Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sister Queens: The Tragic Noble Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Two Sisters. Two Queens. Each touched by tragedy. I have heard their stories. One a faithful wife, abused by love. Another a wife and Queen, driven mad by grief. This was their whole story, their whole life. But so much more lies beneath the surface. Julia Fox investigates the lives of these two Queens.

Juana marries Philip the Handsome, the womanizing son of the Holy Roman Emperor. It is assumed that Philip will one day assume the title of Emperor, making the match a political heaven for Spain. His influence on Juana soon leads to her isolation from her native lands and her family. After a series of devastating losses to Spain, Juana inherits her mother's Castilian Crown. Ferdinand and Philip will stop at nothing to keep Juana from ruling in her own right. They use her history of hysterics and tantrums to keep her from the throne. After Philip dies, Ferdinand has her imprisoned in Tordesillas and becomes her regent. After his death, Juana's future is in the hands of her eldest son, a boy raised by his aunt. The revolt of the Comuneros offers Juana her crown back, but her lack of ambition keep her imprisoned. After forty six years of imprisonment, Juana dies.

Katherine's story is more well known, but no less tragic. Married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, Katherine will one day be England's Queen. But five months of wedded bliss leave the pretty princess a widow. She stays in England, and is promised to Henry, the new heir to the English Throne. Politics keep the marriage from taking place. Out of money, and lacking help, Katherine waits for her God and Father to intervene. After the death of Henry VII, Katherine is married to Henry VIII and they are crowned. The early years of marriage are happy. Katherine is smart and politically astute and provides advice to the new king. But the lack of an heir weigh heavily on the King and Queen. Katherine rules as regent while Henry battles France. As regent, she raises an army and defends England against Scotland. Channeling her mother's courage and bravery, her army is victorious and hands Scotland a blowing defeat. Soon, Katherine is dealt her own defeat, losing another son. Katherine is then marginalized and watches as her husband takes young mistresses. One mistress deals a fatal blow to Katherine's marriage. Soon she is left with the comfort of only her religion, being forceful separated from her husband and daughter. But in her sorrow, she stands strong as the True Queen of England. She dies alone, longing for her daughter and husband.

The sisters' tragic stories don't end there. Mary, the daughter of Katherine, inherits the English Throne and marries Philip, Juana's grandson. Ten years older, Mary is smitten by her young and virile husband. She gives into his every whim and desire, just as Juana did for his grandfather and namesake. After losing Calais, Philip's unpopularity in England grows. With their union collapsing and no hope for an heir, Philip leaves Mary for the last time. With her death, the union of Spain and England ends. 

Julia Fox presents the tragedy of the Catholic Monarchs' daughters with precision. Isabella, the backbone of the family, was a mother to be reckoned with. She insisted her children be highly educated and live for God first, Country Second and husband third. I never fully realized what a lousy father Ferdinand was. His politicking and greed came before fatherhood. I had always associated Ferdinand with Colombus and the Inquisition, but I will now add deadbeat father to my picture of Ferdinand.
I was surprised to hear that both Juana and Katherine had a temper. Katherine had Anne Stafford removed from Court after harrassing Henry after she discovered Henry's affair with Anne. Juana constantly used tantrums to get her way. She frequently refused to eat or hear mass. After Philip's death, she insisted that he should be buried at Granada, and refused to bury him when she didn't get her way. Isabella's iron will never left her girls.
I believe that I will never again fully see Juana as " La Loca" or Katherine as the abandoned wife. However, I feel sympathy for the poor tragic Queens.

I received this book from Net Galley.


  1. It was really good. I have always considered myself a Anne Boleyn lover, but its so hard not to sympathize with Katherine.

  2. Allison - This book looks so interesting - thanks for telling us about it! I scrolled down to your Mailbox Mondays and you have a lot more good stuff on the horizon... Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day and commenting on heirloom seeds - congrats on your garden BTW(!) I have a little post today about stumbling onto a nature blog that talks about how the same genetically modified seeds that are damaging the food supply are also wiping out monarch butterflies :(