Book Review – ‘Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen’ by Alison Weir

Alison Weir 'Katherine of Aragon the True Queen'

Also published on my sister blog

A Spanish princess. Raised to be modest, obedient and devout. Destined to be an English Queen. Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And for her there is no comfort in any of it. At sixteen years-old, Catalina is alone among strangers. She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother. She cannot trust even those assigned to her protection. KATHERINE OF ARAGON. The first of Henry’s Queens. Her story. History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived. [Description from Waterstones]

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I’ve read plenty of historical fiction, and books by Alison Weir, but I wasn’t expecting this to be as good as it was. I really loved the different depiction of Katherine of Aragon in this novel, but I also really loved the depiction of the young, athletic, and charismatic Henry VIII, so different to popular representations of him as an overweight and angry man. I think that both are so different to portrayals by the likes of Philippa Gregory, Suzannah Dunn and Jean Plaidy.

I think Katherine slightly pips it as my favourite character, because it shows not only her vulnerability, but also the strength of her character and her convictions. I particularly enjoyed the focus that was put on her life before Henry VIII, as it gives an insight into what made her who she was. Having read quite a variety of historical fiction, I think this is one of the novels where I felt the characters were the most real. I felt like I could really connect with Katherine’s waves of hope and despair.

The story didn’t really keep me guessing in terms of storyline as, being familiar with the period I know how it ends. However, it did keep me guessing what succinct changes Weir might make at any given moment to benefit the story. This made me want to keep reading – to see how Weir got to the inevitable ending. I found it difficult to care about Anne Boleyn in this novel, but as the story is told by her arch rival Katherine I suppose that is understandable.

I wish that the ending had been different for Katherine’s sake in real life, but the ending does match up to what we know of Katherine’s end, so I can’t fault Weir for that. You can tell that the book has been thoroughly researched from the surviving sources and there are references to a few of these throughout, with words actually used by the people involved. I would recommend this book to all fans of historical fiction, as it offers a refreshing new view on Katherine of Aragon, and hopefully the following five books will do the same for the other five wives.

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