Book Review: Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen – Alison Weir
Published by Hachette New Zealand

History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived.

I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and have been fascinated by British royal history since my last year of high school. I can still hear my history teacher’s voice reciting, “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” to help us remember the fates of each of Henry VIII’s wives. I loved the historically inaccurate but wonderfully compelling The Tudors (starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII), and devoured books such as The Other Boleyn Girl. My husband laughed at me when I returned from a visit to Windsor Castle with a fridge magnet timeline of the Kings and Queens of England, but I love it, and it’s a bit of a talking point in my kitchen.

This meant I began reading Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen with a very good idea of what would happen…but even then I wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this novel. Alison Weir has published numerous history books, and she knows more than most about British royal history. She describes various palaces and characters in such astonishing and evocative detail, and it’s obvious that this detail is all derived from fact. To be able to subtly write about a certain item of furniture or decoration or item of jewellery without it sounding like a recitation of facts is a talent of Weir’s.

She portrays Katherine as devout, but also devoted to her husband and to her daughter, Mary. She allows us to experience each and every miscarriage, stillbirth and death of her babies that Katherine experienced, as well as each illness and heartbreak. Where fans of Henry VIII would have us believe that Katherine was barren, grim and hard-hearted in her faith, Weir has created a much softer character; she reminds us that Katherine was shipped to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language or customs, and that she was a daughter, a mother, and a betrayed wife.

There are five more novels to come in the Six Tudor Queens series, and I’m simply bursting to read the next installment. The names of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr all pop up at various points during the novel, which gives the reader an idea of how all the queens are involved in the king’s court somehow. I thought it was very clever how Anne Boleyn is brought into the story, but the novel remains Katherine’s – it could easily have switched to become more about Henry’s second wife, but Weir keeps to her account of Katherine’s life.

Well-written, captivating and compelling, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is a fascinating new look at a very old and well-documented subject, and I highly recommend it to fans of historical novels, or those who think they might like a wee taste of this genre.

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