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Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 179 customer reviews

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Length: 480 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

Julia Fox On Sister Queens

Julia Fox is an author and historical researcher. She lives in London with her husband, the Tudor historian, John Guy. Her first book was Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford, a study of the lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII of England and the sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn.

This book evolved naturally from my last. Then, challenging the legends surrounding the life of Jane Boleyn, brought me face to face with the Boleyns' arch-enemy, Katherine of Aragon, herself also a woman of myth. Endowed with almost saint-like qualities by her admirers, both in her own time and in ours, she is often seen as an icon of perfection as a wife, a mother and as a queen, someone too good to be true. Yet, behind all this hype and spin which turns her into a cardboard caricature, there is a real person struggling to emerge. She's the woman I set out to find; or at least, she's one of them!

For when I began to explore Katherine's Spanish background, her sister Juana entered the picture, another figure of legend, a queen still known in her homeland as 'Juana the Mad.' When I found I couldn't get her out of my mind, the idea of bringing the sisters--whose lives were once so intertwined --back together again took root.

A pivotal moment in my research was when I visited Granada. If one single episode influenced Katherine and Juana, it's the fall of the Moors' final bastion on the Spanish mainland, an event that was so momentous in its own time, it ranks with the D-Day landings and the end of the Second World War in ours. As young, impressionable girls, Katherine and Juana were present when, after years of bloodshed and suffering, the last Moorish king rode down the steep track leading from his great palace complex of the Alhambra to surrender the keys of his city to the sisters' parents, Ferdinand and Isabella. The girls were left in no doubt that they must fight for what they believed to be right, no matter what the personal cost.

Even today, the Alhambra is magical. We can climb the paths into the intimate, intricately-carved rooms of the Moors' magnificent palace where the sisters would once have sat, wander through shady gardens, peer into subterranean dungeons which once held manacled captives; we can gaze up at the tower where the Christians raised their banners (amazingly, still preserved) to signal the triumph of their faith. We can go to the Royal Chapel in the city where Juana lies with her husband and her parents, each in narrow iron coffins, in a small, dimly-lit vault beneath the imposing mausoleums above. To see all this is to enter Katherine and Juana's world, and yearn to discover more.

And the archival sources remain. Letters, contemporary records and first-hand accounts survive in abundance, allowing the sisters to speak to us with their own voices across the centuries. It was in that evidence that I immersed myself over the three years it took to research and write this book. I tried to approach it with a fresh eye, re-evaluating everything and sweeping away the cobwebs, aiming to portray these women, warts and all, as the flesh and blood figures they once were. I owe them that.


Praise for Sister Queens

“Julia Fox’s vivid and sympathetic book now shows us [Katherine of Aragon’s] life and marriage in another context, setting it against the even more terrifying story of her elder sister, Juana. . . . As Fox recreates Juana and Katherine’s lives in colorful detail, she manages to draw out the spirit and resilience of two women fearfully abused in a very cruel, very male world.”—The Spectator (UK)
“[Fox] offers an absorbing, rich, and fresh view of the entwined royal relationships that helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape.”—Publishers Weekly

“A talented entrant in royal biography, Fox fairly bids for the popularity historian Alison Weir currently wields.”—Booklist

Praise for Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn
“Fox does a splendid job in conveying life at the top of the Tudor pyramid.”—USA Today
“Fox is an English historian [who] imbues her writing with rich detail and confident knowledge. . . . She’s given depth and character to Jane Boleyn.”—The Austin Chronicle
“Outstanding . . . a fascinating and moving read.”—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire
“Julia Fox’s immaculate detective work and vivid storytelling bring to life one woman’s struggle to survive at the apex of a society where success could bring untold riches and a king’s anger could cost you your life.”—Leanda de Lisle, author of The Sisters Who Would Be Queen
“Engrossing . . . a sparkling chronicle, fine-tuned to the personal stories that lend texture and emotion to a biography.”—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

  • File Size: 14538 KB
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 31, 2012)
  • Publication Date: January 31, 2012
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0050DIWMA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,573 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Catherine is well covered in Tudor literature. There is even fiction devoted to her plight (most recently in the The Constant Princess by Gregory). Juana, Queen of Castile, is usually referenced as a mother or grandmother, rarely as a Queen, and always as "mad". I chose this book from the Vine program to learn more about Juana, particularly why she met the fate she did. I was pleasantly surprised to learn a lot more about Catherine that was new to me.

