Starz's The Spanish Princess season 1 made some deceptively big changes to the true story of the real Catherine of Aragon and her future husband Harry, the Duke of York, who will become King Henry VIII. Adapted from Phillipa Gregory's novels The Constant Princess and The King's Curse, The Spanish Princess is the sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess, which depicted the Wars of the Roses and the beginnings of the reign of Harry's father, King Henry VII.
Fascinatingly, The Spanish Princess season 1 tells the story of the young Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) from her point-of-view. Catherine is most famously known as Henry VIII's first wife (of six), whom he divorced to marry Anne Boleyn, but The Spanish Princess makes the Infanta, as Catherine is known, the main character. In The Spanish Princess season 1, a teenage Catherine, who is the daughter of Spain's Queen Isabella (Alicia Borrachero) and King Ferdinand, comes to England to fulfill her arranged marriage to Arthur (Angus Imrie), Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VII (Elliot Cowan) and Elizabeth of York (Alexandra Moen).
The Spanish Princess season 1 depicts Catherine's tumultuous early years in England: six months into their marriage, Arthur suddenly dies, which leaves Catherine's future in doubt - until she sets her sights on marrying Arthur's younger brother Harry (Ruairi O'Connor) so she can fulfill her destiny to become Queen of England. However, the question of whether Catherine and Arthur consummated their marriage complicates Catherine's plan; if she did, she cannot marry the brother of her dead husband. Meanwhile, Catherine's continued presence in England and her love affair with Harry become a threat to the Tudor family, especially in the devious mind of the King's mother Margaret Beaufort (Harriet Walter).
Because The Spanish Princess is historical-based fiction, the dramatic needs of the series definitely take precedence over the details of history. Here, then, are the major departures of The Spanish Princess season 1 from Catherine and Henry's true story:
Harry Is Much Older In The Spanish Princess Than Real Life
One of the biggest changes The Spanish Princess makes to real life is that Henry VIII is much older in the series than he should be. When Catherine and Arthur wed in 1501, Harry should be about 10 years old. However, in The Spanish Princess, Harry is already a tall, strapping, and rowdy young man who instantly becomes attracted to Catherine and vice versa. What's more, it's revealed that Harry was secretly the author of the love letters Catherine and Arthur exchanged before they ever met - meaning it was Harry's poetic heart and mind Catherine fell for, not her meek, intended husband (this does hold true to the historical Henry VIII, who composed loved poems to Catherine).
The Spanish Princess season 1 takes place between 1501-1509, so Harry being aged up immediately seeds the love story between him and Catherine (aided by the Harry-penned love letters, an invention of the series). Harry being older also makes Catherine's plan to marry him a more direct result of the attraction they already share, along with being a practical solution to her problem of how she can still become Queen of England. However, The Spanish Princess fudges the timeline so it's not clear how much time has actually passed because all of the characters appear to remain the same age throughout season 1. In real life, Catherine was 15 when she married Arthur and 23 in 1509 when she married the 18-year-old King Henry VIII.
Catherine's Big Little Lie At The Heart of The Spanish Princess
The question of whether Catherine and Arthur ever actually consummated their marriage remains a point of contention 500 years later. The real Catherine claimed to her deathbed that she was a virgin when she married Harry (and by not laying with Arthur, theirs was not a true marriage), but after Catherine failed to give him the male heir he desired, Henry VIII wanted to be rid of his wife to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. One of the means Henry VIII used to annul his marriage to Catherine was by insisting that she and Arthur really did consummate their marriage, which meant that by marrying his brother's wife, he acted against Leviticus 20:21 and the Pope never had the legal authority to grant a dispensation for Henry to marry Catherine.
The Spanish Princess has no such ambiguity. In the show, Catherine and Arthur did have sex - and Arthur bragged about it the morning after by telling his friends, "I have been in Spain". After Arthur died, when Catherine knew she wasn't pregnant (and thus could remain in England as the mother to the future king), she cunningly decided that marrying Harry was the only way she could fulfill her destiny to become Queen. Margaret Pole (Laura Carmichael) and Catherine's own lady-in-waiting Lina de Cardonnes (Stephanie Levi-John) both only heard Arthur and Catherine in bed together, but the Infanta convinced them both that nothing indeed happened.
Catherine maintains her story, perhaps even convincing herself it's the truth, against all accusations in The Spanish Princess season 1. Meanwhile, Margaret Beaufort goes to insidious lengths to reveal Catherine's lie, but it's all for naught. By the end of season 1, both Harry and Catherine suspect each other on their wedding day: Harry openly questions whether Catherine did sleep with Arthur while the Spanish princess believes a letter from her father Ferdinand that Harry slept with her sister Queen Joanna (Alba Galocha) when she was in England.
Elizabeth of York's Deathbed Prophecy About Catherine Is Entirely Fictional
A plot thread that runs through The White Queen, The White Princess, and The Spanish Princess is that Elizabeth of York inherited "the sight" from her mother Elizabeth Woodville. In The Spanish Princess, Elizabeth of York dies soon after giving birth in episode 3, "An Audacious Plan", but before her demise, she receives a prophetic vision that Catherine marrying Henry would mean the end of the Tudors because she will never give him a male heir. However, the prophecy is an invention of the series; in real life, Elizabeth died of a postpartum infection and didn't offer words of doom about Catherine never giving Harry a son.
The Spanish Princess Changes Why Henry VII Didn't Marry Catherine Himself
In The Spanish Princess, Henry VII opposes Harry's plan to marry Catherine before he shocks them both with his intention to marry Catherine himself. This briefly pits father against son for Catherine's hand in the series. In real life, Henry did want to marry Catherine in order to secure her dowry and to maintain England's prestigious alliance with Spain; however, King Ferdinand talked the old King of England out of this idea.
A clever change The Spanish Princess makes to this scenario is how Catherine outwits Henry and talks him out of marrying her. Without seeming like she was refusing her duty to the King, Catherine convinces Henry that marrying her doesn't solve his kingdom's problem in the long term. By Catherine's rationale, marrying her would weaken England's alliance with Spain because she would be nothing more than Henry's widow when he dies, whereas as Harry's wife, she would be able to provide heirs to the throne and maintain the Spanish alliance. This showcased Catherine's political savvy and proved she was indeed her mother Queen Isabella's daughter. And, in real life, Henry VIII did rely on Catherine's political smarts when he left her behind as regent while he went to war in France.
Margaret Beaufort's Villainy in The Spanish Princess Is Real
Lady Margaret Beaufort emerged as the nasty villain of The Spanish Princess. The King's mother despised Catherine and her Spanish retinue on sight and led the charge to make sure that Catherine didn't marry Harry. To this end, Lady Margaret commits foul acts like intimidating Margaret Pole (later throwing her and her children in the Tower of London as traitors), ordering the execution of Catherine's Spanish soldier Oviedo (Aaron Cobham) after manipulating him into working for her, and enacting a forced confession out of Lina that would betray Catherine. In addition, after Henry went into a long period of mourning Elizabeth's death, Lady Margaret took control of the kingdom and committed numerous crimes before framing and executing Lord Dudley - but, in her mind, she did it all to save the Tudor dynasty.
The real-life Margaret Beaufort did relish her status as the king's mother, especially after what she believed was her family's rightful triumph in the Wars of the Roses. Lady Margaret also did control the royal household and she had the legal authority to dispense justice in the north of England. Margaret Beaufort dies in at the end of The Spanish Princess, but, since she raised Harry, the future villainy of King Henry VIII in The Spanish Princess season 2 could, at least in part, have been learned from his grandmother.