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Written by an American historian, this biography of the first love, first wife and first queen of King Henry VIII presents the first serious study of the almost forgotten queen to appear since 1941, when the late Garrett Mattingly published his still unsurpassed Catherine of Aragon. Born in Spain in 1485, daughter of those rapacious brigands, Ferdinand and Isabella, at 16 Catherine, intelligent, pious, stubborn, was married to Arthur, son of King Henry VII of England. When Arthur died four months after the marriage his brother Henry, six years younger than Catherine, befriended her, and in 1509, when his father's death made him Henry VIII, married her by Papal dispensation. Whether the marriage was legal has never been decided: under the law of consanguinity a man might not marry his brother's widow, but Catherine swore she was a virgin when she married Henry, as Arthur, frail and ill, was unable to consummate their marriage. More than twenty years later, when only one of Catherine's many children, the Princess Mary, had survived infancy, Henry, eager for a male heir and entrapped by black-haired Anne Bolcyn, decided the marriage was incestuous and demanded a divorce, which Catherine, insisting she was his lawful wife, refused to grant. The long struggle over the divorce turned Henry from an enlightened monarch to a ruthless tyrant, plunged Europe into a tangle of wars and alliances, brought disgrace, torture and death to hundreds of innocent persons, and ended forever the power of the Catholic Church in England. But from the welter of blood and treachery, cruelty and politics, Modern England was born. Brilliantly researched but overloaded with details of splendor and with fictional private thoughts, this solemnly written book presents an excellent portrait of Catherine and her influence on 16th-century European history; it supplements but never outranks Mattingly's earlier study.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1967
Publisher: Coward-McCann