Friday Royal Read: Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran

Most biographies of Elizabeth I describe her life from birth in 1533 to death in 1603, covering the events of her path to the throne and reign in chronological order. In Elizabeth I and Her Circle, Susan Doran, a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, co-editor of The Elizabethan World and Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives, and author of Mary Queen of Scots: An Illustrated Life and numerous books on Tudor England, instead devotes a chapter to each of the key relationships in the Queen’s life. Through analysis of Elizabeth I’s connections to her relatives, courtiers and councilors, Doran explodes the myths about the Queen’s character and reign, revealing the that England’s most famous ruler was a more complicated person than past biographers – and popular culture – have assumed.

Doran begins by reversing long standing assumptions about Elizabeth’s views of her parents, King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII is often described as a role model for his daughter and a person she idealized (For an example, listen to the recent BBC Great Lives episode on Elizabeth I) while the disgraced and beheaded Anne Boleyn was quietly forgotten. While Elizabeth I included Henry VIII in her public image to reinforce her legitimacy as queen, Doran argues convincingly that her surviving writings hint that she viewed her father as an intimidating and unpredictable figure during her childhood. Elizabeth displayed little grief when Henry died in 1547. In contrast, Elizabeth surrounded herself with Boleyn cousins during her reign, particularly the numerous members of the Carey and Knollys families, the descendants of Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary.

In many biographies of Elizabeth I, the Queen’s relationships with her Tudor cousins are reduced to decades of conflict with Mary, Queen of Scots and outrage over the secret marriage of Lady Catherine Grey (sister of the famous 9 Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey). These selected episodes convey the impression that Elizabeth’s primary emotion toward her female cousins was jealousy, declaring Catherine’s sons illegitimate and comparing her own childlessness to Mary giving birth to a healthy son (the future James I). Elizabeth had far more relatives with a claim to her throne and more complicated dealings with her family than a narrow focus on Mary and Catherine would suggest.

Doran traces the careers of the entire Suffolk line (descendants of Henry VIII’s youngest sister), revealing that the Queen enjoyed decades of friendship with her cousin Margaret Clifford, the mother of numerous sons, which belies the assumption that she was inherently hostile to her female royal cousins and their progeny. Elizabeth even enjoyed a brief period of good relations with Mary, Queen of Scots. Doran provides evidence that Elizabeth’s decision to reject the legitimacy of Catherine’s marriage was partly motivated by a desire to reassure Mary about her place in the succession. The only close royal relative who does not receive substantial analysis in Doran’s book is Arbella Stuart, a curious omission considering that Elizabeth actually met her in person, in contrast to Mary and James.

Key chapters at the centre of the book are devoted to Elizabeth I’s “favourites,” Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Doran dismisses the speculation, which has existed since the sixteenth century and persists in films and historical novels today, that Elizabeth had affairs with these courtiers. Instead, the book discusses the political role of these men and takes them seriously as influential figures at the Queen’s court. The Earl of Essex, who is often dismissed as a vain and empty headed youth, in fact earned an MA from Cambridge at the age of sixteen and displayed a consistent desire to serve the Queen on the battlefield. The women in Elizabeth I’s circle have already received extensive analysis in the recent books The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court by Anna Whitelock and Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman but Doran provides some fresh insights and challenges the longstanding view that the Queen was inherently hostile to the marriages of her ladies-in-waiting.

Elizabeth I and Her Circle is essential reading for anyone interested in Queen Elizabeth I, her court and the wider Tudor dynasty in the sixteenth century. Doran strips away centuries of mythology surrounding Elizabeth I, revealing the interplay between her personal relations with family, courtiers and counselors and the political decisions she made as Queen. In her dealings with her circle, Elizabeth placed her interests as Queen above any personal rivalries or attachments. The Queen’s most lasting relationship was with England and her subjects.

Next Week: Becoming a Romanov: Grand Duchess Elena of Russia and Her World (1807-1873) by Marin Soroka and Charles A. Ruud.

