Sister Queens by Julia Fox
I saw the book Sister Queens. Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox mentioned on a blog and I had to read it. I’ve read a few books, both historical and historical fiction about Katherine. She was an amazing woman, with a sad life. I didn’t know anything about her sister Juana. In the books I’ve read before she was barely mentioned.
I was expecting Sister Queens to be sad, but it was one of the most sad books I’ve read so far. I thought Katherine’s story was a sorrowful one, before I’ve read what happened to Juana, her sister.
Julia Fox has a lovely way of writing, I can’t wait for her other book, about Jane Boleyn. The biography she consulted to write this book is astonishing. Because she was able to read original letters from Katherine to her father or cousin, the letters from the ambassadors, she gained a real insight into their lives.
Julia uses quotes from those letters and other documents and it makes the reader feel like the characters in the book are speaking. I like her style of writing very much. It’s definitely a book I would love to read again.
I imagine my readers know what happened to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, out of six. It was a crucial part in British history and everybody knows about that time. Katherine was married to Arthur, Henry’s brother for six months, before he died. As a widow, Katherine remained in England, waiting for the parents to arrange her marriage with Henry.
For years she waited, while many things had happened. Her mother died and her father refused to pay her dowry. After Henry’s father died, he married her. They were happy for a long time, before meeting Anne Boleyn, trying to get a divorce, starting the reformation. Katherine was a strong woman, determined. She thought her calling is to be Queen of England. While a widow she did everything in her power to arrange the marriage between her and Henry. After she got married, she continued to communicate with her father. She acted like an ambassador of Spain many times.
When Henry was away in France, she defended England from the Scots. As her mother, she was a warrior, even if she didn’t actually pick up the sword. Documents show her involvement in the preparations for the defense against the Scottish attacks.
The most emotional part of the book is, unsurprisingly, about her last days. It’s such a fascinating story. Julia talks about what is known and what can’t be confirmed due to lack of original documents.
I mentioned Juana had an equally sad story. After a less than perfect marriage to Philip, who was abusive, Juana was held as a prisoner first by her father, Ferdinand, and, after his death, by her son. She was kept in a couple of rooms for 47 years in total, without the possibility to leave the castle she was living in. As a Queen, she had no power. Her father, and her son after him, told everybody she is crazy, so they could reign over Castile. For years her son, Charles, lied to her, didn’t tell her that Ferdinand had died and that, in fact, she should have been Queen, and not him.
A rebellion started when she was already in prison for 11 years. Her father died four years before that and many Spaniards weren’t happy with their new King. Charles was raised abroad, had a different maternal language, and he acted as a foreigner. The rebels managed to get to Juana, talked with her for weeks. They asked her to help them, so she could become a real Queen again. She didn’t sign anything, but it was obvious from their discussions that she was not crazy, as her father and son wanted everybody to believe. After the rebellion was crushed by Charles’s forces, she was once again in her prison with one of her daughters for company. She will remain in the castle she was kept before, in a couple of rooms, without the possibility to go out, not even to go to church.
It’s a shame that, after 500 years, her name is still associated with craziness, still called “Juana the Mad”. There is no real account of her illness. She was only a pawn for her family, her husband, her father, and her son.
Sister Queens by Julia Fox
Details about the picture: Catherine of Aragon used pomegranate as a badge during her time as Queen of England. The seeds symbolizes fertility and abundance, also is an exotic fruit that showed her Spanish roots.
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes, I would. It’s a non-fiction book, but so easy to read that it seems like a novel.
Published by: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Year it was published: 2011
Genre(s): Historical, non-fiction
About the author: Julia Fox
She was born in London. She wanted to be a teacher from childhood, and taught in both public and private schools in north London. Julia left teaching to concentrate on researching and writing. Her other interests include music, theatre, walking, and cooking.