Like a lot of people, I’ve been fascinated by the Tudors since learning about them at school; the women in particular have always fascinated me, probably because the period produced some of the most interesting and well-documented ladies in histories. After reading The Other Boleyn Girl ten years ago, I fell in love with historical fiction set in the Tudor age (unfortunately the film was rubbish. Sigh.)
So I’m really pleased that historian Alison Weir has been commissioned to write a series of novels about Henry VIII’s queens. Her biographies of the queens of Henry VIII, John of Gaunt’s mistress-turned-wife Katherine Swynford, and Eleanor of Aquitaine are all books that I have read and enjoyed. As a historian, Weir is up there with the likes of Antonia Fraser and Helen Castor as one of my favourites. As a novelist, I have found her books to be a bit hit and miss, but I was not one to pass up a good read about Henry VIII’s first, loyal queen.
The novel tells the true story of Katherine of Aragon, told from the time of her childhood in Spain that she was to become Queen of England. As the daughter of a powerful ruling dynasty, Katherine is a political pawn, but willing to adapt to her adopted country. Her story is one of infatuation, love, political intrigue, betrayal and religion and one that is well known to many- we are taken through her early years in England, battling Henry VII for recognition, through to her genuine love for Henry VIII, to the bitter end of their marriage and toxic relationship breakdown (Oh, hai, Anne Boleyn.) Weir shows her research and weaves original sources into the narrative: famous letters and Katherine’s famous speech at the trial for her marriage are included and recognisable if you know your Tudor history. They add a realism to the novel.
And yet, sometimes it felt like Weir struggled to switch gears from historian to novelist. Her dialogue, particularly, can feel a bit jarring. I totally get it; if you’re used to writing factually about long-dead people, it must be weird to try and reanimate them to the point of speaking. Sometimes it did feel a bit odd and it did mean that the spell was sometimes broken.
However, I did enjoy the book overall. Fans of historical fiction will love the attention to detail and I think romance fans will enjoy the central story (although, spoiler: doesn’t have a happy ending!) I’m looking forward to the rest of the novels in the series, especially that of my favourite of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne of Cleves.