The Constant Princess describes the early life of Katherine of Aragon, beginning during her childhood living in the Alhambra with her parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and then telling the story of her marriage to Prince Arthur and then King Henry VIII.
As most people know, the basis of Henry VIII’s justification for divorcing Katherine was his interpretation of a Bible passage that a man will be childless if he marries his brother’s wife. Katherine always swore that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, but in her novel Gregory assumes that this was a lie, that Arthur and Katherine were very much in love and that she swore to him on his deathbed that she would marry his brother to become queen.
I found Katherine (or Catalina, as she was before she married Henry) a difficult character to like initially. She’s very headstrong, devout and unyielding. However, by the second half of the novel I grew to like the characterisation a lot more as she develops from a naive and stubborn princess to an informed queen. I suspect this character development was intentional by Gregory, as by the end of the novel Katherine realises that some elements of what she was always told and believed since she was a child are wrong.
I always enjoy Gregory’s writing style; this is written in a mixture of third person and first person from Katherine’s perspective. However, I did find parts of the novel a little repetitive at times, particularly when there were several consecutive passages where Katherine was telling Arthur stories from the Alhambra. Having said that, learning of some of the history of the Alhambra and the Spanish royals was interesting.
Philippa Gregory’s novels are always fun to read and informative, and she always manages to maintain interest and suspense despite the fact that most readers know what is going to happen. This isn’t my favourite book of hers, but it was definitely worth a read.