We all know the tragic story of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, whom Henry divorced. But before Catherine even married her infamous second husband, she caught the English sweat.
Catherine was born on December 16th, 1485, to Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the couple who united most of Spain through their marriage and conquests. Catherine was a very beautiful and smart girl with a powerful family, so she was considered as a wife for Arthur, Prince of Wales, the son of the King of England, from a very young age.
In 1501, when Catherine was fifteen years old, she left Spain for England, where she met her future husband, Arthur. They were married a few days later. After their wedding, he and Catherine went to live at Ludlow Castle near Wales, where Arthur helped rule Wales for his father. He was Prince of Wales, after all. After just a few months, both of them contracted sweating sickness, also known as the English sweat.
The sweating sickness killed quickly, with victims dying within hours of finding out that they had the disease. The sweating sickness would begin with agitation and apprehension, then there would be cold shivers and dizziness, followed by sweating and headaches. It wasn’t a very pleasant disease. Arthur died from it on April 2nd, 1502, after not even six months of marriage. Catherine survived.
Catherine’s father-in-law desperately wanted to keep her dowry, and even considered marrying her himself to do so, but thankfully, she never had to marry the old king. Her father and father-in-law agreed that Catherine would marry Henry, Arthur’s younger brother, and her father-in-law obtained a papal dispensation so they could wed. During the time between Catherine’s first and second marriages, she lived like a prisoner in England.
Catherine became Spain’s ambassador to England during this time, making her the first female ambassador in Europe. Catherine and Henry eventually married and had a daughter, Mary. Henry eventually divorced Catherine, and she died more than thirty years after she’d recovered from the English sweat.