The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is sticking with what works for her — the Tudors. Though she has been a longstanding writer of historical fiction set in various eras, Gregory seems to have “made it big” a few years ago with her novel The Other Boleyn Girl (that would be Mary, who possibly got lucky with Henry VIII before her unfortunate sister Anne did). Next she tackled the court of Mary Tudor with The Queen’s Fool, then produced a curiously weak-willed Elizabeth I in The Virgin’s Lover. Now she’s back with a novel about the early life of Katherine of Aragon.

I like Katherine of Aragon. You can’t help feeling sorry for her, and admiring her incredible stubbornness, her determination to cling to what she believed was her right — to be Queen of England, regardless of the fact that her husband was willing to change law, religion, and history to divorce her. Today, she’d probably hire a hotshot lawyer and end up with half of Hampton Court Palace, but back then her options were a little more limited — however, she did the best she could.

But this — is not that story. This is the story of how Katherine — Catalina — came from Spain to England to marry Henry’s ill-fated older brother Arthur. In this historical debate about the Katherine-Arthur marriage, Gregory comes down firmly on the side of believing it was not only consummated, but was a passionate love affair that dominated the rest of Katherine’s life. It’s an interesting way to look at the story and Gregory sells it believably. I enjoyed this novel. I still am not willing to give Gregory a permanent spot in my historical fiction pantheon of goddesses (alongside Sharon Kay Penman and Margaret George) — she sometimes strikes a false note, and there’s a certain depth and resonance lacking — but she’s well up on the second tier, with another very readable story. Unlike The Virgin’s Lover, in which she took one of the strongest women in history and reduced her to a girl who can’t decide what to have for lunch unless Robert Dudley orders for her, in The Constant Princess Gregory takes one of the most tragic women in English history and creates a backstory for her that fits perfectly with everything we already know about Katherine of Aragon.

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3 Comments

Filed under Fiction -- historical

3 responses to “The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory

  1. Mimi

    While I enjoyed the backstory for Katharine of Aragon (and she’s one of my favorite English personages, I’m a Tudor Geek) I disagreed with Gregory’s basic thesis of who was in love with Katharine after Arthur’s death, and found that the story fell a bit flat.

  2. Dormouse

    I have not read this (but Amazon may soon be getting my custom!) but have enjoyed the books of Philippa Gregory that I have read – except for “The Wise Woman” which oddly struck me as evil, and left me uncomfortable and surprisingly distressed for some days after I had (compulsively) finished it. It hadn’t really struck me how weak willed Elizabeth was portrayed, but on re-reading “The Virgin’s Lover” I can see what you mean.

  3. TrudyJ

    mimi, I can see how that would throw you off, if you didn’t buy Gregory’s theory about what happened after Arthur’s death. I found it believable, but if id didn’t work for you then I could see how the story would fall flat.

    dormouse, I haven’t read “The Wise Woman,” but I had that uncomfortable feeling after reading “Earthly Joys” and “Virgin Earth,” two of Gregory’s earlier novels. I have enjoyed all the Tudor ones, although the portrayal of Elizabeth in “The Virgin’s Lover” did bother me a bit.

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