Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Katherine of Aragon (also known as Catalina) has known her destiny since
childhood: to wed Prince Arthur of England. The daughter of Queen Isabella and
King Ferdinand of Spain, 16-year-old Katherine leaves behind her beloved home to
forge a new life in a foreign land and take her place as Princess of Wales and,
ultimately, Queen of England.
To Katherine's surprise, her marriage to Arthur is a passionate love match as
well as a political union. As the Prince and Princess of Wales, they eagerly
plan for their future reign -- until tragedy strikes five months into their
marriage. Arthur falls ill, and before he dies the young prince extracts a vow
from his wife. She is to marry his brother, Harry, and become Queen of England.
She is to rule England in Arthur's stead, fulfilling their dreams and her
destiny. But to take the throne, Katherine must deny her true love and tell the
world that she and Arthur never consummated their marriage.
The Constant Princess
is the story of a young girl who was raised to
be a queen, the lengths to which she goes to fulfill a deathbed promise, and the
crucial lie that changed the course of history.
Questions & Topics for Discussion
- The novel opens in Granada, Spain, as five-year-old Catalina witnesses her
parents, Isabella and Ferdinand, conquer the last stronghold of the Moors in
Spain. What does this chapter reveal about Catalina, as well as about her mother
and their relationship? In what ways did having this portrait of Catalina as a
child help you better understand some of her later decisions and motivations?
- "I did not expect [Arthur] to be so handsome! He is so fair and slight, he
is like a page boy from one of the old romances" (34). Why does Catalina's
romantic view of Arthur disintegrate after their wedding? How does their journey
to Ludlow Castle -- and their first evening there when Catalina acquaints Arthur
with some of the customs of her homeland -- become the turning point in their
- On his deathbed, Arthur asks Catalina to marry his brother and rule
England in his place. What prompts Arthur to ask this of Catalina? Does Catalina
promise Arthur for his sake or for her own? How does she justify telling the lie
that makes it possible for her to wed Harry?
- After Arthur's death, Lady Margaret Pole suggests that perhaps God wills
that Catalina accept her fate as Dowager Princess. "He does not," Catalina
responds. "I shall insist on what is mine. I know what is my duty and what I
have to do" (164). Why is Catalina so certain that it's God's will she become
Queen of England? Is this conviction a result of her faith, her upbringing, or
- How is Catalina used as a political pawn by her parents? What is your
opinion of Isabella of Spain, both as a monarch and as a mother? How about King
- While at Ludlow Castle, Arthur and Catalina make plans for their future
reign as king and queen of England. "You are a tactician," Arthur tells Catalina
during one of their conversations. "I wish to God I had your childhood and knew
the things you know" (129). What tactics did Catalina learn as the child of two
powerful monarchs? How does she put these skills to use in her rise to the
- When it's realized that Catalina is not pregnant with Arthur's child, her
mother sends an emissary to escort her home to Spain. Why does Catalina, who was
raised knowing it's a princess's duty to obey her parents, defy her mother and
remain in England? Why is it so important to her that she not return to Spain?
Are her reasons more political or personal?
- Why does Catalina first accept King Henry VII's marriage proposal and then
refuse him? The king vows that Catalina "will regret the day she tried to lead
me on as if I were a lovesick boy" (230) and exacts revenge by a false
betrothal to Harry. When does Catalina realize that she is being used as a
pawn in the king's scheme? Does she have any recourse other than to remain a
"constant princess" for six years?
- On his deathbed, King Henry tells Harry that the young man is free to
marry whomever he chooses. Why does Harry decide to honor his betrothal and
marry Catalina? What actions does Catalina take to make Harry want to marry her?
What is the significance of Catalina changing her name to Katherine when she
- How does Katherine usurp power from the king's grandmother, Margaret
Beaufort, and then, "slowly but surely," draw the "management of the
entertainments, then of the household, then of the king's business, then of the
kingdom, into her hands" (286)? How much control does Katherine eventually come
to have over the kingdom?
- On two occasions Katherine consults in secret with Yusuf, a Moorish
physician. What does she come to realize about Yusuf during their clandestine
meetings? How about the Moors in general and her mother's treatment of them in
Spain? How does this realization impact her later decision not to lay waste to
Scottish lands after she defeats them in battle?
- Describe Katherine and Henry's marriage. How is the age difference (Henry
is six years Katherine's junior) a factor? How does Katherine's first
confinement -- for what turns out to be a false pregnancy -- change their
relationship and her standing in the court?
- "I have no tears for the husband who is going away because he has left me
with everything that I have ever wanted (374)," Katherine says when Henry sets
sail to face combat in France. In what ways is this a triumphal moment for
Katherine? Later, on the brink of going to war with Scotland, why does Katherine
refer to the impending battle as "the moment of my destiny" (375)?
- Sixteen years after her historic victory over the Scots, Katherine is
summoned to face another battle -- a fight against the dissolution of her
marriage during a papal legate sitting. Why, even under this intense scrutiny,
does Katherine remain steadfast in her lie that she was a virgin when she
married Henry? What final impression does this scene give you of Katherine of
Enhance Your Book Club
- When King Henry VIII defeated Richard III on the battlefield at
Bosworth, a succession of Tudor monarchs then ruled England. Aside from
Henry VIII, they included Mary I (Katherine of Aragon's daughter) and
Elizabeth I (Anne Boleyn's daughter). Find out more about the royal Tudors
- The Alhambra Palace, Katherine of Aragon's home before journeying to
England, is in Granada, a city located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains in southern Spain. Learn more about the town and the palace at
- In The Constant Princess, on the evening of their arrival at Ludlow
Castle, Katherine shares with Arthur some of the traditions and customs of
her homeland, one of which is serving tapas, small portions of food on
individual plates. More than 70 tapas recipes can be found at www.tienda.com/recipes/recipes.html,
along with ideas for main courses, soups, salads, and desserts. Recipes for
various kinds of sangria, a Spanish punch, can be found at
- Philippa Gregory's own website Philippa Gregory.com welcomes visitors
to the readers group and to read about the background of the books including
this one. See also Philippa's account of her trip to Granada and other
travel journalism. She also joins the readers group for discussion of the
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Touchstone.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.