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Annual Festival for Katherine of Aragon in Peterborough

The annual celebrations to commemorate the life of the Spanish-born first wife of King Henry VIII will be hosted again in Peterborough in January 2017. Run in collaboration with Vivacity Peterborough – who will be running an exhibition called Tremendous Tudors to complement the events – the life of the queen will be celebrated in music, cathedral services, tours and talks between Thursday, 26 January through to Sunday, 29 January 2017.

PKM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As a result of Henry VIII’s so-called “Great Matter”, or the Divorce, which resulted in the ultimate breaking with Rome, Henry could as new Supreme Head of the Church of England, grant his own divorce from Katherine of Aragon – his wife since 1509 – and marry her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Katherine had previously been married to Henry’s elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales and it was precisely over the delicate question of the consummation of this marriage, that Katherine stubbornly maintained her status as the King’s “true” wife, because the marriage with his elder brother had never been such. Although she conceived relatively easily, bearing out her symbol of the pomegranate – one of fruitfulness and fertility – it was a tragedy of the marriage, that of the children she bore Henry, only one child, a daughter, the Princess Mary survived.

Henry and Katherine’s marriage was eventually put on trial during which Katherine made an extraordinary and memorable appeal directly to Henry and then appealed her case to Rome and then to God. The marriage was later declared invalid and his union with Anne Boleyn valid in its place. Her official title afterwards was “Dowager Princess of Wales”, as befitted the widow of Henry’s elder brother Arthur instead of that of Henry’s queen, was a title which she always vehemently denied, adamantly continuing to call herself as “Katherine, the Queen” until the end of her life. She was exiled to – among other places, Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, dying at the Castle on 7 January 1536. She was buried in Peterborough Cathedral, as the place nearest to the Castle which could be deemed appropriate to her (former) status, London being thought a politically insensitive choice, where Anne Boleyn was Henry’s official queen.

It is for this reason that an annual festival is held at Peterborough in Katherine of Aragon’s memory; the city is twinned with Alcala de Henares in Spain, Katherine’s birthplace, to commemorate the link with Katherine. Spanish colours are left at the tomb today in the form of ribbons, as are flowers and pomegranates, the Queen’s personal heraldic symbol. The annual festival is always held around the time of her burial – 29 January – and takes place within the Cathedral itself and across the city.

The events will commence with a sung Eucharist in the Cathedral in commemoration of Katherine of Aragon, followed by Mass the following morning with an official Commemoration, featuring the laying of wreaths by local schoolchildren, with people in official representation of the Spanish embassy as well as the dignitaries of Peterborough itself. The festival will continue with an event lecture, a Tudor-style evening with pottage and a guided Tudor walk of Peterborough. There will also be themed talks and family activities throughout the festival, which will conclude with a choral evensong.

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