Title: Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen: A Novel
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Copyright: May 31, 2016
Format: E-Book, 624 Pages, $19.01 [Amazon Hardcover], $13.99 [Kindle], $29.39 [Audible], $19.39 [Barnes & Noble Hardcover], $13.99 [Nook], $13.99 [Google Play], $13.99 [iBooks], $35.95 [Apple Audiobooks]
Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir takes on what no fiction writer has done before: creating a dramatic six-book series in which each novel covers one of King Henry VIII’s wives. In this captivating opening volume, Weir brings to life the tumultuous tale of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first, devoted, and “true” queen.
A princess of Spain, Catalina is only sixteen years old when she sets foot on the shores of England. The youngest daughter of the powerful monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Catalina is a coveted prize for a royal marriage—and Arthur, Prince of Wales, and heir to the English throne, has won her hand. But tragedy strikes and Catalina, now Princess Katherine, is betrothed to the future Henry VIII. She must wait for his coming-of-age, an ordeal that tests her resolve, casts doubt on her trusted confidantes, and turns her into a virtual prisoner.
Katherine’s patience is rewarded when she becomes Queen of England. The affection between Katherine and Henry is genuine, but forces beyond her control threaten to rend her marriage, and indeed the nation, apart. Henry has fallen under the spell of Katherine’s maid of honor, Anne Boleyn. Now Katherine must be prepared to fight, to the end if God wills it, for her faith, her legitimacy, and her heart.
Catalina de Aragon is a fresh-faced, bright-eyed Spanish beauty who comes to the strange land of England to wed Arthur, Prince of Wales. The demure Spanish princess who thereafter is referred to as Katherine (in the English style) arrives in her new country amid great pomp and revelry. Surrounded perpetually by her cortege of Spanish ladies-in-waiting, Katherine is ruled by the iron fist of her imperious duenna, Doña Elvira. Katherine eventually meets with King Henry VII who is delighted by her as well as her betrothed, Arthur, although it is clear that the sickly young man’s attentions are lukewarm at best.
Normally in my reviews, I dive right into the details. Given that this book is so lengthy and so much happens, I am going to touch briefly on different periods of Katherine’s life. After Katherine and Arthur marry in a grand ceremony celebrated by commoner, noble, and royal alike, Arthur is taken ill and he dies not long after. There is great question as to what is to happen to Katherine. Should she return to Spain? Is there a new alliance for her? It is proposed that she possibly marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry. When Isabel of Castile (Katherine’s mother) dies and Ferdinand of Aragon (her father) loses control of Spain, he once attentive Henry VII waxes cold and completely casts off Katherine. She is left for several years to wither away in her widow’s weeds, fearful for the future.
Eventually, the cold-hearted and frugal Henry VII dies. Upon the death of his father, the sturdy young man who is now Henry VIII appears to Katherine and sweeps her away. It’s like something out of a fairytale. He is the prince to save the princess from a life of wasting away in sadness. What follow are many years of joy and conjugal felicity. Henry is an attentive husband to his queen and he does all that he can to please her. Unfortunately, those years do not last. Henry begins to grow frustrated with the lack of an heir, having watched Katherine miscarry and give birth to stillborn babies for years. Their only surviving child is a princess by the name of Mary. Henry begins to stray from Katherine’s bed and she notices. It begins with one of her young ladies-in-waiting, the honey-haired Bessie Blount who, much to her great humiliation, bears Henry a son.
Things only go downhill after the dark-eyed strumpet, Anne Boleyn seizes Henry’s attention. She leads him on a wild chase and before long he is madly in love with Anne, eager and willing to cast off Katherine. Poor Katherine is soon astonished when she hears that Henry wants to annul their marriage and that he will do anything (and everything) he can to achieve his goal. She is beside herself with grief. First Henry comes to Katherine and appeals to her to take the veil, to enter a nunnery. The proud Spanish-born queen (and clearly Isabel of Castile’s daughter) flatly refuses, declaring that it is an outrage that she is being treated in such a fashion. Soon she reaches out to her nephew, Charles the Holy Roman Emperor, beseeching that he speak to the Pope. When Henry learns that the Pope rules in Katherine’s favor, he breaks with the Church of Rome and begins his own religion, calling it the Church of England. With that, he permanently sends Katherine away and places her in horrible manor houses that either make her ill or ones that are old and shabby. Henry forbids her from ever contacting their daughter Mary and, not long after, Katherine meets a sorrowful end.
Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen is Alison Weir’s masterful illustration of Katherine’s life. Whenever it comes to Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives, Anne Boleyn is the one that steals the stage. With books like The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and A Love Most Dangerous by Martin Lake, Anne Boleyn’s presence is strongly felt. History knows Katherine of Aragon to be the discarded wife of Henry VIII who refused to accept the title of Dowager Princess of Wales (the title she would have received as Arthur’s widow). Ms. Weir brought Katherine to life and what is refreshing is that she wasn’t painted as some meek washed-out middle-aged wife. Katherine was strong in her younger years, strong in her middle years, and strong towards the end of her life. What stood out most to me was Katherine’s unconquerable spirit and no matter how many threats were leveled at her, she wasn’t afraid. I give this book 4.5 Crowns because it had its slow moments and its dull moments. I am looking forward to the next installment.