Monday, December 27, 2010

The Constant Princess... by Philippa Gregory

Book 49... I thought I was going to stop with 48 books! Anyway, I started this book quite a while ago but these days, my reading tends to get a bit 'distracted' cos I read on both the Ipad and Ipod. Finished it 2 days before Christmas. Nothing beats the Ipad for home use but the Ipod is still very handy when I am on the go.

Anyway, The Constant Princess... This is the 3rd of Gregory's books I've read. The Other Boleyn Girl got me motivated to read up about that era. Also, The Other Queen, helped me with an easier understanding of the setting and time; all which made reading all the more enjoyable.

This novel gives the background to the rise of Queen Katherine (Catalina), Henry VIII's first wife; the one he married when he was still a teen. She was a constant princess throughout the entire novel. A constant presence even after the death of Arthur, her first betrothed. A constant presence during the 7 years of wait to be betrothed to the future Henry VIII, even though she was almost a prisoner in England. She was also constant in her pursuit to be the Queen, a role that she believed she was born into. Also, her constant fervent belief that she is anointed by God to be a Queen... All throughout we can see her constancy!! And the writer puts it very succinctly the meaning of the word 'constant' in this novel.

Catalina, the youngest child of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain was betrothed to Arthur, the Prince of Wales but he died. Then she married her brother, Henry VIII, though she was quite a few years older. In those days, women were supposed to play a subordinate role. But funny though, that they somehow always end up influencing court life or run the politics from behind the scenes. Queen Catherine played an important role in winning a battle against the Scots when she was regent of England. Henry VIII was away on a campaign in France at that time. Actually in real life, she was quite a remarkable woman; having contributed to the eradication poverty and providing better educational opportunities during her reign.

But what caught my attention is how fervent the characters are in the story. They believed they are born into their position, blessed by God and anointed to do his bidding on earth. Yet they were willing to lie, turn a blind eye to their own misdeeds. God's name was much used in vain. God's name was also used to consolidate their 'rights'. God's name was everywhere as long as it profited them! Sounds familiar???

What was is still today. Religion has always been used to separate people into 'us' and 'them'. And they went to war for that; think Crusades. The Christendom and the infidels, the Pope and his grip on Christendom. The cycle is always the same... the Moors and their centres of great learning were wiped out in Spain by Isabella and Ferdinand, in the fervor to expand Christendom. Today, we have the Muslims doing their own jihad against the rest of the world...

Anyway, Catalina (later to become Katherine) is always a constant in the story and one with great EQ and cunningness. She was smart actually, in every sense of the word. Historians who studied her have commented that if she had been a man, she would have been defied all heroes of History. After Arthur's death, she waited 7 years like a prisoner and without means while Spain and England hammered out an arrangement of her future. In Henry's life too she was also almost always a constant. Her persistence, patience, humility and faith got here where she was....

It's not just a nice book for History buffs. This one provided me with lessons about the similarity of ages past and the present.

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