Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Did Catherine of Aragon speak "Catalina English" to Henry VIII?

Language is a wonderful thing.  I continue to find it endlessly fascinating.  Not just the languages themselves, even though I find that they can be an excellent stimulation for the mind and an opportunity to learn, grow and develop as well.  Hence my desire, from time to time, to immerse myself in a new language when my brain can cope and stay focused.  At the moment, pointless an endeavour it might seem to some, but I am attempting to teach myself Anglo-Saxon (or Old English).  This might well seem pointless to some, or to others that it simply ties in with my affinity for "dead languages" (such as Latin, or Ancient Greek).  Yet, in response to that? I ask how does that explain my having taught myself the basics in living languages such as Italian in the past.  How and ever, it is not only interest in the languages and their learning that inspires me.  I do enjoy to immerse myself in etymology of words (the best way to understand other languages and to expand upon one's vocabulary in my opinion), as well as in semantics, semiotics, and most recently I have started reading Jung and Freud's interpretations on dreams, and depending upon the individuals agreement or disagreement with these two thinkers, the language of the subconscious and it's interpretation and it's relevance in dreams.

The title of this "blog entry" refers to the union between Henry Tudor, second son of Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon (born Catalina) and their relationship and communication.  Catherine had arrived from Spain in the early sixteenth century to marry the young Prince of Wales, Arthur Tudor, the eldest son of Henry VII.  However, soon after their marriage and (supposed, alleged) non-consummation of their nuptial privileges, Arthur was to die and leave Catherine a widow in her early teens.  However, her miserly father-in-law, Henry, not wishing to return the dowry, kept Catherine in England, with a small retinue of her (Spanish) household staff and, for a royal princess and daughter in law, in rather appalling conditions.  However, Catherine caught the eye of Arthur's younger brother, Henry, now the heir to the throne, and despite being six years Catherine's junior, made her his wife and queen upon his ascension to the throne in 1509.  Catherine proved to be a popular queen and even following the ensuing and messy divorce between her and Henry in the 1530s, her being supplanted by Anne Boleyn, was still popular among Henry's subjects in England.

Catherine of Aragon.
I wonder how Catherine communicated initially with her one-time doting admirer and later husband, Henry.  Marriages between foreign princes and princesses in arrangements made by their parents had been a tradition that extended far back into English history, and was to carry on for a number of centuries after.  These unions generally seem to have proved successful on the whole, with the wives producing a number of heirs and daughters for marrying off in order to forge alliances with foreign kingdoms.  However, this union, much like that between Henry's maternal grandparents (viz. Edward of York, later Edward IV, and Elizabeth Woodville) appears to have been born out of love, and not purely a dynastic match.  At this time Henry was a young, handsome, highly intelligent and educated Renaissance prince, yet he still chose to marry Catherine.  As Catherine had spent much of her time subsequent to the death of her first husband surrounded by Spanish ladies in waiting, and despite being in England, had she learned sufficient English to communicate with Henry.  We know her English was good enough after she became queen, but before one cannot be sure.  Could a foreign princess have been enough of a command of English or any other language than her native tongue to enchant Henry?

Ultimately, to impose a modern viewpoint upon things, it is not always necessary to be fully eloquent and exact in one's command of a language in order to express and deliver one's feelings.  I know this from speaking to a friend of mine in Finland, Heidi.  Her English is far from being absolutely perfect yet she possesses a very good vocabulary and can convey thoughts, feelings and her meaning without it being exact and absolutely correct.  I know she wants me to correct her but I find myself doing so only when she makes real a real faux pas in what she has to say rather than picking up on every little spelling mistake and grammatical error.  It would make our conversations seem contrived, boring and like those between a teacher and student.  She knows when she makes mistakes but cannot always manage to phrase everything she wants yet she can convey what she is feeling.  Hence, this has sometimes I have affectionately named her English as being "Heidi English" (to her delight I hasten to add).  This follows in the tradition of bad movies liked by my friends Fred and Devin as re-categorized "Fred movies" and "Devin movies" respectively.   Heidi worries incessantly about what other people would think of her English yet she is confident enough to speak and write it with me.  And I don't have to "dumb down" my English with her, and we can talk on all be they matters, serious, fun, intellectual, etc.  I do miss having academic conversations with most people around me, but that is in part my fault, yet finding people with like minds and outlooks of ideas to share opinions and knowledge with has always been rare.  I am grateful for those few friends on that similar level I have.

This attitude and outlook towards language in some ways might seem a contradiction in terms towards my usual philosophy.  I must confess in someways I am rather a purist in terms of language and how I hate it when a language is corrupted and wrecked by people who simply are lazy and cannot enunciate their words correctly.  I suppose for me it's mostly frustration and annoyance at the laziness and arrogance that people have towards communication.  I wince and shudder on buses when you "overhear" conversations, and as anyone will tell you who's been on a London bus, it's hearing those booming voices of teenage girls, each of them sprawled over a seat and refusing to move for others, ensuring that each and other passenger on the top deck can hear their conversation.  On subjects as fascinating as how badly they are treated by their boyfriends, or their wild sex lives, or what would be simply dismissed as banal gossip, punctuated with much teeth sucking and expletives at individuals who dare to look around at the cause of the unnecessary drivel  (sorry, conversation) we are being forced to eavesdrop upon.   And the same words/statements are repeated over and over again in a half patois/half lazy form of English.  This is a generation by whom writing is communicating via abbreviations and text speak.  These are people who have supposedly been "educated" yet somehow these random bleetings are allowed to pass as English in schools today.  Frightening.  Heidi, who has never lived nor been educated in England, possesses a better command of English (without having to endlessly repeat herself) than these morons.  Yes, tolerance is essential in this day and age, but why should it extend into the domain of stupidity and ignorance?


  1. I feel exactly the same way about the conversations I overhear on the train. And I get very steamed at the absurd over-explicitness of British public announcements, written and spoken:

    'Any refreshments from the trolley on this service this morning?'

    'Ticket checks are in operation at this station today. Please have your ticket ready for inspection.'

    'Manea is a request stop. Passengers wishing to leave the train at Manea should inform the guard so that he can arrange for the train to stop to allow them to alight.'

    A concise 'WTF?' to all that.

    It's the exact opposite of Greece where I lived for 15 years, where the simplest information has to be prized out of officialdom.

  2. Thank you, Steve, and welcome to my "Sermons" page! Yes, there are frequent interrobangs that go through my head on public transport, normally preceded by the same acronym as you have cited above.