When young Catherine of Aragon, proud daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, is sent to England to marry the weak Prince Arthur, she is unprepared for all that awaits her: early widowhood, the challenge of warfare with the invading Scots, and the utimately futile attempt to provide the realm with a prince to secure the succession. She marries Arthur’s energetic, athletic brother Henry, only to encounter fresh obstacles, chief among them Henry’s infatuation with the alluring but wayward Anne Boleyn.
In The Spanish Queen, bestselling novelist Carolly Erickson allows the strong-willed, redoubtable Queen Catherine to tell her own story—a tale that carries her from the scented gardens of Grenada to the craggy mountains of Wales to the conflict-ridden Tudor court. Surrounded by strong partisans among the English, and with the might of Spanish and imperial arms to defend her, Catherine soldiers on, until her union with King Henry is severed and she finds herself discarded—and tempted to take the most daring step of her life.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I’ll read just about anything about Henry VIII and his wives, Catherine of Aragon especially. I feel like The Spanish Queen did a great job bring Catherine’s voice to life; from the beginning she radiated a quiet sort of strength, exactly what one would expect from the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. What I really loved about Erickson’s Catherine, though, was that there was a petty and vengeful side to her that I haven’t seen a whole lot of in what I’ve read. Given the fact that Catherine was pushed aside and forced to watch herself be replaced -and, to add insult to injury, by a mere commoner – I feel that this side of her was appropriate and realistic.
Something that could’ve been developed better, though, were a couple of the central conflicts in the book. Catherine’s conflict with her half-sister, Maria Juana, enters the fray within the first twenty or so pages, and plagues her throughout the book as Maria Juana seeks to undermine Catherine, but it’s never really developed fully. We know the reasons Maria Juana hates Catherine, but at the same time, it’s all just surface-level reasons – Maria Juana is never really developed as a person, just as an obstacle that Catherine occasionally has to deal with. We never truly see how this conflict impacts either woman as a person.
Similarly, the conflict between Catherine and Anne Boleyn. We see a lot of Catherine’s thoughts on Anne, but we never really see them interact. I feel like I might’ve found Catherine’s antipathy toward Anne more realistic if we ever actually saw the two women interact. As I said, I liked the pettiness Catherine shows, but at the same time, I wish the reasons behind it had been developed more. The biggest flaw in The Spanish Queen is there’s a lot more telling than showing going on where the characters are concerned.
It was the hiss and crackle of the evening camp fires that I remember most vividly, when I think of my childhood.
One thing Erickson excels at is creating the atmosphere. The story starts in Spain and moves pretty quickly to England, and both places are effortlessly brought to life. The way we’re shown the setting is the greatest strength of the book, and the reason I keep reading Erickson’s books. Even better, these settings are easily accessible to people who aren’t as familiar with history.
If you’re looking for a book with well-developed characters, this might not be the one for you. If you’re looking for well-developed settings, though, this one might be worth checking out.