Catherine of Aragon — the first, and often one of the most underrated, of King Henry VIII’s wives. Here, we rank Catherine of Aragon’s screen performances to see which actresses most resembled the real person.
When I was young, I read Antonia Fraser’s Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir’s Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Karen Lindsay’s Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII. I fell in love with Catherine as a tragic figure (Henry VIII = world’s biggest shmuck!) who at the same time had a spine of steel (never agreed to a divorce, never stopped considering herself queen, refused to go meekly into that dark night). Oh, and she was born with the way cooler name “Catalina,” which is far more interesting than “Catherine.”
Most depictions of Henry and his wives start when things get interesting, when Anne Boleyn comes on the scene and Catherine is relatively old. However, when Henry and Catherine married in 1509, they were very much in love. Well, as much as the shallow, spoiled Henry ever could be, which was narcissisticly. He loved the idea of rescuing this beautiful princess, and everything seemed rosy. And, in fact, while Henry wasn’t a saint, it wasn’t until 1525 — 16 years, mind you — that he really gave up on Catherine. Again, see above re: shallow bastard.
Now that I’m older, I’m of a more mixed opinion about Catherine. I still admire her spine of steel, and still feel sorry for the way Henry treated her. But, I also wished she would have been a little bit more realistic, so that she didn’t have spend her final years suffering, and her daughter Mary hadn’t had such a crappy childhood and turned out so messed-up. And, then maybe Henry wouldn’t have turned on Anne Boleyn (and daughter Elizabeth) so quickly (okay, yes, appeasing spoiled brats is probably not the best option).
But, of course, you can’t rewrite history! Or can you? Because filmmakers sure love to do so!
Catherine of Aragon was once young, pretty, and admired by her husband. She was fair complexioned and had strawberry blonde hair. Perhaps this is due to the fact that her maternal great-grandmother (Catherine of Lancaster) was English. Perhaps it was due to the fact that there are all kinds of colorations amongst Spanish people. Also, she started out curvy, and definitely got fat by late middle age.
Very few of these physical traits have ever made it to film. Most filmmakers seem determined to depict her as SPANISH (ole!) with olive skin and black hair, and as old and dried up by making her skinny-bordering-on-bony.
Luckily, there are a few productions that got it right (or, at least, better).
Ranking Screen Catherine of Aragons, from Hell No! to Yes! Yes!
(Note: I’m skipping black & white productions, as I can’t pick on the hair color there)