The Queen is Dead!: Katherine of Aragon dies in 1518

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by FalconHonour, Nov 28, 2018.

  1. Threadmarks: I: 10 November 1518

    FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    So, I've been lurking on this site for a while and now that I'm officially a member, I thought I'd explore making a timeline based off one of my old Tudor Fanfictions. The advantage being that I have the whole basic story written, so I can just rewrite the bits I think need it. As such, updates should be fairly frequent.

    The basic premise? What might have happened at the Tudor Court had Katherine of Aragon died in childbirth with her final child, leaving Henry VIII a widower. Enjoy!

    10 November 1518
    With a woman’s final anguished breath, the fate of a country changed forever.

    The woman was Queen Katherine of Aragon, wife to King Henry VIII of England and her body, exhausted with the travails of six pregnancies and childbirths, was finally giving up.[1]

    The physicians exchanged a look over her head.

    “It’s no good, Thomas,” one of them said, “The child is stuck. The labour has gone on for too long. Even if we were to cut open Her Majesty, there’s but a slim chance that the child would still live. And Her Majesty’s person is sacred. We cannot…”

    “Aye, but if this child is a boy, then it is the King’s heir. The son he has wanted for this past decade. If it yet lives, the child is our Prince of Wales. Doing nothing means we give that boy up for lost. We may well murder him. Need I remind you of the oath we both took when we entered this profession?”[2]


    “Well then. And this is no ordinary mother and child. This is the Queen of England, giving birth to a child that may well be our Prince. Would you have the blood of a Prince on your hands, William?”

    “Sirs,” a woman’s softly accented voice broke in before the other man could respond, “This is no time to think of Royal protocol. The Queen is a woman and a mother like any other. She would want you to do everything within your power to save her child.”

    The physicians turned to look at the speaker.

    “With all due respect, Mistress Willoughby, you know nothing…”

    “No,” Maria Willoughby, nee de Salinas, cut him off, “I do not. But I do know Catalina. I know what she would want.”[3]

    Pausing, she stroked a tendril of her mistress’s auburn hair away from the waxen face. When she spoke again, her voice was scarcely above a whisper, but there was a determination in it that could not be gainsaid.

    “Cata is beyond pain now. She’s gone to meet our beloved Father in Heaven. She’s in His hands. So do what you have to do, Sirs. Do what you have to do for the sake of this country. I’ll answer for it to His Majesty.”

    Bowing before the steel in her eyes and voice, the two men nodded and reached silently for their scalpels.

    With trembling hands, they sliced jaggedly into the Queen’s still warm flesh, praying they wouldn’t be sent to Hell for violating Her Majesty’s person.

    To no avail. They were too late.

    His Highness, the Prince of Wales, who would have been the apple of his father’s eye, had he lived, but instead had done nothing more than condemn both himself and his mother to death, lay jammed in the birth canal. He was perfectly formed, but large. Too large.[4]

    Dr William Butts picked him up, rubbed him down with a linen cloth and put his ear to the boy’s chest, searching for a sign of life that he already knew would not be there.[5]

    “Dead?” His colleague’s voice was low, mournful. William nodded gravely.


    [1] The POD. Historically, Katherine survived this childbirth and went on to live almost another 18 years.

    [2] The Hippocratic Oath doctors used to have to take. In a nutshell, it means to do no harm.

    [3] Maria de Salinas, Baroness Willoughby. OTL one of Katherine of Aragon’s friends from childhood, who defied Henry VIII to be at Katherine’s side as she died in 1536. I couldn’t not have her present here.

    [4]Minor butterflies. OTL Katherine of Aragon gave birth to a stillborn girl on November 10th,1518. Here, it’s a boy.

    [5] OTL one of Henry VIII’s most famous court physicians. The Thomas mentioned earlier is his predecessor, Dr Thomas Linacre. I'm not entirely sure Butts was working for Henry in 1518, but I couldn't find another physician who might have been. Happy to edit if someone can correct me.
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  2. VVD0D95 Lemmy is God.

