If you are a fan of historical fiction, Henry VIII, or Katherine of Aragon and you’re tempted to stop reading this novel anytime during the first half of it, don’t. Stick with it. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
Alison Weir is primarily known for writing historical non-fiction – mostly biographies – and that is apparent when reading this fictional account of Katherine of Aragon. Weir’s deep scholarship is apparent on every page.
At the beginning of the book, I found that detail a bit tedious and dry. But as the book progresses, I came to appreciate how skillfully Weir uses detail to weave a rich and distinctive picture of this pious, intelligent, and brave Queen.
This novel offers a new dimension to Katherine. The book shows unfolding events exclusively from her perspective — beginning with her early years in Spain and ending with her death. As readers we share the anticipation of her brief marriage to Prince Arthur, the desperate years of uncertainly that followed his death, and the full breadth of her subsequent marriage to Henry VIII.
Although deeply in love at the start, their relationship deteriorates slowly and believably over the years, as pressures for a male heir increase — in the same way any marriage might be impacted for any childless couple eager to understand their situation and wanting to place blame somewhere. Most effective is Weir’s portrait of Katherine in isolation in her later years, hearing only second-hand and delayed news about Henry’s growing love for Anne Boleyn, his fight with the Catholic Church over the validity of his marriage to Katherine. and the executions of those supporting Katherine’s cause.
I understood for the first time how separating Katherine from court and from her supporters successfully kept her from being a player in events that so completely determined the circumstances of her life. So that, despite her steady love and loyalty to her husband and politically naive take on how things would play out, Katherine comes across as a remarkably strong historical figure and Henry VIII as a brutish lout. (No big surprise there!)