Literary, etc is an eclectic blog where we talk & review books, films, & whatever strikes our mood.
Carolly Erickson’s The Spanish Queen is a fictionalized autobiography of Catherine of Aragon. Erickson recreates Catherine’s departure from Spain to England and we spend our time in Tudor court.
As a sixteen year old, Catherine of Aragon makes the journey from Spain to England but prior to her departure, Queen Isabella asks her to wear her wedding dress. Everyone around her says it will bring bad luck, but Catherine complies. Shortly afterwards, Catherine is told she’s cursed after a series of events prevent her departure from Spain. She decides to continue with her travel plans and arrives in England where she’ll marry Henry VII’s son, Arthur. Her marriage to Arthur doesn’t last long and finds herself developing a friendship with Henry VIII. She waits quietly in the wings unsure of her fate and doesn’t begin to blossom until her marriage to Henry VIII. In Erickson’s The Spanish Queen we see the birth of a queen along with her achievements and struggles.
Narrative is first person via Catherine and Erickson gives us a narrator that we can trust. It’s difficult for an author to give a historical figure an authentic voice and Erickson does a superb job. In The Spanish Queen, we see Catherine’s vulnerabilities and what her thoughts and desires are. We experience her pain at not being able to bear a son to having to contend with a jealous half sister. Erickson does gloss over a few known historical facts in this narrative. She focuses primarily on Bessie Blount and her son Fitzroy. Wolsey’s downfall is also glossed over and I got the feeling Erickson’s Catherine still viewed him as an ally instead of the man who supported Henry’s quest for an annulment. Then we have Anne Boleyn; fans of Anne you’ll want to skip this one since she’s not pictured in the best light, but you can feel Catherine’s betrayal regarding Anne. Here we are presented a young girl whose parents cannot keep her under control and Catherine councils and molds her. In the end, Anne’s portrayal is exactly what you’d expect and you can’t help but feel the sting of betrayal. It’s Henry’s portrayal that is the most interesting. He never seems to grow up and is portrayed as a boy who pouts in the corner because his wife is more successful on the battlefield than he is. It’s quite easy to dislike him and dismiss him from the narrative.
It’s always interesting to read how someone else interprets a historical figure. I’ve always had a soft spot for William Blount, Baron Montjoy because he commissions John Blount (no proof they were related) to translate Nicholas Upton’s De Studio Militari. Upton’s chivalric text would have been interest to Montjoy especially since he was made a diplomat and Upton’s book goes into detail regarding the legality of war. Heraldry and chivalry enjoyed quite a boost under Henry VIII and imagine the prominence Montjoy could enjoy by presenting such a text or knowledge to Henry. My master’s thesis was on Upton, but used Blount’s translation and that’s my personal connection to Erickson’s The Spanish Queen. I enjoyed Erickson’s portrayal of Blount even though her version isn’t exactly what I know of Blount, but that’s okay. It was still fun to have a moment of discussion with a friend about this.
What I really enjoyed about Erickson’s The Spanish Queen is the life she gives Catherine. It’s easy to like her and take her side in all matters that you want to tell her what you know of history. She also makes you pause for a bit to reflect on the historical timeline especially the way the book ends. Anne Boleyn dies a few months after Catherine and one can’t help but wonder what Catherine would have made of Anne’s fate. And yet, the narrative goes back to Catherine being told she’s cursed in a subtle way. Your heart will break for a woman who doesn’t pause for a moment to think of the possibility and yet, she endures. I wish Erickson would have addressed this in some format. I know if I had been told I was cursed and bad things happen, I would have toyed with the idea. Then again, I have to remind myself that Catherine was a religious woman and in Erickson’s book, she believes in God’s intervention and his judgment which leads to the appropriate punishment as deemed by God.
While not perfect in terms of historical accuracy, Carolly Erickson’s The Spanish Queen was nevertheless is a delightful read. Do keep in mind that is historical fiction and some liberties were taken.