This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
BBC Learning English Launch BBC Media Player
  • Help
  • Text only
You are in:Learning English > News English > Words in the News
Learning English - Words in the News
25 October, 2006 - Published 15:49 GMT
16th century royal letter for sale
Founder of the Church of England
Henry VIII, King of England

A letter from the 1500s which tells part of the story of how the church of England began is expected to sell for a high price. It was written by Catherine of Aragon, the 1st wife of King Henry VIII, while he and the Pope were struggling for power. Here's our arts correspondent, Lawrence Pollard:

Listen to the story

It's always being said that British schoolchildren don't know much about British history, but one thing they do all know is that Henry VIII had six wives - as the saying goes "divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived".

Catherine of Aragon was the Spanish first wife who was divorced when she failed to give the King a son. The letter for sale is dated February the 8th 1534, in the middle of this tumultuous and gripping period. King Henry wanted the Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine so that he could have a child with another woman.

This autographed letter, signed 'Katharina', is to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In it she pleads - in Spanish - for Charles to press the Pope to stand up to Henry saying that the [quote] "sufferings, surprises and affronts which every day puts on us, are of universal notoriety". Catherine was successful, the Pope supported her, but of course Henry defied the Pope, divorced Catherine, and set up the Church of England.

The letter is enormously rare and could fetch over 100,000 dollars when it's sold in December. The price reflects how intimate a glimpse it gives into the operation of a brutal and totalitarian society.

Lawrence Pollard, BBC Arts

Listen to the words

punished by cutting off the head during an official execution

tumultuous and gripping period
a confused, disorderly and dangerous time when many things were changing but also a time that was very interesting

annul his marriage
officially cancel his marriage, formally declare it as no longer existing, valid or legal

begs, makes a very strong request

to stand up to
to be brave enough to argue with, to be unafraid of expressing different views and beliefs

rude, hurtful, offensive and disrespectful words and actions

disobeyed, refused to respect and follow orders

personal, very private or even secret

a very quick, brief or incomplete look at something

a brutal and totalitarian society
a very cruel and strict type of political system where the state has complete control of everything that concerns and affects its citizens

Do a comprehension quiz about this story

For teachers
Lesson planDownload lesson plan based on this text
27 May, 2011
Destruction of smallpox virus delayed
25 May, 2011
Micro-finance 'misused and abused'
20 May, 2011
Lonely planets
18 May, 2011
Germany to invest in more electric cars
16 May, 2011
Argentina builds a tower of books
Other Stories