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Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen by Giles Tremlett

Posted By Claire on November 4, 2010

Catherine of Aragon Giles TremlettI was really excited when I heard that Giles Tremlett was writing a biography of Catherine of Aragon, 1) because the last biography of Catherine was written in 1963 and 2) because I thoroughly enjoyed his last book, “Ghosts of Spain”. I was not disappointed when I read Tremlett’s “Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen” and I think my husband is rather fed up of me raving about it and reading sections out to him!

What do I love about Tremlett’s book? Well, I love all of it, every single word, but here’s why I’d recommend it to Tudor history lovers:-

  • It gives the reader details on Catherine’s background and that of her parents.
  • It uncovers exactly who Catherine was rather than just painting her as the victim of Henry VIII’s Great Matter.
  • The book is highly readable and accessible to all.
  • It makes the reader empathise with Catherine and understand why she refused to just fade into the background and join a convent.
  • It is an account of her whole life, not just her marriage to Henry VIII.
  • Tremlett gives new information about Catherine, information that I have never read before e.g. her close relationship and dependency on her confessor, Fray Diego, her eating disorder and evidence given at the Zaragoza tribunal into Henry VIII’s request for an annulment.

All in all, it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Tudor era.

Here is a rundown of what is covered in Tremlett’s book:-

  • Introduction –  Tremlett gives information on the hearing into Catherine and Henry’s marriage and the witness statements given by Spaniards regarding the consummation/non-consummation of Catherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur.
  • Chapter 1 Bed – A short chapter describing the proceedings following the wedding of Catherine and Arthur.
  • Chapter 2 Queen – Tremlett takes us back in time to the agreement between Enrique IV of Castile and Isabel de Trastámara, the woman who became Queen of Castile and Catherine’s mother. A brilliant chapter explaining how Isabel became queen and married Ferdinand of Aragon.
  • Chapter 3 Birth – The context into which Catherine was born and her birth.
  • Chapter 4 Betrothed – The English ambassadors’ visit to Spain, the Treaty of Medina del Campo and the betrothal of Catherine to Arthur. My favourite part of this chapter was the description of Isabel’s richly jewelled outfit which Machado, one of the ambassadors, estimated as being decorated with two hundred thousand crowns’ worth of gold!
  • Chapter 5 Infanta – The visit of Margaret of Austria, who was set to marry Catherine’s brother Juan, Catherine’s childhood and life as Infanta and the future princess of Wales, her education and life at the Spanish court.
  • Chapter 6 Alhambra Princess – This chapter is about Catherine’s parents’ love of the Alhambra and what life was like for Catherine living in the beautiful Moorish palace with its idyllic parks and gardens, its “glistening marble”, hot and cold water – a veritable paradise. It must have been such a shock for Catherine when she went to England!
  • Chapter 7 Adios – Catherine’s journey from the Alhambra in Granada, Southern Spain, to Laredo on the north coast for her departure to England.
  • Chapter 8 Land – Catherine’s arrival  at Plymouth, England, her journey to London and a surprise visit from Henry VII and her fiancé, Arthur.
  • Chapter 9 On Show – Catherine’s formal entry into London.
  • Chapter 10 Wedding – Catherine and Arthur’s wedding and the celebrations and pageants which were organised for it.
  • Chapter 11 Morning After – The couple’s reactions to their wedding night, the continuing celebrations, the growing uneasiness between Henry VII and Catherine’s Spanish retinue and Henry’s decision to send Catherine to Ludlow with her husband.
  • Chapter 12 Married Life – Life at Ludlow in the cold, damp winter of 1501, the illness suffered by Catherine and Arthur, and Arthur’s subsequent death.
  • Chapter 13 My Husband’s Brother – Catherine’s new home at Durham House, the debate over her future, the argument over whether her marriage had been consummated, Elizabeth of York’s death and the betrothal between Catherine and the new heir to the English throne, Prince Henry.
  • Chapter 14 Bleed Me – Catherine’s ill health, her eating disorder, her depression, the problems with her household, the death of Isobel of Castile and Catherine’s mounting debts.
  • Chapter 15 Deceived – Catherine’s appearance, the battle for control in Castile, the treachery in Catherine’s household and Catherine’s uncertain future.
  • Chapter 16 Confessions – Catherine’s relationship with Fray Diego, her confessor and his influence on her.
  • Chapter 17 Ambassador – Henry VII’s announcement that the betrothal is off, Ferdinand’s appointment of Catherine as his ambassador, Henry VII’s infatuation with Catherine’s sister, Juana, Catherine’s role as diplomat and her problems with debt. The chapter ends with Henry VII’s death.
  • Chapter 18 Married Again – Catherine’s marriage to the new king, Henry VIII and their joint coronation.
  • Chapter 19 Party Queen – The early days of marriage with its continual feasting and fun, the couple’s relationship, Henry’s wandering eye, Catherine’s pregnancy and miscarriage and her second pregnancy.
  • Chapter 20 An Heir – The birth of a son and heir.
  • Chapter 21 Motherhood – The celebrations after the birth and then the death of little Prince Henry.
