Historical fiction is easily one of my favourite genres, and so I’ve been very lucky recently to have read some amazing Tudor-period novels. Therefore I thought I’d combine them into a Tudor-themed mini review post, so enjoy, fellow history nerds!
Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
‘I will never forgive her this. I will never forget this.’
When Katherine of Aragon arrives in England to marry Arthur Tudor, she meets her two future sisters-in-law, Margaret and Mary, and so begins a life long sisterhood, rife with rivalry, affection and divided loyalties. Through the rise and fall of each sister’s fortune and various marriages and tragedies, the unique bond between the three Queens of England, Scotland and France remains strong and proves more powerful than any king.
I’ve been a fan of Philippa Gregory’s books for a long time – ever since I read The Other Boleyn Girl – but in recent years I’ve been finding them a bit hit-and-miss. For example, whilst I loved The Constant Princess and The Kingmaker’s Daughter, I found myself getting a little bored with the likes of The Other Queen, and really disliked Gregory’s depiction of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Oddly, Margaret Tudor, the main character of Three Sisters, Three Queens, had a lot in common with Gregory’s portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots – she’s haughty, proud and has an ego the size of a house – yet I still found myself really enjoying this book. Whilst I’ve read a lot of Tudor historical fiction, Margaret’s story isn’t one I knew well, so I found the book fascinating from that standpoint, but I also really liked the way the story was framed by the tempestuous and difficult relationships between Katherine of Aragon, Margaret Tudor and Mary Tudor.
Whilst the three women share a very unique bond, given their circumstances (all three eventually become queens, and so understand each other’s struggles and responsibilities) they are pitted against each other time and time again, and often experience jealousy and animosity towards each other, and this made for a fascinating dynamic.
Margaret as the narrator made this book particularly interesting, as you can easily see that her viewpoint is skewed by her idea that she is vastly superior to everyone else, especially her two sisters. You can clearly see her make huge mistakes throughout the book as she is making them, yet somehow you still really feel for her when it all goes wrong, which I think is probably how her sisters feel about her in the book as well.
As she’s the sister who is furthest removed from the vibrant court of Henry VIII she initially seems like an odd choice of narrator, yet I enjoyed getting a more distant take on the events of the court through the letters passed between Margaret and her sisters, and her own story in itself certainly doesn’t lack in interest or intrigue. It seems a daring choice to choose a character who on the surface is so petulant and unlikable to be the eyes through which the reader sees the story, but I felt it really worked in this book.
Margaret’s turbulent and troubled life definitely made for compelling reading anyway, yet the thing I loved most about this book was its’ unique concept: whilst it’s clearly a historical fiction book, it has a very human-level focus on the relationship between three fascinating women. I would definitely recommend this to any fans of historical fiction, and in my opinion it’s Philippa Gregory at her finest (although I know a lot of people on Goodreads disagree with me…)!
Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) by Alison Weir
”I am the king’s true wife, and I will remain so until my dying day!’
At just sixteen years old, Katherine of Aragon must leave everything and everyone she’s ever known behind to fulfil the destiny that has been laid out for her since she was a small child: she must travel to England and take her place as Queen. However, this proves much harder than she could ever have thought, and she faces terrible trials and tribulations she couldn’t even have imagined as a young woman, fresh from a life of luxury in her parents’ palace in Spain. Throughout it all there is one thing that gets her through: the knowledge that she is the one and only true Queen of England, and this is her fate.
A couple of years ago I read one of Alison Weir’s non-fiction books (The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn) and really enjoyed it, and so I was pretty excited when I found out she was writing a series of novels about each of Henry VIII’s wives. Katherine of Aragon’s story is one I know well, so to a certain extent I wondered what Weir could really bring to her story that was new, but I really enjoyed the level of detail and the emotional depths she brought to this book.
For starters, I thought her portrayal of Katherine of Aragon was perfect! So often find fictional versions of her a little annoying, as she’s often depicted as pious to the point of being saint-like, and is simply the drab, religious older woman to Anne Boleyn’s sparkling youth and beguiling personality. However, Weir’s Katherine is incredibly charismatic and is clearly a character all of her own: in fact Anne Boleyn is only a very shadowy figure in this novel, and rarely directly seen or encountered by Katherine (I guess that’s all being saved for the next Six Tudor Queens book!).
Katherine’s journey from a poised, yet unsure Princess to a strong, resilient Queen certainly made for a captivating read, and I easily finished this rather hefty book in a matter of a few days (and considering I already knew the story is really saying something!). It may be a big statement to make, but this is easily the best telling of Katherine of Aragon’s story that I’ve read!
You could certainly tell throughout that it was written by a historian, as the research was impeccable, and the world of the Tudor court was painted in such stunning detail that you truly felt yourself becoming immersed in the time period of the novel. I am beyond excited to slip back into Alison Weir’s Tudor court in the second book in the series – Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession – and I’ll definitely be checking out some more of her non-fiction after loving this so much! Highly recommended to all you Tudor buffs out there!
Have you read either of these books and did you enjoy them? Any other Tudor-period novels you can recommend?