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Sister Queens
Cover of Sister Queens
Sister Queens
The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile
by Julia Fox
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.
When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.
Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.
When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.
Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 1

    A Triumph of Faith

    The snow-­covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada were clearly visible from the high, castellated red walls of the citadel as the slight figure of Boabdil, the last king of Granada, slipped out of its gates for the final time. Mounted on his mule and accompanied by fifty of his most trusted soldiers, he slowly made his way down the steep, icy paths formally to surrender the keys of the city. Its conquerors, Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and his wife Isabella, Queen of Castile, were waiting with their children by the banks of the Genil River in the fertile valley below. The date was January 2, 1492. To Boabdil, the day marked the loss of a kingdom and the beginnings of humiliation and exile. To Ferdinand and Isabella, on the other hand, it marked a triumph of faith; faith in the destiny of their country, in their dynasty and, above all, faith in the Holy Catholic Church and the God who was the core of their existence.

    For Boabdil was a Moor. The Moors were Muslims who had first invaded the Spanish peninsula from North Africa back in the eighth century and who had quickly dominated much of it. Christian Spanish kings had fought against them over the centuries, gradually winning city after city and mile after mile of hotly disputed territory. The Moors had slowly been pushed back so that by the time of Isabella's birth in 1451 they were concentrated only in the south of Spain. But they had never been completely defeated until that cold January day when Boabdil was forced to give up their last stronghold: the city of Granada itself.

    The formalities of surrender had been agreed in advance. Resolutely refusing to face further humiliation despite his defeat, Boabdil had already declared that he would not kneel to the victorious monarchs. Isabella was equally determined that he should show due respect to herself and her husband, for this was the day of which she had dreamed since her wars against the Moors had begun ten years earlier. Too much Christian blood had been spilled, and she was very conscious of the malnourished and overworked Christian prisoners languishing in chains in the circular well-­like subterranean dungeons of the Alcazaba, the main fortress contained within the walls of the Alhambra, Boabdil's palace and administrative complex. The captives would soon be freed, but their plight, and the sacrifices of the Christian armies, could not go unrecognized; Boabdil would be treated fairly, but he could not expect to get away scot-­free. Nor would he.

    As arranged, Boabdil turned his mule toward Ferdinand and ostentatiously pretended to dismount and remove his hat. Ferdinand, equally ostentatiously, courteously indicated that he should remain in the saddle. Before handing over the keys of the city to Ferdinand, Boabdil rode toward Isabella, who, glitteringly dressed and sitting upon a great white horse, also received him graciously. Knowing his wife as he did, Ferdinand immediately passed the keys on to her. Iñigo López de Mendoza, Count of Tendilla, the new governor of the city, and Hernando de Talavera, the gentle, ascetic cleric who had served as the queen's confessor and whom she had appointed its archbishop, then rode up the hill and away from the rejoicing crowds toward the Alhambra itself. The city, complete with its citadel, was now part of Spain. Moorish control was over, and Ferdinand and Isabella's crusade against the Moors concluded, if only for the moment.

    Leaving behind his lands and his palaces, Boabdil settled on the estates allowed him by Ferdinand and Isabella in the Alpujerras, an area lying to the south of Granada. He would stay there for only one year. In 1493, he sailed to...

