Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives Of Katherine Of Aragon And Juana, Queen Of Castile by Julia Fox            

Overview from Goodreads:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman. 

My thoughts:

What a book!  I just could not put it down.  Ever since watching The Tudor’s on TV, I have been fascinated by this time period in European history.  The author of Sister Queens has put together a very readable, fact filled explanation of the lives of Katherine of Aragon and her sister, Juana of Castille.

Juana was married off to Phillip of Burgandy.  Upon the death of her mother, Queen Isabella of Spain, Juana should have become Queen.  Unfortunately for her, her father, then her husband and finally her son wanted the power.  To achieve this, they kept Juana secluded for more than 45 years.   She had minimal contact with anyone, while stories about her madness were circulated to justiyt her disappearance from public life.  So much for being “Queen”!

Katherine initially married young Prince Arthur of England, who died 5 months into the marriage.  She spent numerous years in limbo, waiting for a decision to be made on her marrying Arthur’s younger brother, Henry.  Tossed around like a pawn on a chessboard, her value as a strong marriage candidate changed as quickly as the blowing wind.  Along with this was the much debated issue of whether she had consummated her marriage with Arthur.  She and Henry were finally married, but Katherine was never able to provide a viable male heir, and this was ultimately her undoing.

What sounds like a simple outline on the lives of these two sisters has really been filled in with an amazing amount of detail by Ms. Fox.  This had to be an incredible undertaking.  Often, there was so much information given that I felt like I was right in the middle of some of the scenes.   I really never felt comfortable trying to skim, so this is a book best enjoyed reading at a slow pace.  And enjoyable, it was!

I want to thank Random House Publishing and NetGalley for allowing me to read this book for my unbiased review.  The publish date is January 31, 2012.
My Rating: *****

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