Review: The True Queen

Another series about Henry the eighth’s wives. I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s versions, ‘Constant Princess’ in this case, portrays Katherine of Aragon more sentimentally at the beginning of her story when she comes to England is that she had been in love and consummated her marriage with Henry’s elder brother Arthur. She didn’t even notice 10 year old Henry at the beginning in Elizabeth Chadwick’s book.

In Alison Weir’s book, ‘Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen’, Katherine remains a virgin, Arthur is sickly and characterless from the start of and they have no relationship to speak of. Katherine is enamoured of the precocious Henry from early on in her arrival to England.

The different positioning at the beginning of Katherine’s story is important because Elizabeth Chadwick thinks that Katherine lies at her divorce trial and did have an incestuous relationship by sleeping with two brothers. Whereas Alison Weir thinks Katherine was telling the truth that she went to Henry as a virgin and their marriage was therefore legitimate and not incestuous.

Where the two books correlate ( and what is agreed amongst historians unanimously) is that Katherine is seen in middle age as being religiously fervent, obstinate about being Queen and that she thinks she is Henry’s wife till she dies, though he had in reality discarded her cruelly, divorced her, married Anne Boleyn and had Princess Elizabeth. He is also known to have been frustrated beyond endurance at Katherine’s obstinacy and letters. He was cruel to her because of that and also cruel to Mary and kept them separate because he was fearful of Katherine psychologically and politically manipulating teenage Mary.

Anne Boleyn is always portrayed through Katherine of Aragon’s eyes as her pernicious lady in waiting, having and losing her hold on Henry and being the sole cause of Katherine and her daughter Princess Mary’s downfall, ill-treatment and the breaking of the country away from Catholicism. Alison Weir is more sentimental about Katherine loving Henry to her death whereas, if I remember correctly, in Elizabeth Chadwick’s book Katherine uses sentimental words simply to win back her position as queen and be with Henry, rather than real feelings of love.

There is a dark side to Katherine’s character that comes across. Not only her willingness to be a martyr, but more chillingly make her only child Mary into a martyr for her mother’s cause too and obstruct Henry from having a male heir once she was aware that she was too old to give him more children. She simply didn’t grasp primogeniture in England and thought Mary could be a queen in her own right at that time in the same way her mother Queen Isabela of Castile was.

Katherine’s behaviour was her downfall in the end and I believe (even though it was a different set of values those days) that she could have lived more comfortably, lived longer to see Anne’s downfall and had been allowed to see her daughter Mary had she divorced gracefully or gone into a convent as Henry had wanted her to do. After all Anne of Cleaves a few years later divorced gracefully and had a generous settlement as a result of her flexibility and lived comfortably because she was not stubborn as Katherine ( and also didn’t love Henry or was fervent to be Queen of England). So it can’t be a ‘Tudor lady mind-set’ that made Katherine as stubborn as she was. It’s highly likely she was so stubborn because of her parental and environmental programming in Isabella and Ferdinand’s courts back in Spain. She was programmed to be ‘Katherine the Great’ and not being queen as a result of divorce was not part of the psychological programming. It’s possible she did love Henry. She was married to him the longest (more than 20 years) and saw him at his best in youth and optimism. All the other queens got Henry at his infamous worst.

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