Picture it: You’re 15, you’ve been betrothed to a prince in another country whom you’ve never met since the age of four, you travel to said country, marry the guy, and he dies five months later.
Then, you spend the next SEVEN YEARS waiting to marry his younger brother.
Yet this was the life of Katherine of Aragon, known most famously as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, but less-well known as Catalina, the Infanta of Spain and the wife of Henry’s older brother, the man who was supposed to become king.
Last night I finished The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. It chronicles the early life of Katherine of Aragon, known as Catalina until after she married Henry VIII. I tried reading one of Gregory’s other books (The Virgin’s Lover, about the early reign of Elizabeth I) but got bogged down and bored. This one, however, was not at all boring. We learn about what it was like to grow up fighting the Moors, with a warrior queen for a mother, what it was like to know that you would marry young, grow old, and die the queen of another country, possibly never seeing your family or country again. What it was like to be the widow of a young prince and to be forced to stay in a strange country for years while your parents and deceased husband’s parents decided what should be done with you, a pawn in a political game far more important than your happiness or well-being. To tell a great lie and never admit the truth, regardless of how you feel about it, to marry your husband’s brother and attempt to mold him into a good ruler. To have stillbirths and miscarriages and dead babies, to have only one surviving child, to never have a physician allowed to lay hands on you during illness or pregnancy because you are untouchable as a queen.
Man. All I gotta say is, I’m glad I live in a time where commoners live decent lives and am also glad I’m not royal, fated to marry for political reasons rather than love. I’ve always been interested in the lives of the Tudors, particularly Elizabeth I, but never thought much about Henry VIII’s first wife, Mary’s mother, until I picked this book up. English history would have been very different had Henry’s brother Arthur lived, had Katherine been carrying a child when he died, had any of the children she had with Henry be male and live past infancy. There might never have been a Queen Elizabeth of England, an Elizabethan Era, and perhaps never have been a Church of England. Think of how different western culture might have been, all because of the death of a 15-year-old prince.