If King Henry VIII's wives have any consolation, it is that they are remembered and honored far more in death than they were in life--there were six wives, and now there are dozens of books about them. But The Constant Princess begins at the beginning--with the first wife, Katherine of Aragon, whose unfortunate life did not include the birth of a son and heir to King Henry VIII. It is that perceived fault of hers that inspired Henry to seek sport in the arms of other women, and provided us with some salicious history. This is Katherine's story, and a sad one it is. The most remarkable element of this book is the emotions it evoked within me--I know the end of Queen Katherine and her dignified but fruitless life, and that colored my reading of the story.
Katherine is not a particularly sympathetic character--she comes across as proud, arrogant, stubbourn, and far too dedicated to the belief that her God had intended her to be Queen of England. A misguided sense of destiny, along with a deathbed promise she made, led her into the lion's den, and once the lion bit down, she was caught for the rest of her life. In the book, Katherine was ambitious, and it led her to lie, decieve, even disregard her morals to achieve her goals. But even as ambitious and dishonest as she was, my heart still went out to her--at the end of the day, she was doing what she needed to do to survive, as well as maintain a sense of autonomy and dignity. Virtually all of the men in her life objectified, used, and disregarded her, and kept her in poverty for many years, and if Katherine lied a little--or a lot--to make a place for herself in the world, I think a lot of the readers can forgive her. I know I can.