Book Review – ‘Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen’ by Giles Tremlett

Giles Tremlett 'Catherine of Aragon' (2010)
Giles Tremlett ‘Catherine of Aragon’ (2010)

Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 2010), Paperback, ISBN 978-0-571-23512-4

Title: The book is exactly what the title suggests – a biography of Katherine of Aragon, who was Henry VIII’s first wife, and the only one who was Spanish. It was this Spanish connection which made it so difficult for Henry to divorce Katherine, because Katherine’s nephew was Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, the most powerful man in the world at  that time.

Preface: The preface pens with the thing that everyone knows about Tudor England – Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn. Tremlett then moves on and looks at the changing political scene, the religious divisions due to the Reformation and the rise of Lutheranism, and Katherine’s popularity as Queen, compared to Anne Boleyn’s lack of popularity as Queen.

Giles Tremlett
Giles Tremlett

Citations: There are no footnotes or endnotes in this book, just a bibliography, but apparently there are endnotes in the American edition of this book. Endnotes would be helpful, and I wonder if these were introduced in later British versions of the book. I’m not sure why this is (thanks Susan Higginbotham on Goodreads for the information on the American edition).

Contents: There are lots of shorter chapters in this book which makes it easier to find the information you’re looking for and easier to read as there are more options for taking a break without forgetting precisely where you are. Chapter titles are clear and concise – you know straight away what any given chapter will look at.

Genre/Audience: This book is not necessarily a fully scholarly book – it seems to be more a popular history, as evidenced by the lack of footnotes and engaging language (it doesn’t come across as dry as some more scholarly books). Genre-wise, this book is both historical and biographical, looking at the life of one person.

Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Concepts: There is a particularly interesting section on Katherine’s childhood and her family, possibly because it’s less well-known than the divorce, which possibly could have gotten more coverage, as it was such a large influence on Katherine and her daughter, Mary. I would have been particularly interested to see more of the relationship between Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and also Katherine and Mary I.

Sources: The bibliography appears extensive, although there is a lack of primary source manuscripts listed. Lots of the books listed are written in Spanish, so the author must read that language, otherwise there would be the problem of relying on a translator. However, sources aren’t footnoted in the text itself so you don’t know which information comes from which sources, which can be problematic if you’re trying to track a particular piece of information.

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540

Illustrations: There is a shortage of illustrations and they are basically all portraits – there don’t appear to be any images of places where Katherine spent her childhood or queenship, no images of books that she might have known or images she might have seen. Overall, this is a disappointing selection, and does let the text down a little.

Other works: Giles Tremlett has written one other book called ‘Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past’, but isn’t really a historian. Other works about Katherine of Aragon include ‘Katherine of Aragon’ by Patrick Williams, ‘Catherine of Aragon’ by Gareth Mattingly and ‘Sister Queens: the Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana Queen of Castile’ by Julia Fox.

My Rating: 14/20

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