  • Chapter 22 Bedroom Politics – The funeral, the relationship between Catherine and her father and Henry and his father-in-law, the warlike Catherine and Catherine’s acknowledgement that she was now Queen of England and had to put English interests first.
  • Chapter 23 War – Henry’s war with France and Catherine’s role as Regent and her victory over the Scots.
  • Chapter 24 And Peace – Catherine’s relationship with her sister-in-law, Margaret, Henry’s arrival in England, the rise of Wolsey, the trickery of Ferdinand, Catherine’s pregnancy and the stillbirth of a baby boy.
  • Chapter 25 Daughters – Christmas celebrations, another pregnancy for Catherine, the death of Ferdinand and the birth of Princess Mary.
  • Chapter 26 Marrying Mary – Mary’s betrothal to the Dauphin, Catherine’s popularity as queen, the riots of Evil May Day and the death of another baby.
  • Chapter 27 My Sister’s Son – Preparations for the Field of Cloth of Gold, the arrival of Catherine’s nephew, Charles, the Field of Cloth of Gold and the betrothal between Princess Mary and Charles.
  • Chapter 28 Infertility and Infidelity – Catherine as mother, Mary’s education and Catherine’s belief in her destiny, the broken engagement between Mary and Charles, and the deterioration of the relationship between Catherine and Wolsey.
  • Chapter 29 Bastard – The birth of Elizabeth Blount’s son, Henry Fitzroy, Catherine’s reaction to Henry showering the boy with honours, the rivalry between Catherine and Wolsey, and Henry’s decision to get rid of Catherine.
  • Chapter 30 Divorce: the King’s Secret Matter – The secret tribunal to rule on Henry and Catherine’s marriage and  Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn.
  • Chapter 31 Virginity – Catherine’s defence, her claim that she was a virgin when she married Henry, Wolsey’s struggle to get the King what he wanted and Europe finding out about Henry’s “secret” matter.
  • Chapter 32 Disease – Wolsey’s letter regarding Catherine’s disease of the sexual organs, Henry’s relationship with Anne Boleyn and the waning of Wolsey’s influence.
  • Chapter 33 Never with the Mother – The rumour that Henry had slept with all of the women in the Boleyn family, the worry over the fact that Henry had slept with Anne’s sister, the spread of sweating sickness and the news that the Pope would allow Henry’s case to be heard in England.
  • Chapter 34 God and my Nephew – Wolsey and Campeggio’s idea that Catherine should join a convent, Catherine’s affirmation that she had not slept with Arthur and the arrival of the Papal brief.
  • Chapter 35 The People’s Queen – Catherine’s popularity and the support of the English people for her cause, Henry’s threat to separate Catherine and Mary, and the increasing public presence of Anne Boleyn.
  • Chapter 36 Spies and Disguises – Catherine’s secret meetings with Mendoza, Henry’s worry over the brief and teh setting of a date for the trial.
  • Chapter 37 Defiance – The trial at Blackfriars and Catherine’s speech at the trial.
  • Chapter 38 Ghostly Advice – The court sessions, the debate over Catherine’s virginity, Fisher’s arguments and his willingness to be martyred for Catherine’s cause.
  • Chapter 39 Carnal Copulation – Catherine receives a visit from Campeggio and Wolsey, Catherine’s appeal to Rome and Pope Clement’s granting of her request that her case should be heard in Rome.
  • Chapter 40 The Lull – Catherine confronts Henry, her belief that she could win Henry back, the fall of Wolsey, and Catherine works on her defence.
  • Chapter 41 Poison – The poisoning of John Fisher, Henry reads Tyndale’s book, the prophecy of Elizabeth Barton, the bullying of Catherine and Henry’s final rejection of her.
  • Chapter 42 Alone – Henry’s rejection of Catherine, Catherine is banished to The More, Catherine’s willingness to be martyred and her belief that only God could take away her title, the opposition to the divorce, Thomas More’s moral conflict and anti-Boleyn feelings.
  • Chapter 43 The Queen’s Jewels – Catherine receives a message that Henry wants her jewels, Anne becomes Marchioness of Pembroke and visits France with the King, Anne’s pregnancy and marriage to Henry.
  • Chapter 44 Secrets and Lies – Anne dresses as queen, Cranmer rules that Catherine’s marriage to Henry was invalid and validates Henry and Anne’s marriage, and Anne is crowned queen.
  • Chapter 45 That Whore – Popular anger over Catherine’s treatment and Cromwell’s attempts to deal with it.
  • Chapter 46 A ‘Bastard’ Daughter – Catherine’s refusal to accept the annulment and her new title, Henry’s threats, the birth of Elizabeth and its effect on Mary and the ill treatment of Catherine.
  • Chapter 47 Hang, Draw and Quarter – Rome decides that Catherine and Henry’s marriage was “valid and canonical”, the Act of Succession, Elizabeth Barton’s execution, further bullying of Catherine, the imprisonment of Friar Forrest, Anne Boleyn’s relationship with Mary and her threats against her.
  • Chapter 48 Prisoner – Catherine’s move to Kimbolton and her life there.
  • Chapter 49 The Terror – The support for Catherine and Mary and Henry’s concern over it, the execution of the Carthusian monks and others, the executions of More and Fisher and Chapuys’ worry that Henry would order the executions of Catherine and Mary.
  • Chapter 50 Death and Conscience – Catherine’s illness, her letter to Henry and her death.
  • Chapter 51 Afterword – Rumours of foul play, Anne’s miscarriage and downfall, Henry’s subsequent marriages, Catherine’s legacy (Mary) and the continuing “debate over Catherine’s character and her place in history”.

