‘Oh no,’ I hear you cry. ‘Not another novel about the wives of HenryVIII!’ And Katherine is so boring! This topic has been done to death, what more can another series of novels add? Well as it turns out, quite a lot.
Alison Weir is first and foremost a historian. She has researched this era extensively and written several non-fiction titles about Henry and his many wives. Now she is producing a series of novels about each wife in turn, and in the process bringing these women to life. And Katherine truly comes to life within these pages. Weir portrays her as a proud, determined, even stubborn woman, desperately in love with her husband. Her health and her heart has been broken by a long series of pregnancies that resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, or sickly infants who did not live long. Her only surviving child, Mary, becomes the focus of her attention, especially as Henry begins to look elsewhere for an heir. As the daughter of Isabella of Spain, Katherine can see no reason why Mary cannot inherit the throne, but Henry is determined that only a son will succeed him. And therein lies the tragedy of this tale.
Weir’s Katherine is a woman of intelligence and complexity. One who could have held Henry’s interest for 20 years. She was, unfortunately, politically naive. As a result she was manipulated by others and caught by surprise when they appeared to change sides. Judging by modern standards, this makes Katherine seem weak or silly, but Weir is very careful to ensure her Queen acts and thinks according to the cultural mores of the time. England was not Spain and the reader is reminded when necessary.
This is a big, juicy read. At 600 pages you will need to set aside some time to appreciate this book. It is not a book you can read while waiting for an appointment. No, you need to set yourself up somewhere warm, in a comfy chair, with good light and a coffee at your side. A perfect read for a cold wet winter day, or even a couple of days.