Book Review: The Constant Princess

Gregory, Philippa. The Constant Princess. 2005. New York. Touchstone.
ISBN  9780743272483.

Plot: Catalina, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, always knew she would be the Princess of Wales. Betrothed as an infanta of three years old, she had no doubt that her future had been written for her and she was destined to live up to that legacy. Philippa Gregory captures the wide-eyed innocence of the five-year-old child of the soldier camp as her parents lead their troops against the Moors, Turks, Indians, and Chinamen. Catalina knows her mother is blessed by God and is always doing His will. “Since I was a child of three, I have been betrothed in marriage to Prince Arthur, son of King Henry of England, and when I am fifteen I shall sail to his country in a beautiful ship with my standard flying at the top of the mast, and I shall be his wife and then his queen.”  Life in Wales does not play out the way the fifteen-year-old Princess of Wales expects, and Gregory spins a beautiful depiction of love, yearning, frustration, and deception–wrapping it up in a way that inspires you to read the next in the author’s saga of King Henry the 8th and his wives.

Critical Analysis: Philippa Gregory is a master of capturing minute details of history and the daily life of the characters. In The Constant Princess, her research is apparent in her descriptions of the battles, living spaces, costumes, and expected behaviors. Particularly effective is the use of italics while peeking into Catalina’s (aka Katharine of Aragon) private thoughts.

While avoiding getting bogged down in mundane details, Ms. Gregory paints beautiful word pictures of life in the 1400s, both in the Spanish empire and in the countryside of England. One feels they could open the door and glide along the marble floors of the palace of Alhambra and enjoy a hot bath in the elegant bath-house, or experience extreme cold on the litter-ride to Wales. “At every step the mules threw the litter to one side and then the other. She had to keep a hand on the edge to hold herself in place, and her fingers became chilled and then cramped, blue from cold.” These beautifully written narratives, coupled with the private thoughts of the princess work to draw the reader into the life of the story and their characters, leaving the reader wanting to know more about the story and the history of the characters’ world.

Reviews: “Gregory makes the broad sweep of history vibrant and intimate—and hinges it all on a bit of romance.”—Kirkus Review

“Gregory’s skill for creating suspense pulls the reader along despite the historical novel’s foregone conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly

Connections: As a read along when studying European history, this book would add color, not necessarily facts, to compliment the often dry textbook written for students of the fifteenth century. This would be a good discussion group book when studying King Henry and his subsequent wives.

Similar Reads: Philippa Gregory has written books about all of Henry’s wives:
The Other Boleyn Girl12113258_10207938185831761_8983141063648950860_o
The Boleyn Inheritance
The Taming of the Queen
The Queen’s Fool
The Virgin’s Lover
The Other Queen
The Red Queen

Reviewed by Jean L.