Sunday, February 19, 2012

by Julia Fox

When Ferdinand and Isabella, of Spain, got married, it was considered a convenient match. Ferdinand was from Aragon and Isabella from Castile. If they could join their lands together, the mutual support would be tremendous. Queen Isabella was extremely devout (they were both known as the Catholic Monarchs) and she was committed to serving Spain and to God. These ideals would be instilled within their daughters Katherine and Juana. As the girls grew up, their parents would negotiate their marriages. As France was the enemy of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella selected the appropriate husbands for them. England was Spain's ally so Katherine would marry Prince Arthur, the elder son of King Henry VII and then she, herself, would become queen. Juana would marry Philip of Burgundy, a country that made France uneasy. So, the two sisters became political pawns just to further Spain's interests. One month after Katherine's marriage, Arthur died but his brother Henry took his place and it was a passionate, loving relationship between the two of them. But as Katherine did not bear a son, who would be an heir, only a daughter, Mary I, the love that Henry III lavished on his wife soon evaporated and he wanted a divorce. Katherine fought him hoping that he would change his mind. Of course, Henry had affairs while married, one of which produced an illegitimate son. When Anne Boleyn appeared at court, Henry went after her. She refused to become his mistress and only wanted to be his wife. Anne promised him a son. While Anne was pursued, Katherine was discarded by Henry. Only her deep faith and fortitude kept her above water.
Juana had no trouble in the procreation department. She bore six children two of which were sons. This marriage was also strong in the beginning but then Philip wanted to govern her lands and didn't think she was capable because she was female and, he thought, eccentric. He took away all of her rights and she became a prisoner. Then, Philip died and Juana's father, Ferdinand, took over as her jailor. When Ferdinand died, her son, Charles V, continued her imprisonment. Her own family were her opponents and they propagated the myth that Juana could never rule because she was insane.
Sister Queens is a terrific story of treachery, deceit, and cruelty that were thrown upon two women all because they weren't up to the standards that the men around them wanted.
Author Julia Fox presents everything in such wonderful prose that if you weren't that interested in history, you are now. The book is quite absorbing and even though there's plenty of detail, what you read is absolutely fascinating. Katherine and Juana put up with plenty of crap and yet rose above all of their hardships. Previous books have portrayed these two women as scorned and weak but the opposite is true as Fox reveals them to be resilient, gracious, and strong.
Highly recommended.