Fiction: “Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen” by Alison Weir

katherine of aragonSo again, here’s a book where I didn’t take any notes. I borrowed this from the library last year and read it quickly enough, I guess; but it didn’t make enough of an impression on me to mark down any quotes or whatever.

Alison Weir is a very talented and well-researched historian. She has written other books of nonfiction, including one about the princes in the Tower that Richard III ordered to be killed (it’s on my to-read list). She’s an expert on the Tudors, and has turned that expertise towards writing fictionalized non-fiction – and this is the first book in her series on the Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Catherine (later Anglicized Katherine) was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain – those who sent Christopher Columbus to “discover” the “New” “World”. As is typical of young princesses, she was betrothed at the age of 3 to the young Prince Arthur of Britain – the heir apparent. They married in 1501, but Arthur died shortly thereafter.

Now, princesses were betrothed with dowries. And when Arthur died and Katherine was just a princess taking up valuable space in a drafty castle, Arthur’s father, Henry VII, wanted to wait Ferdinand out and see if he would get the second half of Katherine’s dowry. He even briefly considered marrying her himself when his wife died. (Ick. Royals be nasty.) But eventually, he agrees to let Katherine be Henry VIII’s betrothed, and while they’re waiting for Henry to come of age (as he was five years younger than Katherine, making him … twelve when Arthur died), Katherine also acted as ambassador to Castile and Aragon.

According to Ms. Weir’s book, Henry and Katherine were very much in love in the early days of their marriage. They did have to have a special dispensation from the Pope, because back in those days, people followed that Bible pretty damn closely, and it’s against canonical law for a man to marry his brother’s widow. (Sure – okay.) (PS the whole “special dispensation” thing comes into play later.) Katherine had a difficult time conceiving and carrying to term – many of her children were born stillborn; one tiny prince only lived a couple of months before succumbing to what Wikipedia guesses may have been an “intestinal complaint”.

All told, Katherine had seven pregnancies, and only Mary I survived to adulthood.

So as Katherine’s ability to bear children declined, so did Henry’s hope of ever having an heir to the throne (allowing a daughter to ascend to the throne hadn’t been even thought of before). And Henry’s eye began to wander, and … yeah, we all know where this is going.

Meanwhile, Katherine was a beloved monarch – when England was at war with – I dunno, probably France, right? – anyway, Henry was off fighting in let’s say France, and there was a battalion in Northern England (sure), and someone had to go inspire them – so off goes Katherine, by all accounts very pregnant, riding her horse up to who-knows-where and convinces the army to go forward into battle.


But in spite of her diplomacy and just, overall, being a really Good Queen, Henry wanted a son. Or someone new. (Probably both – he was a dude.) So he needs to figure out a way to have another child, legitimately.

But he can’t divorce Katherine, because England is Catholic, and he has to answer to the Pope.

But then Henry gets an idea.

the grinch

What if – what if that special dispensation was wrong? What if Katherine was lying and she had consummated her marriage to Arthur? (No one knows for sure, obviously – but Katherine maintained that she and Arthur were never able to consummate their marriage, and was still a virgin upon marrying Henry.)

Maybe – maybe the *new* Pope can invalidate that old special dispensation, and then his marriage to Katherine would be invalidated, and he can try and get a son out of his new main squeeze, Anne Boleyn?

And if that wouldn’t work, then he’d just make up his own religion.

ron's permit-1ron's permit-2

(The new religion may have come after Katherine – I can’t remember.)

So Henry married Anne, and banished Katherine to a different castle, where she died in 1535.

Katherine’s life was, obviously, much more full than what I’ve made it out to be. The book was at least 600 pages long, I think? (GoodReads says it’s 602.) I felt that the book was kind of … lopsided? in what was portrayed. Like, I felt that a lot was made about Katherine’s education and Catholic faith (which, admittedly, were huge parts of Katherine as a person and as a Queen), but only a single paragraph was given to one of her lost pregnancies. And I get that the book was written in a limited perspective, but it was a little jarring once Katherine was banished and we never learned how Henry was feeling about it. Is that wrong? that I wanted to know what the dude was feeling during all of this?

I don’t know. It was very good, overall – I’m not kidding, Ms. Weir knows her stuff and the book was very well-written. I just couldn’t reconcile what I was hoping to get out of it with what I actually got. That’s not the fault of the author, in my opinion.

So anyway. I will continue with the series, but I also want to read Philippa Gregory’s take on the same people. Or maybe I’ll just take a shortcut and watch the Starz series. (What’s the plural of “series”? Like, there’s more than one series – is it serieses? Is there such a thing as a plural of series?)