About the Author-
  • After graduating from the University of London, Julia Fox taught history in both public and private schools for a number of years, specializing in the Tudors and in nineteenth-century Britain and Europe. She also worked as a historical researcher. She currently lives with her husband, the historian John Guy, and their two cats. She is the author of one previous book, Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 31, 2011
    Daughters of Spain’s Isabella and Ferdinand, the sister queens Katherine of England and Juana of Castile epitomized the pitfalls of being “born female in a male-dominated society.” Although Juana became queen of Castile after Isabella’s death, her closest male kin, beginning with her bullying husband, Philip of Burgundy, usurped her throne by circulating rumors that the temperamental queen was deranged; then her father, and then her son, kept her as an abused prisoner. But Juana bore healthy sons and her descendants dominated Europe for some two centuries after her death. The politically astute Katherine was Henry VIII’s closest adviser in their marriage’s early days and enjoyed a productive, contented life. But she lost Henry’s affection and her title as queen consort when she failed to produce a male heir. If Fox’s (Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford) recreation of the characters’ interior worlds feels contrived and her downplaying of Katherine’s self-righteousness and Isabella’s brutal religious fanaticism are questionable, the author offers an absorbing, rich, and fresh view of the entwined royal relationships that helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape. 16 pages of color photos; 1 map.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2011
    An initially inspired juxtaposition of the lives of the two Spanish sister queens grows saccharine in the hands of British historical researcher Fox (Jane Boleyn, 2007). The daughters of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon were positioned at a very young age to marry the most illustrious monarchs of Europe and inherit enormous power in their own right. Yet both were outmaneuvered by the men around them--father, husbands, son--and both eventually squandered and lost their power, dying in shame and isolation. Fox fashions a sympathetic, storybook narrative of the two sisters, daughters of strong monarchs, especially their mother, who spearheaded the Reconquista of 1492. The girls were educated in Latin and married off in their mid-teens, Juana to Philip of Burgundy, and Katherine to Arthur, Henry VII of England's eldest son. Fate intervened swiftly and changed the course of history: A series of deaths of her older siblings left Juana in the position of inheriting her parents' kingdom, while her new husband began systematically to rob her of her authority, casting doubt about her sanity; in England, Arthur's death left Katherine vulnerable until finally she was wedded by his brother Henry VIII and made queen--temporarily. Juana, for her part, despite her sovereignty and the many children she would bear her husband, was essentially disinherited from and then imprisoned first by her father, Ferdinand, then her own son, Carlos V, for the remaining 46 years of her life. Was she truly mad or deliberately enfeebled in the power struggle? Her sister Katherine, more politically astute, had acted as Henry VIII's equal, until her inability to provide a male heir prompted him to divorce her and she was forced to acquiesce. Fox takes the side of the ill-fated sisters, but she does not offer any new light through the murky historical record. A sad tale drawn out and viewed through rose-colored glasses.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2011

    Katherine of Aragon was rudely shoved aside by husband Henry VIII in favor of Anne Boleyn, while sister Juana, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, remained so besotted with her husband even after his early death (she refused to bury his coffin) that she was eventually confined by her family. Fox won great attention with Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford; for all Anglophiles.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 1, 2011
    Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish wife whom Henry VIII divorced with monumental consequences for English history, had an elder sister, Juana, who was politically significant as heir to the throne of Castile. In this parallel biography of the siblings, Fox contrasts their lives as circumscribed by powerful princes, showing how their personalities responded to adversity. Those remembering that Juana's moniker is the Mad know that Fox has a reclamation project ahead of her, which she founds on the fact that Juana's father, King Ferdinand of Aragon, and her son, Emperor Charles V, imprisoned her in a castle. Casting her reported behavior of outbursts, sulking, and self-starvation as protest against imprisonment, Fox successfully provokes sympathy for Juana. Katherine is, of course, more famous, dramatic, and controversial. Was her first marriage, to Henry's older brother, Prince Arthur, truly unconsummated? Katherine proved a doughty and savvy antagonist of Henry, her formidable character demurely veiled behind piety in Fox's fluid and pellucid narrative. A talented entrant in royal biography, Fox fairly bids for the popularity historian Alison Weir presently wields.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

  • The Spectator (UK) "Julia Fox's vivid and sympathetic book now shows us [Katherine of Aragon's] life and marriage in another context, setting it against the even more terrifying story of her elder sister, Juana. . . . As Fox recreates Juana and Katherine's lives in colorful detail, she manages to draw out the spirit and resilience of two women fearfully abused in a very cruel, very male world."
  • Publishers Weekly "[Fox] offers an absorbing, rich, and fresh view of the entwined royal relationships that helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape."
  • Booklist "A talented entrant in royal biography, Fox fairly bids for the popularity historian Alison Weir currently wields."
  • USA Today "Fox does a splendid job in conveying life at the top of the Tudor pyramid."
  • The Austin Chronicle "Fox is an English historian [who] imbues her writing with rich detail and confident knowledge. . . . She's given depth and character to Jane Boleyn."
  • Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire "Outstanding . . . a fascinating and moving read."
  • Leanda de Lisle, author of The Sisters Who Would Be Queen "Julia Fox's immaculate detective work and vivid storytelling bring to life one woman's struggle to survive at the apex of a society where success could bring untold riches and a king's anger could cost you your life."
  • Kirkus Reviews "Engrossing . . . a sparkling chronicle, fine-tuned to the personal stories that lend texture and emotion to a biography."
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The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile
Julia Fox
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