Friday Royal Read: Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the 1950s by Virginia Nicholson

On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest reigning monarch in Britain’s history. Her 63 year reign has encompassed so many distinct phases (See the series of articles that I wrote in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012: The Young Queen of Canada, The Controversial Queen of Canada, The Celebrity Queen of Canada and The Jubilee Queen of Canada) that it’s easy to forget that when she ascended to the throne in 1952, she faced all the expectations that were directed toward British women in the 1950s in addition to nearly a thousand years of royal tradition.

In Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s, Virginia Nicholson, author of Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War and Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived without Men After the First World War, provides a social history of women’s lives in Britain in the 1950s. Popular culture expected them to be Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes but whether the women profiled in Nicholson’s book lived in palaces or council houses, their homes rarely conformed to ideals. Throughout the decade, the two most prominent women in Britain were Queen Elizabeth II, whose marriage and motherhood appeared to conform to 1950s expectations and Princess Margaret who struggled in the face of overwhelming pressure to “settle down” with a suitable husband.

The Queen’s coronation in 1953 was one of the most memorable events of the decade and Nicholson presents  a vivid account of women’s engagement in the ceremony, from the Queen herself at the centre of events, to the women involved in the coverage and planning to spectators of all social backgrounds including peeresses in the galleries of Westminster Abbey, Londoners camped on the sidewalk in the rain and the thousands of women who watched the ceremony on their first television set. Although the monarch was female, the BBC journalists who covered the event were male with the exception of one female commentator and four “back-up girls” in charge of providing human interest stories. There were plenty women involved in the preparations, however, including Constance Spry, who created the floral decorations and Rosemary Hume, who invented “coronation chicken.”

Nicholson also provides a fresh perspective on Princess Margaret’s relationship with Peter Townsend and her ultimate decision not to give up her royal position to marry a divorced man. The Princess’s relationship with Townsend took place less than two decades after King Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice divorced Wallis Simpson but attitudes toward divorce, remarriage and royal duty were already undergoing a gradual change. Nicholson discusses how English women, from Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting Iris Peake to working class women who read about the relationship in the press hoped the Princess would be able to marry the man of her choice. In contrast, the male establishment, some of whom had been involved in divorce cases themselves, were adamant that Townsend was unsuitable. The Queen supported the establishment and Margaret ultimately married the photographer Antony Armstrong Jones in 1960, divorcing in 1978.

There’s far more to Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s than royalty. Through the stories of individual women, Nicholson reveals the adversity faced by those women whose aspirations included other goals besides marriage, home and family. As late as 1959, only one in a hundred British women pursued post-secondary education and Oxford and Cambridge had only begun granting degrees to women in 1920 and 1947 respectively. Most British women of the period left school at fifteen and worked in jobs that provided little hope of career advancement until they married. Nicholson analyzes the context for women’s roles in the period including the desire to return to pre-Second World War life and slow adoption of modern conveniences within British households.

Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s is a fascinating history of how British women lived at the beginning of Elizabeth II’s record breaking reign. The cultural climate has changed immeasurably over the past sixty-three years but Nicholson presents convincing case that the attitudes toward women from the 1950s still cast a long shadow over modern life.

Next Week: Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran

Friday Royal Read: The Queen at the Council Fire by Nathan Tidridge

 The book launch for The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada took place at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on August 13. The museum is currently displaying an original copy of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, a document that has become known as the “Indian Magna Carta,” as part of a unique companion exhibit to the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition opening at the museum on August 15. The Royal Proclamation’s 250th anniversary took place in 2013, prompting new discussion of the complicated relationship between Canada’s government and First Nations.

In The Queen at the Council Fire, Nathan Tidridge, an educator and author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy: An Introduction to Our Form of Government and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent: Father of the Canadian Crown, explores the impact of the 1764 Treaty of Niagara on Canada’s history. While much less known to non-indigenous Canadians than the Royal Proclamation, this gathering of First Nations at Fort Niagara accompanied by a treaty symbolized by the Covenant Chain Wampum is viewed as the birth of modern Canada by the country’s first peoples.

