By Giles Tremlett – An excellent, well researched and highly readable biography that breathes life into the woman Henry was married to for 24 years—longer than all his other wives put together. As The Guardian says, “Catherine of Aragon tends to get shuffled into the Prologue, something to be rushed through as quickly as possible. You can’t help feeling, along with Henry himself, that things would be so much pacier if only Spanish Catherine would hurry up and cede her place to that home-grown minx, Anne Boleyn.”
But Catherine stuck it out, refusing to be divorced from Henry and finally dying, abandoned and isolated from court—though still much-loved by the common people. Her death freed Henry of Anne, as well, and only 19 weeks later Anne of the Waspish Tongue was beheaded. Neither woman produced a male heir, a persistent frustration for Henry.
Catherine was well prepared to be a staunch defender of the Catholic principles that underlay her opposition to the divorce, even though she feared she and her daughter Mary might themselves be executed. She had powerful parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, to serve as role models. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, was her nephew to whom she sent pleas for support. Catherine’s ultimate decision not to goad Charles into war was “possibly as important as any other she made,” says Tremlett.
The impact of Catherine and Henry’s marriage still reverberates. She petitioned the Pope for aid, and his support, albeit tardy, led to Henry’s assertion of his authority over the church, the schism with Rome, and formation of the Church of England. In her five-year reign, Catherine’s daughter Mary (“Bloody Mary”) attempted to restore the Church, perpetuating the religious crisis, and it was left to Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth I to complete the Reformation.
Tremlett’s descriptions of the political to-and-fro, court life for insiders and outsiders, and the place of women in Tudor society create living, breathing—and unforgettable—characters at this massive historical turning point.