The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Touchstone, 2005
Source: Audiobook from the library

Oh, Philippa. Over Christmas break as my lovely cousin Andra was cutting my hair, she started telling me about this one. She'd recommended The Other Boleyn Girl to me about a year before and I'd enjoyed it, so she told me that I should read The Constant Princess because it was about Queen Katherine, the infamous Henry VIII first wife. When I saw that my library had it on CD, I jumped at it - I used to make an hour long drive once a week, and I'd been looking for a plot heavy book to listen to.

The story begins in Katherine's childhood, describing her relationship with her mother and the campaign to conquer the Moorish regions in Spain. It then skips ahead to Katherine's marriage to Arthur, then her struggle to marry Henry VIII, then her difficulties with childbearing, and finally her husband's entanglements with the Boleyn girls. Gregory ties it all together with the theme that Katherine is a "Constant Princess" (get it?), always doing what is best for her country, always faithful to her promises, etc. etc.

My main problem with this book was the repetitiveness of the prose. Because I listened to it on audiobook I don't have any quotes written down, but the sentences often went something like this - "Sadness tore at my heart. I was sad. Oh, how I was sad!" Um, Katherine, were you sad? Are you sure? In some ways this was actually good for me because I tend to drift away when I am listening to audiobooks. Hearing the same sentiment repeated three times usually meant that I got it through my head.

I loved the beginning of the book. Hearing about Katherine's parents, especially her mother Isabella, "her mother in her armor," intrigued me. I have never been a history buff, and historical fiction is not my favorite genre (although for some reason I have been reading quite a bit of it lately). I also enjoyed the love story with Arthur - the way their relationship developed slowly after a rocky start. That part of the book seemed to have real feeling and depth - maybe because I'm a newlywed too. Towards the end, while I still enjoyed Katherine's character, I felt the story dragged. I understand that in trying to cover a person's life, an author can't always neatly tie a plot into a perfect novel, but at the end I felt like Gregory was just trying to hit all the important events of Katherine's life before wrapping things up.

The strength of this novel is in its characters. Katherine is vividly personified as an ambitious and persuasive queen who desires to change the world. Arthur, her first love, is a smart and serious, although clumsy and awkward, boy trying to live up to his future role as king. Henry, or Harry as he is called at first, is a silly, passionate and fun-loving boy who is indulged as a second son and is therefore unprepared for the demands of real leadership. I am sure Gregory took many liberties in laying out her characters, but I am very interested to learn more about the lives of the people on whom the characters are based, which I think shows some measure of success in the novel.

I should quickly mention the performance. I was not a fan. The woman who narrated had a very gravelly and severe sounding voice that at times was monotonous. And it drove me crazy to hear her say "IsabellER of Spain." (Sorry, Brits). But I did continue to listen to it, despite not loving it, so it wasn't off-putting enough to make me return the book.

Overall? It was frothy and a little too long, but mildly enjoyable. And it awaken in me a desire to learn more about the history of England, which is a good thing.

Readability - Repetitive.
Plot - 2.5
Characters - 3.5
Writing - 2
Personal response - 3
Overall - 2.75


  1. Aww this is one of my favorite Gregory books, I'm sad you didn't like it. Although I read the paper copy, maybe I didn't notice the repetiveness because of that.

  2. I think I might have just gotten tired of it because it took me sooooo long to listen to the book.


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