Book Review: The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

the constant princess“I am Catalina, Princess of Spain, daughter of the two greatest monarchs the world has ever known…and I will be Queen of England.”

Thus, bestselling author Philippa Gregory introduces one of her most unforgettable heroines: Katherine of Aragon. Known to history as the Queen who was pushed off her throne by Anne Boleyn, here is a Katherine the world has forgotten: the enchanting princess that all England loved. First married to Henry VIII’s older brother, Arthur, Katherine’s passion turns their arranged marriage into a love match; but when Arthur dies, the merciless English court and her ambitious parents — the crusading King and Queen of Spain — have to find a new role for the widow. Ultimately, it is Katherine herself who takes control of her own life by telling the most audacious lie in English history, leading her to the very pinnacle of power in England.

Set in the rich beauty of Moorish Spain and the glamour of the Tudor court, The Constant Princess presents a woman whose constancy helps her endure betrayal, poverty, and despair, until the inevitable moment when she steps into the role she has prepared for all her life: Henry VIII’s Queen, Regent, and commander of the English army in their greatest victory against Scotland.

Addition to my TBR from a bookcrossing meeting

I will willingly admit that my knowledge of certain periods of history are lax to say the least: I know that Katherine of Aragon was married to King Henry VIII’s brother Arthur. After Arthur’s death, still aged 16, she became Henry’s first wife, only to be usurped by Anne Boleyn. What has been missing are the small details of how that marriage could be arranged, against the rules set out in the bible (Leviticus 20: Verse 21: If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.).

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

The book is split into 4 parts: the first being Caterina’s (Catherine’s) childhood and marriage to Arthur, Henry’s olderbrother. In this book, Caterina and Arthur are madly in love as he dies, the marriage has been consummated, and it is her promise to Arthur as much as anything that drives the following decisions she makes.   Part 2 covers the years between Arthur’s death and her marriage to Henry 6 years later. Part 3 is her second marriage until Henry and Catherine’s coronation; Part 4 are the following few years as Catherine becomes queen, only for her position to be undermined by the multiple miscarriages along withe the developing threats of her husband’s wandering eye (in particular Anne Boleyn).

It is Catherine’s childhood following her parents around Spain that influences her later ability to rule England (suppressing the Scots) whilst Henry is in France. Her strength in war, combined with an almost fervent belief in the Catholic faith – and that her actions are defined by God – are continually foremost in her mind.

katherine of aragon
Katherine of Aragon

Whilst pregnant for the first time, she realises that there are no decent doctors in western Europe, as the only ones who know anything (Jews and Moors) have been driven out by her parents. When she does find a moorish doctor to consult, it has to be in secret, and she realises he is the only one she can trust to tell her the truth. When she later defends England successfully against the Scots, she has the opportunity to decimate the Scottish lands after the Scottish King has been destroyed, only chooses not to.

Finally, the book jumps forward approx 16 years, where Katherine is preparing herself to face her husband and accusers who wish to pronounce her marriage invalid so that Henry can marry Anne.  It is this act, and the political machinations behind it, that lead to the break with Rome and the setting up of the Church Of England.

There are two voices in this book – that of the standard 3rd party narrative, interspersed with a first person narrative of Katherine herself.  The 3rd person was more successful I thought, and I did tire of the relentless, occasional multiple page italicised first person narrative of Catherine, and ended up skimming much. However, the very short, one liners, were very effective, so wonder if this tool could have been used to better effect?  Overall however, I enjoyed the book, and it was a decent addition to a missing gap in my historical narrative

Additional resources:

Author website with a specific link to the book’s page here

www.alhambradegranada.org  (in Spanish)

If you want to know more about the Tudors here is a recommended site: www.tudorhistory.org

Should you want a reading guide, either for yourself or your reading group, here’s a link at Book Browse
Other reviews of related books:

The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

  1. Katherine tends to be overshadowed by the larger than life figure of Henry but she was a very strong woman who managed a real war when he was out having a pretend war against the French.

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    • She defended England against Scotland whilst Henry was away, and I understand was one of the few Henry ended on good terms with (If I remember, he did come to regret divorcing her at some level)

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