The year was 1501 when the Spanish infanta, Catherine of Aragon began her long, slow journey to England to meet the boy she would marry.

She left the Alhambra Palace in Granada in May and travelled north through Spain, her progress slowed by the summer heat. Her first ship was driven back by bad weather in the Bay of Biscay. After a stormy, five-day voyage, her second ship arrived in Plymouth in early October.

She was just fifteen, the youngest daughter of Spain’s rulers, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Her marriage to Prince Arthur, the son of the English king, Henry VII had first been arranged when she was three and Arthur was two. She had never seen Arthur or England before. Now, she would never see Spain or her parents again.

The young Princess arrived in London in November 1501 amidst much ceremony. Most observers seem to have been favourably impressed by the beauty of Prince Arthur’s new dark-haired Spanish bride. Amongst those in awe of Catherine was ten-year-old Prince Henry, Arthur’s younger brother.

Yet five months’ later, tragedy struck when the royal couple fell ill with the ‘sweating sickness’ at their home at Ludlow Castle. Catherine recovered but Arthur did not. In the years following Arthur’s death, Catherine found herself in an awkward position. Should see return to Spain and marry someone else there? Should she marry Arthur’s father, King Henry VII whose own wife, Elizabeth of York, had died a year after Arthur?

Eventually, it was decided that Catherine should marry Henry, Arthur’s younger brother. Henry was six years younger than her but was now heir to the English throne. The process was delayed as the terms of the marriage contract were renegotiated between the Spanish and English royal families. There was another issue too. The Bible explicitly states that marriage to the widow of one of your brothers is wrong. In order to get round this, a special dispensation was needed from the Pope, giving permission for the marriage to go ahead. This was obtained, without difficulty. The couple married in a private ceremony in June 1509. By now, Henry’s father had died and Henry himself had become king. That same month saw him formally crowned King Henry VIII at Westminster Abbey. There were widespread celebrations and festivities throughout the country.

Catherine was Queen at last. But she was to prove very unlucky in one key respect. During her first decade of marriage, she fell pregnant six times. Three of the children were boys and three were girls. But nearly all were stillborn or died soon after they were born. The one exception was a daughter who would grow up to be Queen Mary I born in 1517.

But Henry didn’t want a daughter. He desperately wanted a son. There had never yet been a female ruler in England at that time and Henry, like many people then felt a male heir was the only to ensure his dynasty’s survival. By the 1520s, it was becoming clear Catherine was never likely to become pregnant again. Henry had in the meantime, fallen for one of Catherine’s much younger ladies in waiting, Anne Boleyn. He increasingly managed to convince himself that his marriage to Catherine had been cursed and that Rome had been wrong to allow him to marry his brother’s widow. His quest to end his first marriage would have massive implication for British history.

Catherine’s marriage to Henry was formally annulled in May 1533, by which time Anne Boleyn was already five months’ pregnant with the future Queen Elizabeth I. Ultimately, Anne would prove no more successful in bearing Henry a son than Catherine had been. She was executed in 1536, a few months after Catherine had herself succumbed to cancer at the age of fifty. Always loved by the English public, Catherine was buried in Peterborough Cathedral. Her marriage to Henry VIII had endured for nearly 24 years, around three times as all of Henry’s five subsequent marriages put together.