How True to History Is ‘The Spanish Princess’?

In The Spanish Princess, a confident young royal arrives in London in 1501, destined to marry the next King of England. Her name is Catherine of Aragon, and she’ll eventually become the first of six wives to the notorious Henry VIII (and one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose her head).

Unlike period dramas like The Tudors, Wolf Hall, and The Other Boleyn Girl, which also feature Catherine as a character, this new limited series from Starz introduces her as a young woman, not as a soon-to-be-jilted wife. The Spanish Princess is based on her early years in England, her engagement and brief marriage to Henry’s doomed younger brother Arthur, and her romance with her future husband. It’s all drawn from the real-life story of the famous couple, but how true to history is the series?

The Spanish Princess is a loose interpretation of history

Like many period dramas based on real events, The Spanish Princess takes a fairly loose approach to the facts. The show, which is based on the novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory, follows the general story of Catherine, Arthur, and Henry, but adds plenty of creative flourishes to keep TV viewers entertained.

In fact, the producers seem keen to make sure anyone watching the show doesn’t confuse it with a bona fide history lesson. They’ve added a disclaimer to the end of the episodes clarifying that they’ve made changes to the real-life story for dramatic purposes.

Catherine’s relationship with Arthur and Henry

portraits of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII
(L-R) A portrait of a young Catherine of Aragon and an image of Henry VIII circa 1520 | Imagno/Getty Images; Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Spanish Princess has definitely taken some liberties when depicting the relationship between Catherine, Arthur, and Henry.

For example, Catherine is shown receiving love letters from her future husband Arthur before she arrives in England. But soon, we learn that those letters came from a young Henry. But in reality, Henry was just 10 years old when Catherine arrived to marry his older brother. Chances are pretty slim that he’d be sending romantic letters to the woman who would marry his brother, and there’s no historical evidence that this occurred.

In The Spanish Princess, it’s also clear that Catherine and Arthur did have sex after they married. But whether that actually happened has been a hotly debated question for centuries. Catherine steadfastly denied that the marriage was ever consummated. She insisted that she was a virgin when she married Henry, which made her second marriage legitimate.

What is true is that Arthur died just five months after he married Catherine. That left the princess in an awkward limbo until Henry VII arranged to have her marry the new heir, the future Henry VIII. But even though it was an arranged marriage, Henry and Catherine did fall in love (as they do in the series). Of course, the relationship ultimately ended very badly.

Was Lina de Cardones a real person?

Some viewers might also wonder about Lina de Cardonnes, the African woman who is a lady in waiting to Catherine. While some might assume she is a modern invention, this character is based on a real person named Catalina de Cardones. She was a Spanish woman of African descent who traveled with Catherine from Spain to England, according to The Tudor Society. The soldier Oviedo who she falls in love with is also based on a real person.  

There are still five episodes left to air in this eight-episode series. Viewers will have to wait and see how it handles real-life events like Catherine’s marriage to Henry, his ascension to the throne, their failure to produce a male heir, and the eventual collapse of their marriage.

The Spanish Princess airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.

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