The King’s Pleasure
Originally published in 1969, this reissued novel by one of the grande dames of 20th-century historical fiction tells the familiar story of Katharine of Aragon, spanning her childhood in Spain to her death as the cast-off wife of Henry VIII. Katharine’s tale is told by a third-person narrator not only from her own perspective, but from those of other players in the drama of Henry’s reign.
This is a novel that has held up remarkably well over time. Though it is slow moving on occasion, its leisurely pace allows us to savor the impressive gallery of characters. Lofts gives us information about the backgrounds of even the minor ones, so that they become much more than mere props supporting the lead protagonists, but interesting people in their own right. Henry, always a challenge for historical novelists, is not a cardboard villain but a complex man of many qualities. Katharine is admirable but maddeningly stubborn, taking the hard path where the easier one might have been better for all concerned. The interactions between all of these people feel absolutely authentic and natural, as in the scene toward the end of the novel where two of Katharine’s attendants bicker as Katharine lies dying in the next room. And although the novel ends with Katharine’s death, Lofts occasionally provides us glimpses into the future, adding to the book’s richness.
This is a classic of the genre that should appeal both to those revisiting old favorites and to those just discovering the masters of the past.