by Beth von Staats
Let’s face it “Team Anne Boleyn”, Catalina de Aragón, daughter of the great Isabel de Castilla and Ferdinand de Aragón, first female Ambassador to a sovereign nation in European history, regent of England who led the nation to victory over Scotland in the Battle of Flodden, mother of England’s first Queen Regnant, Princess of Wales, and Queen of England was arguably world history’s greatest Queen Consort.
Think about this for one moment. With the young, chivalrous King Henry VIII playing war games in minor skirmishes with the French, the heavily pregnant Queen Catalina, known affectionately by the English as Queen Katherine, along with the elderly Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, not only successfully defended a Scottish invasion, but also crippled Scotland irrevocably through insuring the battleground deaths of King James IV and most of the Scottish nobility. It is no wonder, then, that years later Thomas Cromwell would obverse quite astutely, “Nature wronged her in not making her a man. But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.”
Right there Cromwell laid bare the truth of the matter — “But for her sex…” This was the 16th century after all. Despite Queen Katherine’s drive, piety, talent, sense of adventure, abundant leadership skills, obvious intellectual brilliance, and rich royal heritage, her fate lay at the feet of men — powerful men such as King Ferdinand of Aragon; King Henry VII of England; Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales; King Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor; Thomas Cardinal Wolsey; Pope Leo X; Pope Clement VII; Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; and most poignantly, the love of her life, King Henry VIII. Unable to produce the male heir thought urgent to preserve the Tudor Dynasty, Katherine of Aragon was damned, stripped of her crown and banished in her final years to a life of depravity and isolation.
Alison Weir begins her Six Tudor Queens novel series by expertly authoring the life story of Catalina de Aragón in her brilliant novel Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen. Easily her strongest historical fiction work to date, Alison crafts with historical astuteness Queen Katherine of Aragon’s life from her arrival in England in 1501 to her death, sensitively portraying Katherine’s maturity from an anxious and homesick princess to a determined, focused and strong queen. Fortunately for the historian but often handicapping to a fiction writer, Queen Katherine of Aragon is very well documented, her own letters as well as the writings of others detailing her opinions and feelings. Alison does an outstanding job allowing her exhaustive research through the years to guide her rich character development of Queen Katherine, filling in what is not known with plausible authenticity. If you are looking for “alternative history”, this book is not for you. There are no surprises or controversial plot moves — the largest liberty taken the use of Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador, to move the plot along to transition historical events.
Character development in general throughout the novel shows a real progress in fiction writing on Alison’s part. I enjoyed her portrayals of King Henry VII; Maria de Salinas, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby; Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and particularly lesser known historical figures, such as Dona Elvira, Philip I of Castile, Juana la Loca, and Fray Diego. King Henry VIII is also delightfully crafted. We see him grow from boisterous child to chivalrous prince to romantic lover to beloved king, and finally to the tyrant so famously immortalized by Hans Holbein. The hallmark strength of this novel, however, is the outstanding crafting of Katherine of Aragon’s relationships with others, particularly those with her parents, two husbands, close friends, mentors, closest servants, and adversaries.
Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen is a true tour de forse. Finely crafted, this novel is wonderful historical fiction and an outstanding introduction to the Six Tudor Queens novel series.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Weir is the United Kingdom’s most popular and best selling female historian. Alison’s first published work, Britain’s Royal Families, introduced the world to the now recognized genre of “popular history”, and her sales tell the story. Readers purchased more than 2.7 million books, over 1,000,000 in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,700,000 books in the United States. Rich in detailed research, Alison’s engaging prose captured the interest and imaginations of countless people, instilling a love of history that influenced the career paths of historical fiction writers, historians, and teachers, while also greatly increasing knowledge of medieval English history among people throughout the world. Alison also is a highly accomplished and New York Times best-selling historical fiction novelist. For more information on Alison Weir, visit her website at ALISON WEIR: UK HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR.