Mean Royals: The Spanish Princess vs the Tudor Matriarch & Grand-Matriarch – Did Such a Rivalry Exist?

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Was Katharine of Aragon’s relationship with her mother and grandmother-in-law, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort respectively, tense and fraught with discord as shown in The Spanish Princess? The miniseries, a sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess hasn’t aired yet but the latest trailers has given us a taste of what we can expect.

Like its aforementioned predecessors, the miniseries will be using the common trope of other female lead costume dramas: Women vs women.

This is a trope that has been played to dead. And it is not bad, when well done. But that is the problem here. Did it really happen and if it didn’t, how will it play out?

Should we care?
No. If accuracy isn’t what you are looking for. If all you care is about storytelling, this shouldn’t bother you one bit. But if you are a historical purist, then I suggest you turn off the TV and switch to another channel.

As previously stated, the Mean Girls trope has been played to dead. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief though, it wasn’t that common.

Women did fight each other for wealth and position, but these fights didn’t as long as they are depicted in these costume dramas. In fact, more often than not, women who started off as enemies, became allies if not friends in the end.

This was no different for Katharine of Aragon. Forget her rivalry with Anne Boleyn, let’s go further back to the start of the sixteenth century, when she landed on Plymouth, England.

Everyone who saw her was enchanted by her, this includes Elizabeth of York. Little is said about Margaret Beaufort’s opinion of her. Given the written records and what’s known about these figures thus far, there is no reason to think that she disliked her.

If anything, Margaret’s attitude towards Katharine had more to do with prioritizing her son and his dynasty’s interests first above her personal opinions. Unlike Elizabeth of York, Margaret was politically active. Following the death of her eldest grandchild, she would advised Henry VII and gone along with his final decision.

Margaret’s hold over her family is well known and much has been written about it, but Margaret’s actions were no different than other older grand-matriarchs. Elizabeth of York on the other hand, chose to take on a passive role. In this, she excelled tremendously, earning the love and admiration of the English people.

lambeth palace exterior
Lambeth Palace

Elizabeth was intrigued by her future daughter-in-law. There’s no proof of animosity between them. Days before her London entourage, she had stayed at Lambeth Palace. The day when her procession began, the King and Queen had sent their youngest son, Henry, Duke of York to accompany her. They had even offered her a carriage, which she politely reclined, opting for a humble mount instead.

Katharine displayed tremendous gratitude for all the work and effort that had been put into the celebrations, something that wasn’t lost on the royal family and her future subjects. When the ceremonies came to an end, she retired to the Bishop of London’s home at St. Paul’s (where she would be married to Arthur two days later on Sunday, November 14th). In her dual biography on Katharine and her older sister, Juana (I) of Castile, Julia Fox, notes:

“The royal family were delighted with everything and everyone. Queen Elizabeth had caught her first glimpse of Katherine, and the princess was due to visit her the next day.” (Fox)

st paul cathedral interior
Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Arthur’s letters to Katharine had been passionate. This is a key factor that nearly all historians note in their multiple biographies on these notable historical figures. Neither Margaret Beaufort nor Elizabeth of York felt threatened by Katharine’s grace and humility. If anything, these virtues brought them relief.

England had endured a terrible period of dynastic civil war. The repercussions of these royal affairs served as a bitter reminder of what happened when women’s voices rang louder than those of the king’s trusted men. Women played an integral during the wars of the roses. Active or not, they became the object of controversy -real or created- and these controversies were used as weapons against their husbands and sons. After all this chaos, the people expected consorts who took more of a backstage role than a public one. Elizabeth of York had become that and more, to the point of becoming a quasi-religious icon immediately after her death.

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Katharine’s soft and apparent humble demeanor, mirrored those of Elizabeth of York, whom Katharine hoped to emulate in her coming years as Queen of England.

For her part, Elizabeth of York had communicated to Katharine’s mother, that both she and her husband were pleased with her daughter. Elizabeth’s correspondence to Isabella had begun some years before. Knowing that Katharine would have to communicate in something other than English with her son, she advised the Queen of Castile to take advantage of Margaret Habsburg, who’d recently married Katharine’s brother, Prince Juan of Asturias. Margaret like Katharine, was highly educated. One of the languages she had come to master was French. While Katharine and Arthur could continue to write to each other in Latin, Elizabeth felt it better if she started to learn and practice French too, since it was language that was still highly popular among the English upper class.
Isabella took Elizabeth’s advice to heart. When Katharine came to England, she committed herself to learning England and slowly but surely, becoming indistinguishable from any of the English ladies at court.

