Letter from Elizabeth of York, Queen of England to Isabella, Queen of Castile – December 3, 1497

Portrait of Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

One of the most important objectives of King Henry VII’s foreign policy was the pursuit of a marriage between his son Arthur, Prince of Wales and Catherine, Infanta of Spain. As early as the spring of 1489, English ambassadors were sent to hold important talks with Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. An acceptable agreement was made and the provisions of the Treaty of Del Campo established a common policy between England and Spain.

Terms included reduced tariffs between the two countries and there was a requirement that each country come to the other’s aid in the event of a war with France. A marriage was contracted between the Prince of Wales and Catherine and her dowry was set at two hundred thousand crowns. Although this agreement was ratified by Spain, England did not reciprocate until a year and a half later.

In 1490, King Henry offered a revised deal, pursuing a three-way alliance with Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. This offer was rejected by the Spanish monarchs so the actual terms of the Treaty of Medina del Campo were principally un-executed. However, the marriage portion of the treaty was renegotiated in 1492. While the pretender to the English throne Perkin Warbeck was making the rounds of the courts of Europe, seeking acceptance as Richard, Duke of York, missing son of King Edward IV, the marriage contract was not likely to meet its conclusion.

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile

But in the fall of 1497, Warbeck left the court of James IV of Scotland. He first landed in Ireland and then tried a landing in Cornwall. He raised an army but Henry sent troops and when Warbeck heard this he panicked and deserted his men. He was captured and the Spanish treaty was finally concluded. It was at this time Queen Elizabeth wrote to Catherine’s mother to express her delight with the prospect of the marriage:

“To the most serene and potent princess, the Lady Elizabeth [Isabella], by God’s grace queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, Granada etc., our cousin and dearest relation, Elizabeth by the same grace, queen of England and France, and lady of Ireland, wishes health and the most prosperous increases of her desires.

Although we before entertained singular love and regard to your highness above all other queens in the world, as well for the consanguinity and necessary intercourse which mutually take place between us, as also for the eminent dignity and virtue by which your majesty so shines and excels that your most celebrated name is noised abroad and diffused everywhere; yet much more has this love increased and accumulated by the accession of the most noble affinity which has recently been celebrated between the most illustrious Lord Arthur, prince of Wales, our eldest son, and the most illustrious princess the Lady Catherine, the infanta, your daughter.

Hence it is that, amongst our other cares and cogitations, first and foremost we wish and desire from our heart that we may often and speedily hear of the health and safety of your serenity, and of the health and safety of the aforesaid most illustrious Lady Catherine our common daughter. And if there by anything in our power which would be grateful or pleasant to your majesty, use us and ours as freely as you would have all in common with you. We should have written you the news of our state, and written at length of these things to your majesties. For the rest may your majesty fare most happily according to your wishes.

From our palace of Westminster, 3rd day of December, 1497

The language of this letter expresses Queen Elizabeth’s sentiments in the customarily profuse terms of typical courtly correspondence. Even so, we can feel the genuine delight Elizabeth feels at the outcome of the negotiations. It would be another four years before Arthur and Catherine were married in November of 1501. Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth died in February of 1503. Perhaps if Elizabeth had lived longer, Catherine would not have suffered so greatly as Arthur’s widow at the court of King Henry VII.

Further reading: BL Egerton MS 616, fol. 7, Latin. Wood, vol. I, letter xlvi, “Letters of the Queen of England 1100-1547” edited by Anne Crawford