The Queen at the Council Fire places an important emphasis on the role of language in these early treaties between the Crown and Canada’s first nations. The familial words employed in the treaties meant equality to the First Nations but subordination to the Europeans. There were also differences concerning the importance of the treaties. European negotiators often viewed the treaties as an endpoint in their relations with indigenous peoples while First Nations leaders viewed these documents as part of an ongoing, living relationship. The nature of the Crown itself changed over the course of the Treaty relationship. The development of responsible government and the modern Canadian constitutional monarchy from the eighteenth century to the present often conflicted with the personal relationship between monarch and First Peoples enshrined in the treaties.

In a chapter on “Building community, a model royal visit” Tidridge highlights the importance of the work of the Earl and Countess of Wessex in engaging with First Nations communities in Canada. The Queen’s youngest son and daughter-in-law visit Canada almost every year but their itineraries are privately funded “working visits” rather than higher profile “official visits” and therefore receive less media coverage. In September 2014, the Countess of Wessex visited Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation in Northern Ontario with a delegation of high profile women, spending the night on the reserve. The extended stay provided opportunities for shared experiences and extended engagement with the community.

The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada is a thoughtful examination of the relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Nations. There are works of Canadian history that devote a single chapter to Canada’s First Nations and treat the monarchy as a relic of Canada’s past instead of a living institution. The Queen at the Council Fire instead places both the monarchy and First Nations history, language, culture and belief at the centre of Canada’s history, providing a framework for strengthening the vital relationship between the Crown and Canada’s First Peoples in the future.

Next week: Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story Of Women In The 1950’s by Virginia Nicholson

Friday Royal Read: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas (Historical Fiction)

For centuries, Europe’s rulers sealed political alliances with dynastic marriages between their children. This practice was already criticized in the 16th century. The humanist philosopher Erasmus wrote in his 1516 treatise, Erasmus: The Education of a Christian Prince that these royal marriages did not bring peace. He observed that England and Scotland still went to war with each other after the marriage of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland in 1503. Erasmus also remarked that the princesses themselves were unhappy about being “sent away to remote places” and “would be happier if they could live among their own people, even though with less pompous display.”

The princesses sent to these remote places also complained about their fate. In 1514, Isabella of Austria wrote to one of her sisters, “It is hard enough to marry a man…whom you do not know or love, and worse still to be required to leave home and kindred, and follow a stranger to the ends of the earth, without even being able to speak his language (Retha Warnicke, The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Early Modern England, p. 3-4). Despite the shortcomings of dynastic marriage for both political stability and personal happiness, the practice continued into the nineteenth century and royalty were expected to marry other royalty until the First World War.

In France and Spain, the exchange of princesses was a tradition that lasted from 1559 until 1739. Both Louis XIII and Louis XIV married princesses from the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg and Louis XV seemed destined to also make a Spanish match. In The Exchange of Princesses, historian and novelist Chantal Thomas, author of the novel, Farewell, My Queen and scholarly study, The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette dramatizes an early eighteenth century exchange of princesses between France and Spain and the unhappiness that followed for the young princes and princesses involved.

Thomas excels at looking behind the glamorous facade of eighteenth century European royal courts. In Farewell, My Queen and the film based on the novel, Farewell My Queen / Les Adieux à la Reine, there were as many scenes set in the flea ridden servants’ quarters of Versailles as in Marie Antoinette’s elegant rooms at Petit Trianon. In The Exchange of Princesses, the princesses experience separation from their families, extreme discomfort traveling between France and Spain on muddy roads, unfamiliar customs when they reach their destinations and grotesque illnesses from measles to smallpox. The atmosphere of both courts and the eccentricities of the individual characters are vividly portrayed as neither match goes according to plan.

