Six Tudor Queens: 1 Katherine Of Aragon, The True Queen is the latest historical novel from renown historian Alison Weir. The first in a series about Henry VIII’s six wives, I was lucky to read an ARC, this is a huge book coming in at 553 pages and I believe the Hardback may be longer at 624 pages, expected publication date 5th May 2016.
The first part opens in 1501, sixteen year old Catalina, a Spanish Princess sails to England for her marriage to fifteen year old Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII. Catalina is now to be known by her English version of her name, Katherine and she faces a new language, new food and very cold weather. Katherine’s first meeting with Arthur is at the Bishop’s Palace in Dogmersfield, this village today is a stone’s throw from where I currently live and the local pub “The Queen’s Head” proudly displays a Pub sign with a picture of Katherine and a local House also bears her name, hundreds of years later, even the Bishops Palace still has a large residence built on it’s foundations which is now a Hotel.
Moving on Katherine and Arthur are married, but Arthur is very sickly, probably suffering from Tuberculosis. They move to the Prince of Wales’ residence in Ludlow, but Arthur dies after just six months of an unconsummated marriage. The political games of power marriages were so important to the royal households of England, France, Spain, Flanders and beyond. They made or broke wars and wealth. Katherine was next to be betrothed to Arthur’s ten year old brother Henry, after a couple of years of negotiations they were betrothed when Henry was just twelve years old, but even this was no safe guarantee as power shifted in Europe. Katherine’s usefulness to the English throne peaked and dipped, delaying her marriage, leaving her in a form of poverty at one time while Kingdoms were won or lost. It wasn’t until 1509 when King Henry VII died that Katherine could finally marry Henry.
Even through there was a large age gap between the couple, Henry was devoted and Katherine fell in love with him. Henry oozed wealth and extravagance and huge amounts of money were spent on his wedding, his crowning and on the palaces he owned. Every Kings wants a male heir to succeed him, this stabilises politics and power and became Henry’s priority. As Henry preferred pomp and play to political governing he appointed Thomas Wolsey, who later took the title Lord Chancellor. Wolsey also rose through the Church and ended his days as a Cardinal.
Katherine fell pregnant seven times during her marriage to Henry and lost six of those children with only daughter Mary surviving. This put a great strain on their marriage as Henry became more and more desperate for a male heir. Political powers turned in Europe too with treaties and friendships turning and turning again. Katherine was ever adamant that relations with Spain should stay strong, but Henry blamed her when her father Ferdinand of Spain signed a treaty with Maximilian of Flanders and Louis of France, keeping Henry out of the power struggles.
Court rumours flew about Henry’s romantic affairs while Katherine struggled through pregnancies, but she refused to believe ill of Henry and remained devoted to him as was her duty as a wife. However when it became obvious that Katherine would bare no more children, Henry’s desperation for a male heir became apparent. The “Great Matter” threw the country into turmoil as Henry questioned the legality of marrying his brother’s wife, even though at the time they had been given special permission form the Pope. Katherine was a devout Catholic, but Henry became persuaded by new religious thinkers, he began querying the power of the Roman church in England and his passion for Anne Boleyn had a huge sway on his beliefs and actions.
In this book Weir paints Anne Boleyn as a powerful and greedy political mover with much support, she helps topple Wolsey and with men like Thomas Cramner and Thomas Cromwell now holding much sway in Henry’s courts, Katherine is kept from her daughter and put under near house arrest while Henry declares himself head of the English church and divorces Katherine so he can marry Anne. Katherine is stripped of her title, her assets and her household until her dying day, but she always believed in her love for Henry and her true right as Queen of the English throne.
This is a very long and detailed book, as is my review, which lovers of Tudor History will enjoy.
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