Grave of Katherine of Aragon
Peterborough Cathedral is interesting for many reasons, but one of them is the fact that it is the resting place of post-Reformation queens. Not only this, but it is also a unusual as it is one of few Anglican churches which still celebrate occasional Catholic Masses.
Henry VIII had in his youth been a staunch Catholic, and an opponent of the Protestant Reformation. He was even given the title “Defender of the Faith,” by the pope. He has, however, a pragmatist. He had married his brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon, in part to cement the Spanish alliance. She gave birth to a daughter, but failed to provide a male heir to the Tudor dynasty. This combined with other considerations such as the need for money, and the power of the Catholic Church in the affairs of England. Henry, therefore broke with Rome, proclaiming himself head of the Church of England.
This allowed him to divorce Katherine, and set her aside. She was given an estate in the countryside, and lived out her life holding to her Catholic faith, and was noted by many for her piety.
Katharine died at Kimbolton Castle in 1536, and was buried at Peterborough Cathedral. Her resting place is marked by an engraved slab, and is marked Katharine’s heraldic symbol, the pomegranate. The fruit had become her emblem when she was Princess of Spain, as it symbolised fertility, and the hopes for a dynasty.
Emblem of Katherine
The second Catholic queen who was buried at the cathedral was Mary Queen of Scots. Though her remains have been re-interred elsewhere, Mary was initially laid to rest in Peterborough.
Mary Grave Site
She had come to England in 1567 after having been forced to abdicate the Scottish throne by her Protestant subjects. She was given a sort of asylum by her cousin Elizabeth I, but was essentially a prisoner in various houses and castles across England. In 1586 she was charged with plotting against Elizabeth, and was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle near Peterborough in 1587.
The chapels and burial sites within the cathedral are brilliant pieces of history, both of the religious and political struggles of the Tudor period, but also of the lives of discarded Catholic queens.