Catherine of Aragon

Sarah Gristwood reads a welcome biography of Henry VIII's first wife

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Reviewed by: Sarah Gristwood
Author: Giles Tremlett
Publisher: Faber
Price (RRP): £9.99

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Catherine has long been overdue a reappraisal, married to Henry VIII for more than twice the time of his other five wives put together. But her very virtues – her religiosity, her loyalty, her endurance – have earned less sympathy than the flaws of her rival, Anne Boleyn.

Now Giles Tremlett redresses the balance in a vivid and detailed biography.

As The Guardian’s Madrid correspondent he is well-placed to give full weight to her Spanish origins and to Spanish sources: the book is gripping even before she meets Henry.

Her early bouts of self-starvation emerge as something like an eating disorder; her resistance to the annulment as a battle fought to the very last, with Catherine firing off publicity salvos even as she reached for a martyr’s crown.

She herself is revealed not as a stoic or a saint, but as a woman of wholly credible complexity.

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Sarah Gristwood is the author of The Girl in the Mirror (HarperPress, 2011)