Katharine did succeed, but her success did not come until much later when she was Henry VIII’s queen. During these trying years of battling for dominance, standing her ground against Tudor legal forces and foreign interests that underestimated her intellectual capacity and perseverance, Katharine remained the Spanish Princess. The unfortunate widow whose virginity was often debated and contested, which also placed into doubt her eligibility as the next King of England’s future bride. The future seemed bleak for Katharine. Rather than being discouraged by these seemingly impossible odds, Katharine remained adamant. Her first motto as Princess of Wales had been “not for my crown.” She continued to push, finding other outlets to survive and remain in England, until she got what she wanted.

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Elizabeth of York had promised she’d look over her daughter-in-law and be there to guide her through the difficult adjustment into her new country. Following her son’s funeral, Elizabeth did what she could to provide the widowed Spanish Princess with moral support. It is not known what was her opinion of Katharine’s resolute affirmation of her virginity and her parents, especially her mother, pushing for a renewal of the Anglo-Spanish alliance by marrying her to the remaining crown prince, Henry (now) Prince of Wales. Elizabeth’s choice to take on a more conciliatory role as Queen Consort would have made her opinion -if she voiced it- irrelevant. Henry VII had the final say in this matter. Margaret Beaufort’s involvement in this matter seems to have been very minimal. Whatever Henry VII decided, it was for the good of the realm and she, like all his subjects, would follow his lead.

Coming back to the novels this miniseries is based on, from the moment Katharine of Aragon meets Margaret Pole, the two hit it off. This is historically accurate. The two women became best friends, with Margaret reaping the benefits of this friendship right after Katharine weds Henry VIII and is jointly crowned with him. The earldom of Salisbury that had been in her family was restored to her, becoming one of the few female title holders (femme sole) up until that point. But there is a dark history to Katharine and Arthur’s union, a condition which the miniseries will undoubtedly touch upon.

After Katharine and Margaret Pole become fast friends in The Constant Princess, she asks Margaret if she doesn’t blame her for her brother’s execution. Margaret brushes it off as one of many tragic moments in her life, and a reality that royals have to live with.

Is the miniseries going to have Elizabeth of York blame Katharine for what happened to her brother and cousin? The White Queen and The White Princess (based on the novels of the same name) follow the school of thought that Perkin Warbeck was who he claimed he was, the youngest of the lost princes in the tower, Richard of Shrewsbury, better known as Richard, Duke of York. “The White Princess” takes a lot of historical liberties (more so than its predecessor, also deviating from its source material), having Elizabeth of York being one of the plotters behind her brother and cousin’s downfall. Yet, to excuse her actions, she might reason that she was forced into these drastic measures because of Katharine of Aragon’s parents, the Catholic Kings who in real life DID pressure Elizabeth’s husband to secure his throne or else, their alliance was off.

Meg Beaufort

Notable biographer Sarah Gristwood, takes on a different approach from past historians, inferring in her multiple biography on the women of the wars of the roses, “Blood Sisters”, that Margaret never got along with Katharine and held back a gleeful smile when her granddaughter-in-law’s longed for triumph, was nearly ruined by pouring rain. Katharine had come to substitute her as her remaining grandson, Henry VIII, now an adult and the new King of England, trusted adviser.
The Spanish Princess, based off Philippa Gregory’s two novels The Constant Princess & The King’s Curse which protagonists are Katharine of Aragon and Margaret Pole respectively. Judging solely by the miniseries’ trailers, it looks like The Spanish Princess is taking this perspective. In the last chapters of “The Constant Princess”, Margaret Beaufort nearly explodes when Henry VIII begins to listen less and less to her and more to his charming new bride. The miniseries will no doubt recreate this season with Margaret realizing -as Sir Thomas More, Lord Mountjoy and countless others during her joint coronation with Henry VIII- that Katharine of Aragon is not just any Princess, but a woman who was born to be Queen.

