The Constant Princess
Philippa Gregory
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The Constant Princess
Philippa Gregory
416 pages
August 2006
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Catalina, Infanta of Spain and Princess of Wales, betrothed to Henry VII's son Arthur, is born at a fortuitous time, her parents Ferdinand and Isabella, co-conspirators with Rome in the great Spanish Inquisition. In 1491, when Catalina is still a child living a sheltered life defined by Christian principles, great events are occurring in the world at large - the most significant Christianity's bid to overthrow the Muslim hold on the Middle East and surrounding countries, a centuries-old battle of civilizations that still has relevance today.

Catalina (Katherine of Aragon) cannot fathom the drama that will overtake her life in England or the controversy that will swirl around her in the Tudor court. But at sixteen, Katherine receives a harsh lesson in the ways of power when Arthur dies prematurely and she must gain the throne by other means. The brief, passionate marriage to Arthur is all the happiness this beleaguered young woman will know.

Now a pawn of history and receiving no help from her parents, Katherine must convince England and the Church that she and Arthur never consummated their marriage, avoid an importune marriage to Arthurís determined father, fight off the machinations of Arthur's powerful grandmother, wed Henry VIII and retain the throne of England. After seven years of a bitter struggle, Katherine manages the great deception, a tribute to her constancy and fortitude, only to find herself attacked later on the same grounds by the usurper, Anne Boleyn.

Gregory exposes the hopes and flaws of these larger-than-life historical figures, personalizing their dramas, and recreating a world circumscribed by court intrigue, the excesses of power and the constant jockeying for favor with the royal family. Katherine does accomplish her mission with an eye to her parent's demands for Christian sovereignty and an alliance between England and Spain, only to be betrayed by her father when she needs his help.

The young Queen is to know the shame of her inability to provide a male heir to the throne and the humiliation of Henryís greed and insatiable appetites, her marriage eventually turned bitter by the subtle preoccupations of Anne Boleyn in a bid to unseat the Queen and capture the throne for herself. However, Gregory confines this novel to the early years of Katherine of Aragon's rule, as she retains a belief in her husband and her destiny. For all the draconian politics of the Tudor court, the formidable Katherine accomplishes an historical coup in her marriage to Henry VIII as a virgin, forever a child of Christianity, religious fervor nurtured from the earliest days of her life.

A young woman with her mother's warrior blood and steady resolve, Katherineís mantra is unchanged: "I will be Queen of England until I die." Her early exposure to Arab culture is part of the charm of this novel, exotic dress and a love of knowledge carried on the fateful journey to England; equally impressive is an iron will that enables her to resist Henry VIIís advances, her eye fixed on the throne. With excessive piety weighing down her every move, this queen will eventually be cast aside by a woman far more devious. Still Katherine of Aragon remains a power to be reckoned with, assuming her place among the royal women who give birth to the great legends of history.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2005

Also by Philippa Gregory:

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