Sunday, 2 February 2014

Katherine of Aragon Festival!!!

I spent most of this last weekend at the Katherine of Aragon Festival, which takes place every year in the last weekend of January in Peterborough. Katherine is buried in Peterborough Cathedral, and I have been waiting basically my whole life to go to the festival. Okay maybe not my whole life, but 5 years ago I found out they did a Katherine of Aragon Festival to celebrate her burial, and I decided I would go. My conviction has not wavered since that moment. And it exceeded all my dreams a million times over!

It’s a funny thing, when all your dreams come true… I’m not entirely sure that it all happened and that it was real. And you know how important this was to me because I woke up pre-7:00am on a day I don’t have class not once, but twice to get to Peterborough! Luckily Peterborough is only about an hour away from Notts by train, and a direct line so I didn’t have to change. For some reason, I seemed to have forgotten just how beautiful of a cathedral Peterborough is. I don't know if it's just because I've seen so many stunning cathedrals, but I walked into the square and wow. It really is something else. I couldn't even believe my eyes.

Friday morning I got up at an ungodly hour and headed straight to the cathedral for the Commemorative Service at 10:30. It was a wonderful service, there were lots of schoolchildren there which was annoying, but they sang some nice songs (including Pastime with Good Company, a song composed and written by Henry VIII) and were behaved for the most part. It was amazing to sit there, in this magnificent cathedral, with my girl right on the other side of the nave, and listen to the Dean of Peterborough talk about how awesome Katherine was. It really was something extraordinary. Not only was I there, but there were so many people who will now know what an amazing woman Katherine was! A costumed Katherine also read her last letter, and I sat there and cried and listened to it and I knew that everyone else there was listening to these amazing words. Since maybe not everyone has her last letter memorized, here is the last letter she wrote, on January 7th 1536, to Henry VIII:

My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene

Even up until her final days, until the day she died, Katherine continued to sign her name as “Katherine the Queen.” Despite the fact that she was shamed, banished, and divorced, she still believed in herself. What a badass. BADASS!!! My god, I love her. Katherine died several hours later, on January 7th 1536, and was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on January 29.

Dreams really do come true! :)
Inside the cathedral
The service was so beautiful, attended by several dignitaries (including the Mayor of Peterborough, and a representative of the Spanish Ambassador to the UK, as well as a descendent of Lord Huntingdon, who oversaw her funeral procession to Peterborough), and afterwards I went to her grave. They had laid a wreath, with a sash of the Spanish colors, and there were pomegranates, her symbol, on her grave as well. I cried and some very nice lady took my picture.

I had a super long time to kill after the service before the next service, and so after I poked around the Peterborough Museum, I headed to the library. I sat for 4.5 hours and read most of Philippa Gregory’s newest book, The White Princess, which I hadn’t had time to read before I left for England. It was so relaxing and so awesome.

I headed back to the cathedral for Vespers at 5:30pm. It was unreal, being in this huge, beautiful, magnificent cathedral at night, sitting in the quire. The choir was quite good, but my favorite part of this Vespers service was what the Dean of Peterborough said about Katherine in his introduction to the service: “Katherine was noble in her humility, and loving in her loyalty.” It was perfect.

Peterborough Cathedral at night

Day 2 was another early day! I headed straight to the cathedral with some flowers I bought in the market square, and I had the great honor of finally laying flowers on the grave of this amazing woman. I was essentially the only person in the cathedral too, which was a wonderful experience. I headed to the museum and went on Tudor Walk around Peterborough, given by the lovely Dot in her Tudor costume. I learned so much about the old Tudor buildings, as well as local history about Peterborough, and quite a bit of information about the cathedral. It was a bit chilly and very windy, but I would weather any storm for the Katherine of Aragon festival!

Katherine's grave with my flowers :)
Our lovely tour guide, Dot, trying to work her iPad

I headed to the library and finished Philippa Gregory’s book, 520 pages in a grand total of 5.5 hours. It was a very good read! The next event was the Tudor Authors Talk in the library, which I really enjoyed. Elizabeth Fremantle and Valora Bennett have both written historical fiction novels based in the Tudor court, and they opened their presentation with a slide that read: “Katherine of Aragon: Queen of Peterborough’s Heart.”

They had a great discussion about the religion aspect of the Tudor period, as well as what it was like for women and gave a fantastic insight into Katherine’s life, particularly as the daughter of Isabella of Castile, a queen in her own right and definitely a strong ruler. My favorite part (besides when they were talking about Anne of Cleves, and they said after her divorce from Henry, “she got rich and liked to drink.”) was when they quoted another of my favorite quotes about Katherine. This one is from one of her greatest enemies, Thomas Cromwell:

“If not for her sex, she could have surpassed all the heroes of history.”

Well said, Thomas Cromwell. Well said.

I could literally look at this cathedral every day forever and never get sick of it
After the author event, my festival weekend was pretty much over. I went back to the cathedral one last time, then headed to the train station to go back to Notts. It really is an amazing feeling, when your heart and your body and your soul are all in one place at the same time. It is a feeling I think I get frequently since I’ve been here in England, but there are times when I notice more than others. Standing in Peterborough Cathedral, at the grave of my favorite and most-beloved person in all history, surrounded by people who care about her too, it’s something I’ll never forget. The respect and love and admiration I have for this woman is simply to great to put into words. Words can’t do it justice. But she knew I was there, and I knew that she knew. 
It truly was a dream come true.

RIP Katherine of Aragon, your strength, conviction, and faith will never be forgotten.

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