Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book Review: The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory

Synopsis - Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both kings and crusaders.  At the age of three, she is betrothed to Prince Arthur  the son and heir to Henry VII of England, and is raised to be Princess of Wales.  She knows that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land.

Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse.  Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur's wife grows ever more bearable.  Unexpectedly in this arranged marriage, a tender and passionate love develops.

But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future; how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty?  Only by marrying Arthur's young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry.  His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use.  Yet Katherine is her mother's daughter and her fighting spirit is indomitable.  She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

Review -  Yet again, Philippa Gregory achieves what she does best, weaving a believable fictional story around historical facts.  This book does not disappoint.  This is the first book I have read that casts Katherine of Aragon in such a good light and I think, we forget what she may have achieved in her short reign as Queen.  History at school focussed more on Henry VIII and the fact that he had six wives, brought in Protestantism breaking the bond with the Catholic church and other historical facts rather than on his wives during their short reigns as his Queen.  As Ms Gregory points out in her 'Author's note' it is generally thought that the marriage to Arthur was consummated but we don't know for sure or if it was a marriage of love.  Arthur was of a weak constitution and it is also likely that the marriage could not be consummated on his part.  We do not know any of this for sure.  We do know that Katherine was a strong woman and Gregory has dipped into her earlier life merging fact with fiction based on her research.

Was the marriage to Henry objected to by his father in reality, I have read contradicting stories offering that it was his idea based on the 'knowledge' or thought that the first marriage remained unconsummated!  Whatever the truth, this works and makes for a better story involving conflict.  What I do like is that we get a flavour for Henry as he may have been in reality.  Weak, puffed up with self importance, selfish and a highly opinionated man.  He certainly was weak where women were concerned and easily manipulated by members of his court.  It is quite possible that Katherine was instrumental in planning his battles in those early days.  4*
ISBN 0-00-719030-1

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