The style of the novel is unusual. Thomas focuses closely on the two royal couples brought together by the The Exchange of Princesses: King Louis XV of France and Mariana Victoria of Spain and Luis I of Spain and Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans. Mariana Victoria is between the ages of four and seven over the course of the novel and Louise Élisabeth is  gradually losing her mind and their perspectives therefore reflect extreme youth and mental illness respectively. Amidst the alternating stream of consciousness of these two princesses and the people who surround them are actual letters written by the historical figures involved in the The Exchange of Princesses, newspaper accounts from the period and the author’s own asides from her travels. While all this additional material provides interesting context and detail, it sometimes slows down the narrative and creates distance between the reader and the characters.

In The Exchange of Princesses, Thomas brings alive a little known episode in the history of France and Spain that was one of the last of a series of exchanges of its kind. Both Mariana Victoria and Louise Élisabeth were sent to remote places and may well have been happier if they had been permitted to remain among their own people with less pompous display.

Next Week: The Queen at the Council Fire: The Treaty of Niagara, Reconciliation, and the Dignified Crown in Canada by Nathan Tidridge

Magna Carta book signings and talks in Winnipeg August 14-16 2015

The Magna Carta Canada exhibition opens at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg on August 15.  I will be in Winnipeg from August 13 to 16 signing books and giving talks about impact of Magna Carta on history, politics and law. If you’re in Winnipeg, come to the McNally Robinson bookstore or the Canadian Museum of Human Rights for a book talk and signing!

Here’s my schedule:

Friday August 14 2015 7:00 pm: Speaking and Signing at McNally Robinson bookstore 

Saturday August 15 2015 2:00pm: “Magna Carta and the Modern World” lecture at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Sunday August 16 2015 2:00pm “Women and Magna Carta” lecture at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Click here to purchase the book:Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Magna Carta And Its Gifts to Canada on Globe and Mail Bestseller List

My book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights, is #7 on The Globe and Mail Canadian non-fiction bestseller list for August 1, 2015.

Click here to see The Canadian Non-Fiction Globe and Mail Bestseller List

Click here to purchase a copy of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights

Friday Royal Read: The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone

The religious upheaval of Tudor England is well known. The French Wars of Religion, which occurred while Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, have received much less attention in popular histories and culture. At the centre of this conflict were two powerful royal women: Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman who married King Henri II of France and served as regent for her son Charles IX, and Catherine’s daughter Marguerite “Margot” de Valois who was compelled to marry the Protestant King Henry of Navarre. Both queens shaped the religious and political climate of sixteenth century France. In The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom, Nancy Goldstone, author of The Maid and the Queen: The Secret History of Joan of Arc and Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe brings these two influential women to life.

The Rival Queens begins powerfully with the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, the event that defined the lives and reputations of both Catherine and Marguerite.  In the days following Marguerite’s wedding, thousands of Protestants were murdered by Catholics. Catherine de Medici appeared to be the instigator of the violence with Marguerite caught between the two factions. In popular culture, such as Alexander Dumas’s novel La Reine Margot and the film of the same name, Marguerite’s romances  are the focus but Goldstone reveals her sincere Roman Catholic religious faith, intellectual interests and political acumen. Her life was filled with narrow escapes, quick thinking and daring rescues and the The Rival Queens is most engaging when it is describing  her adventures in France and Navarre during the Wars of Religion.

While Marguerite emerges as a fully realized figure in The Rival Queens, Catherine de Medici does not receive the same nuanced treatment. Her childhood and decades of marriage to Henri II are summarized in a single chapter. This approach not only results in a hurried description of a fascinating period of Catherine’s life – the young Mary, Queen of Scots was raised alongside her children – but her complex motivations are simplified to resentment alone. While Goldstone is critical of how historians have reduced Marguerite to her personal life, she accepts much of the traditional depiction of Catherine de Medici as an unambiguous villain. For example, she describes Catherine’s “Flying Squadron” of beautiful ladies-in-waiting as her spies, encouraged to seduce unsuspecting male courtiers even though there is recent scholarship arguing that this interpretation is a legend that reflected male discomfort at the prominence of women at Catherine’s court.

