Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory

Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both kings and crusaders. At the age of three, she is betrothed to Prince Arthur, son and heir of Henry VII of England, and is raised to be Princess of Wales. She knows that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur's wife grows ever more bearable. Unexpectedly in this arranged marriage, a tender and passionate love develops. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur's young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother's daughter and her fighting spirit is indomitable. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

I really enjoyed this, but it wasn't as compelling as The Other Boleyn Girl or The Boleyn Inheritance, also by Philippa Gregory. I was able to put this book down and not feel the need to go back to it immediately. Although I wanted to know what happened to Katherine, the book focused so much on her time away from the Tudor court, and then when she did marry Henry, there was a lot of attention paid to war and battles. I did feel very sorry for her as she didn't seem to have many happy periods throughout her life, but she didn't quite come to life the same as the Boleyns. Plus, I think I prefer the multiple first-person format of The Boleyn Inheritance - after a while, the italics began to irritate me. 

It was interesting to read about her imput into Henry's rule and how she became regent of England while he was in France. I was also surprised to read that she'd had a child before Mary and that it had died. Katherine is often brushed over in history as having married Henry, only ever had a girl and displeased him because of this. I feel quite enlightened now, even if I did sometimes doubt Gregory's portrayal of certain figures when it differed from that of my Modern History lectures.

All in all, I enjoyed this book but it was much heavier and not as exciting as the Boleyn novels. I was glad to learn more about Katherine and now want to read about Henry's other wives. 8/10

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