Isabella of Castile and co-ruler of Aragon, died on November 26, 1504. This was a terrible blow to her widowed daughter, Catherina of Aragon. Not only did Catherina lose a beloved parents, Isabella was the strongest ally possible in the battle to make Catherina’s father in law, Henry VII, behave like a gentleman and honor his agreement to wed his heir to the bereaved princess. After Isabella’s death, Catherina’s father would prove himself to be both mercenary and callous toward his daughter’s fate, more interested than using her as a pawn and political weapon than guarding her welfare.
Henry was right to respect Isabella and to fear her wrath should he mistreat her child too blatantly. Isabella’s abilities as a commander were no joke. Although her support for the Spanish inquisition and the forced conversion or execution of Jews and Muslims is heinous in historical hindsight, in her own time she was considered one of the best and bravest of Catholic monarchs because she reunited the Iberian peninsula under Occidental/Christian control. England, a small island nation that had been ripped apart by civil war for years and was just beginning to recover it’s economic footing, would have been beyond foolish to provoke Spain.
Isabella’s fearsome reputation is one of the reasons Henry VIII would later become so afraid of his ex-wife. Henry worried that Catherina was “of such high courage … with her daughter at her side, she might raise an army and take the field against me with as much spirit as her mother Isabella.” Henry fears were not just paranoid phantoms, either. Catherina’s prowess as a leader and war commander had been tested and proven, since she had ably demonstrated her abilities earlier in their marriage. In 1513, Henry left his pregnant wife to act as regent and defend England from Scotland while he was away fighting the French on the continent. Like her mother before her, the stalwart queen didn’t let the fact she was carrying a baby slow her down or curb her readiness for warfare. During her regency the English army defeated and killed the King of Scotland, James IV, at the Battle of Flodden. Not one to be squeamish in military victory, Henry’s exultant queen sent her husband a blood-stained piece of the dead Scots king’s coat-armor as a trophy.
Catherine was no shrinking violet; the warrior-queen apple had not fallen far from the warrior-queen tree.