Alison Weir in her Comfort Zone
Human history is one of the few ever-expanding phenomena in our world, increasing exponentially with each passing second, beckoning the question as to how much of it we’ll be able to not only study, but merely remember. The past is a veritable treasure trove of fascinating stories and personalities, one which will never stop giving as more and more discoveries keep being made. Some people become so enthralled by a specific time or aspect of our collective timeline they dedicate themselves to it, becoming part of a very exclusive group of historical experts whose numbers seem to be sadly dwindling. Nevertheless, they work tirelessly to make true stories from the past accessible to as many people as possible, and an increasing number of authors have elected to convey information in fictionalized form, as Alison Weir did in Katherine of Aragon .
While it certainly isn’t a history book, this novel remains largely fact-based and is more of an attempt to provide historical events with an engaging narration, something even the greatest of non-fiction tomes have a hard time achieving. We meet the titular Katherine when she was still a sixteen-year-old princess of Spain by the name of Catalina, promised to Arthur, Prince of Wales. Unfortunately, fate meddles in the affairs of Man once again and the young princess finds herself betrothed to King Henry VIII instead, who still hasn’t even come of age. Resolving to wait and bide her time, Katherine’s perseverance pays off as she does one day become Queen of England, and it seems as if life settled back into place… until Anne Boleyn makes her appearance. With her husband threatening to be snared away by a younger and prettier woman, Katherine sees herself at risk of suddenly losing everything she gained through her years of countless sacrifices… but if she is to go down, it won’t be without a fight.
From Victim to Heroine
For most people, King Henry VIII was a crazy monarch whose many wives will forever be defined by which order they were associated with him in, all of them united in being his victims. For the most part, Alison Weir challenges this conception, at least when it comes to Katherine’s story, and tries to dispel some of the myths surrounding her. From the very start of the book, she portrays her as a shrewd and capable woman who was no stranger to overcoming hardships even long before ascending to the throne. Her courage and charisma come on display more than once and keep reinforcing the notion of her being somewhat closer to a heroine than a victim in stature.
While she did certainly have to fill in some gaps somewhere, Alison Weir bases her depiction of Katherine almost exclusively on historical facts and research, painting a complete picture of not only where she came from and what she did, but also who she was on the inside as a human being. I found the deeper I plunged into the story, the more fascinating her personality became, developing in notable ways over her many eventful years. It’s quite interesting to see her thoughts shifting as she becomes older and wiser, her determination in fighting for what she believes is rightfully hers, and her interpretation of the road she had to walk which ultimately ended in a form of tragedy… but not without its silver linings.
The Expertise of a Historian
If you were to compare this novel to a history book on the same subject, I’m quite certain you would deem the two to be virtually nothing alike in terms of style and narration. However, if you compare them on a basis of how much they educate you, I would venture to say Katherine of Aragon is as much of a history book as any other work of non-fiction. Alison Weir is world-renowned historical expert on British royalty, and her time spent researching the subject certainly hasn’t gone to waste. Virtually every page is filled with vivid details about the many people we encounter and the various places we visit. She takes the time to establish a firm context for everything that’s happening, and I’m happy to say it never feels as if it actually bogs down the pacing of the story. The descriptions are all genuinely interesting, in no small part thanks to the author’s experienced ability to determine which details will captivate the average reader.
As far as the story itself goes, it doesn’t suffer from the historical elements at all, but rather plays off of them in order to keep the plot rolling smoothly. While history does have a tendency to drag on in certain periods, in this book we are spared this specific torture as Weir shows a fantastic aptitude for editing out the superfluous. The thread actually unfolds as you would expect from a total work of fiction, which in turn maintains the impression you’re reading a novel rather than a history text. In other words, it’s a history book cleverly camouflaged as a fictional novel, and the illusion is so strong it still stands tall even if you know about it.
The Final Verdict
Historical novels are generally very much a hit-or-miss kind of deal, and in my opinion Katherine of Aragon by Alison Weir is a total hit. Exploring one of the more fascinating figures of the Tudor era, Weir weaves together a captivating narrative which educates as much as it entertains. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about Katherine or, in a more general sense, life in the British royal court during King Henry VIII’s time.
Alison Weir is a British author of history books and historical novels, more often than not centering on biographies of British royalty. She wrote biographies of numerous figures including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Katherine Swynford, and even the Princes in the Tower, amongst many others. As far as novels go she has penned some renowned works such as Innocent Traitor, The Captive Queen and The Marriage Game.