Book of the Month: Catherine of Aragon
The youngest child of the legendary monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) was born to marry for dynastic gain. Endowed with English royal blood on her mother's side, she was betrothed in infancy to Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII of England, an alliance that greatly benefited both sides. Yet Arthur died weeks after their marriage in 1501, and Catherine found herself remarried to his younger brother, soon to become Henry VIII. The history of England—and indeed of Europe—was forever altered by their union. Drawing on his deep knowledge of both Spain and England, Giles Tremlett has produced the first full biography in more than four decades of the tenacious woman whose marriage to Henry VIII lasted twice as long (twenty-four years) as his five other marriages combined. Her refusal to divorce him put her at the center of one of history's greatest power struggles, one that has resonated down through the centuries— Henry's break away from the Catholic Church as, bereft of a son, he attempted to annul his marriage to Catherine and wed Anne Boleyn. Catherine's daughter, Mary, would controversially inherit Henry's throne; briefly and bloodily, she returned England to the Catholicism of her mother's native Spain, foreshadowing the Spanish Armada some three decades later.
From Catherine's peripatetic childhood at the glittering court of Ferdinand and Isabella to the battlefield at Flodden, where she, in Henry's absence abroad, led the English forces to victory against Scotland to her determination to remain queen and her last years in almost monastic isolation, Giles Tremlett vividly re-creates the life of a giant figure in the sixteenth century. Catherine of Aragon will take its place among the best of Tudor biography.
This month is the beginning of a new feature on the blog which is the Book of the Month, a biography or novel that I feel would be particularly of interest to readers of the blog. I was excited when I opened my mailbox to see that I had received a copy of Giles Tremlett's new biography of Catherine of Aragon from Walker and Company. Although I have been a bit Tudored out of late, this biography drew me back. I don't think it is possible to understand Mary Tudor unless you understand her mother and the forces and influences that shaped her character. Tremlett has spent the past 20 years living in Spain and has had access to documents that other biographers have not. I'm only in the first few chapters but the information about Isabel, her mother, and Catherine's early childhood are fascinating. The book's appearance is timely since Catherine's birthday is in a few days.
Daphne, I couldn't believe that this is the first major biography written about Catherine in 20 years. And the cover is absolutely gorgeous.