The King’s Great Matter: Sansa as Catherine of Aragon

As discussed in an earlier post, the parallels between Sansa Stark and Elizabeth Tudor are numerous and compelling, but equally intriguing and less well-known are the comparisons between Sansa and another Tudor queen, Catherine of Aragon, first of Henry VIII’s six wives. Especially as we delve further into the Song of Ice and Fire saga and the question of whether Sansa will have her marriage with Tyrion annulled looms, it is worthwhile to explore the parallels between Sansa and Catherine of Aragon. The aim of this post is to examine the commonalities between Sansa and Catherine of Aragon, and then to draw on those to try to predict what might occur in Sansa’s character arc in the future.

Catherine of Aragon and Sansa Stark: What do They Have in Common?

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In terms of appearance, both Sansa Stark and Catherine of Aragon had red hair, particularly when young (for Catherine’s was described as dulling to brown as she reached middle-age, but when she was at an age comparable to Sansa’s in A Song of Ice and Fire, her hair would have been a similar hue to Sansa’s). Going beyond the superficial, Sansa and Catherine of Aragon possess an intelligence that is perhaps underrated. Sansa, though commonly maligned by fellow characters and fans alike as a stupid girl, actually displays evidence of true wit in her love of heroic stories and ballads and her ability to survive and sometimes even manipulate difficult situations at court. Much of the stupidity attributed to Sansa seems to be a ruse on her part to ensure that her enemies underestimate her, but they do so at their own peril, for it should be noted that, while Joffrey is dead, Sansa is very much alive at the Vale. Similarly, while Catherine of Aragon has often been portrayed as boring and pig-headed, she was an intelligent woman fluent in multiple languages (including Spanish, English, French, and Latin) who enjoyed dancing and listening to music.

While Catherine of Aragon has wrongly been depicted as dull, the common perception of her piety is accurate. Throughout her life, Catherine of Aragon-born and raised by the devout Catholic king and queen who expelled the Muslim Moors from Spain-demonstrated a notable dedication to her Catholic faith. She was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and Mass, prayer, confession, and penance were a huge part of her devotions. Likewise Sansa is described as the Stark child most connected to her mother’s faith in the Seven Gods.

In addition to their piety, both Catherine of Aragon and Sansa Stark are on the surface very demure-fulfilling the subservient role of devoted wife and loyal subject to their king, no matter how tyrannical-but posses a hidden stubbornness and defiance even in the face of terrible abuse from their kings. While Sansa would insist whenever necessary that she loved Joffrey and was his devoted subject (even while she hoped her brother Robb would overthrow him) despite Joffrey assaulting her verbally and physically in public and private, Catherine of Aragon would declare that she remained King Henry VIII’s true wife even after he banished her from court, forbade her from seeing her daughter, broke from the Catholic Church to establish his own Anglican one, and used his new religious authority to declare his marriage to Catherine invalid so that he could marry Anne Boleyn instead. In other words, despite unfathomable abuse from their kings, Sansa and Catherine of Aragon remain loyal and demure in demeanor while maintaining their own strong internal convictions. Stubborness lurks beneath their submissive attitudes, and while both are ladies, neither should be assumed to be weak flowers. Catherine of Aragon and Sansa Stark are roses with thorns.

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Each of these ladies could turn to faith as solace when their lives provided abundant heartbreak. While Catherine of Aragon needed her faith to remain strong when Henry VIII banished her from court, she also had to call on it a good deal earlier in her life. Before Catherine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII, she was wed to his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur was heir to the throne until he passed away, leaving a young Catherine widowed and unable to return to her parents because of dowry disputes between Spain and England. Ultimately the situation was resolved when Henry VIII ascended to the throne and took Catherine as his wife. In order to wed Henry VIII, Catherine needed a special dispensation from the Catholic Church declaring that a marriage between Catherine and Henry VIII would not be incestuous because, according to Catherine, the union between her and Prince Arthur had never been consummated. Therefore, the marriage was annulled-declared to have never taken place-and Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were free to marry, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, with a clean conscience.

Like Catherine of Aragon, Sansa has a marriage (to a certain dwarf of House Lannister) that she would probably like to see annulled.

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We know from Tyrion’s resentful narration that he and Sansa have never consummated their marriage, and therefore, in the eyes of the Faith, it would likely be perceived as invalid if Sansa (or Tyrion) ever appealed for an annulment. From the published Sansa excerpt of Winds of Winter, readers have a sense that Littlefinger is plotting to have Sansa beguile Harry the Heir (to the Vale). Harry is a nickname for Henry, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sansa procure an annulment of her marriage to Tyrion so she can wed Harry and claim the Vale. Sansa Stark, like Catherine of Aragon, may become a queen defined by annulments.

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