Katherine of Aragon is my favourite queen of Henry VIII’s six wives, so I was very excited to read this book. There are not very many books (if any) that feature Katherine of Aragon as the main character. Actually, to my knowledge, this is the only one. Katherine is usually a secondary character in books having to do with the Tudors, never the main character, sadly. Plus, it’s by one of my favourite his-fic author, Philippa Gregory!
The Constant Princess is about Catalina, or Katherine, of Aragon. Daughter of the most feared monarchs in Europe at the time — Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Argon — Katherine has grown up her whole life immersed in warfare, as her parents wage holy war against the Moors and eventually take over Granada. This has made Katherine a battle hardened young lady, as well as very religious, believing that God has her family in especial favor.
Katherine has known her whole life she is to marry the English prince, Arthur, and become Queen of England one day. Finally, that day comes and she marries Prince Arthur. At first they don’t really get along, but over the next five months, a real love blossoms between them. They dream of when they become King and Queen of England and all the things they will do for the betterment of their country.
Unfortunately, tragedy strikes. Arthur dies of the sweating illness and Katherine is left a widow at the young age of 16. Due to various political factors, England doesn’t really want her anymore and neither does Spain, her home country, as she does not have the same worth as before. Mourning the loss of her husband, broken dreams and feeling unwanted, Katherine decides she simply must fulfill the destiny she has always known from childhood — to become Queen of England, somehow, some way.
The Constant Princess covers Katherine’s life from toddlerhood up to Katherine’s third pregnancy. The portrayal of Katherine is that of a very religious woman who truly believes she is living out God’s will and will do what she must in order to make it be true. It got quite repetitive to read Katherine saying that she is the Princess of Wales, that it is her destiny to be the Queen of England, over and over and over again. That was definitely kind of annoying. I feel like I read it every other page, it was just a bit too much.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but I don’t know if I liked this portrayal of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine is one of my favourite English queens because I admire how she stayed true to being the Queen of England and would not admit, even when she was banished away and prohibited from seeing her daughter, that she was not the queen anymore. In this book, she certainly has that spirit, but I think due to the repetitiveness of her inner monologue, it came off more like stubbornness than an admirable trait. She also came off as a lot of manipulative and sneaky in this novel than I am used to (even compared to Katherine in other Gregory works)! I don’t know, maybe the real Katherine really was like this — no one will really ever know — but I suppose this Katherine was just too different from what I am used to. Naturally, this disagreement in portrayals is not a fault of the book, just that I expected something different from what I got.
I really enjoyed reading about her younger years though. So often the big focus on Katherine was her divorce/annulment from King Henry, where she is always played out to be the victim (which she totally was, in my opinion). I liked reading about her younger years in this book because it showed a strong, hard side to Katherine, a Katherine with a youthful fighting spirit, as opposed to the Katherine of later years, fighting a losing battle against the beauty and charm of Anne Boleyn (who I also like, actually). My favourite thing about Katherine is her battling the Scots in full armor herself, while pregnant (!!!) and I loved reading that scene in this book, I thought it was really well done.
So I feel a bit mixed about this book mainly due to the portrayal of Katherine. Some parts of her portrayal I thought were well done, other parts I felt iffy about. The actual plot itself was fairly interesting; it briefly covered her childhood in Spain, to her marriage with Arthur, her six or seven years as a widow and the early years of her marriage to Henry. Perhaps it is because I am already familiar with her life story, but I thought it could have been made more interesting. It was certainly enjoyable, but I hungered for more. I think the alternating between first person and third person didn’t sit well with me either.
The Constant Princess leaves you wanting a bit more than what you got, but I think it is a solid novel. I definitely appreciated reading this novel, and not just because it’s pretty much the only Katherine of Aragon novel out there.