The Constant Princess
by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Constant Princess / 0-7432-7249-8
Everyone loves Tudor history, but too often we only really start to pay attention when Anne Boleyn enters the scene. In "The Constant Princess", Gregory has put together an entertaining fictional account which attempts to bring us the early years of Katherine. While a lot of historical detail has clearly gone into the novel, it is important to remember that the work is fictional, and not meant to be a history text.
Katherine's childhood and tutelage under her iron-willed mother Isabel is shown, and we are given a careful look into the character of Katherine. She is deeply religious, yes, but incredibly strong-willed and driven. She also understands that while her parents love her, she is their bargaining chip first and a daughter second. When her arranged marriage fails due to the tragic death of her young husband, she is faced with a choice: go back to Spain and become a minor Spanish duchess, or spin the audacious lie that she is still a virgin and eligible to marry the next English heir.
Gregory carefully notes the animosity against Katherine by the chilly royal family, and emphasizes the relative poverty in which Katherine was forced to live during the time between her husband's death and her eventual marriage to Henry. Henry is seen here as a spoiled child, who is more than willing to leave the mundane affairs of rulership and budgeting to his older, more competent queen. We see the impetuous and careless cruelty that causes Henry to abandon his pregnant queen to seek the arms of someone else rather than accept a temporarily imposed chastity. Thus we also see in his treatment of Katherine a shadow of things to come later: if Henry cannot remain faithful to his wise and valuable princess-wife, what hope have the later girls to come?
The character of Katherine is sterling here, and it is easy for the reader to agree that her lie is a necessary evil in order for her to become what she feels destined her to be. We sympathize with Katherine the girl as she is beset by difficulties that she bravely tries to weather; we fear for Katherine the woman, whom we know will be forced aside later for a younger woman. We feel a sympathy with this lesser-known figure of the famous drama and it is easy to imagine that Katherine may not blame Anne, but rather recognizes that her husband is an inconstant monarch destined to betray her.
~ Ana Mardoll
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