.

The Capitulation of Granada by F. Pradilla from Wikimedia Commons

Katherine had plenty of inspiration for her new role. Her mother, Isabella of Castile had demonstrated strategic mastery and taken a leading position in conducting the decade-long war against the Moors in the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula and in the Kingdom of Granada. Isabella acted as quartermaster, organizing the supply of men and materials. She showed a keen interest in military tactics and artillery, ordering gunpowder and setting up new forges in Spain to produce the siege artillery required for battering the citadels held by the enemy. Katherine witnessed Queen Isabella riding at the forefront of her troops to boost their morale before battle.

Katherine set out from Greenwich with Henry and the army for Dover. In the castle, Henry officially turned power over to her and she watched as Henry sailed for Calais. She returned to London and took charge of the defense of the realm, aided by Sir Thomas Lovell and Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Henry had specifically appointed the military veteran Surrey to take charge of the military expedition against the Scots in the event of an invasion.

Katherine corresponded weekly with the royal almoner, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Each time she requested he send back with her courier any news about the king. She communicated with the king through Wolsey because she knew Henry was occupied and didn’t want to bother him. She was solicitous and worried about the king’s safety, pestering Wolsey for information about Henry’s health and sending the king fresh supplies of linen. She pleaded with Margaret of Savoy, the Regent of the Netherlands, to send the best physician she could find to look after him.

In July, word reached Katherine of James IV’s mustering of troops for an invasion of England. Surrey began his preparations for war, recruiting men from his own household and tenants. Katherine’s duties included gathering ordinance, horses, carts and uniforms and the appropriate heraldic items. She reported to Wolsey she was “horribly busy with making standards, banners and badges”.

She signed a warrant to the Great Wardrobe for two “standards of the lion crowned imperial according to the two with those of England and Spain, two with the cross of St. George, three of imagery (i.e. of the Trinity, Our Lady and St. George), one coat of arms of England for a herald and one for pursuivant, 6 trumpet banners and 100 pennants for diverse carriages.” To the north she sent artillery, gunners, a fleet of eight ships, grain, pipes of beer, rope, cables and suits of light armor along with ten thousand pounds for war expenses. For herself, she ordered a golden headpiece with a crown, a light sallet helmet and a rounded, broad-brimmed shapewe helmet (a type of armored sun hat). There is no record of Katherine being seen wearing a full suit of armor.

Before about five hundred troops on parade in London on July 21, Katherine gave a speech. The Italian humanist Pietro Martire d’Anghiera reported: “Queen Katherine, in imitation of her mother Isabella, who had been left regent in the King’s absence, made a splendid oration to the English captains, told them to be ready to defend their territory, that the Lord smiled upon those who stood in defense of their own, and they should remember that English courage excelled that of all other nations.” The next day, the English forces departed for the north.

For years, James IV had been asking Henry VII and then Henry VIII to hand over the Bastard Heron for just punishment. On August 18, 1513, Katherine signed a pardon for Heron as his crime was considered a misdemeanor in England. This paved the way for him to fight at the battle of Flodden on the side of the English. He would be instrumental in coming to the aid of Edmund Howard, father of the future Queen Catherine Howard, during the battle and saving his life.  

The troops and artillery were headed to Newcastle. In August, Katherine and Sir Thomas Lovell were raising additional men. James IV threatened to reach York by Michaelmas (September 29) and Katherine took this threat seriously. Between September 3 and 7, Lovell was raising troops in the Midlands under martial law conditions at Queen Katherine’s command. Katherine personally gathered together a third force, forming a reserve army around London.

Along the roads leading to Buckingham, levies were pouring in from as far away as Wales, and from all the southern and western counties. The army totaled about sixty thousand men which Katherine intended to lead to York by herself. In early September, she rode out of London at the head of the reserve force of gentlemen and yeoman of the counties, a band of Londoners and gunpowder artillery from the Tower, on her way to rendezvous with the rest of the army. By September 14, she arrived at Buckingham, about fifty miles from London, when she received a letter from Surrey announcing the English victory at Flodden (September 9) and declaring “there is no great man of Scotland returned home, but the Chamberlain (Lord Hume)”

English reaction to the victory was ecstatic. Katherine wrote to Henry in France:

“My Lord Howard has sent me a Letter, which I enclose for our Grace within mine. You shall see in detail the great victory our Lord God has given to your subjects in your absence….and to my thinking this battle has been for your Grace and all your realm the greatest honour there could be, and more than if you should win all the crown of France. Thanks be to God for it, and I am sure that your Grace will not forget to do this, which will be the cause of sending you more such great victories.”

She also sent Henry the bloody surcoat of James IV:

“Your grace shall see how I can keep my promise, sending you for your banners a King’s coat. I thought to send him to you in person but our Englishmen’s hearts would not suffer it. It should have been better for him to have kept the peace than have this reward. All that God sends is for the best.” She signed this letter as “his humble wife and true servant”.

Katherine realized England could not sustain two armies at once so began to disband the reserve army and reduce Surrey’s troops. She offered to send someone to comfort the widowed Queen of Scots, Henry’s sister Margaret. She assured Margaret that as long as she kept the peace, her brother would support her regency in Scotland for her young son, James V. The letters exchanged between Margaret and Katherine suggest they were looking for a permanent peace.

Henry had reached Calais on June 30. In August, he won the Battle of the Spurs and took several prisoners, including Louis of Orléans, duke de Longueville. Henry sent the duke to Katherine. Due to the threat of the Scottish invasion, she imprisoned him in the Tower of London for his safety. Later in August, Henry seized the town of Thérouanne and in September, after a siege, Tournai surrendered to him.

By October 21, Henry was back in England. The duke de Longueville remained in the royal household until peace was made with France the following year. He seems to have enjoyed his stay in England. After paying his ransom, he returned to France asking to be remembered to the Queen.

Further reading: “Isabel the Queen” by Peggy Liss, “Fatal Rivalry: Flodden 1513 – Henry VIII, James IV and the Battle for Renaissance Britain” by George Goodwin, “Elizabeth of York and her Six Daughters-in-Law: Fashioning Tudor Queenship, 1485-1547” by Retha M. Warnicke, “Henry VIII and the Invasion of France” by Charles Cruickshank, “Catherine of Aragon” by Garrett Mattingly, “Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII” by Giles Tremlett

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