Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory


Constant: 1. not changing or varying. 2. regularly recurrent. 3. steadfast or resolute. 4. something that does not change or vary. 5. Queen Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Spain and 1st wife of King Henry of England, even though he dumps her in a far away castle, takes away her title, tries to divorce her, disinherits their daughter, and then marries in secret that scheming tease Anne Boleyn.

Ah, but that’s only how the story ends. You’ll have to read The Other Boleyn Girl to learn of that version. To learn how that song goes, “Every new beginning starts with some other beginnings end,” in this case the end of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s beginning.

So The Constant Princess tells her story, and it starts with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain and their war against the Moors. A child of the battle field and by the age of three, the future Princess of Wales and daughter of these two great monarchs, Catalina, is already betrothed to King Henry the Seventh’s (and newly self-anointed King of England) firstborn son Arthur as part of a peace treaty with Spain.

We all know what happens, that Arthur dies right after their teenage marriage, and that she waits seven long years in England to marry his younger brother, Henry, when he is seventeen and she is twenty-three. But what is not generally known is what happens in between these years. Was her marriage to Arthur really not consummated? How was she able to cope with his loss, and seven long years alone in a foreign country, friendless, and unable to speak the language? Can you imagine what it must’ve been like for her? Philippa Gregory does a pretty good job of filling in the blanks with the believable details that we, who are interested in English history, are often wondering about.

For the most part, I liked this book. To write about one of history’s most inspiring women was a daunting task, and I feel Gregory did her homework here. I enjoyed learning more of early Spain and its Arab influences. This is one thing she does well as an author; she makes history readable and interesting, and most of all personal. My only complaint would be the sizable gap she leaves at the end between when Katherine’s first son dies and the Papal Legat hearing twenty years later. It felt too rushed to me, like she was in a hurry to finish the book.

I’ve always wondered why Henry the Eighth was how he was with women, and where his great desire for power and vindication came from. Gregory explores it very little here, but I guess the story wasn’t really about him; it was about his long-suffering first wife. But still, now I have more questions than ever about how a man, who knew and loved this woman almost his entire life, from the age of eleven on, and for twenty years they ruled England together, yet at the drop of a crown-shaped hat he leaves her stranded for another woman, all because she wouldn’t give him a son? Was King Henry really that shallow? Perhaps he was. Men, ugh… 3.5 stars

12 comments:

Amanda said...

I read The Other Boleyn Girl last year but wasn't sure if I'd want to read any of the rest of Gregory's books. How does this one compare to the other? Is there a lot of rampant eroticism in it like the other? Or is it more historical fiction instead of historical romance?

Lula O said...

There is some romance, her relationship with Arthur and briefly with Henry, but nothing like The Other Boleyn Girl. Not even close. It focuses more on this woman's life and why she was like she was - strong as a steel nail, in her own coffin sometimes but whatdoyado? Gregory really delved into Spain's colorful history, Katherine's relationship with her parents - Isabella and Ferdinand, and her obsession with being Queen of England. It was pretty good, but beware if you do read it, there's alot of the main character's italized thoughts throughout the book that got pretty boring by the end.

Amanda said...

That's what it sounded like from your review, but I wasn't sure. I wasn't expecting the extreme romance in TOBG. It caught me offguard and put me off a bit.

Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

I have read and enjoyed all the Tudor novels that Philippa Gregory has written. Great review!

Lula O said...

Alaine - I like happy endings too! Reading Gregory has made me want to read more about Henry the Eighth again (I go through phases!) and I just got I, Elizabeth and The Wives of Henry the Eighth from the library. Her books definitely make history a fun read.
Thanks for your comment!

The Anne Boleyn Files said...

I've got a list of "must reads" longer than my arm and now I've got to add that one too! I'd love to read this story of Catherine of Aragon because she fascinates me nearly as much as Anne Boleyn. She was such a strong woman and also a woman of real faith. I think Henry did love her and respect her but she just got too old to provide him with a son. I think if she had provided him with a son they would have lived happily ever after.

Amanda said...

That would make for a very different history, wouldn't it?

Lula O said...

I've almost been married twenty years now. I wonder if my husband would trade me in for a newer, younger version if he could? And hey what about me, would I trade him in? Sorry, I'm laughing hysterically now..

hamilcar barca said...

everyone knows when the wife hits 40, you're supposed to trade her in for two 20's.
;-)

Lady Lazarus said...

I do like Philippa Gregory's books. She's not the best writer in the world and it it's obviously not all historically accurate but I enjoy books set during the Tudor reign. I've had this book on my shelf since Christmas and still haven't got round to it :-P

Lula O said...

Hamilcar- Grr...that would be funny if some men didn't take that as gospel! Their God is Hugh; their bible PlayBoy. You better not be speaking from experience my chemist friend. I might have to cyber slap you!

My lady lazurus - She does take alot of liberties that's for sure. Especially in The Other Boleyn Girl. That one was a stretch - she obviously had it in for Anne Boleyn.

hamilcar barca said...

Lula - you're a spring chicken. we'll be celebrating our 30th anniversary this coming November.

i've tried that "trade you in for two 20's" on Liz. she laughs at me.