Friday, February 09, 2007

The Constant Princess

Book #17 of this year is The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory.

I've read lots of novels about the Tudors, and Katherine of Aragon is a familiar figure to me. However, this book put her in a whole new light. That's what I've enjoyed most about these Philippa Gregory books - she takes a story you thought you knew all about, and then shows you something you never considered before.

For example, of course everyone knows Katherine of Aragon was from Spain. I've read before about the intrigue with her ambassadors, the messages smuggled out of England, the upright Catholicism which guided her every action. But I'd never really thought about what some of the influences on her must have been. Gregory calls her "Catalina" - see, doesn't that make a difference already in the way you see her? She tells about her childhood growing up as the daughter of the warrior queen, Isabella of Spain, and her husband Ferdinand. She even brings in the Moorish influence which must have been part of her childhood, since she was quite young when her parents conquered the legendary stronghold of Islam, Granada. In Gregory's version, the Moors themselves are thrown out of Spain, but the royal family benefits from many of their inventions, such as running water (and, thus, frequent bathing). There's even a scene where Catalina sings a Moorish song she learned from a servant. I don't know if this ever happened, of course (and to some it may smack of political correctness), but I find the thought absolutely delicious.

In most versions of Katherine's story, her marriage to Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother, is glossed over quickly. After all, Arthur died just a couple of months after the wedding, and Henry is the husband that history remembers. But Gregory turns Catalina and Arthur's marriage into a love story, giving a fascinating interpretation to the historical controversy that follows - was the young couple truly married? Whether they were or not was important because of getting a dispensation for Henry to marry his brother's wife, and again became very important when Henry wanted to divorce his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn.

I'm tempted to go on and on, but I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet. I enjoyed this book the most of the three Philippa Gregory books I've read so far.

Here's some of what Gregory has to say about the background of this novel.


booklogged said...

Very nice review. This is a book I'm looking forward to reading. I have enjoyed the other Gregory books I've read that take place in the same time period.

My Boaz's Ruth said...

I've read this book as well and enjoyed it. (certainly more than The Other Boleyn Girl)

What has always fascinated me was that Henry VIII felt he had sinned in taking his dead brother's wife and their lack of children was punishment for that (even though in the Bible it explicitly says for brothers to take up the wives of their dead brothers and raise up seed to them!) But he saw no problem with marrying Anne even though he'd already laid with her sister!