Most of the text is devoted to Catherine; hers is the better documented life. The background on the negotiations for Catherine's second marriage is covered with more dimension and sensitivity than I've seen elsewhere. You see how her father, Ferdinand, all but abandons her in England and how she learns from this experience.

Other writers emphasize the gallant and thoughtful young Henry, Fox notes the execution of two of his father's ministers and his later beheading of the Duke of Somerset. She also reminds the reader that Henry's philandering life began well before his courtship of Anne Boleyn in 1526. Elizabeth Blount bore him a son in 1519.

This is the most I've read of Queen Juana and how easily she was pushed aside by her father and son. It seems that she is her own worst enemy. Her first bad decision was to return to her husband in Burgundy in early 1504. If she had stayed in Spain as her mother requested, she could have learned to govern, made contacts and been visible to her subjects. Following this up with unqueenly behavior such as hunger strikes, refusal to speak/pray, and an assault on her husband's mistress made her an easy mark. She misread her imprisonment and seems almost resigned to her fate.

I think Fox's opinion that she did this for her son to rule is not correct.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really didn't know much about Katherine, Henry VIII's first wife and this book showed me a totally different side of her than what I've been led to believe. Katherine was definitely a "First Wife" ... that terminology used in today's modern times, "First Wife, shoved aside to make room for the Trophy Wife." This book delves deeper into the lives and times of Katherine and her sister, Juana, more so than any other historical fiction novel would have you believe. And this book is NOT fiction, but rather a thoughtful and insightful treaty of the comparisons of the two sisters, both queens in their own rights, and their lives.

I could not put this book down. It is well-written, drawn out and definitely not boring. This is why I adore history, especially women's history.

What strikes me is here are two sisters, both of them raised under Isabella's rule and reign, and their mother, Isabella, is a mighty queen used to ruling and conquering lands. Both of the sisters are raised to be royals in every inch of the word, not only in material goods, but also in education and more. And yet, their lives are different as can be. It is very interesting to read this and compare the two. Yes, the book focuses more on Katherine since her life is more documented than Juana's life is, but there are similarities and differences between the two sisters.

I also like how Ms. Fox writes about Henry, who historians have written so much about, sometimes fawning over how the delighful young man could end up so cruel, and yet Ms. Fox writes of an incident where Henry killed off two men (both noblemen) when he first took over the throne after his father's death.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To the world, the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were blessed in every respect. Both princesses were destined to be queens: Katherine, to be Queen of England (married first to the Tudor prince, Arthur, and then to Henry VIII), and Juana, to be, first, Archduchess of Burgundy and Flanders, and then Queen of Castile and Aragon in her own right. Fortune, however, was unkind to Katherine, whom Henry divorced, and even unkinder to Juana, against whom both father and husband conspired to prevent her from coming into her rightful inheritance. As a result, History has left their reputations sullied in the minds of posterity, Katherine, being remembered as a scorned and bitter woman, and Juana, as being demented.

In a narrative that is as readable as it is compelling, Julia Fox investigates the politics that shaped the unhappy lives of these sister-queens, both of whom were sacrificed on the altar of marriage in the name of political ambition and expediency. A thorough bibliography demonstrates the extent of the historian's research, and although I am not convinced by the editors' use of 'stealth footnotes'--numberless conglomerations at the end of the book which make it difficult for a scholar who is doing research on the topic, I must say that I found "Sister Queens" to be one of the best examples of (and arguments for) the genre of 'popular' history. Not only is "Sister Queens" likely to whet one's interest, but also, more importantly, Ms Fox's account of their lives is likely to inspire one to find out more about the subject.

A thoroughly fascinating read!
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