In the trailer, Elizabeth reminds Henry VII of the importance of this alliance. “Spain and England unite against our enemies so our son is protected on his throne.”
It’s unknown whether she says this BEFORE or AFTER Arthur dies, and whether or not she is talking about Arthur or Harry. Judging solely from her tone of voice, this conversation could take place after Arthur’s death, when she starts to view Katharine more as a threat and a bitter reminder of the sacrifice they had to make to ensure this alliance. The next line is spoken by her husband in what can only be assumed is an earlier moment in the series, where he warns his Queen that until “that girl arrives, we are lost.”

“Elizabeth of York was glad that after so many delays, the Princess from Spain had finally reached England. In a month’s time, she and Arthur would be wed, and within a year –God willing- she would be a mother. But the Queen’s happiness had come at a price. Before his daughter could come to England, King Ferdinand had demanded the death of the hapless Earl of Warwick. The Young man, though he was a prisoner, was a continuing threat to the security of England, he believed. Until he was properly dealt with, Ferdinand declared, he would not allow his precious daughter to leave Spain. Henry VII complied. To secure the alliance, Warwick and Perkin Warbeck were put to death in 1499.” (Hui)

Taking all of this into account, it’s not far-fetched to say, that part of Elizabeth’s anger towards Katharine will stem from the the losses she and Henry had to endure and the heavy toll they had to pay for the sake of the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Elizabeth’s response to her cousin, Margaret Pole, when Margaret asks what will happen to the widowed Spanish Princess, may be confirmation of this.

Regardless of the historical liberties and deviation from the source material, this miniseries is set to have many historical buffs talking. Hopefully, it will make more people interested in finding out about the real people behind this costume drama, especially Katharine of Aragon, whose beginnings are often overshadowed by her tragic end.

Sources:

  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine. 2011.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Hui, Roland. The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens. MadeGlobal. 2017.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper. Collins. 2013.
  • Licence, Amy. Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife. Amberley. 2017.
  • –. The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. Amberley. 2014.
  • –. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • –. Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort. History Press. 2016.
  • Gregory, Philippa. The Constant Princess. Harper Collins. 2005.
  • –. The King’s Curse. Simon & Schuster. 2014.

Book Review: Los Grandes – Maria Tudor

Maria tudor los grandes

El libro es mas que otra biografia sobre “Maria la Sanguinaria” como es mejor recordada. Esta biografia es acerca de la Maria historica. Una mujer que nacio en el Palacio de Greenwich en 1516, fue la unica hija que les sobrevivio a sus padres, Enrique VIII y su primera esposa, la Infanta Española Catalina de Aragon. Maria crecio mimada y con un futuro resplandeciente. Su madre era la hija de los Reyes Catolicos y por lo tanto esperaba que su hija heredara el trono de su padre. Sin embargo, la dinastia Tudor era bastante nueva e Inglaterra no tenia bien visto la idea de una Reina gobernante. Maria recibio una educacion de lujo pero esta fue suspendida una vez que Enrique se caso con Ana Bolena, declaro su matrimonio con Catalina nulo, y su hija una bastard.
El libro no excusa las acciones de Maria, pero tampoco da excusas para los otras personas que la rodearon. El siglo XVI era una epoca violenta, mas por los guerras religiosas entre varios grupos Protestantes y Catolicos, y tambien entre el Cristianismo y el Islam. Los autores no buscan dar una nueva interpretacion de Maria, si no reportar los hechos tal y como sucedieron, y presentar su mundo tal y como era. Y a Maria como una mujer que sufrio varias decepciones, las cuales influyeron en su decision de quemar varios Protestantes una vez que ella se volvio Reina. Aunque esto no fue de inmediato, no fue tan popular como se pensaba que iba a ser. Inglaterra estaba cambiando, y su decision de casarse con un hombre once años mas joven que ella, que no fue aceptado por el simple hecho de ser un extranjero, le trajeron muchos problemas. Felipe II, una vez que su padre abdico en su favor en 1556, tuvo menos interes en responder las cartas de su esposa o visitarla.
El libro termina con unas notas tristes, pero duras en cuanta a la vida de esta monarca. Claramente, ponerla como una incompredida heroina y angelita no le hace ningunos favores, pero exagerar su imagen y creer en todo lo negativo (mucho de lo cual era eso: exageracion) tampoco es bueno.

Los Grandes sigue siendo de las mejores ediciones de biografias historicas. No esperaba que me iba a gustar, pero me gusto porque a pesar de estar corta, el libro da a conocer todas los detalles importantes acerca de esta monarca. Tiene una buena documentacion y a la vez entretiene.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn, Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.