Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: Six Tudor Queens 1 by Alison Weir
|Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: Six Tudor Queens 1 by Alison Weir|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Alison Weir promises us six books showing us different sides to Henry VIII's six wives. A tall order for a Tudored-out market? Apparently not; Book 1 delivers!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 624||Date: May 2016|
|Publisher: Headline Review|
|External links: Author's website|
1501: A ship comes into port on the English coast with an important passenger. The Spanish Infanta Catalina steps ashore to become the wife of King Henry VII's heir, Prince Arthur and produce future heirs for the English crown. That's the plan but that's not how the story actually goes, on any level. For Catalina will be more famous as Katherine of Aragon, wife of Arthur's brother, Henry VIII. As for producing heirs…
Author and historian Alison Weir is respected for both her historical fiction and non-fiction. Although when she first proffered the idea of a historical fiction series from Henry VIII's wives' viewpoints I bet there were raised eyebrows and mumblings using words like 'chestnut' and 'old'. However Alison went ahead and started the process of one book per wife. Now we can see this, the first fruit of her vision and intentions, we know that this is a great idea and very different from what we were expecting.
We all know the story: Katherine of Aragon comes over to marry English heir Prince Arthur who dies shortly after the marriage. She goes on to Henry who has no qualms about marrying his brother's widow… till he can't produce a son and fancies that Ann Boleyn can. As we'd expect, Alison doesn't deviate from this outline to bring us something different. The difference is in how she colours it in, using some interesting historical sources and a lot of insight.
Alison ensures that we not only come away knowing more of the real Katherine, we understand more of how it felt to be her. Despite Katherine being an intelligent woman, she became a pawn who's closeted away from information and Henry's decision making processes. The author really enables us to feel the claustrophobia and paranoia as Katherine tries to make decisions for her day to day life on snippets of news from her advisors – advisors she begins to realise may not be telling her the truth. In this way we witness the minutiae of the political situation, from the rule of Henry VII to the differing style of Henry VIII, in an engaging way.
Alison also cleverly uses our existing knowledge. We don't need to have studied history in depth; we just need the very basic Ann-Boleyn-is-next-wife level knowledge. As the story progresses we can gauge where we are in Henry's amorous time line by a skip in the step or a little side glance but Katherine misses it all, again emphasising her isolation, making the eventual revelation a heart-breaking moment.
This novel also heralds the first time I've seen a first-person-Tudor-woman narrative used as such an effective tool. I'm normally the first to whine if I feel that by following a woman around we miss out on key battle scenes etc. However here the tunnel vision of Katherine's life adds to the feeling of an almost de facto imprisonment. This becomes even more affecting as we witness Katherine's hopes and health rising and falling with each pregnancy.
Alison notes at the end of the book that she refused to make Katherine assertive since that wouldn't be historically accurate; she would have acquiesced to Henry in all matters due to her position and contemporary culture. Yet the author ensures we realise that beneath the obedience there isn't a natural door mat. This is a queen with a spark since, evidenced when Henry allows Katherine to shine during her fight against the Scots while he was busy in France. (Actually he's so far away he has no choice!) Indeed, this is a strong, resourceful woman whose potential is quashed rather than utilised.
Normally first-in-series come with the pretext 'this is only the…' but in this case it certainly raises the bar for our expectations of what may follow while also raising the bar for historical fiction in general.
(Thank you to the good folk at Headline Review for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you enjoy Alison's fiction, how about trying one of her biographies? Carrying on with the Tudor theme, The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox about Henry VII's sister is a good place to start. If you prefer your history in fictionalised format, we also recommend The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato and/or The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.
You can read more book reviews or buy Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: Six Tudor Queens 1 by Alison Weir at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: Six Tudor Queens 1 by Alison Weir at Amazon.com.
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