Probably the slowest book in Gregory's Tudor series, 'Constant Princess' starts at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign (actually more like the last third of his father's, Henry VII, rule). At fifteen, Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Spain's Isabella and Ferdinand, has been contracted to wed Arthur, the Prince of Wales, Henry's older brother. She had grown up with the idea that she would be the Queen of England much like her mother was the Queen of Castile. When Arthur ups and dies within months of their wedding Katherine finds her life for the first time without a grand plan.
Gregory does something most historians would fear to do, she makes Arthur and Katherine's union a love match, not only a love match but one that was consummated, which if consummated, throws Henry VIII's future quibble with her into a different light. Assuming Gregory is right, Katherine of Aragon's 'lie' tossed England into a religious conflict that lasted for generations. Of course, Aragon believed that her lie was for a higher purpose, but explain that to all of those executed and tortured in the name of Christ, church, and state.
Gregory's assertion makes for an interesting theory, but not necessarily for an interesting read. If Katherine and Arthur were lovers in every sense of the word they didn't have much time together and this throws off the pace of the story – dessert before the entrée. A literary death bed promise was the justification that allowed Katherine to pursue Henry although he was at least five years her junior, meaning he was around eleven when Katherine's flirtation with him began. Of course, what fun would that be if Henry VII didn't have his own 'high regard' for the princess after his own wife joins her firstborn in death? All it would take was for Katherine to confess her marriage was not consummated, along with a papal dispensation, and she had her choice of Tudor men.
Gregory paints Katherine as a very determined young woman who overcomes great obstacles to achieve her final goal; to be Queen of England. Questions about her dowry and the fact that her father basically abandoned her to the fates after her mother dies, along with living close to poverty as she became a laughable figure at court reminds me of what we of the modern day would phrase – "What doesn't kill you only serves to make you stronger." All of this sounds as if it would make a compelling read but Gregory's insistence on returning Katherine to sweet memories of her first marriage often left this reader wishing there was no such thing as young love.
Unlike Gregory's other Tudor efforts, Katherine's personality is not vivid enough to capture the reader, at least when she was living in England. In the first part of the book, the part that takes place in Spain, Katherine came across as exotic and the storyline delved into the reign of her parents and was a little more entertaining. Further, although the book ended with the possible annulment of her marriage (we all know what comes of that) it did not delve into the specifics.
It is hard to recommend this book considering that there are many books and movies that use Henry VIII and his various romances/marriages as fodder to better advantage – Philippa Gregory's own 'The Other Boleyn Girl' is a prime example. Although 'Constant Princess' had its bright spots the pacing was slow and Katherine's motivation did not seem to justify the means. I suppose ultimately my expectations for Gregory were more than this read produced.
© 2008 Westerfield