21 June 1529: Catherine of Aragon causes a courtroom sensation

Henry VIII’s first wife makes an impassioned plea to save her marriage


On 21 June 1529, London awoke with a buzz of anticipation. For weeks all the talk had been about the hearing into Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The king was seeking an annulment, but Catherine was putting up a fight. As the clerks arrived at Blackfriars, a crowd was waiting outside the chamber, pushing and shoving to get one of the precious places.

When the court resumed that morning, Henry spoke first, insisting that he merely needed to know if their marriage was legal. But then came Catherine’s turn. Calmly she rose from her seat and walked towards Henry’s throne. And there, she fell to her knees.

“Sir,” she implored, “I beseech you for all the loves there hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice. Take of me some pity and compassion.” The spectators sat in silence, listening to the queen pleading on her knees in her deep Spanish accent. “I take God and all the world,” she said, “to witness that I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure.”

For 20 years they had been husband and wife. She knew it. He knew it. “I take God to be my judge,” Catherine concluded. “And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience.”

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Then she turned and walked out of the chamber. Behind her, Henry stood motionless, his face like thunder. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

21 June 1621

In what became known as the Day of Blood, 27 leaders of the Bohemian rebellion against the Habsburg empire were executed in the old town square in Prague.

21 June 1642

Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace was released on bail from prison. He had been sent there after presenting the House of Commons with a pro-Royalist petition.

21 June 1813

The Marquess of Wellington won a decisive victory over a French army under Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan at Vitoria in north-east Spain. The French lost 8,000 men and nearly all their guns. The battle (which might have been even more decisive had not many of Wellington’s troops broken off the pursuit to plunder the French baggage) led to the collapse of French rule in Spain and encouraged the Austrians to declare war on napoleonic France. it also inspired an orchestral piece by Beethoven – Opus 91 or Wellington’s Victory.

21 June 1919

Ships of the German High Seas fleet are scuttled at Scapa Flow where they have been interned since November 1918. The fleet commander, Rear-Admiral von Reuter, orders the scuttling to prevent the ships, which have become something of a tourist attraction, from being handed over to the victorious Allies. The British manage to tow a few vessels to beach in shallow water but 400,000 tons of warships are sunk, the biggest loss of shipping in a single day in history. Most will subsequently be salvaged but eight still remain in the Flow.


21 June 1970

Sukarno, leader of Indonesia’s struggle for independence from the Dutch and the country’s first president, died in Jakarta. He had been toppled from power in 1967 and held under house arrest until his death.

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