An initially inspired juxtaposition of the lives of the two Spanish sister queens grows saccharine in the hands of British historical researcher Fox (Jane Boleyn, 2007).
The daughters of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon were positioned at a very young age to marry the most illustrious monarchs of Europe and inherit enormous power in their own right. Yet both were outmaneuvered by the men around them—father, husbands, son—and both eventually squandered and lost their power, dying in shame and isolation. Fox fashions a sympathetic, storybook narrative of the two sisters, daughters of strong monarchs, especially their mother, who spearheaded the Reconquista of 1492. The girls were educated in Latin and married off in their mid-teens, Juana to Philip of Burgundy, and Katherine to Arthur, Henry VII of England’s eldest son. Fate intervened swiftly and changed the course of history: A series of deaths of her older siblings left Juana in the position of inheriting her parents’ kingdom, while her new husband began systematically to rob her of her authority, casting doubt about her sanity; in England, Arthur’s death left Katherine vulnerable until finally she was wedded by his brother Henry VIII and made queen—temporarily. Juana, for her part, despite her sovereignty and the many children she would bear her husband, was essentially disinherited from and then imprisoned first by her father, Ferdinand, then her own son, Carlos V, for the remaining 46 years of her life. Was she truly mad or deliberately enfeebled in the power struggle? Her sister Katherine, more politically astute, had acted as Henry VIII’s equal, until her inability to provide a male heir prompted him to divorce her and she was forced to acquiesce. Fox takes the side of the ill-fated sisters, but she does not offer any new light through the murky historical record.
A sad tale drawn out and viewed through rose-colored glasses.