The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as "Juana the Mad", whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation.
Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.
When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.
Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships.
Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.
©2012 Julia Fox (P)2012 Random House
"Julia Fox’s vivid and sympathetic book now shows us [Katherine of Aragon’s] life and marriage in another context, setting it against the even more terrifying story of her elder sister, Juana.... As Fox recreates Juana and Katherine’s lives in colorful detail, she manages to draw out the spirit and resilience of two women fearfully abused in a very cruel, very male world.” (The Spectator)
Fox offers an absorbing, rich, and fresh view of the entwined royal relationships that helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A talented entrant in royal biography, Fox fairly bids for the popularity historian Alison Weir currently wields.” (Booklist)
Julia Fox came up with a fascinating idea in writing a dual biography of the most renowned of Ferdinand and Isabella???s daughters: Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII???s beleaguered queen, and Juana of Castile. The last work of non-fiction that I read (Alison Weir???s bio of Mary Boleyn) was tediously repetitious and digressive, a problem I???ve found with many historical biographies. Fox, however, has avoided that pitfall, creating an engaging and highly readable narrative.
Katherine and Juana have been reduced over time almost to caricatures, Katherine as the stubbornly Catholic wife who refused to let Henry go, and Juana as a wife so obsessed with her husband that his affairs and early death drove her to madness. But Fox shows that there was much more to each woman, and that, to a great extent, the restrictions of gender and the machinations of the men around them caused their downfalls. She details Katherine???s role as an ambassador concerned with the interests of both Spain and England, as well as her diplomacy and finesse in dealing with Henry. Fox does an admirable job of presenting fairly the events with which most readers will be familiar: her penurious widowhood following the death of Prince Arthur; the dispensation to marry Henry; the many miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths; her displacement by Anne Boleyn. In the case of Juana, Fox???s research demonstrates that existing letters and reports from those permitted to see her following her confinement for madness demonstrate that she behaved sanely and graciously. Fox contends that her husband and father schemed to keep her from exercising sovereignty over Castile, Ferdinand in particular unwilling to give up what he had jointly ruled with Isabella after she died and left the crown to Juana, her eldest daughter.
Through no fault of the author???s, the space devoted to the sisters is not balanced 50/50, simply because there is less documentation of Juana???s life. Near the end, Fox poses a fascinating question: What would have happened if the sisters??? roles had been reversed???if Katherine, so good at diplomacy, had been Queen of Castile, and if Juana, who produced six children (two emperors and four queens) had been Henry???s wife?
Sister Queens was a well done narrative history that brought together timelines and life drama in an easy to follow chronological story. Recommend for anyone interested in that period.
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I recently finished the historical fiction novels The Queen’s Vow & The Last Queen by, C.W. Gortner and went into this one because these women all fascinated me. What I liked about this one was it gave a look at Katherine’s life between marrying Arthur & Henry. I also liked the fact that like Gortner’s fiction Fox also asserts that Juana wasn’t crazy (well not completely...the whole dragging her dead husband around was a little well, wacko) but that it was the men around her that wanted to rule in her stead and made it appear that way and used anything they could to make it so.
As I said in my review of Last Queen I believe that what both of these authors assert, that she was not as crazy as they made the world believe and if she did end up going crazy who can blame her they took away everything she loved, her kingdom, her children and locked her away where she wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, I guess I just ended up feeling so bad for her.
With Katherine we hear so much about the end of her marriage with Henry it was so very fascinating to hear what happened between the time of Arthurs death and that marriage I guess in my mind I thought it had happened rather quickly but I see now I was mistaken, she still had to jump through many hoops and so much political finagling.
There is more in this book about Katherine than Juana however that is only because there is much more documentation still around about Katherine. But the author does give a good view of Juana and her life. I found these women so fascinating. However their lives in the end kind of mirrored each other both cast out and their child taken away.
As non-fiction this book never got dry it kept my interest even when it got to the part of Tudor history I’ve heard hundreds of times but was nice to hear it from Katherine’s side.
Audio production: Rosalyn Landor’s narrations adds voice to this fascinating history and she does a great job I love her deep British, slightly haughty accent, it plays just perfect for these royals. Landor’s narrations are always great and never cookie cutter will always choose to get a book on audio if I see she narrates it!
I would recommend this to anyone interested in history! I love the Tudor period, and was quite interested in a story from "the other side".
She reads very well, really draws one into the story.
This is a great book and a great listen - especially for those who are interested in Spanish or English History. The author covers a good deal of Queen Isabella of Spain's later years which is gripping and this serves as the lead in to the story of the sister queens. Anyone who was a fan of Showtimes' show The Tudors will be interested in this book I think! I loved the book however, it was an effort to listen to the last few minutes as the pace of the story slowed. Well worth the credit!
Life's too short to read bad books.
This was an excellent book and so good that I want to get the hard copy of it. It was very well-performed, and had extensive research. Buy it!
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.
I read a lot of reviews prior to selecting a book. I value my time too much to spend it reading a lemon. I hope my reviews will be helpful as you look for your next book
I enjoy learning about history, and this book presented the information in a clear, well-organized manner. I came away from this book feeling like the information will stick with me. It was not one of those history books so dull it just goes in one ear and out the other. It was easy and enjoyable to listen to. I have no complaints about the book, I just can't give it a 5-star rating unless it blows me away (like Killing Lincoln). I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Spanish history, or this period in European history.
I am often suspect of biographies, as authors so often make decisions about people in history that may or may not be truly factual, creating whole new people from real life historical figures. Perhaps they just need to write a book interesting enough to sell and blurring truths and facts becomes part of the package. NOT THIS BOOK!
SISTER QUEENS by Julia Fox manages to be a magnificently interesting book while stating facts and theories from a well researched position. Letters, documents, historical writings and other real remnants from history make up the basis of the book.
Spanish monarchs, Isabelle and Ferdinand's children lives and fortunes are described as part of this chronological factual story about the lives of their two most famous children, Katherine and Juana. Katherine, as the first wife of Henry the 8th, was an accomplished student and politician in her own right. She maneuvered a world much like ours today. Most of us have heard many stories about Henry 8th exploits from his vantage point. This story focuses almost completely from Katherine's vantage point, making this book particularly interesting. We hear about her fight to become, and stay Henry's wife; her fight to maintain her Catholic view to be THE world view; and her fight to maintain that her daughter, Mary, would succeed Henry as his rightful successor to the throne.
Juana, historically known as 'Juana, the Mad', lived most of her life in forced seclusion. Though her four daughters and two sons, and their progeny eventually ruled much of Europe, Juana's life is much a mystery. Julia Fox presented a case for madness , or perhaps accepted seclusion in her determination to secure her children's place in the world without breaking faith with her father, who wrongfully took her place as the Spanish King, wielding much influence in a male dominated hierarchy.
I found this book to be one of the best researched and most interestingly related stories written about this time in history. I highly recommend it to everyone interested in determining truth about this era of history for themselves!
It's hard not to love Catherine. What an amazing woman!
It could be interesting, but I prefer to read books about history, rather than some overly dramatic, tawdry interpretation of an already great and much loved story.
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