So 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.
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.
(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