The dramatic circumstances of Catherine’s and Marguerite’s lives unfolded in Renaissance France, amidst the Chateaux of the Loire Valley and the Louvre in Paris. Catherine de Medici seized the Chateau de Chenonceau from Henri II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers upon his death and it became a favoured royal residence. The images at the centre of the book, however, are all of historical figures and there only scattered descriptions of the opulent surroundings where royal events unfolded. More attention to the setting would have added depth and cultural context to the book.

The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom is an engaging introduction to the two most influential women of the French Wars of Religion. Marguerite de Valois emerges as a survivor and an unlikely heroine, saving her husband’s life multiple times then accepting an amicable annulment and settling down as an elder stateswoman in Henry IV’s Paris. In contrast, Catherine reached the zenith of her power as Charles IX’s regent then found herself unable to control her his successor, Henri III. Mother and daughter struggled for power in one the most tumultuous periods in France’s history and emerged as The Rival Queens.

Next Week: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas (historical fiction)

Friday Royal Read: Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Lady Katherine Knollys lived her life at the centre of the Tudor court, her fortunes rising, falling and rising once more as different kings and queens succeeded to the throne. She was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, who had a quiet affair with Henry VIII that became known throughout Europe when Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to marry Mary’s younger sister, Anne Boleyn. When Henry VIII’s Roman Catholic daughter Mary I succeeded to the throne, Katherine and her husband, Sir Francis Knollys fled abroad to escape the persecution of Protestants. Once Elizabeth I became queen, Katherine was back in favour, serving as a Lady of the Bedchamber while Francis was appointed a Privy Councillor, captain of the guard, treasurer of the royal household, and guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. The couple had 14 children and are ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and Charles Darwin.

Katherine’s eventful life, shaped by the key political, religious and social changes of the 16th century has plenty of material for a biographer. For Sarah-Beth Watkins, however, Katherine is most interesting  because of the circumstances of her conception and birth. The book is boldly titled Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII without a question mark even though there is no definitive evidence regarding Katherine’s paternity.

Katherine was treated as a cousin rather than a sister by Elizabeth I and the resemblance to Henry VIII in the cover portrait may reflect the artist’s views on her parentage rather than her actual appearance. Even Watkins’s argument that Henry VIII ended his affairs once a child was born may be countered by speculation by Elizabeth Norton that Bessie Blount was the mother of two of the king’s children, a recognized son and an unacknowledged daughter. In contrast to how Henry VIII is portrayed in popular culture, such as The Tudors, the king conducted his early affairs with discretion. Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely that definitive evidence will emerge regarding whether Katherine’s father was Henry VIII or Mary Boleyn’s first husband, William Carey.

The emphasis on the circumstances of Katherine’s birth and childhood is at the expense of her later life. A single chapter is devoted to her service at Elizabeth I’s court. In recent years there has been an outpouring of books about Queen Elizabeth’s friendships including Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman, Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court by Anna Whitelock and the newly published Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran. Elizabeth expected to control the personal lives of ladies in waiting and those who married or left court without permission risked the queen’s wrath. Katherine managed to remain in the queen’s good graces and her service to the queen merits more attention in the book. Watkins also has little to say about Francis Knollys’ family background, which was as intertwined with Tudor court politics as Katherine’s own circumstances.

Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII is a clearly written, short introduction to the life of one of the most prominent women at the Tudor court. The book contains lengthy excerpts from correspondence and other documents related to Katherine’s life that serve as an introduction to the Tudors and their times. There are many other books, however, that provide a better sense of what it was like to serve in the household of Elizabeth I. The definitive biography of Lady Katherine Knollys is yet to be written.

