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Philippa Gregory – The Constant Princess

March 8, 2008

29. The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory (2005)

Length: 416 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 06 March 2008
Finished: 08 March 2008

Summary: Catalina, youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, has known almost since birth that she is destined to be Princess of Wales and ultimately Queen of England. When she realizes that she truly loves her husband, young Prince Arthur, she believes that God has blessed her and chosen her path. However, when Arthur lays dying after only a few months of marriage, he makes her swear a promise: to tell everyone that the marriage had never been consummated, and marry his younger brother – the boy who would grow up to be Henry VIII – so that she might still be Queen. What neither of them realized was the power held by that one lie to change the shape of England forever.

Review: I don’t like pesto, and yet, I never remember that I don’t like pesto. I’ll see it on a menu, think that it sounds good, and then three bites into my dish remember that pesto puts my stomach on edge. It turns out that I feel about Henry VIII much the same as I do about pesto. I love historical fiction, and the Tudor era is very much in vogue at the moment, and so I’ll start reading, and only remember when I’m halfway through that Henry annoys the heck out of me. He’s selfish, obnoxious, and immature, and while it’s probably a fairly accurate portrayal, it gets tedious to read when you want to kick one of the main characters in the shins.

However, this isn’t really Henry’s book, it’s Katherine’s (although it’s not really possible to have her story without his.) It’s a slightly different version of Katherine than I’ve read before, more fiery and intelligent and less pious; definitely more clearly her mother’s daughter (although the overt comparisons in the text got a little grating after much repetition). One thing I particularly liked about this book was the development of the character of Arthur; most other versions treat him as a bit of a waif, a place-holder with no real personality, while this book actually gave him half of the story, instead of rushing through his bit until we could get to the “real” drama.

Of course, I can’t help but compare this book to The Other Boleyn Girl, and unfortunately, this one falls a little short in the drama and scandal department. Katherine may have been given a little more spark in this one than the resigned, staid background figure she plays in The Other Boleyn Girl, but someone whose defining (and titular) trait is constancy just doesn’t make as exciting of a story as all of the sex and scandal and intrigue. It didn’t help that this book felt a little more removed – it’s written in the style of short sections of third-person narration alternating with short sections narrated by Katherine, but all of it seems a little more impersonal, and a little more inclined to telling rather than showing. Even with that, however, this book was still miles more engaging than Jean Plaidy’s rather bloodless Katharine of Aragon, the other full account of her life that I’ve read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: A bit too much formality and too little scandal to make it ideal fluffy escapism, but if you’re not sick of the Tudors yet, it’s got some good characterizations and is fairly engaging.

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First Line: There was a scream, and then the loud roar of fire enveloping silken hanings, then a mounting crescendo of shouts of panic that spread and spread from one tent to another as the flames ran too, leaping from one silk standard to another, running up guy ropes and bursting through muslin doors.

Vocab:

  • p. 20: “We bathe in the hammam, standing stock-still while the servants lather us all over with a rich soap that smells of flowers.” – a communal bathhouse, usually with separate baths for men and women.
    .
  • p. 47: “The musicians knew the young royals’ taste in music and struck up a lively galliard.” – a spirited dance for two dancers in triple rhythm, common in the 16th and 17th centuries.
    .
  • p. 47: “There was a gasp from the Spanish grandees at the young prince’s shocking behavior, but the English court smiled with his parents at his energy and enthusiasm.” – a nobleman of the highest rank in Spain or Portugal.
    .
  • p. 85: “It was a dish of his childhood, roasted chicken legs, deviled kidneys, with white manchet bread: a proper English dinner.” – a kind of white bread made from the finest flour.
    .
  • p. 139: “Samphire,” she said. “The closest thing you have to lactuca is probably samphire.”” – a European succulent plant, Crithmum maritimum, of the parsley family, having compound leaves and small, whitish flowers, growing in clefts of rock near the sea.
    .
  • p. 169: ““We cannot proceed to the settlement of your jointure and your arrangements until we know,” he said bluntly.” – an estate or property settled on a woman in consideration of marriage, to be owned by her after her husband’s death.
    .
  • p. 278: ““I will pray for you,” she conceded grudgingly. “And as long as there is a chantry in England, as long as the Holy Roman Catholic Church is in England, your name will be remembered.”” – an endowment for the singing or saying of Mass for the souls of the founders or of persons named by them.
    .
  • p. 326: “There are white swans on the river, but when the barges and wherries go by the birds drift out of the way as if by magic.” – a light rowboat for one person; skiff.
    .
  • p. 331: ““She lied to you,” I say. “She pretended to her virgin state and she traduced me.”” – to speak maliciously and falsely of; slander; defame.
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