English form of the name of a saint martyred at Alexandria in 307. The story has it that she was condemned to be broken on the wheel for her Christian belief. However, the wheel miraculously fell apart, and so she was beheaded instead. There were many elaborations on this story, which was one of the most popular in early Christian mythology, and she has been the object of a vast popular cult. The earliest sources that mention her are in Greek and give the name in the form Aikaterinē. The name is of unknown etymology; the suggestion that it may be derived from Hēcatē, the pagan goddess of magic and enchantment, is not convincing. From an early date, it was associated with the Greek adjective katharos ‘pure’. This led to spellings with -th- and to a change in the middle vowel (see Katharine). Several later saints also bore the name, including the mystic St Katherine of Siena (1347–80) who both led a contemplative life and played a role in the affairs of state of her day. Katherine is also a royal name: in England it was borne by the formidable and popular Katherine of Aragon (1485–1536), the first wife of Henry VIII, as well as by the wives of Henry V and Charles II.