Looking back, if there was any anxiety, it was about the enormous challenge of doing justice to Katherine. I knew that she was often overshadowed by interest in Anne Boleyn, and that there was a general perception of her as an ageing, sad, pious and perhaps misguided, even bigoted, woman. In fact, she had great strengths, as became the daughter of Isabella of Castile, and great abilities, as well as powerful relations. She was feared by the Boleyn faction and even by Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII himself. And yet, what stands out is her love for Henry, her loyalty and her integrity. One can only admire her determination to stand up for what she believed to be right.
I came to this project armed with decades of research behind me and some new research too. The plan is to write each book entirely from its subject’s viewpoint, which affords a unique perspective, and creates another challenge, because one will always wonder how much Katherine knew. But I loved that aspect. I could not wait to get started, and once I had begun writing, the story flowed – and flowed. It afforded me great insights into Katherine’s character and the world in which she lived, and it also allowed a new view of Henry VIII and the ‘Divorce’.
Yes. She was a real person and we know so much about her, so it’s essential to get it right. My task was to make sense of the sources – and the gaps – and to make my fictional portrayal credible within the context of the evidence. Where that exists, I have used it, and I have used my imagination and judgement to write the rest. I do so hope that my portrayal chimes with readers’ perceptions of Katherine.
3. Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is composed with a 3rd person limited narration. We only see what Queen Katherine sees and only experience what she experiences. This can be quite challenging for an author, as finding the voice of the character is so critical. It is also difficult to ensure the writing does stray from the main character’s limited view of events. How did you find Queen Katherine’s voice? To follow that up, how did you envision and then craft her maturity from child to woman and from princess to queen?
Once again, I was closely following the evidence. We are fortunate in that so many of Katherine’s letters survive, and that they record her feelings, her hopes and her fears. These are crucial tools for creating a fictional reading of her. They allow us to ‘know’ her in a way we can never know Anne Boleyn, for example, because hardly any really personal letters of Anne’s survive, and we are reliant on other records. Other records survive for Katherine too, and they are rich. So it was not difficult to show her maturing over 35 years.
I like the single-person viewpoint. It works well for this series of six novels. What one queen doesn’t know, another might. For example, Anne Boleyn must have been very much in the dark about what was going on at the time of her fall, yet Jane Seymour will know much more about it. So each book affords a different perspective, and the related e-shorts, which will be published at intervals, will provide back stories. You don’t need to read them, but they may enhance your enjoyment of the series.
It is based on new research – all outlined in the Author’s Note at the back of the book. And that research, of course, gives us a new perspective on the validity of Katherine’s marriage to Henry VIII.
5. One lovely aspect of this novel is the exploration of the close relationships between Katherine of Aragon and her closest friends. Just how critical were people like Maria de Salinas and Margaret Pole to Queen Katherine’s personal well-being? To follow-up, can you share with browsers what impresses you most about Maria de Salinas and Margaret Pole?
Both ladies were strong characters with firm personal convictions, and I admire them for that, but I have chosen to portray Maria as the more forceful, based on her braving the security at Kimbolton Castle to be with Katherine. Katherine was loved and esteemed by those who served her, and she was close to her ladies, with whom she had shared interests in common. I felt that it was essential to explore those friendships, not least because these ladies could offer views that were at variance with Katherine’s and give an alternative perspective on events.
That’s a rather modern view, which takes no account of sixteenth-century convictions about morality, sin and faith.The Pope had sanctioned Katherine’s marriage; she had every reason to oppose Henry, and one can only admire her standing up – and suffering in consequence – for the rights of her daughter. That’s not being selfish. Had Katherine made a pragmatic decision to bow to Henry’s wishes, Mary would have ranked after any sons born of the King’s second marriage. That was unthinkable to Katherine. She believed that it was her bounden duty to protect Mary’s rights. In the context of expectations of royal motherhood, it was her priority. It was Henry VIII who treated his daughter selfishly and cruelly.
There can be little doubt that he loved her at the time of their marriage and in the early years. We will never know if he was truly in love with her, or whether his feelings were a manifestation of courtly love – no doubt he saw himself as a chivalrous St George rescuing the princess in distress. And Katherine was a great prize in the European marriage market, for which he clearly valued her. Her reference to ‘all the love that hath been between us’, made in 1529, suggests a warm marital relationship, but there is no evidence that Henry’s feelings for Katherine were as passionate and obsessive as they were for Anne Boleyn.
8. From the death of Prince Arthur, Prince of Wales until the death of King Henry VII, as so powerfully crafted in your novel, Katherine of Aragon lived a highly isolated life of increasing deprivation. How much do you suspect the death of Queen Isabella of Castile impacted how poorly Queen Katherine was treated? What other issues were at play?
I think that Isabella’s death had a big impact, because it immediately devalued Katherine’s worth. No longer was she a princess of a united, strong Spain, but merely a princess of Aragon, and therefore not so desirable a bride for the heir to England. But Henry VII wanted her dowry, which was why he would not send her back to Spain. I think he was waiting to see if he could find a better match for his son, but keeping his options open.
It will be, and as I was writing it I realised that it was going to be very different from other novels about Anne Boleyn because a lot of it is written from the European cultural perspective, and that enables us to understand so much more about Anne and what shaped her. I have built on three other theories in this book, which may help to explain certain inconsistencies in her story.
Scroll down this page to read my article on the print, which I wrote for my website: http://alisonweir.org.uk/books/bookpages/more-lady-in-the-tower.asp. It’s important to remember that the clues are in a Victorian lithograph – a few have drawn subjective conclusions based on that, but I suspect that the original portrait looked rather different. If we could see and analyse it, we would perhaps be able to say with more certainty that this is Anne Boleyn. All we can say now is that the evidence we have suggests that it is.
Yes, I’m working on the first in a series of four non-fiction books right now, but I’m not allowed to say what it’s about. The series will be announced later this year.
QUEENANNEBOLEYN.COM’S TRIBUTE TO ALISON WEIR’S SIX TUDOR QUEEN’S NOVEL: KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN!!
YouTube Credit: QAB’s own Mercy Rivera (piratesse4)
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Video Credits: Isabel (La 1 TVE HD), The Tudors (Showtime)
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