Throughout the this year I will post an ongoing series on Kingdom Women—women God has used and is using in His great Kingdom endeavor. We will meet these women in God’s Word, in the early church, in the dark ages, in the past great missionary efforts and among today’s true followers of Jesus. Jamie introduces us to Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England.
What’s your definition of a Kingdom woman?
Mine is: “A woman who knows where she fits in God’s divine plan, and does everything she can to carry out God’s purpose for her life with her whole heart.” Those are tall orders, but they are not too hard for us! When God shows us our role in His Kingdom strategy, He also empowers us to fulfill the purpose for which He created us.
Though she lived centuries ago, Catherine of Aragon (the first wife of English despot King Henry VIII) was a Kingdom woman whose life deserves examination. Against all odds, she was a faithful steward of God’s call on her life.
Catherine (b. 1485) was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (the same monarchs who financed Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas). In 1501, she was married to Prince Arthur of England, but he died soon thereafter without consummating their marriage. In an effort to ally the kingdoms of Spain and England, Henry VIII married Catherine himself in 1509.
Catherine’s life was filled with difficulty. However, she rose valiantly to each occasion. For example:
1. She never fully mastered the English language.
However, she won the hearts of the English people anyway through tireless advocacy for education (including for women), humanitarian relief for the poor, and her legendary piety.
2. She was sometimes forced to rule England alone.
King Henry travelled frequently, waging futile wars in France in an effort to gain prestige and enhance his own reputation. While he was away, however, Catherine proved herself an excellent ruler.
As Queen Regent, Catherine led the English nation through its own time of war. She personally guided the nation through the invasion of James IV of Scotland. When English troops crushed James at the Battle of Flodden in September 1513, Catherine sent the bloody coat of the defeated Scottish king to Henry in France, suggesting that he use it as his battle standard. Though it was highly unusual for a woman of that time to rule over men, she did so without fear.
3. Her husband, Henry VIII, was an infamous womanizer and worshipper of self.
However, Catherine steadfastly fasted and prayed for his salvation throughout her entire life.
Nowhere in Catherine’s life do we see the strength of her character more than in the way she handled Henry VIII’s “Great Matter:”
Despite her keen leadership skills and her popularity with the English people, Queen Catherine lost favor with Henry after 18 years of marriage. Henry’s main goal was to produce a male heir, and Catherine had not borne a son who had lived.
Henry was willing to pay any price for a son who could inherit his throne. In 1527, Henry began petitioning the Pope for his marriage to Catherine to be annulled. (He claimed that his marriage was cursed since she had been the wife of his brother.)
Henry’s pleas fell on deaf ears in Rome, so Henry pushed harder. The king’s advisors “suggested” to Catherine that she should abdicate the throne and become a nun, which would absolve her of her marriage vows—and free Henry to wed his new love, Anne Boleyn. Catherine refused the convent, stating emphatically that God had called her to be Queen of England, not a nun.
Since Catherine refused to cooperate with him, Henry waged all-out war on her. He began to claim that Catherine was not a virgin when they were married, but Catherine insisted she was. The “he-said, she-said” argument got nowhere with the Pope. Henry then ordered his henchman, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, to secure the annulment. Wolsey called a church trial in England, where the religious officers attending would be likely to vote for Henry since they feared for their lives.
When Catherine, ever the regal Queen, entered that court hearing in 1529, she prostrated herself before the King’s feet. Then, though she spoke from a position of humility, she bravely challenged Henry to remember righteousness and justice, to admit that she was a virgin at their marriage and that their marriage was holy before God, and to abandon his sin. She then rose and left the room with dignity. The guard stomped his staff on the stone floor and cried, “Catherine of Aragon! Return to the court!” … but she would not. Henry’s sin was his own, and she would not be his pawn.
Henry eventually won his annulment by bypassing the Church of Rome completely. Around winter of 1531, he banished Catherine to live out her days in a series of isolated, damp, dilapidated castles. In 1533—after Henry had already married Anne Boleyn—Henry’s newest church henchman granted him a divorce from Catherine. Catherine of Aragon lived only a few more years, finally passing away of suspected cancer in 1536.
Catherine’s story ended tragically, but she remained true to her call all her life in spite of the horrible circumstances she endured. Even after Henry disposed of her, Catherine remained convicted that her call was to be Henry’s wife and Queen of England. She continued to conduct herself accordingly. She forgave Henry for his sins against her, and even continued to fast and pray for his soul. Poignantly, Catherine’s last letter to Henry was signed “Catherine the Queen.”
Catherine’s fate was sad, and some may think that she was hopelessly delusional. However, I believe she was a true Kingdom woman. Catherine knew her place in history. She knew that God had called her to be Queen of England. She functioned as an anointed ruler and wife until circumstances beyond her control prevented her from doing so.
This Kingdom woman endured hardships that no mortal should have to endure. Nevertheless, she did so with grace and strength of character. She remained true to God and did what she could all her days.
In my opinion, that makes Catherine of Aragon a heroine and a true Kingdom woman.
What characteristics do you admire in Catherine’s story?
Jamie Rohrbaugh is a writer, Bible teacher, and unlikely worship leader from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her passion is to see “on earth as it is in heaven” become reality in every Christian’s life. She blogs at www.FromHisPresence.com to encourage and equip people to become spiritual fathers and mothers, function in their gifts, and live a lifestyle of personal revival. Jamie holds a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and a Master’s in Biblical Studies from Berea Seminary. She is married to Bruce, and together they have one cat.