This is not a book for someone who knows nothing about the Reformation to begin with--the theological distinctions between Luther and Calvin, let alone Zwingli and Melanchthon, are hard for a non-Protestant to understand, and the relative brevity of the work doesn't give him time to really hash it out (to be fair, the issues that separated these guys are sometimes hard to appreciate, even when they're understood). However, it is very well-written, and since the author is one of the best-known scholars on the subject it is certainly reliable. It is an excellent overview of a complicated subject. In addition, the narrator is excellent.
This is the first modern biography of Henry VII, and it is long overdue. Penn does an excellent job of pulling together the complicated story of Henry's reign, its improbable and contested beginning, and its tragedies and betrayals. Henry is a difficult man to sympathize with, which perhaps explains the dearth of biographers, but the strains and disappointments of his reign explain a good deal about the subsequent Tudor preoccupations with legitimacy, continental standing, and continuity. This should satisfy both serious history students and those wishing for a general introduction to Tudor England. The narrator is quite good, as well.
It's an interesting premise, comparing the two queens, and it is both useful and thought-provoking. There was a fair amount of repetition of ideas, though, of the kind of summary one expects from the introduction or the ending of a work, not continually reiterated within it. The reader's voice is fine, not annoying at all.
The tragic story of Juana would be reason enough to read this book. However, there is so much gained in taking a second look at Catherine of Aragon. Juana is unfortunately remembered as Juana the Mad, but this book examines the evidence and casts doubts on the accuracy of the sobriquet. When she inherited the kingdom of Castile on her mother's death, she ended up at the mercy of men competing to rule it- her husband, her father, and eventually her son Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Not in dispute is her legacy of numerous offspring that married into many royal houses.
Catherine of Aragon faced many difficult times. She left Spain to marry Prince Arthur of England. After Arthur died, she faced years of uncertainty and financial hardship while her father-in-law and father remained in a bitter money dispute over her dowry. Her life brightened when Arthur's brother Henry VIII ascended to the throne and immediately married her only to later leave her when his head was turned by Anne Boleyn.
The book is very good at going into details on the case presented to the church by both sides. Henry is very upset that Catherine couldn't provide him with a son (that lived) and blames this misfortune on marrying his brother's wife (degree of affinity) even though the church granted a dispensation for Catherine and Henry's marriage. One of the weaknesses of this argument that is prominently pointed out in the book is that since Henry's former mistress Mary is Anne's sister, marrying Anne would be violating the same degree of affinity. Anne Boleyn's role (and that of her grasping family) in assisting Henry's side is also detailed in the book.
Catherine is presented as a counselor to Henry during the beginning of his reign. When her crafty father Ferdinand would try to better his own prospects at the expense of Henry and England, Catherine would stand behind Henry and her adopted country. Her intelligence and determination is best shown in her tenacity fighting for her marriage and enlisting the help of Juana's son Charles V to repeatedly pressure the Pope. The book brings out Catherine's concern on how adversely an annulment will affect the future of her daughter Mary. Not only did it affect her prospects as an heir, it also severely affected her marriage choices. Catherine, brought up by the "Catholic monarchs" Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, also despaired at the rise of Protestantism in England and worried about the effect of the broken marriage as well as Anne and her beliefs would have on the country. The book brings out that the unfortunate result of Catherine's struggle to keep her marriage would end up weakening the Catholic church in England by forcing Henry to leave the church to get his much desired marriage to Anne. She also had to endure Henry's punishment of isolating her from her beloved daughter.
The book provides a good look at the children of Ferdinand and Isabella and their influence on the world at the time. The good qualities of Juana have been hidden underneath an accusation of insanity, made by the people who profited the most by her removal from the scene. Catherine of Aragon is more than just a bitter, overly religious first wife- she is an educated woman concerned about the future of her daughter, her country, and her husband.
I discovered this book because I had bought another book George, Nicholas, and Wilhem that was also narrated by Roslyn Landor. I enjoyed the book and her performance and was interested in her other books.