In Philippa Gregory‘s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), she supposed that, while everyone knows the story of Anne Boleyn’s controversial relationship with King Henry VIII, what of her sister, Mary Boleyn? Gregory discovered a few small references to Mary, including the fact that a large, extravagant ship commissioned by Henry VIII bore her name. So she ran with it, supposing that, before Anne’s affair with the King that led to their marriage, Henry made Mary his mistress, to the point of having children with her, but never marrying her.
In the same vein of this suppositional history, comes The Constant Princess, published in 2005. This is the fourth book in Gregory’s Tudor series, including The Virgin’s Lover, The Queen’s Fool, The Other Queen, and The Boleyn Inheritance. The Constant Princess tells the story of Katherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, Castille, and Aragon. Born Catalina, Infanta (Princess) of Spain and betrothed to King Henry VII‘s oldest son, Arthur, the Prince of Wales and heir to the English throne.
At 15 years of age, when she arrives in England to marry Arthur, she finds a cold reception and a brusque grandmother-in-law, who holds the real power at court. History records that, because of their young age and Arthur’s weak constitution, he remained impotent, unable to consummate the marriage. This, therefore, made the wedding invalid before his death, not a year into the marriage. This allowed Catalina (who changed her name to Katherine upon her coronation) to marry Henry VIII, the new Prince of Wales six years later, first in the most infamous series of marriages in modern history.
The novel contends that Catalina and Arthur’s marriage was indeed consummated, and that they fell in love. Though as they were childless and married barely 100 days, Arthur made Catalina promise on his deathbed to claim that he was impotent, because he believed it her God-ordained-destiny to become Queen of England. She takes the truth with her to the grave, in the midst of a trial by the Privy Council when Henry wanted to divorce her, claiming that she lied, which made their marriage an abomination before God, causing their marriage to be nearly childless (only bearing a daughter, Mary I).
Katherine is characterized by deep love for Arthur and God, though she endures great tragedy and abandonment over and over again. Raised to believe her destiny was to rule England for the glory of God, Katherine did whatever she could to make this a reality. She was a great queen, beloved by England, and was disgraced when Anne Boleyn usurped her position, jading Henry against her.
This is a great book, in a great series of novels. I will say that the books have some explicit sex scenes, this least of all, especially compared to The Other Boleyn Girl. I don’t normally justify sex in a novel, but you have to admit, if there is any biography in which sex was integral, it would be with Henry VIII, whose life and reign were characterized by it. It’s certainly not for younger readers, but they are good books overall, well depicting the time period and possessed of strong theses which drive them.
I’m in the middle of Gregory’s newest novel The White Queen, which is the first in a series called The Cousins’ War, about the Plantagenets. I look forward to it because I don’t know as much about them as I do the Tudors.
I’m reading these in preparation for my trip to London–to get in the mood!