Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence

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Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII's six wives and Queens, was arguably the most unhappy figure during the Tudor era who died (probably) from natural causes. This excellent, very detailed biography portrays her very much as a victim of troubles, a dynastic token who paid the price in an unforgiving age, in great detail against the background of the Tudor court and the contemporary European diplomatic background.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: October 2016
Publisher: Amberley
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781445656700

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Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII's six wives and Queens, was arguably the most unhappy figure during the Tudor era who did not meet her end on the scaffold or at the stake. The cliché 'tragic love story' must be a fitting one in her case.

The daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon, she always regarded herself as first and foremost a daughter of Spain. A thorough account of her family background in the opening chapters of this book forms a prelude to her betrothal and all-too brief marriage to Arthur, Prince of Wales and eldest son of King Henry VII. Complex negotiations ensued between her father and her father-in-law in which she was seen to some extent as a bargaining counter between two nation states. Amy Licence is not the first author to devote considerable speculation to the business of whether marriage between the adolescent bride and groom was actually consummated or not, as it would become a major issue in the years to come.

When they both became ill shortly after their wedding and her young husband died, it is noted, she may have assumed that she would soon be returning to Spain, and that she probably mourned the loss of their future rather than the death of a man whom she had never had the chance to get to know really well. Financial and political considerations would soon decide otherwise, but only after several years, largely because of the age gap between herself and her brother-in-law Henry, who did not reach the age of eighteen until several weeks after he had succeeded his father on the English throne.

It is not surprising that Ms Licence has considerable sympathy for Catherine, otherwise she would not have written such a long biography. While she is not particularly critical of Henry's behaviour, she underlines the fact that almost from the start of the young couple's married life, he had a far too ready eye for beautiful young ladies at court. Not long after Catherine's first pregnancy, one of several which ended unhappily, there were stories of over-amorous attentions, tell-tales and an argument which culminated in 'a wake-up call for the Queen' which marked the end of their honeymoon period.

After almost two decades of marriage throughout which Catherine was cursed with a heartbreaking succession of confinements which resulted in one healthy daughter among several stillbirths and infants who lived no more than only a few weeks at most, Henry began to have his doubts about the validity of their union. His initial solution was that as her marriage to Arthur had been consummated – something which she steadfastly denied - they had been living in mortal sin since 1509, that they must therefore separate, and she must retire to a convent. For four years the stalemate went on, with the King and his nobility trying to browbeat her into submission while she declared that she could never consent to it and would continue to obey her ultimate sovereign – the Pope. Technically, the eventual separation of King and Queen was never a divorce, but an annulment, on the grounds that their marriage was invalid from the start. (That puts paid to the start of the old rhyme from our schooldays, beginning with 'divorced, beheaded, died'.) It was a sad saga, but at least Catherine could console herself with the fact that by maintaining that she was her husband's lawful wife and Queen made her a traitor in English law, a crime which could have been punishable by execution.

By the way, the assumption is that she did die of natural causes – or maybe a broken heart. The last chapter offers an alternative, less pleasant scenario, which I will leave readers to discover for themselves.

History has sometimes judged Catherine as a stubborn woman who could have saved herself much heartache if she had surrendered to the inevitable – a rather extreme view. Ms Licence portrays her very much as a victim of troubles (as well as the man often judged to be 'England's Nero') beyond her making, a dynastic plaything who paid the price in an unforgiving age. With its painstaking attention to the background of the Tudor court and the contemporary European diplomatic background, it is unreservedly recommended. The text is complemented with sixteen pages of colour plates, including a portrait of Catherine now in Ripon Cathedral which I had never seen before.

For another account of the end of Catherine's marriage, we recommend The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story by Catherine Fletcher; and for a biography of her first husband, Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham.

Buy Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy Licence at Amazon.com.


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