“I am Catalina, Princess of Spain, daughter of the two greatest monarchs the world has ever known… and I will be Queen of England.”
Katherine of Aragon is betrothed at the age of three to Prince Arthur, son and heir of Henry VII of England. She is raised to be Princess of Wales, and knows 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 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?
I had fond memories of this book from when I initially read it years ago, though I realised that most details of the book had escaped me – it must’ve been about 7 years ago when I first read it. Having just finished Philippa Gregory’s latest novel The White Princess I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to read The Constant Princess again, which in a way felt like I was reading a continuation of that story. So for people who haven’t yet read either series, I’d definitely recommend starting with the Cousins’ War series and then continuing on to the Tudor Court novels. But I digress, because I’m not covering the complete works of Philippa Gregory here, but just the one novel.
I’ve always found Katherine of Aragon an interesting character, and I’m very saddened by the way she’s often portrayed both in books, and in film and television. People tend not to pay her that much attention, and they merely see her as the sad, past her prime, has been of a wife that Henry has set aside in favour of the much younger and prettier Anne Boleyn. This book, however, take an indepth look at the young Katherine, from about the age of 5 up until her late 20s.
When I first read this book I finally felt that I was getting to know the character of Katherine a bit better, in spite of this being a work of fiction of course. She was quite an admirable young woman and she had so much to deal with when she was still really young. She wasn’t born in a beautiful palace, but rather in an army camp that was always on the move as her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile and Aragon, were attempting to reconquer all of Spain from the Moors. She then spent a few relatively calm years living at the Alhambra palace in Granada, before being sent off to England at the tender age of 15 to be married to Arthur, the Prince of Wales.
It is admirable to read how she composed herself and held it together as she tried to adjust to life in a strange, cold country when she didn’t speak the language and was appalled by their strange – and in her view barbaric – customs. It is of course well known that she was initially married to Arthur, who died shortly after their wedding, and was then later married to his younger brother Harry, who would become the notorious King Henry VIII of England. What I liked about this story, although I have no idea how much of it is fact and how much of it is fiction, is that Katherine grew to love Arthur after she initially despised him. The fact that she tried to get herself betrothed to Henry through a series of elaborate schemes, which took her quite a few years, and was fuelled by her love for Arthur is probably almost entirely fictional, but it does add a very interesting layer to the story and to Katherine as a character. People thought her a mere feeble young woman who could easily be pushed aside, but she was very persistent, constant as the title of the book suggests, and in the end she managed to get what she wanted.
Of course we know that her story doesn’t have a happy ending, but that’s a part of her life that is not dealt with in this book. This book focuses on Katherine’s personal growth from a young girl into a strong woman who is a force to recon with, which makes her demise at the end of her life all the more sad if you think about it. If you look at Katherine’s life as a whole it is quite sad and miserable, but in her younger years, especially during the early stages of her marriage to Henry, it would appear that she was relatively happy, which adds a lot to the general feel of the book. Her story isn’t as dark and gloomy as it is often made out to be.
The second time around I enjoyed this book just as much as when I first read it, so I’m sticking with the rating I initially gave it.