Henry VIII’s love life has fascinated people for generations and I am sure it will continue to be discussed well into the future. We all know about the six wives, the executions, the Flanders mare etc but for some reason the life of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragorn is ignored until Anne Boleyn arrives on the scene and Henry tries to divorce her. What Tremlett does is give a voice to the women who lasted longer as Henry’s wife than the other 5 put together.
Tremlett starts with Catherine’s early life growing up as a Spanish Infanta in the glorious palace of the Alhambra. He provides the reader with a detail back story that helps them to make sense of Catherine’s motives later in life. By understanding the culture of religious learning that Catherine grew up with, we understand why she was so unwilling to compromise on religious matters later in life to the extent that she was willing to become a martyr. He gives depth of character to a woman so often played as two dimensional and for once casts her as the leading lady.
The biography then goes on to cover how Catherine came to England and her marriage to Henry’s older brother Arthur. So often forgotten in the discussion of Henry VIII’s wives is the fact that after Arthur died Catherine was utterly powerless and alone in a country where she hardly spoke the language. Tremlett does a fabulous job of portraying the precariousness of her position at the hands of her father Ferdinand and the miserly Henry VII. In the end it was Henry VII’s unwillingness to repay Catherine’s handsome dowry that saw her marry Henry VIII but Catherine suffered a retched existence (by the standards of a princess) as she waited for her fate to be decided.
We only get to the wedding of Henry and Catherine just before halfway through the book. How refreshing to have a biography of a women follow the journey of her life not her husband’s! Tremlett goes on to detail the many happy years the couple spent together, something else that history seems to have forgotten. Henry frequently jousted with the letter K for Catherine embroidered on his doublet. They indulged in lavish pageants where each played courtly lovers and Catherine even acted a Regent for Henry when he was way fighting in France. These details, this well rounded picture completely changes the perspective I take on ‘the King’s Great Matter’.
Before I always felt Catherine was the woman scorned in the love triangle between Henry, Catherine and Anne. She seemed bitter and spiteful at being replaced by a younger model. Having read Tremlett’s account of events I see now that the courage of her convictions suggest the genuine concern Catherine had for her own and Henry’s souls. She had suffered infidelity on Henry’s part before, she was willing to forgive him but she would not compromise her beliefs. She was so much more than a jealous wife and I am indebted to Tremlett for his work in proving otherwise.
Would recommend to: anyone who things they know everything about Henry VIII’s split from Rome.