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Julia Fox came up with a fascinating idea in writing a dual biography of the most renowned of Ferdinand and Isabella???s daughters: Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII???s beleaguered queen, and Juana of Castile. The last work of non-fiction that I read (Alison Weir???s bio of Mary Boleyn) was tediously repetitious and digressive, a problem I???ve found with many historical biographies. Fox, however, has avoided that pitfall, creating an engaging and highly readable narrative.
Katherine and Juana have been reduced over time almost to caricatures, Katherine as the stubbornly Catholic wife who refused to let Henry go, and Juana as a wife so obsessed with her husband that his affairs and early death drove her to madness. But Fox shows that there was much more to each woman, and that, to a great extent, the restrictions of gender and the machinations of the men around them caused their downfalls. She details Katherine???s role as an ambassador concerned with the interests of both Spain and England, as well as her diplomacy and finesse in dealing with Henry. Fox does an admirable job of presenting fairly the events with which most readers will be familiar: her penurious widowhood following the death of Prince Arthur; the dispensation to marry Henry; the many miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths; her displacement by Anne Boleyn. In the case of Juana, Fox???s research demonstrates that existing letters and reports from those permitted to see her following her confinement for madness demonstrate that she behaved sanely and graciously. Fox contends that her husband and father schemed to keep her from exercising sovereignty over Castile, Ferdinand in particular unwilling to give up what he had jointly ruled with Isabella after she died and left the crown to Juana, her eldest daughter.
Through no fault of the author???s, the space devoted to the sisters is not balanced 50/50, simply because there is less documentation of Juana???s life. Near the end, Fox poses a fascinating question: What would have happened if the sisters??? roles had been reversed???if Katherine, so good at diplomacy, had been Queen of Castile, and if Juana, who produced six children (two emperors and four queens) had been Henry???s wife?
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
I recently finished the historical fiction novels The Queen’s Vow & The Last Queen by, C.W. Gortner and went into this one because these women all fascinated me. What I liked about this one was it gave a look at Katherine’s life between marrying Arthur & Henry. I also liked the fact that like Gortner’s fiction Fox also asserts that Juana wasn’t crazy (well not completely...the whole dragging her dead husband around was a little well, wacko) but that it was the men around her that wanted to rule in her stead and made it appear that way and used anything they could to make it so.
As I said in my review of Last Queen I believe that what both of these authors assert, that she was not as crazy as they made the world believe and if she did end up going crazy who can blame her they took away everything she loved, her kingdom, her children and locked her away where she wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, I guess I just ended up feeling so bad for her.
With Katherine we hear so much about the end of her marriage with Henry it was so very fascinating to hear what happened between the time of Arthurs death and that marriage I guess in my mind I thought it had happened rather quickly but I see now I was mistaken, she still had to jump through many hoops and so much political finagling.
There is more in this book about Katherine than Juana however that is only because there is much more documentation still around about Katherine. But the author does give a good view of Juana and her life. I found these women so fascinating. However their lives in the end kind of mirrored each other both cast out and their child taken away.
As non-fiction this book never got dry it kept my interest even when it got to the part of Tudor history I’ve heard hundreds of times but was nice to hear it from Katherine’s side.
Audio production: Rosalyn Landor’s narrations adds voice to this fascinating history and she does a great job I love her deep British, slightly haughty accent, it plays just perfect for these royals. Landor’s narrations are always great and never cookie cutter will always choose to get a book on audio if I see she narrates it!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful