BookBrowse Reviews The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

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The Constant Princess

by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory X
The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2005, 400 pages
    Aug 2006, 416 pages

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'When it comes to writers of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is in the very top league.

From the book jacket: Katherine has been fated her whole life to marry Prince Arthur of England. When they meet and are married, the match becomes as passionate as it is politically expedient. The young lovers revel in each other's company and plan the England they will make together. But tragically, aged only fifteen, Arthur falls ill and extracts from his sixteen-year-old bride a deathbed promise to marry his brother, Henry; become Queen; and fulfill their dreams and her destiny.

Widowed and alone in the avaricious world of the Tudor court, Katherine has to sidestep her father-in-law's desire for her and convince him, and an incredulous Europe, that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and that there is no obstacle to marriage with Henry. For seven years, she endures the treachery of spies, the humiliation of poverty, and intense loneliness and despair while she waits for the inevitable moment when she will step into the role she has prepared for all her life. Then, like her warrior mother, Katherine must take to the battlefield and save England when its old enemies, the Scots, come over the border and there is no one to stand against them but the new Queen.

It would seem that Philippa Gregory makes considerable efforts to be historically accurate - but as we all know history is, to a greater or lesser extent, a matter of interpretation. The only significant criticisms of this book are from a reviewer who questions Gregory's interpretation of events - for example, whether it is credible that Katherine led the defence against the Scots. I don't have enough knowledge of the period to cast an opinion, other than to say that as the daughter of the formidable Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, who had jointly driven the Moors from Granada, it doesn't seem beyond reason to believe that Catalina of Aragon would be able to hold off a few Scots while her husband was off fighting the French!

The same reviewer also questions the politically correct epiphanies that Katherine experiences towards the end of the book such as that war 'will never cease until Christians and Muslims are prepared to live side by side in peace', - but these seem to me mere quibbles in an otherwise excellent historical novel, with a decent dollop of romance thrown in for good measure! 

As always, you don't have to take my word for it - you can read a very substantial excerpt for yourself at BookBrowse.

This review was originally published in January 2006, and has been updated for the August 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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