REVIEW - SIX TUDOR QUEENS KATHERINE OF ARAGON THE TRUE QUEEN, ALISON WEIR
The two biggest challenges with writing historical fiction need to be overcome from the get-go. It is necessary to engage the reader from that first chapter so that they are not constantly running off to fact check. So the first challenge is adhering (or appearing) to the constraints of historical accuracy.
Author Alison Weir has done a sterling job at building upon the facts of King Henry VIII's first wife that we (at least feel) we already know. None of what we read here is overblown; Catalina's/Katherine's story is a fascinating one and the re-telling of it has that luxury of time ie the twenty four years in which the two were married.
The second challenge is making what we already know to be seen more whole, or fresh. With Henry VIII's six wives, so much has been written about them and played out on the big and small screens that they have lost their identity; they have become secondary characters or footnotes only in relation to the larger than life figure of the English king whom were all (unfortunate enough) to be married off to. The queens are not usually depicted as fully developed individuals who had their own hopes and plans, children and their own personal relationships.
Catalina of Spain was betrothed to the English heir, Prince Arthur, when she was only three years so the expectations of a royal life were with her from very early childhood.
The world that young Catalina enters is completely foreign to her. Even her name is taken away from her. She does not speak the language, she does not understand the culture and the intricacies and treachery of court life are at first frighteningly beyond the understanding of the self possessed young princess. The politics of a country on the brink of religious reform are fraught with hidden dangers for a young woman separated so far from the support of family and loyal countrymen and women.
It is almost exhausting to contemplate all that came after with Henry, as after the passing of her first husband Katherine was married to the younger brother Henry for a very long time until her death. We have a front view seat of Henry's descent into madness and debauchery from the perspective of a young wife who is betrayed in every possible way by someone she loves. Katherine's marriage, her child, her position and her dignity are all taken away from her by her immature and selfish husband. Katharine is depicted as always having looked ahead with a mother's steely intent to keep her daughter, the princess Mary, safe in a hostile environment.
Weir has written a lengthy novel here of the life and loves of the first queen of Henry VIII. Katherine's stoicism and optimism is both tragic and admirable. This depiction of her well intentioned life gives an authentic insight into the inner strength of a person history has regarded as "a good queen".