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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory: Review

Recently I finished reading The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. In case you don't know much about this book, you can read the cover jacket here.

I first heard about this book on YouTube as I was checking out some book videos. And from what I heard, the book instantly appealed to me.

I am a fan of historic literature, especially historic fiction, and I absolutely love getting lost in history and reading about people and cultures that were back then. Of course not all of it will be accurate, that's a given, and writers do have certain liberties. So once I heard about the book I really wanted to read it. Just to let you know, the book is historical fiction and much of it is REAL. Of course a lot of it is also fiction. I would say it's a wonderful mix of real and fiction.

For those who are not aware, the Tudor dynasty ruled the Kingdom of England and later the Kingdom of Ireland from 1485 till 1603.

I couldn't find the book anywhere in the stores here, so I checked online and surprisingly, I found a great bargain for a brand new copy at Amazon.in. I bought it for just INR 201 while at other sites it was selling for about 500INR!

At first glance, what instantly got my interest was the cover. Purple and gold were the perfect royal colour combinations in the Tudor court. Did you know that not everyone was allowed to wear purple? Only those who were over a certain social status were allowed to wear purple. In the pic above, all the gold parts are embossed. You can touch the cover and run your fingers through the gold parts to feel the book. Every detailing in the cover is intricate and visually appealing.

About the book:
The book was published in the year 2005. It is the first book in a 6-part Tudor series by author Philippa Gregory. The 6 books in the series are:

  1. The Constant Princess
  2. The Other Boleyn Girl
  3. The Boleyn Inheritance
  4. The Queen's Fool
  5. The Virgin's Lover
  6. The Other Queen
 The book begins when Catalina of Aragon is five years old. She is the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. At the age of three, Catalina was betrothed to England's Prince Arthur, the elder son of King Henry VII. Ever since she could remember, Catalina was the Princess of Spain and the Queen (future) of England.

She is constantly groomed as a Princess and as the future Queen of England. There's no other way she has known life to be. It is her destiny, it is her life, it's what she is and shall be.

Once she is sent to England (she goes without her parents), she is initially shocked and surprised at the different customs and take some time to adjust. She faces a public humiliation by her father-in-law King Henry VII. Her husband is a young boy, barely older than her, and extremely shy, and her father-in-law is a rude man. Catalina, or Catherine, as she now becomes in England, does everything she can to learn the ways of her new country, while trying to hold on to her roots too.

The story progresses and though the young prince and princess seem ill-matched at the start of the marriage, soon a beautiful romance blossoms, and the reader is called in to witness this young love. Together, they talk about how they will shape up England as their own country and what all they will do and change. They plan to make England the best kingdom around, one that everyone would look up to. But just as it seems that everything is going to be great, the young prince dies. While on his deathbed, he makes the Princess promise to marry his younger brother, so that she can still be Queen and create the England they dreamed of.

With the death of the Prince, Princess Catherine loses her position. She is simply a widow, her parents don't want her back, and the King doesn't want to take the burden of a Spanish princess in his court. It looks like there is no place for Catalina anymore.

Her only way now is to marry the young Prince Henry, who is younger to her and the heir to the throne. This is her only hope of becoming Queen, something she has known since birth that she is destined to be. And so she has to prove that her marriage was not consummated with Prince Arthur (this was another promise Arthur asked of her on his deathbed).

What happens from here, I wouldn't want to say, as it would mean giving away way too much.

Details about the book:
Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
No. of pages: About 500
Publisher: Harper

My thoughts on the book:

This is the first time I read anything from the Tudor series. From the start, I was impressed with the book especially because of the way the entire story unfolds through the eyes of Catalina. When we first start reading, Catalina is barely a girl of five.

As the story progresses, we grow together with her, and her character comes alive right in front of our eyes. From the very start, the author managed to hold my attention. Whether it was on the battlefield, or her life inside the palace, everything was wonderfully visual in its description and appeal.

From here till the time when she reaches England and even later, I love the way the author has developed her character. Initially, in her younger days, I did not think I would like her so much. But as I moved ahead in the story, I absolutely fell in love with Catherine, and sympathised with her, understanding her more and more and sympathising with the circumstances she is caught up in.

There are many views about books in the historical fiction genre being inaccurate. I know that, yes, but that does not bother me in the least. While a writer is allowed some creative liberties, it is also true that the book does have a lot of historical facts in it as well.

I loved the way the author has brought alive a period in time that's long gone. She manages to bring everything right here in front of our eyes. From the customs to the beliefs to the way of dressing to the way of addressing, the royal courtesies, the royal customs, social customs and traditions as well as historical events, there's a lot to take in, and Philippa Gregory manages to make all of this very very interesting indeed.

One thing that came to my mind was how we, as people, are inherently judgemental.We automatically assume that just because she is a Queen or a Princess, she must be living a life we can only dream of, one that we end up envying and feel is the best way to live. That's so not true. In fact, as I read the book, I realised that I would never ever want to be in her Catherine's shoes. I know it's a lot of fiction as well, but a lot of what happened is true, based on historical facts, and no matter what, I couldn't imagine bearing to live such a claustrophobic life.

Queen or no queen, women in these circumstances were extremely dominated, in different ways. As a Queen or Princess, she surely has a title, but that's where most of it ends. In the extremely male-dominated world, a woman absolutely has no place to live on her own terms, or decide anything for herself, whether it is being with her kids, whether it is how she dresses or what she feels, or something simple as how she speaks and wants to express herself.

I love Philippa Gregory for introducing me inside this very royal life. I have always loved historical fiction, and when it involves royalty, I like it even more. And this book, clearly, has been one of my most favourite books ever. I am now reading the second book in the series The Other Boleyn Girl, which is also a major motion picture now.

Did I love this book? Of course! And I definitely recommend this book to all those who love books on historical fiction or royal events. Otherwise too, you will enjoy the book if you like to know about the cultural and social practices of a certain time and people.

I definitely give this book 5 hearts: AWESOME

 - Debolina Raja Gupta