Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen. Alison Weir. Random House Publishing Group. May 2016. 624 pp. ISBN#: 9781101966488.
In the Author’s Note at the end of this amazing novel, Alison Weir describes Queen Katherine of Aragon as an “indomitable, courageous, and principled woman.” Weir’s novel also exemplifies her as a loving, faithful and holy Queen in the midst of the worst possible accusations and cruel persecution anyone could endure.
The loveliest portion of this novel is the initial love between Henry and Katherine, gloriously thrilling, intense and intimate, so well-described that the reader cannot help but feel and celebrate this couple’s joy. Henry was distant as his father manipulated Katherine’s so-called marriage to Arthur, the eldest son. It’s even suggested the father had eyes for the son’s bride-to-be. But after Arthur tragically dies, Henry swears he has only had eyes for Katherine and they are wedded and live in shared bliss.
Time passes and Queen Katherine loses many children during pregnancy or immediately upon birth, with only one daughter Mary living. Henry is desperate for a male heir, claiming it is the primary job of his rule and one which is Katherine’s job to make happen. Destiny chooses otherwise and the consequences are painfully devastating to Katherine as Henry becomes infatuated and then totally engrossed with Anne Boleyn. The latter is jealous of the great love between Henry and Katherine, determined to wrest both the love and power from the Queen and sets about doing just that.
We read of the changes in attitude of Cardinal Wolsey, ambassadors from Spain, Thomas More, Oliver Cromwell, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope, and others, all stymied by Katherine’s insistence that her marriage to Henry was legitimate, sanctified by the Church and unbreakable. Henry, however, will move from awaiting the Papal decision approving or denying a divorce to deciding he is the proper secular and religious head of England, forsaking any necessity for Papal approval. English history is precisely described at this point as Henry acquires great wealth and loyalty, albeit forced by fear of torture and death, and eventually marries Anne Boleyn.
The reader will grow to love Katherine’s friends who remain loyal and dear throughout this terrible ordeal which finally affects Katherine’s health. Alison Weir is obviously a scrupulous historian who also possesses the ability to make the reader fully engage with every thought, feeling, dialogue, setting and action throughout this SUPERB historical novel. This is one of the finest novels this reviewer has read in a very long time and is highly recommended as, even if you already know the story, a uniquely told account of the rise and fall of a great woman. English history is forever changed because of the beloved Queen Katherine’s fortitude, faith, love and loyalty!