Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sister Queens

By Julia Fox. The subtitle says it all: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile.

Katherine and Juana were both daughters of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Katherine became a Queen Consort as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, but failed to give him the male heir he required and became embroiled in divorce proceedings that shook the foundations of the Catholic Church. Her sister Juana, like their mother before her, was Queen of Castile in her own right, but faced terrible opposition and power grabs from her husband, her father, and finally her own son, all of whose efforts succeeded in naming her for posterity as Juana the Mad.

English history is a favorite subject of mine, and though the Tudor period isn't my preferred time to read about, I've managed to pick up quite a bit about Katherine of Aragon: how she was married to Prince Arthur before he died young, how her parents' reluctance to pay her dowry complicated her life while she was waiting to marry Arthur's brother Henry, how she sewed her husband's shirts with her own hands even after he took up with Anne Boleyn. Up to now, though, I don't think I could have told you more about her sister than the derogatory nickname she has carried through the centuries. I heard of Juana la Loca at some point during my high school Spanish classes lo, these many moons ago, but I don't think I knew that she was the daughter of Isabella, the sister of Katherine, or the mother of the Emperor Charles who played an influential part in Katherine's fight to preserve her marriage.

I certainly had no reason up to now to doubt that Juana was genuinely deranged; what I'd heard was the stories about how she refused to allow her late husband's body to be buried, keeping his corpse nearby. I don't think I ever heard about the background of Spanish and European politics that made it extremely convenient for the men in her life to make out that she was too unbalanced to rule, even though people who interacted with her throughout her long enforced seclusion were apparently able to hold perfectly normal, rational conversations with her.

Very informative book. I'll have to look up the author's previous work on Jane Boleyn, the sister-in-law who denounced Anne.

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