The Madrid correspondent for the Guardian follows the sad, tragic life of Catherine, first wife of Henry VIII, from her native Spain into the bloody whirlwind of Tudor England.
Tremlett (Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, 2007) begins with a question still dividing historians: Did Catherine consummate her brief marriage to Henry’s short-lived older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales? All Henry’s legal efforts to invalidate his marriage were based on his contention that the marriage had been consummated, something Catherine vigorously denied the rest of her life. Initially, the author focuses on the Spanish side of the story, looking carefully at Catherine’s roots. Once she arrived in England, however, and once Henry’s court began to fracture over the issue, Tremlett must rely on the same biased witnesses and documents used by Catherine’s many previous biographers. Consequently, there’s not much new here, but a slightly different slant, perhaps a more compassionate heart. Tremlett’s journalistic chops are in evidence, however, and the well-written narrative moves briskly, if inevitably, through the wedding, the early years of marriage—we learn a lot about Tudor food and clothing and customs—the extraordinarily difficult childbirth experiences of Catherine, the healthy birth and, finally, Mary (who later became England’s Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor). The author chronicles Henry’s occasional infidelities and his blinding, corrosive passion for Anne Boleyn, which, in part, accelerated the English Reformation and for decades splashed the blood of martyrs across the countryside. Tremlett credits Catherine for not encouraging a Spanish invasion to save her and Roman Catholicism..
A trek along a familiar trail conducted by a personable, able guide.