Catherine of Aragon,
First Queen of King Henry VIII

Inspirational Life Stories in Simple English

Reading and Listening Practice

Discover the extraordinary life of Catherine of Aragon, whose remarkable life and choices continue to fascinate people to this day.
This lesson is perfect for reading and listening practice.
English level: B1-B2.
Catherine of Aragon Audio Story
Have you ever wondered about the life of a queen from long ago?
A queen whom people respected and admired because she never gave up on her strong beliefs?
What if I told you this queen married two brothers and was the first of six wives? Intrigued? Let's dive into the fascinating, yet complex world of Catherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII.
Our story will share her unexpected life, her beautiful love story, and the way she changed history forever.
We will also try to understand how her life took such a tragic turn.
You will find this story easy to understand as we will use simple language, simple grammar, and basic vocabulary. Let's start exploring the life of Catherine of Aragon.

Next steps:

1. Watch the video (or read the text).
2. Complete the worksheet (comprehension questions).


Comprehension questions

1. Where is Catherine born?
A) France
B) Spain
C) England

2. How do Arthur and Catherine become engaged?
A) They meet at a royal celebration.
B) Their parents plan their marriage.
C) Arthur sees a painting of Catherine and falls in love with her.

3. What is Catherine's relationship to King Henry VIII?
A) Sister
B) Cousin
C) Wife

4. How does Henry treat Catherine in the beginning?
A) He loves her, trusts her, and respects her.
B) He hates her and constantly ignores her.
C) He likes her as a sister.

5. What is the name of Catherine's daughter who survives?
A) Anne
B) Mary
C) Elizabeth

6. What does Henry ask the Pope?
A) To marry Anne Boleyn
B) To cancel his marriage to Catherine
C) To allow Princess Mary to rule as queen

7. How does Henry meet Anne Boleyn?
A) She is his wife's lady-in-waiting.
B) She is the French ambassador to England.
C) She is a beautiful painter that travels around Europe.

8. How does Catherine's life change when Henry VIII ends their marriage?
A) She becomes a ruler of another kingdom.
B) She starts a new career as a painter.
C) She is expelled from the royal court.

Story Text

The Youngest Spanish Princess

Let's take a step back in time.In the land of Spain, there are two important kingdoms: Castile and Aragon.
The year is 1469. A prince from Aragon named Ferdinand and a princess from Castile named Isabella, get married.
This brings their kingdoms together and turns Spain into a dominant world power.
In 1485, Catherine is born. She is the youngest daughter of the powerful couple Isabella and Ferdinand. She grows up in a palace, with the finest teachers.
From an early age, Catherine shows a strong interest in learning. Her parents ensure she receives the best education.
She learns many subjects like Latin, mathematics, religion, and philosophy.
She also learns to speak different languages fluently.Her ability to learn and understand new ideas impresses everyone around her.
Catherine watches her parents deal with important diplomatic and military issues and learns from their actions.

Marriage Plans

Even as a child, Catherine's parents plan her future. They decide she will marry Prince Arthur, the son of King Henry VII of England. This decision is made to build a strong alliance between England and Spain.
It's interesting to note that Catherine is only three years old when this marriage plan is made. This was common practice in royal families at the time. The parents would arrange the marriages of their children at a very early age.
So Catherine's early life in Spain is a mix of learning, family, and future plans.
It prepares her for the unique challenges she will face as a Queen in England.

Leaving Spain Forever

Imagine a young girl of just 15, leaving her home country of Spain for the very first time. Her name is Catherine of Aragon, and she is about to embark on a journey that will change her life forever. She is on her way to England, a place she has never been before. This trip is not for pleasure, but for marriage.
She is going to marry Prince Arthur, the eldest son of King Henry VII. She is going to be the future queen of England.

When Catherine first arrives in England, she does not even speak English. But, she is a quick learner and soon she is able to communicate with her future husband and the other people at the English court.
Catherine and Arthur get married in a big ceremony in London. Imagine the excitement and the nerves she must have felt on her wedding day! At the time Princess Catherine is 16 years old, and Prince Arthur is 15 years old.

Life in England is very different from what Catherine is used to as a Spanish princess. The weather is colder, the food is different, and the customs are not the ones she grew up with. But Catherine adapts to her new life. She learns to love her new home and the people she meets there.
But the most unpredictable thing happens. Catherine's husband Prince Arthur, dies suddenly, just five months after their wedding.
Catherine is left a widow at the age of 16. Imagine the shock and the sorrow she must have felt. Now, her future is filled with uncertainty.

Arthur's Brother?

King Henry VII, Arthur's father, refuses to let Catherine go back to Spain. But why?
First, Catherine is a Spanish princess. If she stays in England, the alliance with Spain will stay strong.
Second, when Catherine married Arthur, her family gave a lot of money and gifts to England. This is called a dowry. If Catherine goes back to Spain, he would have to give back the dowry.

