Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Scholarly, But Very Readable

Sister Queens traces the parallel lives of Katherine of Aragon and her sister Juana, Queen of Castile. Daughters of Isabella and Ferdinand, the girls were raised to realize that their role in life was to increase the power of the Spanish dynasty and cement relationships with other nations. Things started well for both girls. Katherine, a favorite of Henry VII, married Prince Arthur in a magnificent ceremony. Juana married Philip of Burgundy, the love of her life. There the lives of the two women began to slide toward tradegy. Arthur died and Katherine married his brother, Henry. This marriage eventually ushered in the break between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Juana's Philip was consistently unfaithful and power hungry. When, unexpectedly, she became Queen of Castile, he determined to take the power for himself.

I highly recommend this book. Not only are the sisters sympathetically portrayed, but the author addresses some the mysteries of the Tudor period. Was Katherine's marriage to Arthur consummated? While the author doesn't give a definitive answer, she does present a comprehensive review of the evidence. Was Juana mad, or the victim of her male relatives hunger for power? Again, there is no way to say for certain. Juana's behavior was often erratic, but being imprisoned, she had good reason to try to get her own way in small things.

While this book is not a comprehensive history of the Tudor period, it gives valuable insights into many of the leading characters of the day. I particularly liked the interweaving of the sister's stories. It made the glittering dance of kings and queens across Europe much more understandable. In this regard, the genealogy charts were outstanding. It's very hard to remember who was married to whom and where they reigned. My only quibble is that because the marriages were so important, I would have liked to have that date as well as the dates of birth and death. A very enjoyable view of a fascinating period.