Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen
“But for her sex she could have surpassed all the heroes of history.” – Thomas Cromwell on Katherine of Aragon.
I have long been captivated by the history of the Tudor dynasty. Like so many other periods of dramatic history, this period is full of mystery, intrigue, and drama that surpasses anything we could make up in fiction. Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, was a fascinating, frightening man who possessed tremendous potential but became an unhappy tyrant instead.
I have immersed myself in many of the non-fiction books available of this period, studying Henry, his advisors, and his wives in great depth over the last decade. When historian Alison Weir released a retelling of the wives of Henry VIII in the form of a novel series, I was curious. Katherine of Aragon, the True Queen is the first of this series and has brought this time period dancing to life in a true-to-history fashion.
Catalina of Spain, the Infanta of historical heavyweights Ferdinand and Isabella, was later known as Katherine upon her arrival in England and was the first of Henry VIII’s wives. While many people are familiar with Henry’s string of notorious marriages, most are unaware of the long and initially very happy first marriage that he had. Pious, courageous and determined, Katherine was an equal to Henry in many arenas, not the least of which included her involvement in defending England from the Scots while Henry was away in France. She was an intellectual, gracious and charming, and much loved by the English people.
Her great failing, in Henry’s eyes, was her inability to give birth to a living son. Numerous pregnancies ravaged her body, but she was left with only one surviving daughter – the future Mary I, known to history as Bloody Mary. And in a series of events so often depicted in fiction and in movies, Henry worked to set aside his wife of over two decades to marry the unfortunate Anne Boleyn.
Anne may have been Henry’s most notable wife, as many have read the stories of her execution after also failing to produce a male heir for the Tudor dynasty. But Katherine, who is at times unbearably stubborn, deserves her recognition as well. Katherine of Aragon was praised by even Sir Thomas More, later sainted by the Catholic Church, for her courage and character.
Alison Weir does an amazing job of bringing to life the time period and personalities of the Tudor court, weaving the intricacies of history into her tale. We see the injustice and the prejudice, but we also see the innovation taking place, the charisma of Henry, and even though you know in advance where history takes the story, you are always hoping that Henry will return to his senses and reclaim his youthful potential and glory.
Weir’s take on Katherine of Aragon is both an entertaining and enlightening read!