    Mar 15, 2015
    Birmingham, UK
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  3. Milites Esfahān nesf-e- jahān

    May 16, 2011
    In the shade of the Naqsh-e Rostam
    So Henry is free of what would otherwise had been his great matter. Looking forward to seeing what road Tudor England will take in the coming years.

    Also, a nitpick maybe, but the Hippocratic oath wasn't widely known/used in Western Europe before the 1700s, IIRC.
  4. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    Ah. Right. Thanks for letting me know. Not sure I can edit that bit without ruining the flow of the story, but thank you very much for letting me know. I'll keep it in mind for future reference. And yes, he is free to marry again when he wants to :)
  5. colleoni Well-Known Member

    Nov 7, 2016
    Not sure if it's true or just a story, but I was told that when it came to chidbirth the priority of the doctors was to bring the child to the world so that it coud be baptised (IIRC, in such cases anyone coud administer the Sacrament and have it valid - if the child survived and was of good standing the baptism would probaby be repeated later on by a priest). If so, given that the queen was already dead, there woud have been very little to make the doctors hesitant.
  6. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    Okay, fair enough. I won't change it now, but thank you very much for letting me know. I'll bear that in mind for the future. What made me think they might hesitate here is that a Queen was anointed, so her person is sacred, not to be touched by commoners. I thought that might also go for her corpse. Anyway, even if they hadn't hesitated, the boy would have been stillborn, so it wouldn't have made any difference in the long run!
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  7. Torbald þegn

    Jan 27, 2010
    I can spiritually feel Blueflowwer approaching this thread like a Greek Fury
  8. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    They are more than welcome to come and join in the fun :)
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  9. The_Last_Plantagenet Well-Known Member

    Mar 25, 2015
    North Powys
    Firstly, subbed, and secondly if this TL has a surviving Henry Fitzroy, I wish I could sub twice!
  10. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    It does, actually. Albeit one born 9 months after his historical birthday.
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  11. JonasResende Well-Known Member

    Oct 13, 2012
    Oranje Vrijstaat, Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek

    Which I've never fully understood - was this changed by the Reformation/Council of Trent? Because AIUI nowadays, most mainline church denominations count an emergency baptism (usually done by a non-cleric - any professing Christian (no matter the denomination - hence a Catholic can be baptised by a Lutheran or vice versa) is allowed to do it if the child's life is in danger (so, if the baby is born and seems unlikely to live, anyone at the hospital, whether it's the doctor, the nurse or the janitor, can administer it, although AFAIK the caveat is that in the event that there isn't time to still send for a cleric) as enough, and therefore the need for a church baptism is counted as superfluous.
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  12. BlueFlowwer Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2017
    At the moment I am too grieved by the Oncoming Butchery of Catherine of Aragon that is the new Stars serie, The Spanish Princess, to be anything but resigned at this thread.

    Honestly dead is better than being written by Philippa Gregory, a woman who I at the moment want to string up by her thumbs.

    Sure, kill Catherine if you want, this is rather better than to see her reduced to some tragic and lonely woman as always ensues in the end.

    I'm just...done.
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  13. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    See that was my thought as well. At least this way she dies with honour and remains Henry's beloved and respected wife and Queen. It seemed the kindest way of treating her, all things considered.
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  14. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    You will have to forgive my ignorance, especially as its a very minor aside to your main point, but what does AIUI stand for? As for the baptism, I'm not sure, but I know they're not technically allowed to baptise stillborn babies in the Methodist Church (later than our period, I know, but it's the only one I'm sure about). That doesn't mean any chaplain worth their pastoral salt won't, but they're not technically supposed to.
  15. Threadmarks: II: 10-12 November 1518

    FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    I thought I'd carry on setting the scene by letting you all see the direct aftermath of Katherine's death in this universe. Fair warning, I've always been better at writing the personal side of AUs than the political. If there's anything in particular you want to see politics-wise, please prod me to get round to writing it... Enjoy!

