Back in March, I finally got round to reading Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, the first book in an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel will chronicle the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives.
In this captivating opening volume, Weir takes us back to 1501 to start the tumultuous tale of Katherine of Aragon: Henry VIII’s first, devoted wife. Who was sent to England, at the tender-age of sixteen, by her powerful parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, as a prized-bride for Henry VII’s son and heir, Arthur. But tragically five months later Arthur is dead and Katherine is left a young widow and stranger in a foreign land. Although Henry VII quickly betroths her to his younger son, Henry, she must wait eight agonising years for him to come-of-age, during which time she is a virtual prisoner at the mercy of an ambitious, fickle and penny-pinching king.
So I rejoiced with her when, on the death of Henry VII in 1509, her patience is rewarded as the young, handsome, celebrated Prince Henry takes the throne and comes to claim her as his wife. Saving her from deprivation and raising her to the exulted position of Queen of England. The affection between them is genuine and they are happy for a good fifteen years, but multiple heart-breaking miscarriages, still births and infant deaths takes a huge toll on their marriage. Then Henry falls in love with the bewitching Anne Boleyn and to have her he is prepared to rend asunder his marriage, the church and even his country.
I have always felt sorry for Katherine, but reading this I also felt some awe too. Till the bitter end she loves her husband and refuses to step aside or to renounce their marriage or daughter as illegitimate. Instead she bravely holds to that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and so she is Henry’s only true wife and queen. Enraged Henry banishes Katherine and devastatingly parts her bit-by-bit from all she loves. I was on the verge of tears, when she finally passed, quietly and peacefully, knowing she had done all she could for her conscience. And it is a telling testament to her character that her servants and the English people loved and never forsook her.
In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but of course has had to take some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As always though Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale. And through the eyes of Katherine we are given a very personal and intimate perspective on the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, brutality and courtly love, which Weir has evoked perfectly through all the sights, textures, sounds and smells of the age.
Overall, I thought Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen was a powerful tale of a courageous woman, that completely immersed me into tumultuous Tudor England. Now I can’t wait to read volume two: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, especially as Anne, not surprisingly, wasn’t painted favourable in this first volume. Great read.
Have you read this? Or any of Alison Weir’s other novels?