01 January 2008

Book Review: The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess The youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella knew her destiny from a young age: she was to become Princess of Wales and then Queen of England. Accordingly, in her early teens she leaves the glorious palace of the Alhambra for the cold and comparative dinginess of the English court. Her new home is ruled by a former rebel with rough manners, backed by his dragon of a mother; and her new husband is studious and awkward. Despite these shortcomings Catalina of Aragon finds a great deal of happiness with Arthur, planning how they will rule the kingdom when it becomes theirs. Then tragedy intervenes and leaves her widow with only half her dowry paid, unwanted by either England or Spain. Through the poverty and power-plays that follow, Catalina clings to one hope: that the lie she has told will give her a chance of becoming Katherine, Queen of England some other way. Any other way.

I know where I’m going next time I’m at the library - straight to the history section. There’s a few things in here I’d like to read some historians’ perspectives on. Henry VII’s plans for her after the death of Arthur, for instance, or the Battle of Flodden (she wasn’t mentioned in the documentary I saw a few weeks ago, but then that was only about the battle, not the march). I’d also love to read a non-fiction biography of her. Usually the name ‘Katherine of Aragon’ conjures an image of the dull, middle-aged woman who tried to hold her throne against Anne Boleyn. Here she is teenager and young woman who could take her place alongside Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Tudor in terms of ambition. Convinced that her accession to the throne is God’s will, and unwilling to take the reduction in rank that would follow a return to Spain, she’s happy to scheme as much as necessary. In a way her tenacity is admirable; but at the same time the lengths to which she’ll go are a little unnerving. Her story as presented here is almost a coming-of-age tale, following her progress from pampered young Infanta to a queen and a woman able to see where her parents went wrong in their reign. The pace derailed in the last part of the book, skipping through - and over - the years much more rapidly; and I would have liked to see Katherine with Mary, her only child to survive infancy. But the book redeemed itself by finishing in just the right place.

Rating: B


Anonymous said...

I read The Other Boleyn Girl in 2007 and enjoyed it. The Constant Princess is now of my shelf for the 2008 TBR challenge. Thanks for the review.

Amat Libris said...

I must read The Other Boleyn Girl. I think it's the only one in the series I haven't read.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776