Lastly, his younger son, Henry, will be the next king. He's not married yet. If he marries Catherine, England can keep the dowry and continue the friendship with Spain.
As a result, Catherine cannot go back to Spain. She must now live in a foreign country without her husband, and possibly marry his younger brother.

Years of Waiting

Henry is still too young to be married. And in addition, he cannot marry his brother's widow without special permission from the Pope.
Politics and money disagreements between England and Spain make things even worse.
So for seven years, Catherine waits.
She lives in a house in London. She has little money and struggles to cope, as she has to support her ladies-in-waiting as well as herself.
Ladies-in-waiting are women who help and keep company with queens, princesses, or other important ladies. They assist with different tasks and make sure everything is proper and organized.
In 1507, she becomes the first female ambassador in European history, when she serves as the Spanish ambassador to England.
While Henry VII and his men expect her to be easily manipulated, Catherine actually proves them wrong. She explains this in a letter to her father:
“I choose what I believe, and say nothing. For I am not as simple as I may seem.”

In 1509, King Henry VII dies. Young Henry VIII becomes the new king of England when he is only 17 years old.
King Henry VIII is tall and strong. He's got reddish hair and he likes sports. Henry's got a sparkle in his eyes, like he's ready for adventure. He's also pretty smart. He speaks Latin and French, and he's into music and poetry.
But he's got a bit of a temper, too. Sometimes he can be stubborn and impulsive. He's got big dreams and wants to prove himself as a strong and capable king.
22 years old Catherine is a great beauty, with her beautiful blue eyes and golden-red hair. She looks as lovely as a summer day.
Henry proposes to Catherine and they exchanged vows in a private ceremony. Soon after, they are crowned King and Queen of England in a beautiful and grand ceremony.

The Perfect Couple

Henry and Catherine are a couple that everyone admires. They're together because they truly want to be. Love is what binds them, and they fit perfectly like two pieces of a puzzle.
They enjoy spending time outdoors, riding horses, and hunting. Henry's trust in Catherine is strong, and they make a great team. They often go on adventures together, facing challenges side by side.
For years, their happiness is evident to all. They're not only a loving couple but also a strong force in politics. Their teamwork helps them make important decisions that shape the kingdom's future.
However, one issue troubles their otherwise peaceful life. They don't have a son to carry on their legacy. As Catherine grows older, this becomes a concern. Henry believes it's crucial to have a male heir to ensure the kingdom's stability. He's determined to find a solution.
As time goes on, the pressure increases, and the crack in their relationship widens. Will they be able to overcome this challenge and continue being the perfect couple they once were? Only time will tell.

Hope and Heartache

Throughout their life together, Henry and Catherine encounter moments of deep sorrow. Their attempts to welcome numerous children into the world are met with heartbreak, as many do not survive.
Out of all their children, only their daughter Mary, born in 1516, manages to survive against all odds.
Still, Henry wishes for a son to follow him as king, but it doesn't happen.
In 1517, another baby doesn't live long. The next year, a baby is born, but it doesn't move or cry. This makes everyone very sad. Catherine doesn't have any more babies after this.
As time goes on, Henry becomes more eager for a son. The weight of sadness and failure hangs like a black cloud over them.

The Exceptional Anne Boleyn

In 1525, Anne arrives at the English court. She is a lady-in-waiting, which means she is a helper to Queen Catherine. She is young and pretty, and she catches the eye of King Henry VIII.
Gradually, King Henry finds himself falling in love with Anne.
She is smart, charming, and glamorous. In addition, unlike 40-year-old Catherine, Anne is in her twenties and at the peak of her youth and vitality.

Henry begins to believe that marrying Catherine, who was married to his brother Arthur, upsets God and this is why they haven't had a son. This idea bothers him a lot.
He makes up his mind that Catherine has to leave.
He is now convinced that he stands a much better chance of having a suitable male heir with Anne.
King Henry wants to marry Anne, but he is already married to Catherine. As a catholic Christian, divorcing Catherine is not an option. So he comes up with a plan. He decides to cancel his marriage to Catherine, as if it has never happened.
He asks the Pope for permission to do just that. But the Pope refuses! Henry feels disappointed since he desperately wants to marry Anne.
This is terrible news for Catherine. She is the Queen. She is used to being loved and respected. But now, her husband wants to leave her for another woman. He wants to announce that their marriage is not real and that she is not the Queen of England.
They have a 9-year-old daughter, Princess Mary. What will this mean for her?
So Catherine doesn't give up. She stands up for herself. She fights for her marriage. She uses all her political ties and refuses to accept her fate quietly.

