For sale: Queen's desperate plea that changed course of history

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It is the kind of letter that momentarily stops the hearts of manuscript experts. A moving three-page plea by Catherine of Aragon for help in trying to uphold her marriage to Henry VIII will be auctioned by Sotheby's.

Arguably, the letter played a part in changing English history - the split from Rome. The queen - Henry's first wife - miserable and at her wit's end, asks for help from her nephew Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor.

"There is no need for my relating to Your Highness the sufferings that I and my daughter undergo, as well in the treatment of our lives, as in the surprises and affronts which every day the King's Council puts upon us, for our troubles are matters of universal notoriety …"

Catherine wants Charles to use his influence to get Pope Clement VII to uphold her marriage.

A month later he did, to the anger of the king, who had already had the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, grant the annulment. The chain reaction and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn led to the break with the Catholic Church. "It is an extraordinary letter," said Marsha Malinowski of Sotheby's in New York. "It is so rare to have someone of such high standing write in her own hand, not using a secretary."

Catherine was 39 when she wrote the letter, which is one of only two by Henry's first wife to appear at auction for more than 20 years. It is expected to sell for between $US100,000 ($131,000) and $US150,000 on December 11.

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