Sep. 16th, 2017

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The Tudor dynasty fascinates me. Perhaps mostly because it culminated in one of England's most remarkable monarchs, Elizabeth I. Perhaps because of its role in history, as the beginning of England's emergence as one of the great powers of Europe in its own right. Perhaps because of the great religious turmoil surrounding the Anglicisation of the English church. And perhaps because of its beginnings in illicit love affairs - one between a widowed Valois princess and a minor Welsh lord, the other between a son of a king and the widow of a simple knight. I'm certainly not alone; the great figures of the Tudor era - Henry VIII, his two most notable wives, the faithful Katherine of Aragon and the enigmatic Anne Boleyn, and his daughters, Queens Mary and Elizabeth - are probably among the most written-about figures of English history.

And so, no matter how many interpretations, fact or fiction, I encounter of these towering figures, it seems I'm always ready for 'just one more.'

Having recently read Alison Weir's novel of Anne Boleyn, it seemed only proper that I read the first in her series about the queens of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen. Weir's research and scholarship gives the novel a richness of detail, and I think in this novel she succeeds in giving us a fully humanised portrait of her subject, something that I found lacking in her book about Anne Boleyn. Katherine's journey from naive princess to a queen who has seen too many betrayals, her love for Henry and growing sorrow over her failure to bear a male heir, her steadfast insistence on the legitimacy of her marriage and her one living child, the loneliness, isolation, and pain of separation from her daughter as the divorce proceedings advanced - all these are written with a ring of emotional truth.

Weir writes in an Author's Note: "I have tried in these pages to evoke the sights, textures, sounds, and smells of an age, a lost world of splendor and brutality, and a court in which love, or the game of it, held sway, but dynastic pressures overrode any romantic considerations. It was a world dominated by faith and by momentous religious change—and a world in which there were few saints. This was Katherine’s world, and we can only understand her properly within its context."

In my view, she has succeeded in her goal.

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