Catherine's Powerful Speech

In June 1529, a special court is assembled to determine the fate of the marriage.
Henry makes his arguments first. It is then Catherine’s turn to speak.
She places herself on her knees in front of the King and speaks these words:

“I humbly ask you, considering the love we've shared and for the sake of God, grant me fairness and justice.
Show me some kindness and compassion, as I am a poor woman and a stranger from outside your kingdom.
I lack a real friend here and honest advice.
I turn to you, seeking the highest form of justice within this land.
How did I hurt or harm you? Or what reason do you have for being upset and rejecting me?
I ask God and everyone everywhere to know that I've been a loyal wife, always trying to make you happy and please you.
I've always been happy for you. I never kept my thoughts or feelings hidden.
I liked the people you liked, just because you did, whether I had a reason or not, and regardless of how they treated me.
For over 20 years, I have been your faithful wife, and through me, you've had several children. Even though God chose to take them from this world. This was not due to any fault of mine.”

During her speech, Henry tries twice to get her to rise off her knees. But she does not change her stance.
When she finishes, she does not go back to her seat. She leaves the court.
Henry demands she comes back.
They call out, “Catherine Queen of England, come into the court”. But she leaves, never to appear in any court again.
As a result, the court cannot support the King. This may seem like a victory for Catherine, but unfortunately, it ends up causing more harm than good.

Winning the Battle, But Losing the War

Henry eventually expels Catherine from the royal court, and she is forced to live in an isolated castle.
She is not allowed to return or even see their daughter Mary.
Deeply frustrated, she writes in a letter:

“My troubles are so great, with daily plans made to support the King's evil intentions... The unexpected actions of the King have deeply wounded me. The way I'm treated, only God knows! It is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine.”

In the meantime, Henry establishes his own church, known as the Church of England.This allows him to marry Anne without consulting the Pope.
And so, in January 1533, after 7 years of challenges, Henry's wishes finally come true, and he marries Anne Boleyn. But what about Catherine?

In 1536, at age 50 and only three years after her marriage to Henry is canceled, Catherine becomes very ill, and passes away. Though her love for Henry doesn't die till the very end.
In her final days, Catherine writes her last letter to Henry. She asks him to remember her kindly. She urges him to prioritize the health and protection of his soul above everything else in the world, which has caused her so much sorrow and him so much trouble.
She forgives Henry for everything, only asking him to be a good father to their daughter Mary, just as she has always wanted. In her final words, she writes, "My eyes desire you above all things."
She signs the letter, "Catherine the Queen."
The news of Catherine's death reaches the King and his new Queen the following day. Publicly, they don't appear to grieve.
However, as the day comes to an end, and Henry is alone, he weeps bitterly, his heart heavy with great sadness.
It's clear that her passing has affected him deeply, even though he doesn't show it to the world. She was his first and greatest love when they were young.

How We See Queen Catherine Today

Many historians describe Catherine as stubborn, and brave – never giving up, till the very end.
But did she make the right choices? Could have she prevented her tragic end?
Henry began his attempts to cancel their marriage hoping that Catherine will agree and leave quietly. This might have been hard for her, but it was not a new concept.
In the 12th century, the King and Queen of France had similar circumstances. In their case, they both agreed to part ways, and both remarried and even started new families.
Catherine could have retired with respect and comfort.
Due to a special rule about canceled marriages, her daughter Mary could have still maintained her royal status.
In addition, Catherine and Mary could have stayed in touch, and visited each other, or even lived together.

Instead, Catherine was expelled from court, locked in a castle, strictly supervised, and not even allowed to see her daughter.
Maybe she could have better helped her family, England, and even herself, if she would have chosen a different path.
History often raises these "what if" questions, wondering if things could have turned out differently.In the case of Queen Catherine, her determination and refusal to accept the cancellation played a big part in shaping her legacy.
Some view her as a symbol of strength, standing up for what she believed was right. Others see it as a missed opportunity for a smoother transition and a reason for endless pain and suffering.
Her decision to stand her ground was undoubtedly brave, but it did come at a cost, for her and everyone around her.
In the end, history often presents us with complex situations that don't have clear-cut answers. Queen Catherine's choices were made in a time of great challenge and change, and her actions have left a lasting mark on history.
Whether seen as a determined queen or a tragic figure, Catherine's legacy continues to spark discussions about the choices we make and their impact on our lives and those around us.

Worksheet Answer Key

Comprehension questions

1. Where is Catherine born?
B) Spain

2. How do Arthur and Catherine become engaged?
B) Their parents plan their marriage.

3. What is Catherine's relationship to King Henry VIII?
C) Wife

4. How does Henry treat Catherine in the beginning?
A) He loves her, trusts her, and respects her.

5. What is the name of Catherine's daughter who survives?
B) Mary

6. What does Henry ask the Pope?
B) To cancel his marriage to Catherine

7. How does Henry meet Anne Boleyn?
A) She is his wife's lady-in-waiting.

8. How does Catherine's life change when Henry VIII ends their marriage?
C) She is expelled from the royal court.

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