John Blanke Had a Female Contemporary at the Tudor Court
For decades, Catalina of Motril suffered from a false attribution. Since the Nineteenth Century, when the Marques de Molins transcribed Spanish archival material, it was known that a woman called Catalina was the bedchamber servant and ‘once the slave’ of Catherine of Aragon . Catalina attended on her mistress during Catherine’s brief marriage to Prince Arthur of England (1501-2). As the woman who removed the sheets from Catherine’s marital bed , Catalina could have borne witness to one of History’s most enduring mysteries: did Catherine and Arthur consummate their marriage?
After Arthur’s death, both Catherine and Catalina remained in England and Catalina’s later life can be traced through contemporary Spanish state papers. In 1509, she witnessed the second marriage of her mistress Catherine, to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII. Like John Blanke (who it has been suggested entered England via Spanish service) Catalina may have made her way from Catherine’s household to the royal court. It is a tantalizing prospect that John and Catalina may have met there and conversed. What experiences might they have shared? Of displacement, of ‘othering’ by contemporary commentators (Thomas More has left a particularly insensitive comment on the black attendants of Catherine of Aragon) and of making a home in a new country?
Whereas John married in England, Catalina left at some point before 1526 and returned to Spain, where she married a crossbow-maker called Oviedo. To travel and marry freely, her enslavement must have been considered at an end. Catalina had two children with Oviedo before being widowed, then returned to her hometown of Motril in Granada. It was while she lived there that she re-emerged on the political scene, sought as an unusually ‘well-informed’ witness during Catherine of Aragon’s divorce proceedings.  Henry VIII insisted his marriage to Catherine was invalidated by her previous relationship with Arthur. Catalina knew whether it had been a ‘true marriage’ or – as Catherine insisted – it had not. But whether she was found to testify, we do not know.
But Molins made a fundamental error, which has been repeated ever since (most recently in the Spanish Princess series on Starz): he conflated the enslaved Catalina with ‘Catalina de Cardones’, the dueña of Catherine of Aragon’s household. Cardones was high-born and it is enticing to consider that the enslaved Catalina was once an aristocrat. But Cardones returned to Spain before 1509, and is extremely unlikely to have married a lowly crossbow-maker. In fact, ‘Catalina of Motril’ (as I call her) was unnamed in Molins’ account for 1501, simply one of two enslaved women at the bottom of the list of Catherine’s servants. Indeed, her name may not originally have been Catalina. Those enslaved in Spain were often made to assume the name of their ‘owner’ – in Spanish, Catherine of Aragon was ‘la Infanta Catalina’.
Historian, Author and Heritage Interpreter
 Lucy Worsley re-enacted this role in her BBC documentary Six Wives featured in tweet from ArchivetoBlockbuster - Bringing Diversity to the BigScreen
[2} The idea of finding her and bringing her back to England to testify is the basis of the proposed movie UNFUFILLED:Europe 1533
Historic Royal Palace & Catalina
|The John Blanke Project Shop