As you can see from my brief rundown of what is covered in each chapter, Tremlett’s book gives an incredibly detailed account of Catherine’s life, drawing on both English and Spanish records. After reading it, I was left with a new admiration of Catherine of Aragon and a real understanding of her actions. She was an incredible woman and Tremlett’s book is a real celebration of her amazing life.

“Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen” is released in the UK today, 4th November, in hardback by Faber and Faber. It can be ordered at Amazon UK – click here – or from your favourite bookstore. It is due for release in the USA on 23rd November and can be pre-ordered from Amazon US – click here.


17 Responses to “Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen by Giles Tremlett”

  1. Kate Schulte says:

    I am so excited to read this. Sounds like a great read

  2. Belle says:

    Wait so Catherine was going to have Mary marry her nephew aka Mary’s cousin? Is that CRAZY?!

  3. Anne Barnhill says:

    This sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to get it–thanks for such a detailed review.

  4. I just finished my Masters Thesis on Katherine, and I was not able to use this book as it had not yet come out, but it looks fantastic, and quite frankly a more modern approach to Katherine is welcome after the massacre of Katherine at the hands of Joanna Denny in her biography of Anne. A new biography is refreshing to see! Katherine was just as important as Anne, and of course her marriage lasted longer than the rest of the wives put together. At last Katherine has regained her place as one of the most important Queen Consorts of England.

  5. Ana says:

    Cannot wait to get my copy and start reading! I preordered this book when it became available. The tragedies of the two sisters – Juana and Catalina – have always been fascinating to me and it’s great to have new biographies on both coming out soon.

  6. Carol says:

    I attended a talk given by Giles Tremlett at The Tower of London last week. He was discussing this book. I have got my copy now and have just started to read it. I must say it looks very interesting.

  7. Jane D'Arcy says:

    It puts a new slant on the usual version of Catherine in relation to the Divorce, Virginity and her Character. The author also paints AB as rather more paranoid and insecure at points in her realtionsip with HV8 when it is usually assumed that she was secure. Interesting to read a biography of Catherine that suggests she was manipulative and far from the passive victim she is assumed to be by some people. Its difficult though not to get frustrated with her….she really could have avoided the miserable last years of her life, just as other aristocratic women had before her.

