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Catherine of Aragon: Henry's Spanish Queen Paperback – April 1, 2011
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- Publisher : Faber & Faber; Main edition (April 1, 2011)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0571235123
- ISBN-13 : 978-0571235124
- Item Weight : 13.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.12 x 1.18 x 7.76 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #922,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Catherine of Aragon. It was a very interesting read based on historical fact and not fiction.
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The author starts this book by detailing Catherine's life in Spain before she came to England. Much of this was a revelation to me as so many of the books seem to start with her arriving in England. There is glorious detailing of the Spanish court and the way in which Catherine was brought up - all this information is really useful later when you are trying to understand the attitude of her father after the death of Arthur and of Charles V at the time of the divorce. I hadn't realised that she had lived in the palaces of the Alhambra - it makes the contrast with England seem much more stark.
The author then details Catherine's life at the Tudor court and gives her side of what happens. We see Henry as a playboy, prone to making irrational decisions and very stubborn - Catherine is obviously more mature and intelligent than her husband and the book shows us how this plays out during her life. The events of the "divorce" are related in a way that any reader can understand as well as the implications of each step. The author is on the fence about whether or not Catherine slept with Arthur but very clear about the result to her and to the Catholic community in England of her refusal to accept an annulment of her marriage. I had not realised before how close Henry was to executing both Catherine and her daughter before she died.
This book is told from the point of view of Catherine and the author is sympathetic to her although clear about her faults (he definitely doesn't think a lot of Anne Boleyn though). We get an excellent picture about what her life was like and a good explanation about the issues around the divorce. Catherine of Aragon was queen for twice as long as all Henry's next five wives put together, she was the daughter of the two most powerful people in Europe and she acted as her father's ambassador - but she didn't bear a live son to be an heir to her husband and she and many others suffered for it. The author helps us to understand what it must have been like to be this foreign princess subject to the whims of men and forever exiled from her home and culture.
Catherine, it quickly becomes clear is very much from the same mould as her strong willed, independent mother, and equally as capable of defending her interests and indeed her adopted country on the battlefield if necessary. During her regency when Henry was absent on a less than glorious military campaign, she resoundingly defeated James IV of Scotland on Flodden Field (did her extremely macho husband ever actually get over that particular episode, I wonder!?) She was also for a time, effectively, her Spanish father's ambassador in England. From her dynamic upbringing in Spain through her tragic first marriage and the wilderness years that followed, to her eventual coronation as Queen Consort to the loving husband that Henry was initially, her story reads like a novel.
However, failed or phantom pregnancies resulting in only one surviving daughter, robbed her of her youth, her looks and her currency as a valued wife. Her marriage, however, lasted in reasonable harmony, until Henry fell in love and lust with Anne Boleyn and wished to be free to remarry. He then found himself facing a true daughter of Isabella of Castile, with courage aplenty as she fought her corner long and hard. The whole premise of the "divorce" turned on the question of her virginity at the time of her marriage to Henry VIII. Had his consumptive older brother, Arthur, been a husband in the fullest sense or not? Historians can only speculate as there were only two people present in the royal bed on that fateful wedding night, both very young and virtual strangers to one another. Catherine swore she had remained a virgin, and given her profound religious faith, one feels inclined to believe her. Her stubborn refusal to give in and retire quietly to a comfortable nunnery, thus denying the legitimacy of Mary her daughter, lead to Henry's ultimate break with the pope and the inevitable religious turmoil that ensued. At one point near the end of her life, she actually questions whether or not she had been right to refuse. Her final years were a sad and miserable contrast to her beginnings as a golden child of Ferdinand and Isabella and Tremlett does not rush us to the end but gives her story the space it needs to be properly told.
Criticisms are minor. I wish the research for illustrations had been as thorough and extensive as the historical work; some shots of the glories of the Alhambra, her childhood home, would have been informative.
Pickiness aside, it's superb and I wonder if he is thinking of a companion book on Catherine's glamorous but short lived successor.