 Next week: The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone

Friday Royal Read: Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams

King Henry VIII – a larger than life historical figure in every sense of the word – usually dominates biographies of his six wives. When Henry VIII is at the centre of events, the focus is usually on England with Europe and the wider world including successive Popes, Kings of France and rulers of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor serving as a backdrop to the people and politics of the English court. This approach makes sense for Henry VIII’s 3rd, 5th and 6th wives, Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr as they never left England and owed their rise entirely to the King’s interest.

The lives of Henry VIII’s other 3 wives, however, were shaped directly by events in the rest of Europe as well as England. Anne Boleyn spent part of her childhood in France and the acknowledgement of King Francois I was crucial to her legitimacy as Henry VIII’s queen. Anne of Cleves was a German princess, raised amidst the conflict between the German states sparked by the Protestant Reformation.

Of all of Henry VIII’s wives, his first queen, Katharine of Aragon, made the greatest impact beyond England’s borders. As the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, her two successive English marriages were part of a broader Anglo-Spanish alliance. Henry VIII’s attempts to secure an annulment would become an multi-year international incident, encompassing France, the Holy Roman Empire (including Spain) and the Papacy. In Katharine of Aragon, Patrick Williams, Emeritus Professor of Spanish History at the University of Portsmouth and author of Philip II and The Great Favourite: The Duke of Lerma and the Court and Government of Philip III of Spain, 1598-1621 makes full use of Spanish archival material to present Henry VIII’s first wife in her full European context.

Williams’s biography of Katharine of Aragon is very much a life and times, discussing the political and religious events across Europe that affected Katharine in addition to Katharine herself. He covers corruption within the Papacy, the Protestant Reformation and the shortage of male heirs in many of Europe’s royal houses in the early sixteenth century. Of all of Henry VIII’s six wives, Katharine is the one who has been the subject of the greatest number of popular histories that place her in a European context. Julia Fox compared her life to that of her sister Queen Juana “la Loca” of Castile in Sister Queens , Catherine Fletcher examined the negotiations with the papacy regarding the annulment of Katharine’s marriage in The Divorce of Henry VIII and Giles Tremlett wrote of Katharine as The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII.

Williams’s book stands out from these other works because it focuses on three main events in Katharine’s life: the negotiation of her marriages, Henry VIII’s short lived alliance with Katharine’s nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry VIII’s quest for an annulment, which led to the break with Rome and establishment of the Church of England. Henry VIII is not always at the centre of events and does not marry Katharine until page 173 of 400 in the book. Instead, Katharine’s parents, Ferdinand and Isabella and her nephew Charles V emerge as the key figures who helped to shape her destiny.

While Williams provides a fresh perspective on the key events of Katharine’s life, he rarely engages with recent historical debates concerning the other figures of the period. As far as Williams is concerned, Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower, Henry VII was one of England’s greatest kings and Katharine’s sister Juana la Loca was showing signs of mental illness from childhood. A more nuanced portrayal of these people would have enhanced the book. The idea that Juana was too insane to rule suited the political ambitions of her father Ferdinand of Aragon, husband Philip the Handsome and son Charles V. Their attitudes toward her mental health cannot be accepted at face value. The focus on international events also means that little time is devoted to Katharine’s network of support in England. Only two of her female friendships, with Henry VIII’s sister Mary and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, are discussed in any detail.

Katharine of Aragon was married to Henry VIII longer than his subsequent five wives put together and arguably knew him better than any other person in his life. This magisterial biography illuminates her full historical significance in both England and the rest of sixteenth century Europe. Katharine lived in a time of tremendous social, political and religious change and was always at centre of events as a princess and queen.

Next Week:  Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Ben Franklin’s World Podcast Interview: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America

038-Harris (1) I am interviewed on this week’s episode of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History. The interview, with fellow historian Liz Covart, is about Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America, comparing the impact of Magna Carta on the United States and Canada. I also discuss how Magna Carta was imposed on King John by his rebel barons in 1215 and the legal rights – including rights for women – that were codified in the Great Charter.

Click here to listen to Magna Carta and Its Gifts to North America at Ben Franklin’s World

For more on Magna Carta, see my book, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights