This week-end the City of Peterborough will be remembering the death and burial of Katharine – the first wife of King Henry VIII and mother of Queen Mary I. Katharine’s marriage to Henry was ruled null and void by Thomas Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury on 23rd May 1533. She was exiled from court and to a succession of damp and unpleasant castles with just a handful of servants to serve her.
The tragedy of their annulment was that both he and Katharine were equally convinced of their causes. For the modern reader, both arguments are persuasive. It is an ironic footnote to her life story that Katharine, such a devoted and pious Catholic, unintentionally brought the Reformation to England.
Katharine’s final years were lonely and sad with the Spanish ambassador keeping her informed of outside events and taking smuggled letters to her daughter. She was often ill and died at Kimbolton Castle on 7th January 1536, three weeks after her fiftieth birthday. There were rumours that she had been poisoned but that is considered most unlikely. A lingering illness and the psychological effects of her exile were the probable causes. She was buried at Peterborough Abbey with all the ceremony befitting the widow of the Prince of Wales. Henry did not attend the funeral; we do not know if he read Katharine’s last letter to him. It was a love letter and she signed it ‘Katherine the Queen’.
The fact remained that although not everybody was rejoicing at Catherine’s passing, her death failed to produce any rebellion against Henry.
She was buried at Peterborough Abbey, later Cathedral, on 29th January 1536 and was given a funeral ceremony befitting her position as ‘dowager princess’. The funeral sermon was preached by John Hilsey. Henry VIII did not attend the funeral and instead remained at Greenwich where he wore ‘black mourning clothes and attended a solemn mass’. Henry refused to allow Mary to attend her mother’s funeral.
For a great many years now the burial of Catherine has been presented with great pride by Peterborough Cathedral and the City together. For this year the proceedings begin on Thursday evening – 28th January – when there is a Sung Eucharist in commemoration of Katharine at 17.30 with music from the Tudor period, sung by Peterborough Cathedral Choir.
On Friday, 29th January, there will be a 08.30 am Mass at the Cathedral – the service being conducted by Fr Adam Sowa of St Peter and All Souls Roman Catholic Church, Peterborough.
At 10.15am Civic dignitaries and schoolchildren proceed from Peterborough Museum to the Cathedral, accompanied by the period musicians of Hautbois.
At 10.30am a Service of Commemoration at will be held in the Cathedral – a service for School children, who will contribute songs and readings. During the service representatives of the Spanish Embassy, the City of Peterborough and others will lay wreaths on the tomb of Katharine of Aragon.
The service is followed by a Tudor history day for invited schools. Starting 11.30; breaking in time for a 12.10 lunch; then starting again at 12.55 and rotating in groups until 14.15 groups of children will have the chance hear about Tudor life, handle some Tudor style utensils and devices and generally immerse themselves in the time of Katherine and King Henry.
For adult attendees there is a 2.00pm guided tour of the Cathedral interior, with a particular focus on the Tudor period, led by a trained Cathedral guide.