The Constant Princess is Philippa Gregory's 2005 historical fiction novel set in Tudor England in the 1400s- 1500s. It is essentially the story of Queen Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife and her rise to power in England.
The novel begins with scenes in the borders of Spain where Princess Catalina, as a 3 year old, sees her mother's astounding tenacity and willpower. Queen Isabella leads her army against the Moors and eventually captures Spain. Catalina is betrothed to the ill-fated crown Prince of England, Arthur. As a child bride, Princess Catalina of Spain becomes Princess of Wales at the age of 16. Prince Arthur dies after just 5 months of marriage and in his deathbed, he extracts a promise from Catalina that she will marry his brother Harry (Henry VIII ) so as to ensure she becomes Queen of England.
Henry VII, her father-in-law lusts after her and proposes marriage instead. She initially accepts but gives up the idea when she realises that she will not have any power over England. Bitterly rejected, Henry VII betroths Harry to Catalina but refuses to give her her allowance forcing her and her Spanish entourage into poverty. After 7 long years of waiting where her father-in-law dies suddenly of an illness, Harry (Henry VIII) finally marries Catalina and becomes Queen of England. She then has complications in her pregnancy, miscarriage and then subsequently her firstborn a boy, declared Duke Of Cornwall, dies tragically 2 months later. The Scots declare war on England and the novel ends where Queen Katherine leads her English army to a glorious victory.
It was my first historical fiction and I found it quite intense. I took 2 weeks to read 528 pages paperback but I could have easily finished it in a week, if not for my usual distractions. It is a lively read, no doubt. There were narrative hooks, motifs, character contrasts and comparisons that kept the story connected. If you like history, you would like this novel. Even though her resolve to become Queen of England at any cost was admirable, I did feel sorry for Queen Katherine as I felt she had a hard life, facing one unfortunate event in her life after another. Even in the end, she fights for her marriage and fights to remain the Queen of England till she dies. Her immense patience and perseverance through all her misfortune and to wait 7 long years in poverty and misery - hats off to Queen Katherine!
We had our book club discussion about The Constant Princess on Monday and we had a lively chat about the internal strength of Queen Katherine. We discussed about how our own mothers have had such a tremendous deep influence on us and on our values that sees us through this day.
During our discussions, we try to have food that somehow follows the the theme of the book we are discussing. (See Picture below). As The Constant Princess was set in Spain, England and involved France, I had prepared Spanish Omelette and Spanish Balsamic Chickpea Salad. Angie brought scones and we also had fruit cakes (from Aparna), nuts (from Sherin) and mini French Baguettes. We washed it down with cold ice lemon tea and hot coffee afterwards. All in all, we had a wonderful Book Club brunch at my place. We have grown from 3 to 7 in 6 months! (Two other ladies couldn't join us yesterday.)
We are always on the lookout for new members. If you live in the East of Singapore and you're a devoted reader, we welcome you to join us. Do feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Constant Princess is available in Amazon for US$7. There are other books in the series too... The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin's Lover, The Queen's Fool etc. We have laid off historical fiction for a while to give ourselves a break from an intense read. Look out for my next book review soon on Stolen by Lucy Christopher.