Friday, June 1, 2018

The Constant Princess

Another guest book review by Helen R. Davis.
Katharine was an amazing woman in her own right, but Philippa Gregory's The Constant Princess portrays her as a 20th/21st century woman transported back to the 15th/16th century. The idea Katharine lied about her marriage with Arthur is just as vicious a slander as the way she portrayed Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl. People died  because of Katharine of Aragon's refusal to admit she had been Arthur's wife in the carnal sense, died defending her honor. Was Katharine then lying and then sending Thomas More and Bishop Fisher to their deaths for a lie? That would make Katharine evil! Why believe Henry over the wives he wronged, especially his first two, the most wronged of the bunch?
In addition to slandering Katharine of Aragon, Gregory makes  her  look like a 21st century heroine with her idea that her parents were wrong.  To quote the book "They were wrong, my mother and father." Katharine would be appalled at such words.  Gregory also has Isabella and Katharine being secret admirers of all things Moorish. This sounds more like a 21st century girl obsessed with the idea of a Latin lover or an Arab sheik.  Isabella and Katharine would have been appalled. The idea of religious tolerance is new. Also, Moorish Spain was no paradise.  I recommend the work The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise by  Dario Fernandez Morera for more information on that.
Furthermore, Katharine is portrayed as double-minded and even seems to be a borderline feminist. She misses the "privacy of the harem?" Ugh. How is a "harem" in any way empowering?  Katharine may have ironically been better off in an arrangement where one of the concubines could have born the king a son than she truly was, but she never would have approved of Moors, Jews, or Protestants, much as we may wish otherwise. She also would never have seen the harem as anything but a sinful thing. This Katharine of Aragon is a fictional woman.  If the names had been changed and it had been a fantasy setting, it would have been an intriguing love story.
The narrative also  drags on and on and skips a long time. Katharine's years as queen are mostly skipped over and this ends with Katharine being summoned to Blackfriars. It seemed once the author hit the word count, she just wanted to end the novel. Gregory also skips over the most interesting parts of her life, such as early in the marriage when Henry was crazy about Katharine, to focus on her years as an impoverished princess. Why? I would recommend The King's Pleasure by Norah Lofts, or even the YA novel, Patience, Princess Catherine  by Carolyn Meyer to Gregory's book. Jean Plaidy's trilogy on Katharine of Aragon is also recommended. I am also planning a sequel to an alternate history novel of mine, Isabella Unashamed, that features Katharine and gives her a happier ending as queen regnant of Spain. If only…


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