The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Touchstone, 2006
Length: 390 pgs
Series: The Tudor Court #1
Format: Paperback, borrowed from my Grandmother. Find it on Amazon here
“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.
Let me start with a disclaimer. I really do enjoy Philippa Gregory, albeit many people’s critiques that she sensationalizes or imposes her own internal monologue onto the characters. Which, I mean, of course she does, as the genre’s historical fiction, and honestly if she didn’t her books wouldn’t be so much fun to read. I was originally lured into her writing like many others by The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance. The Constant Princess, while an interesting story in its own right, definitely lacked the scandal and fast paced clip of the two previous titles.
I have to admit it took me two years to read this book. I’ve always been fascinated with Spain and with Henry the VIII’s regal first wife, the daughter of legendary Isabella and Ferdinand. I read the first half, which was exciting, covering Katherine of Aragon’s original marriage to Prince Arthur of the House Tudor, as well as describing her unique childhood in Spain as the child of its two most famous monarchs. Yet the second half of the book dragged, leading me to put it down for quite a while until two years later I was in my room desperate to read and with nothing else on hand. Once I found the motivation to pick it up again, I found myself pleasantly surprised that it started to hold my interest again as I read about the early years of her marriage to Henry, her various births, and her role as a military leader and queen regent, facts that often get overlooked in favor of the Anne Boleyn scandal.
Yet the book drags in certain spaces, with interjections of Katherine’s own monologues in italics, often disrupting the flow of the novel. The end of the novel also has an air of disappointment, as many readers will be reading anxiously to hopefully get to the part about the gradual undermining of Katherine’s status and crown by Anne, but it never comes. After her victory over Scotland (with no real help from Henry, thank you very much), it skips ahead more than a decade to the end of her marriage. It was an especially a let down to never read about the birth and development of her daughter Mary, after reading about her various miscarriages and struggles with the archaic English view that a woman was inherently at fault for not being able to produce an heir.
I have a special fascination with The Tudors (as most do) and was also partially motivated to get back into the historical fiction genre after my recent trip to England where I actually saw where Henry VIII is buried along with his third wife Jane Seymour (under Windsor Castle’s Church) and saw the gravemarkers of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well at the Tower of London. So being able to read this afterwards and know that I had been to several of the locations in the book was fascinating and a little mind boggling- knowing that as I walked through the streets within the Windsor Castle complex or on the banks of the Thames River at Greewhich, where Katherine and Henry (and all of his wives) had walked as well.
Ultimately I would recommend this book for those who are really interested in the Tudors, as it is s good foundational story to understanding (through fiction, anyway) how Henry came to marry his first wife. I wouldn’t recommend this as the first text for one to ever read by Gregory, as many of her other Tudor texts are more engaging, which is what motivated me to finish this one- I had read the others in the series, and wanted to add this to my bookshelf.
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