    Henry knew something was wrong. When he heard Cata’s screaming stop, yet failed to hear the piercing cry that heralded his son’s entry into the world, he knew something was wrong.

    So, it was hardly a surprise to see Dr Linacre appear at the door with gravity in his face and sorrow in his eyes.

    “Your Majesty.”

    “The Queen? The Prince?”

    “The child was too large. Her Majesty fought valiantly, indeed, we all did all we could, but in the end, Nature took its course. We lost them.”

    It was one thing to know something was wrong, but quite another to hear it, Henry realised then. Though he’d thought he was prepared for the worst, a deep wave of sadness welled up in him at the physician’s words. Tears threatened and he was too choked up to speak. Which meant it was Brandon who spoke next.[1]


    “Both, Your Grace. Your Majesty. I am so sorry.”

    Henry waved the man away, unable to speak. He didn’t need platitudes and condolences. He needed them. His Cata and his Prince. But he couldn’t have them. He’d lost them. Both of them.

    He’d never see Cata again; never see her play with her auburn hair; never rest his head in her lap; never hold her in his arms. He’d never see her smile as their son called her Mama; never hear her laugh proudly when the boy took his first steps.

    He’d never take the boy riding, never see him shoot his first arrow; never invest him as the Prince of Wales. He’d never hold him high above his head and present him to the people as their future King.

    “Harry?” His sister ventured, moving forward. She laid her hand on his arm. Just like Cata used to do.

    Henry felt tears rising at her touch, but he choked them back. Grief could come later. He had duties to perform first.

    Wrenching away, he laid his hands flat on the table and tried to clear his head. He owed it to Cata to do this properly.

    “Tell the Court…” His voice shook. He swallowed hard and tried again, “Tell the Court the Queen has died in childbirth and the child with her. No need to tell them it was a boy. Declare Court mourning. And send the Princess Mary to Eltham.[2] She’s too young…too young to be here amongst this grief.”

    His voice was flat, monotone. The words left a metallic tang in his mouth. He turned for the door.

    “I shall withdraw into my chambers. Alone. Pray God I’ll find peace there.”

    “Harry,” Mary started.[3] He raised his head to her and she fell back at the look in his eyes.

    “Alone, Mary.”

    She let him go without another word.

    *** *** ***​
    “Are you sure this is a good idea, Lady Bryan? Surely the Royal Family should be together in this dark time?”

    Lady Margaret Bryan, Lady Governess to Her Highness the Princess Mary, looked up at the maid who had spoken.

    “It is not for us to question, Mistress Alice. The Queen has died in childbirth and the King has deemed Her Highness too young to deal with Court mourning. We are to go to Eltham and there’s an end to it.”

    “But Milady, does Her Highness know yet? It’s been two days. Does Her Highness know yet?” Alice glanced towards the door as she spoke.

    Before Lady Bryan could answer, there were unsteady footsteps in the passage outside and a two-year-old girl with dark blonde hair appeared in the doorway. Seeing Lady Bryan, she made a beeline for her.

    “Muggie, why packing?” she demanded.[4]

    “Your Highness,” Lady Bryan curtsied, “The King has decided you’re to move house. To Eltham.”


    “To Eltham, Your Highness. It’s a nice place. You’ll like it. I promise. Come, we’d better get you ready.” Lady Bryan held out her hand and Princess Mary took it trustingly. She didn’t make a fuss as they dressed her and prepared her to go out. In fact, it wasn’t until they were halfway outside that she suddenly stopped and pulled back.

    “Papa? No say Papa goodbye? Mama? Say Mama goodbye?”

    Lady Bryan knelt down to the toddler’s height, “Papa’s busy, Your Highness. I wrote His Majesty a letter to say we’d gone rather than take you to say goodbye. But don’t worry, His Majesty loves you. He’ll miss you very much. He’ll send for you just as soon as he possibly can. I promise.”

    “Well, Mama? Say Mama goodbye?”

    Lady Bryan’s heart clenched. She’d hoped to get Mary to Eltham before telling her what had happened. Now it seemed that she was not to get that respite. She reached out a hand to the child.

