Karla's Reviews > Katharine of Aragon: The Wives of Henry VIII

Katharine of Aragon by Jean Plaidy
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Oct 19, 2009

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bookshelves: historical-fiction, monarchs-tudors-and-stuarts, dead-tree

I'm often lukewarm about Plaidy's books, even though I'd choose her stuff above most of today's HF. Sometimes the prose is too simplistic or there is too much repetition as the same points are brought up over and over again within the span of a few pages. This book was no different on the latter point, but there seemed to be a depth in the character of Katharine that was lacking in her books on Catherine of Valois (The Queen's Secret) and Margaret Tudor (The Thistle and the Rose). Katharine's forebearance and piety, coupled with a proud spirit, was very consistent and compelling. It kept me turning the pages and thankfully balanced out the frustration of being reminded repeatedly within the space of a dozen pages that Katharine's duenna Elvira was intriguing with her brother at the Flanders court against King Ferdinand (among many other past details that were regurgitated periodically for the Very Very Very Short-Attention Spanned).

Katharine and Henry are given the majority of attention, naturally, although Henry's characterization suffers by being limited to swoops between prim & martyred to angry & boorish. I'm looking forward to Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII" for a reputedly engaging and deep portrayal of the monarch.

Anne Boleyn is a distant figure here, no doubt because Plaidy had 2 or 3 other books planned for her. Here she is little more than a manipulative, vindictive harpy, seen completely by others which naturally puts her in a very poor light. There are no scenes that take place from her perspective, unlike the character of Wolsey, who also works against the Queen but is given some sympathy for his predicament of trying to please his King while not antagonizing Rome and losing the chance of becoming Pope. "The Lady in the Tower" is for Anne what this book was for Katharine, only with the negative of rehashing some of the same events portrayed here.

Sometimes I wish Plaidy had been more concerned about sticking to a few situations and really developing all the players and details of said events, rather than be obsessed with dramatizing trivial scenes. For long stretches of pages, minutiae of Katharine's life are expanded on to no visible point. The subplot of her malcontent lady-in-waiting Francesca de Carceres takes up a sizable amount of time, and yet she vanishes without a trace halfway through the book. From the amount of animosity that is dwelt upon, I was expecting her to show up in court and testify against Katharine that she and Arthur had indeed consummated their marriage. When she didn't appear again, I wondered why so much time had been spent on her character. And how many times must Henry's infantile need to be the center of attention be illustrated by describing the game of a masque? I think there were 3 or 4 masques described in detail, all with the same buildup and pay-off. Nothing much of importance was proven by such scenes and after the third one, I was itching at the repetitiveness. Plaidy did have other moments where Henry's "Me Me Me!" fixation was illustrated, which meant that at least 2 of the masque scenes could have been axed and not missed. This is no doubt the consequence of having 3 separately published books squished together in one volume. However, they were meant to be a trilogy, which doesn't excuse Plaidy from taking the reader down paths that lead nowhere or driving the reader around in circles over familiar territory.

The first book in this trilogy was more interesting than the last two because I had previously known little about Katharine's early life in England pre-marriage to Henry VIII. For me, Plaidy's always been a bit stiff in the emotion department, but Katharine's devotion to her mother Isabella was a nice way to tightly tie it to the third book, with Mary's more clinging and needy love for her own mother amidst the threats of separation due to constant marriage bartering and her parents' divorce. It's been years since I read Plaidy's book on Mary, "In the Shadow of the Crown." I can't recall if this portrayal of Mary remained consistent in that book.

For all my gripes about Plaidy's style, this was still a cut above her usual, although the story could have easily been told in two books, rather than three.

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