The legacy of Queen Katharine of Aragon at Peterborough

On this Friday, 27th January 2017, the magnificent cathedral in 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. The tragedy of their annulment was that both he and Katharine were equally convinced of their causes. 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 Mary.  Katharine 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 now considered most unlikely. A lingering illness and the psychological effects of her exile were the probable causes.

Katharine 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.

The recognition of this continues to this day with many events telling and explaining Katherine’s life and death and the Cathedral’s role then and now.

On this Friday, 27th January, there will be an early morning Mass at the Cathedral.  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.

Also present will be some 360 children from various local schools! They are part of the service and then, after a short break, have a Tudor history day. Rotating in groups the children 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.  This year they have opportunities to learn steps to a Tudor dance; learn what Tudor people ate and drank; how the Barber Surgeon cared for the sick; the role of the monks of Peterborough Abbey and also the duties of fighting men – their arms and armour.

Katharine of Aragon, over 400 years after her death, still has a significant role to play in the life of the young and old of the present day.

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