  8. Kelly says:

    Yes, finnaly a book of Catherina of Aragon, also really great to read about her mother, Isabella Of Castilie (A queen that was so big for that time, you only can admire her, she was so powerfull), I always admire Catherina, i can understand her point of vieuw. So this one must be a biography for me, right? Allready asked for it for Christmas, so i can read as soon as possible. It is tragic how her life ended (also the life of het sister Juana La Loca, who i have read resently).. Such tragic sisters, really had no idea that she had an eating disorder… Thnk you Claire, keep up the good work (ps how can i get a pic as avatar?)

    From the Netherlands

  9. Claire says:

    Hi Kelly,
    To get an avatar to go with any comments you make, you need to go to and sign up for a free account. You can either use an uploaded picture or your webcam to capture a photo. Once you’ve done this, all of your posts and comments here and on The Anne Boleyn Files will automatically have your chosen image.

  10. Claire says:

    I know what you mean, Jane, with hindsight we can see that Catherine could have saved herself and her daughter a lot of suffering by accepting the annulment or by going into a convent but she was a proud woman, a Spanish princess and she also wanted to fight for her daughter’s right to the throne. Her story is so tragic.

  11. Rose says:

    Likewise, ‘The Constant Princess’ by Phillipa Gregory, although a fiction book, is good at explaining Catherine’s early years.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I am surprised how so many people think that Catherine should have denied her true vocation as a wife and mother to go to a convent! Once you know as much about her character and her religious conviction as we can from Tremlett and even Mattingly before him, it makes little sense to have ANY expectation Catherine of Aragon would go live in a convent, having no vocation for the religious life at all.
    Why should she be the one to submit to Henry’s willfull efforts to void their marriage and marry Anne Boleyn? Think of the suffering she and Mary would have endured if she had given in! Think of the suffering that Mary DID endure when she gave in to her father’s demands to swear those horrible oaths against her own legitimacy and her parents’ marriage!
    I doubt that Henry would have treated either of them any better if Catherine had given in–remember that he did not immediately restore Mary to her place at Court or in his affections even after she did give in.

  13. I am surprised how so many people think that Catherine should have denied her true vocation as a wife and mother to go to a convent! Once you know as much about her character and her religious conviction as we can from Tremlett and even Mattingly before him, it makes little sense to have ANY expectation Catherine of Aragon would go live in a convent, having no vocation for the religious life at all.
    Why should she be the one to submit to Henry’s willfull efforts to void their marriage and marry Anne Boleyn? Think of the suffering she and Mary would have endured if she had given in! Think of the suffering that Mary DID endure when she gave in to her father’s demands to swear those horrible oaths against her own legitimacy and her parents’ marriage!

  14. Sorry about the double post! My pc did not register the first submission.

  15. Laura Stijnen says:

    Claire, I just finished the book! My husband has bought it for me when he was on a business trip in UK and said: “It is time to read about the love triangle [Anne, Catherine, Henri] from another point of view” :-))) He knows my love for Anne and everything related to Anne and decided to challenge me by buying something different this time.

    And yes, he was right! The book is incredible and to read the story through the eyes of Tremlett and the point of view of Catherine was amazing! I have so much more respect for that woman now that I have read the book! And the story is written in such a captivating way that I couldn’t drop it and I managed to read it in 4 nights (and of course I paid the price of exhaustion after that 🙂 All in all, I agree absolutely with the review of Claire! Amazing book!

  16. emma says:

    I finished the book today and thought it was very informative. People have this image of Catherine as a victim but this book shows that she was in fact a clever, resourceful and determined politician. Whether or not she would have been better or worse off if she had taken the veil is an fascinating topic but at the end of the day there are too many variables for us to know one way or the other.

  17. What a treat — Tudor Book Reviews! i’m almost finished with Hilary Mantel’s beautifully written page-turner Bring Up the Bodies, after becoming completely fascinated by the Showtime series. In Mantel’s book vs. the TV entertainment portrayals of characters are so at odds, i complained to my Dearly Beloved: “Am I going to have to fork over 40 bucks for a definitive up-to-date Tudor history, written by an undisputed authority to find out what’s what and who’s who?” 5 minutes later, i discovered this page. Can’t wait to dig in. Tudor Book Reviews will probably take me as long to work my way through as one lengthy bio of, say, Henry, who i think of as the Man Who Married 2 Annes, 2 Janes & 2 Catherines. But I know I’ll enjoy it.

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