Grade for Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen: 2 stars

Non-fiction: “Island of Vice” by Richard Zacks

island of viceHoly crap, I spent entirely too long on this book.

First, the setup. See, I had just finished Nerve and as I was wondering what I was going to pick up next, I remembered a throwaway statement I made last year when I reviewed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I had commented in that review that since the April before that (2011), I had read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and now I found myself reviewing another book about a different US President (with some fictional vampires thrown in), that it appeared that April had turned into American History Month here at That’s What She Read.

Flash-forward to me in April 2013, remembering that throwaway statement. Then cut to me completely taking that throwaway statement and running away with it. Because for about a week, I was popping in and out of Bull Moose and (shudder) Books-A-Million, looking for a book about American History that I could read and review, because if I sarcastically say something one year out of the corner of my mouth, apparently it becomes incontrovertible fact the next?

I picked up a few books at both places, and when I got home, I realized that there was no way I could spin the complete history of MI-6 as American History. I mean, I can spin some shit, but let’s get real. So after Round 2 of shopping, I did finally pick up this book for two reasons: 1) It went into depth of Teddy Roosevelt’s time as Police Commissioner for New York City, and I like Teddy Roosevelt, and 2) it was called Island of Vice. That sounded awesome! I love vice! It’s my second-favorite sin.

(Wait … vice isn’t … y’know? Don’t correct me. It’s fine.)

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t like the book; I did. It had its moments. I think my biggest complaint about the book is that for something entitled Island of Vice, it really should have been called something like Boardroom of Bureaucracy instead. There was entirely too little vice and too much paperwork and interpersonal problems that involve wording around laws for something with this title.

The book details the fight between the laws governing New York City (then, just Manhattan) and the saloon-owners and brothels of the island. See, saloons and whorehouses brought in tons of money. Problem was, they were illegal. Well, saloons were legal, they just had to be closed on Sunday. Except the saloon-owners said ‘fuck that shit’ and served alcohol to everyone on Sundays, same as the rest of the week. A reverend, Dr. Parkhurst, got sick of all the drunkenness, the prostitution, and the corruption of the NYPD that allowed these institutions to function – as long as the kickbacks and protection money kept flowing into the cops’ hands, of course. So the reform Republicans created a Commissioner’s Board, which was supposedly bipartisan, and it included Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt focused on upholding the letter of the law, and wanted all policemen to do the same. Whether he believed that saloons should be shut down on Sunday or not, it was his duty as commissioner to ensure that the law was upheld. He and I agree on this one issue: if you don’t like a law, you enact to change the law. But you can’t break the law just because you think it’s stupid.*

*Except speeding. But this was written before automobiles, so. Also, I operate under Aladdin’s Law: You’re only in trouble if you get caught.

In the end, due to the pressure put on him by New Yorkers who just wanted to get their drink on, Roosevelt ponies up to President McKinley and manages to get out of the failing Commissioner’s Board position and into the Assistant Secretary to the Navy position, wherein he nearly single-handedly gets the Spanish-American War started. New York goes back to its vice-ey ways, and not even Prohibition can stop them.

Hm. So this review feels a bit disjointed; probably because it’s taken me five days to write it. In the time since I finished this book and today, I have read the entirety of The Great Gatsby. I just … I feel confused about the book. I liked it, and yet I didn’t like it?

Here’s my problem with the book: I wanted there to be more vice. The book starts off with Rev. Parkhurst’s tour of New York’s prostitution houses, and saloons, and other places. And it was HILARIOUS to me to see how offended he was! Now, granted, I am not exactly a God-fearing Christian woman. And society is much different today than it was over a hundred years ago. But being able to look at history from today’s perspective can sometimes be hilarious.

FOR INSTANCE: Here’s a menu of what could have been offered in a brothel back then: [UH MOM DON’T READ THIS NEXT PART]

– “Common old fashioned fuck” [man on top]: $1
– “Rear fashion”: $1.50
– “Back scuttle fashion” [anal]: $1.75
– “French fashion with use of patent balls” [elaborate oral]: $3.50
– “All night, with use of towel and rose water”: $5 [[p. 285]]

SEE? Inflation ALONE makes that funny!

I wanted more of that! Funny stories where vice was happening! I don’t care about paperwork! If I wanted to read about paperwork, I’d read a book about business! *sigh* But it was also about Teddy Roosevelt, and I love Teddy Roosevelt! See? All conflicted.

If you’re a die-hard TR fan, then go ahead and read the book. It is interesting; I just wanted more sexy escapades. THAT DIDN’T DIRECTLY INVOLVE ROOSEVELT, I feel that needs to be EMPHATICALLY CLEAR.

Grade for Island of Vice: 2 stars