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"My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the king's wicked intention, the surprises which the king gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine."
--Katherine of Aragon to Charles V, November 1531
The Kings Pleasure tells the story of Katherine of Aragon, right through her early years, where she lived an unusual life for a royal princess - following her mother around as she embarked on a 'Holy War' against the moors, through her marriage at the tender age of just fifteen to Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, through her widowhood and subsequent remarriage to Henry VIII, and through the trials and tribulations of her life with him - miscarriages, the struggle to birth a male heir to the kingdom, her abandonment in favour of Anne Boleyn, and her eventual death.
Those aren't really spoilers - after all, most people with a basic grasp of English history know the tale, at least in some brief detail . However, as a work of historical fiction, this book aims to bring emotion to the dry facts, and to make history readable and interesting to a wider audience .
And indeed, right from the early chapters, I was captivated - I actually knew very little of Katherines early life, and was rather surprised by her powerful mother, a strong woman who had no fear about doing a mans job - commanding armies, planning war strategy, and if needs be sleeping in the open air in the rain and mud in order to make sure her soldiers were well housed and well cared for .
I found the book went into great detail about events, and I found that the long timeline of the book made it very easy to get behind Katherine and really get a feel for the kind of person she was.
I found the author took an unusual stance - many historical fiction writers dealing with the wives of Henry VIII, and in particular with the Katherine/Henry/Anne triangle tend to put their loyalty squarely with only one woman, painting her as a saint and the other as pretty awful. However, in this book Norah Lofts treated both women sympathetically, and Henry himself ended up painted as the villain , particularly towards the end of the book .
I liked the fact that the book, unlike many others dealing with this period, didn't just focus on the four central characters of the story - Katherine, Anne, Henry and of course Wolsey - but included all the other players in the grand scheme of things, not just as people mentioned in passing, or in letters between other characters, but actually talking from their viewpoint, having them take central stage for a chapter or two - in particular, I was incredibly interested in the inclusion of scenes involving Bessie Blount, one of Henry's earlier mistresses who bore him an illegitimate sun, and the viewpoints of Pope himself, and the Emperor of Spain .
I also liked the fact that rather than having names, each chapter began with a small relevant quotation taken from contemporary accounts, and an announcement of the place and date where the events took place, making it easy to keep track of the timeline.
Though the book is certainly interesting, and goes into a great detail of incredibly interesting, and for the most part factually accurate detail, I do have one gripe , and that is that whoever proof read the book clearly didn't do a very good job . The word 'heir' is mis-spelled as hair at one point, but worse than that, the author made that classic mix-up between their/they're/there on two occasions . It's only a minor issue, but that second mistake is one that really should not happen in a published book
Overall, I would recommend this book - the spelling mistakes, though fairly common, are a minor issue really, and leaving them aside the book is an enjoyable and detailed read.