Amanda's Reviews > Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile

Sister Queens by Julia Fox
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Dec 28, 11

Read from December 22 to 28, 2011

I'm not much of one for biographies, despite the volume of European historical fiction that I enjoy reading. This is usually because every non-fiction novel I have ever attempted to read has been incredibly dull, overly complex and, most importantly, incredibly scholarly, but not readable at all. This brings me to Julia Fox's latest offering, Sister Queens, which I originally ordered thinking that it was a fiction novel. It wasn't until I received the book, that I realized I had made a mistake. However, I decided to give it a try anyway, and I was incredibly surprised.

Sister Queens tells the stories of Katherine of Aragon and her sister Juana of Castile, daughters of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain wrapped into tales of the entire families and the larger issues taking place in Europe at the time. Young Katherine and Juana are brought up with the greatest of schooling and the greatest of ambitions. Through careful negotiations, when the sisters were old enough, each was sent off to marry -and build politically advantageous unions. Katherine was sent to England to marry Prince Arthur, while Juana was sent to Burgundy to marry Duke Philip.

Though Katherine of Aragon's life has been well-explored, much of the focus on her was later in her reign, when Henry broke with the Catholic Church, divorced Catherine and married Anne Boleyn. Through this lens, Katherine was always depicted as the wronged, strong-willed first wife of Henry VIII, but here, Julia Fox paints a detailed portrait of Katherine's young years, struggling with the sudden death of Arthur, the painfully drawn-out negotiations that eventually led to her marriage to Henry, and years as a powerful political figure, confident and beloved Queen -even though she never gave birth to a living son. Fox offers readers a glimpse into the life of a strong, intelligent and real woman who was more advanced than most women of her time.

Katherine's story is intertwined seamlessly with that of her older sister, Juana. Juana's story has been less-explored than that of Katherine, and she has been frequently portrayed as "Juana the Mad," a mentally unstable queen who spent much of her life imprisoned. Here, Fox sheds some light into Juana's younger years in Burgundy, and the complex politics that led to her unexpected position as the Queen of Castile, the most powerful kingdom in Spain. And, sadly, how her gender became her downfall. Juana's tale is a tragic, yet strangely compelling one that, in many ways, captivated me more than Katherine's tale. She was wronged by so many men in her life -her husband, her own father and even her own son, all labeling her as deranged and insane so they could take power in her place, though Fox (and many other historians) believe that the charges of insanity were fabricated.

Fox does an exquisite job of balancing scholarly discussion and accurate information with compelling readability that made this biography whiz by without even a hint of boredom. I read this book in just two days, and loved every education moment of it. Fox offers just enough well-researched detail to bring the period to life without bogging down the story with too much information (which tends to be an issue in much of the non-fiction I've attempted). Sister Queens has made me a believer in non-fiction.
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12/26/2011 page 210
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message 1: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Guinan non-fiction are not novels; fiction can be.


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