    “Your Highness. I’m going to tell you something and I need you to be a big brave girl. You have to listen to me. You can’t see your Mama. I know you want to see her, but I’m afraid Her Grace has gone to sleep.”

    “Wake up. Say goodbye.”

    Mary’s piping voice was insistent. Lady Bryan ached to hold her in comfort, or at least to be having this conversation somewhere more dignified, more private, than the corner of a stairwell, but, unfortunately, the circumstances did not permit that. All she could do was lay a gentle hand on Mary’s tiny shoulder and soften her voice as she gazed into the child’s wide blue eyes, “I know you want to, Your Highness. Believe me, I would if I could. I would if I could. But we can’t. Your Mama’s gone to sleep because she’s gone to live with God and His angels. Once you’re sleeping God’s sleep, then no one can wake you up. I’m sorry.”

    “But I want see Mama! Want see Mama! Want see Mama!”

    “I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Lady Bryan repeated, hoping to soothe her charge. To no avail. Mary’s eyes filled with tears and she began to lash out at the walls and people around her.

    “Want see Mama! Want see Mama!”

    Lady Bryan made her decision. Protocol be damned! She had to get this child to Eltham so she could soothe her and settle her properly.

    She swept the screaming Princess up into her arms and hung on to her grimly. Ignoring the ear-splitting shrieks of, “Mama! Mama! Want Mama!”, that were reverberating off the walls around her, she hurried down the stairwell and out into the courtyard.

    As Mary, still kicking and screaming, was bundled into the carriage and borne off to Eltham, the skies clouded over and it began to rain in torrents. It was as though, upon hearing its little Princess’s pain, the whole of England had decided to give full rein to the grief it felt for Catalina de Aragón. For its Queen Katherine, Queen of Hearts.

    [1] Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Arguably Henry’s closest friend.

    [2].Eltham Palace, Henry VIII’s childhood home. It made sense to me that he’d send his daughter there if he was grieving. Send her somewhere he remembered being happy.

    [3] The ‘sister’ referred to above. Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, born 1496. Henry’s youngest and favourite surviving sibling.

    [4] ‘Muggie’ was apparently Elizabeth I’s OTL nickname for Lady Bryan. As we have no record of what Mary called her at that age and Lady Bryan was nurse, or rather Lady Governess to them both, I’m borrowing it.
  16. JonasResende Well-Known Member

    Oct 13, 2012
    Oranje Vrijstaat, Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek
    AIUI = As I understand it.

    Stillbirths are a sort of grey area in most denominations from what I gather. Most you aren't allowed to hold funeral services for them (Dutch Reformed doesn't allow it, for instance, since according to the NG Kerkorde (Dutch Reformed Church Polity) it is only a person who is a confessing member of the church (i.e. one who has been both baptized and received communion - doesn't specify a time stamp for when last said person received the Eucharist (hence a lot of people who don't favour the way the Dutch Reformed Church is going these days simply absent themselves from the church rather than leave, since that way they are still ensured of a burial by the church). A stillborn baby is regarded as neither. I'm guessing this extends to burial as well, since there is a whole section of our local graveyard devoted to stillborn babies (Here lies Daughter Smith or Son Jones) but it's not in the graveyard (consecrated ground) proper, but on the side of a small hill outside the graveyard wall.
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  17. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    Right, thanks for explaining. And yes, that behaviour when it comes to stillbirths makes sense, though your description of the hill outside your graveyard proper with the stillbirths, did make me think of the Tess of the D'Ubervilles scene with her baby Sorrow...
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  18. Jonathan Corbynite with fire in heart & food in belly

    Nov 30, 2013
    Kent, England, United Kingdom
    Your writing of the pain felt by two year old Princess Mary is very moving and beautifully written.

    I will subscribe
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  19. FalconHonour Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2018
    Thanks. Oh she's a handful when she's grieving, is that little lady...
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  20. VVD0D95 Lemmy is God.

    Mar 15, 2015
    Birmingham, UK
    Mary's grief was heart breaking