HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife’ by Amy Licence

Catherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII’s first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry’s true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman. However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility meant life or death. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. One of the most remarkable women of the Tudor era, Catherine’s legendary focus may have contributed to the dissolution of the way of life she typified.

cover and blurb via amazon

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If it’s about Catherine of Aragon, it’s going in my collection. Catherine is my favourite queen/wife of the six, an intriguing woman, and not just because of what she suffered through while being the wife Henry scorned.

Books by Amy Licence are around me in all directions; in any burst of reviews I do, there will be an Amy Licence among them. The best part about Amy Licence is that she doesn’t write wives, daughters, etc, she write about women. Yes, there is a difference, boys.

This beautiful golden book is divided into seven parts, starting with a section on Catherine’s origins, her ancestry and, of course, her glorious mother, Queen Isabella, before moving onto the negotiation of Catherine’s move to England.

Catherine’s short marriage to Arthur is given ample detail as well as the question of did-they-didn’t-they. Rather than relying on words said by others, whether they considered themselves eyewitnesses or not, Licence has made practical and reasonable suggestions around the issue.

Catherine’s difficult years as a widow, left wanted and unwanted over seven painful years is detailed, which shows much of Catherine’s ever-growing strength and her Catholic devotion. The early years of her beautiful and beloved marriage is also included, before the changing years after the death of her final child.

The “Great Matter” naturally takes a large chunk of the book, and I particularly enjoyed the section on Catherine’s time in exile and martyrdom as she stuck to her beliefs and principles. There really has been no queen like Catherine, no queen as wise, astute, educated, understanding and well-nurtured as Catherine. No amount of books on the subject is enough.

Licence’s latest book is beautifully written, and Catherine is not the dour woman of many portrayals, but a learned woman who went through so much, and seemed prepared to weather all of it. I truly love this book. No review could cover this wonderful biography.

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