Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

The Queen of Castile Has A Daughter...

The tomb of Katherine of Aragon in Peterborough Cathedral is modern. It consists of a slab of black marble raised a little above floor level, backed by a metal grille into which are worked the words- Katherine, Queen of England. It's an odd thing- and would be unimpressive were it not for the tributes it attracts- the pomegranates and flowers and folded notes that visitors and pilgrims place upon the slab. A poor copy of a Tudor portrait of someone who might be Katherine hangs from the grille. There is no absolutely certain contemporary portrait.

Charles Causley visited Peterborough and was inspired to write a double elegy for Katherine and a mate of his called Jumper who died in the war. It's one of his best things- though one comes away suspecting that he didn't quite know who she was. To begin with he seems to have taken the dates of her reign- 1509-1533- as those of her birth and death- and so to have been thinking of her as a sprightly young woman who pegged out at 24.

Well, we were all 24 once....

The Queen of Castile has a daughter
Who won't come home again.
She lies in the grey cathedral
Under the arms of Spain.
O the Queen of Castile has a daughter
Torn up by the roots,
Her lovely breast in a stone cold chest
Under the farmers boots.

In answers to comments on a previous post I said I thought the earlier tomb got smashed up by 17th century Puritans but it seems I was wrong. What they did do was smash her funeral hearse- which was standing nearby, and nick the gilding off her stone. In any case it never seems to have been very grand (the hearse was grander) just a low stone chest with a black marble top- which simply fell apart over the years. In a final act of indignity an 18th century Dean of the cathedral removed the black marble to make a floor for his summer house- or so says rumour.

An early 20th century Peterborough grande dame called Katherine Clayton started an appeal to fund the replacement- with the novel twist that all the donors should be women called Katherine- and the result is this funny little patch of untidiness to the side of the north aisle- which looks rather like one of those impromptu shrines that appear on the sites of road traffic accidents.

But it's the idea that counts. And people still love Katherine. Especially Spanish people apparently. She's not exactly the figure of romance that Causley mistook her for but something better- a courageous, deep thinking woman (patron of Erasmus and More) who was treated abominably by her husband and bore it with unwavering dignity. Her husband's factotum, Thomas Cromwell, said that, but for her sex, she'd have outmatched any hero of antiquity. She was a lay member of the Franciscan Order- and wore a hair shirt through her years of house arrest. She died at 50- and her husband and his girlfriend chose to dress in yellow- which may have been tasteless of them or a nod towards Spanish mourning customs. Some said she was poisoned but the best modern opinion is that it was cancer. The Catholic Church toys with the idea of making her a saint.
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