It’s pretty obvious to anyone who knows me that I love all things Tudor. I find the history fascinating and I love reading about the people who made that history interesting. Alison Weir is a favorite of mine; I tend to enjoy her novels. In fact, her novel, ‘Innocent Traitor’, which is about Lady Jane Grey, is actually one of my favorites. When I found out she was writing a series about Henry VIII’s wives, I was excited.
Her first about Catherine of Aragon was beautifully written and it offered a portrait into Henry’s longest lasting wife and to the woman herself. It was nice to see Catherine portrayed as a young, vibrant woman; one plagued with worries and fears, one who had extreme poise and grace and who was genuinely a good woman who was eventually treated extremely poorly by her husband and also by her father-in-law, who used her a bargaining chip.
To say that there were raw emotions exposed in this novel would be an understatement.
From start to finish, it was a roller coaster, highs and lows of Queen Catherine of Aragon’s life. We see her go from Infanta of Spain to Princess of Wales to Queen of England. (And eventually the dowager Princess of Wales, but this was not a title she accepted.) Her life was never dull and I walked away feeling like I knew her a little better and that I understood her far better than I ever had before. Ms. Weir wrote of the intrigues of court, the political landscape and of the woman herself with dignity and honor.
It was also nice to see her portrayed as she looked–not as the middle aged, dark haired Spaniard that TV is overly fond of portraying her as. Catherine is often made out to be a stubborn, bitter woman (not that she wouldn’t have reason to be) and it’s a huge insult to the woman herself. Henry thought her capable enough to be left as Regent of England when he was away fighting in France. Not only did she end up riding in full armor (whilst pregnant!) to deliver a speech when the Scots rebelled, she sent Henry the Scottish King, James IV’s bloody jacket to use as his banner. Catherine was no shrinking violet and I found myself weeping for her when she was subjected to Henry’s cruelty–especially when he kept her from their daughter, Mary. This proud daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella deserved much better than what she got in the end.
Now, I do think there were moments where Ms. Weir floundered, namely where she tried to write Catherine as being sort of oblivious to Mary Boleyn or Bessie Blount, Henry’s mistresses. In fact, she only became aware of Bessie after she bore Henry a son. That doesn’t strike me as correct; I tend to think that she probably knew and perhaps she wasn’t very vocal about it, but I don’t believe that she didn’t know. It is something many kings did; kept a mistress as he had to ‘seek his pleasure’ when she was with child. Something that Catherine was very capable of doing; even if she then miscarried or had a stillbirth.
I also found that there are moments where it sounds like Ms. Weir just copy and pasted a direct quote from the subjects into the story; I can understand it for letters, but in speech, it sounded strange; it didn’t sound right with the tone of the story, if that makes sense. It would have sounded better if paraphrased in the tone of the Catherine of the book’s voice.
One last note–16 year old Catherine being attracted to 10 year old Henry. That was sort of creepy.
My Rating: ★★★½