Katharine of Aragon

Written by Jean Plaidy
Review by James Hawking

If you have an interest in any particular period of British history, the odds are that Eleanor Hibbert wrote a novel about it, either under the name Jean Plaidy or Victoria Holt. This attractive volume reissues three related works: Katharine, the Virgin Widow; The Shadow of the Pomegranate; and The King’s Secret Matter. Early in the first volume, a prospective marriage with Arthur, Prince of Wales, brings a young Spanish princess to Dogmerfield, blissfully unaware of just what she is stepping into. Her brief unconsummated marriage to the gentle prince results in an impoverished widowhood when the avaricious Henry VII holds her a virtual hostage in disputes over her dowry. His death brings about what seems to be a happy ending, as she marries the newly crowned King Henry VIII. To correct this impression, the reader must move on to the second volume where Katharine contemplates the irony of her choice of the fertility symbol the pomegranate as device, while Henry moves farther away from her with each new mistress. Cardinal Wolsey assists the king in his quest to use scripture to justify the divorce from an aging and probably barren queen. The final volume sees Katharine defending the legitimacy of her marriage and the rights of her daughter Mary against the king’s insistence that she was really his brother’s widow. The execution of the Duke of Buckingham for an imagined treason shows how stubbornly vicious Henry has become, foreshadowing his later brutalities. Part of Plaidy’s appeal is that her omniscient viewpoint explains motivations that may even be hidden from the principals. This volume is recommended, and there are plenty more where it came from.