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Today in history - a rare royal wedding takes place at St Paul's

Think of St Paul's Cathedral and royal weddings and most people will conjure up images of Lady Diana Spencer walking down the aisle in 1981.

This marriage of the heir to the British throne some 32 years ago is often seen as an anomaly, insomuch as it did not take place at the royal church, Westminster Abbey.

In fact, so unusual was it for the wedding to take place at St Paul's, we have to go back another 480 years from Prince Charles and Lady Diana to find the last royal wedding at St Paul's - another heir to the throne, but one who would never be king.

On 14 November 1501, Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, and Princess Catherine, youngest daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon, were wed at Old St Paul's Cathedral, in a ceremony led by Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury and William Warham, Bishop of London.

The marriage had been arranged by both families in an attempt to form an alliance between England and Spain against the French and at the time of their marriage, both Arthur and Catherine were just 15. They had only met for the first time ten days before.

The wedding itself was a lavish affair. An article by L W Cowie in History Today, states:

"Stands had been erected in the nave for the most important guests; and for the marriage itself there was a timber platform twelve feet wide and four feet high with steps on every side and covered with red baize. 

"The princess was received at the Galilee porch at the west end by a fanfare of trumpeters and processed down the long nave between the great Norman pillars hung with tapestry to be married to the waiting prince by the Archbishop of Canterbury assisted by the Spanish Legate and nineteen bishops and mitred abbots. After this they went from the platform through the rood screen and along the choir with its tall windows to the square east end for high mass at the altar."

Prince Arthur was a hugely significant person in the history of the English (and later British) monarchy. His parents' marriage had brought an end to the War of the Roses and so his birth was seen as a cementing of the union between the House of Tudor (borne out of the House of Lancaster) and the House of York. His marriage with Catherine would strengthen ties with Spain and so with Rome. 

But just five months after his marriage, Arthur was dead, succumbing to an unknown ailment. Fearing a breakdown of the Anglo-Spanish union, King Henry VII hurriedly arranged new plans to betroth Princess Catherine to his second son, Prince Henry.

On King Henry VII's death in 1509, Prince Henry became king and quickly married his princess. Together, King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon would become one of the most famous couples in history.

This new marriage would eventually lead to the schism with Rome and formation of the Church of England. Catherine and Henry had six children together but only one, the future Queen Mary I, survived infancy.

Prince Arthur was buried at Worcester Cathedral; Catherine at Peterborough Cathedral.

Tapestry image © The President and Fellows of Magdalen College, Oxford.
www.magd.ox.ac.uk