Despite being heavily pregnant, Queen Isabella of Castile, wife of Ferdinand of Aragon, followed her troops at war with the Moors who had settled in the south of Spain. In the autumn, she finally decided to travel north and settle at Cordova to await the birth but, due to the inclement weather conditions, she never reached it. Instead, she sought refuge at the Archbishop’s Palace in Alcala de Henares and here, on 16th December 1485, she gave birth to her last daughter, Catherine (or Cataline in Spanish). The baby was named after her maternal great-grandmother, the English princess Catherine of Lancaster.
Her parents, who were both sovereigns in their own right, already had four children; Isabella, Juan, Maria and Juana. Catherine didn’t have a typical childhood. She spent the first years of her life travelling around Spain with her parents while they were attempting to drive the Moors out of Spain, saw them succeed in their mission and witnessed Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World.
Her mother Isabella was a patroness of culture who made sure all her daughters received a top notch education. She hired some of the most famous humanists of her time, such as Alessandro Geraldini and his brother Antonio, and Pietro Martire of Angera, as tutors for her children. They taught Catherine Latin, French, Greek, Spanish, history, canon and civil law, literature and the legends of King Arthur of the Round Table, heraldry, genealogy, the classics and religion. Like her mother, she was a very religious woman and throughout her life her strong faith would sustain her through all her trials and tribulations.
Catherine also learned music, dancing, drawing, embroidery, lace-making and needlepoint. However, she wasn’t taught English, the language spoken by her future husband, Prince Arthur, heir to the English throne. That was odd, considering Catherine was betrothed to the English Prince at the tender age of 3. Luckily, Arthur was also well-educated and could speak Latin, so they communicated in that language. Their marriage however, would be short-lived. Arthur would die a few months after the wedding and doubts over whether the marriage was ever consummated would be used by her second husband Henry VIII to divorce her.
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser