Friday, May 9, 2008

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

From Publishers Weekly
As youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Catalina, princess of Wales and of Spain, was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three. She leaves Spain at 15 to fulfill her destiny as queen of England, where she finds true love with Arthur (after some initial sourness) as they plot the future of their kingdom together. Arthur dies young, however, leaving Catalina a widow and ineligible for the throne. Before his death, he extracts a promise from his wife to marry his younger brother Henry in order to become queen anyway, have children and rule as they had planned, a situation that can only be if Catalina denies that Arthur was ever her lover. Gregory's latest compellingly dramatizes how Catalina uses her faith, her cunning and her utter belief in destiny to reclaim her rightful title. By alternating tight third-person narration with Catalina's unguarded thoughts and gripping dialogue, the author presents a thorough, sympathetic portrait of her heroine and her transformation into Queen Katherine. Gregory's skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel's foregone conclusion.

Philippa Gregory is not exactly known for her faithfulness to historical accuracy in her books, but she's a good storyteller and I liked this book and found it hard to put down. I've read some of her others (The Other Boleyn Girl and The Virgin's Lover) and this did not disappoint despite the mixed reviews I'd read on it.

In the past, I'd never really known anything about Katherine of Aragon, except that she was the Queen of England and Henry VIII's first wife who he divorced to marry Anne Boleyn. I was never all that interested in her and just thought of her as the dowdy older queen that Henry tired of and who could no longer conceive an heir for him. Well, how wrong I was! This book paints a much different picture of Katherine. She is truly the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castille and nothing is going to stop her from her destiny - to be Queen of England. She was born a princess and despite the trials and tribulations she endures while in England in between her marriages, she survives - the Constant Princess.

Catalina, as she is known through most of the book, is young and pretty. She catches the eye of her future father-in-law upon first arriving in England. Henry VII is very attracted to her, but she is promised to his son, Arthur. Upon first marrying Arthur, they don't suit. But, once alone at Ludley Castle in Wales they fall in love and make love every night in secret. Unfortunately, he dies 7 months later and makes her promise on his death bed that she will marry his younger brother, Harry (Henry VIII).

And so is the crux of the book - Katherine's big lie. She keeps her promise to Arthur and waits and waits for England to finally decide what to do with her after Arthur dies and before she marries Henry VIII. This lasts for 7 long years in ignominy. She is a nobody at court and her parents are not much help at all. Finally, she gets her way with Harry and denies her marriage with Arthur was ever consummated in order for it to appear seemly by marrying his brother. At one point after she is widowed, Henry VII proposes marriage to her (being a recent widower himself) and turns against her when it is so obvious that she will marry no one but Henry. She is determined to be the Queen of England, and have her son be the future King of England. By marrying Henry VII, her son would not be heir to the thrown. Her reaction to Henry VII's proposal is 'what's the point?' And she'd be under the thumb of his horrible mother as well!

This book reads a bit like a romance novel as far as her relationship with Arthur is concerned. They were deeply in love and she was devastated when he died of the Sweat. You do feel sorry for her, but admire her courage and determination. By the end of the book (still in her early years of marriage to Henry) she leads the battle against Scotland at Flodden. She organizes Henry's army and basically controls everything, since he is still very young, spoiled and immature (only 21, she is 5 years older.) Over and over she prays to Arthur, telling him how she is doing what they had planned to do together, and everything she is doing is for his memory and the deathbed promise, it gets a bit morbid with her constant praying to him and asking him to wait for her in heaven. She did grow to love Henry VIII, but not as much as she loved Arthur, but what can you expect from a girl who is only 15 and her first love - she compares Henry to her handsome Arthur constantly.

Catalina is strong, resourceful and courageous and I found her a likeable heroine. I recommend this book, but those of you that dislike historical innacuracies and supposition will probably cringe over some parts of it, but since I really knew nothing about her to begin with, it didn't bother me one bit! I was sucked into the Tudor court and look forward to reading another one of her Tudor books!


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