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Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of…

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana,… (2008)

by Julia Fox

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First dual bio of Katherine and Juana...(daughters of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella.)

4.5* favorite

"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."

Julia Fox offers a commanding portrayal of sisters each with courage, conviction, strength of character and intelligence.
They are each historical characters worthy of note.

J Fox reminds us of the parallels such as politically advantageous marriages, destroyed dreams (love, power) betrayal by their husbands.
We see them both with deep faith and loyalty to family legacies.

I've just touched the surface here.
The book, however is one of depth and well worth the time you invest. ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 26, 2016 |
This was a surprisingly easy-to-read dual biography about two daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain: Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of England's Henry VIII, and Juana "la loca," the queen of Castile, in the period from Isabella's and Ferdinand's takeover of Granada and the Alhambra in 1492, to Juana's death in 1555 (and a bit beyond, to the death of Katherine's daughter Mary, Queen of England, in 1558).

The book is well researched. End notes and the bibliography take up the last 14% of the book (27 pages in print), which also includes photographs of relevant portraits, locations, and maps, as well as genealogical charts. The print book would probably be better for the photographs and charts, as they are too small on an e-reader.

The book provides a balanced portrait of these two queens, Katherine usually portrayed as saintly, while Juana was typically described as crazy. Both share the misfortune of being female in very male-dominated society and era. The reader also learns a little about their fascinating mother, about whom I'm now eager to read more.

I felt I knew Katherine pretty well, from the many books I've read on Tudor England, both fiction and nonfiction, that include her as a major or minor character. Juana was a new subject for me, and it was heartbreaking to read how her husband, father, and son in succession took advantage of her, locking her away with rumors that she had gone mad.

The book reads more like a novel than a dry history, with plenty of detail about ceremonies and clothing, and not much political analysis - which was fine with me. A good introduction to Juana and another view of the well-known first wife of the infamous Henry VIII.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Jan 24, 2015 |
I really enjoy reading about strong women throughout history and Katherine and Juana did not disappoint.

I often forget that they were related, or even of the same time. That won't be possible after reading this book. Most of the book concentrates on Katherine of Aragon's life, there is just more to say. Juana, oh poor Juana, was locked up most of her life.

I liked Fox's summation of the story. Both women lead tragic lives and both sacrificed and pushed for their childrens inheritance. Out of the two Juana was by far more successful, creating a line that has lasted until the present day. ( )
  sscarllet | Nov 20, 2014 |
Julia Fox does an excellent job of fleshing out the lives of these two fascinating women. Of course there was more on Katherine due mainly to the fact that more historical records are available about her life. Unlike many books on this era, Fox manages to avoid just stating rote facts and instead provides a historical nonfiction that reads more like a novel. I will definitely read more of her books in the future. ( )
1 vote dragonflyy419 | Aug 12, 2014 |
Sister Queens is a fascinating side-by-side recounting of the lives of two women, sisters, who were both destined to be queens. Though they both rise to extraordinary levels of power, especially for women during this time in history, and experience periods of happiness and satisfaction, they also survive long periods of suffering and impotence primarily due to the total lack of rights for women, rendering them completely dependent on the will and whims of the men in their lives. Julia Fox portrays both Katherine and Juana as savvy, smart, and strong willed women despite previous depictions of them as passive, weak, or crazy. ( )
1 vote michellebarton | Sep 17, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
"There may not be much new ground to break in the histories of these renowned women, but Fox's biography is well written, even riveting, and painfully highlights the fate of women in patriarchal societies. Recommended for readers with an interest in women's history or the history of 15th- and 16th-century western Europe. "
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Tessa L. H. Minchew (Oct 15, 2011)
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Such as ruled and were queens were for the most part wicked, ungodly, superstitious, and given to idolatry and to all filthy abominations as we may see in the histories of Queen Jezebel.
Thomas Becon, 1554
For George MacRae Gimbel
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345516044, Hardcover)

Julia Fox On Sister Queens

Julia Fox is an author and historical researcher. She lives in London with her husband, the Tudor historian, John Guy. Her first book was Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford, a study of the lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII of England and the sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn.

This book evolved naturally from my last. Then, challenging the legends surrounding the life of Jane Boleyn, brought me face to face with the Boleyns' arch-enemy, Katherine of Aragon, herself also a woman of myth. Endowed with almost saint-like qualities by her admirers, both in her own time and in ours, she is often seen as an icon of perfection as a wife, a mother and as a queen, someone too good to be true. Yet, behind all this hype and spin which turns her into a cardboard caricature, there is a real person struggling to emerge. She's the woman I set out to find; or at least, she's one of them!

For when I began to explore Katherine's Spanish background, her sister Juana entered the picture, another figure of legend, a queen still known in her homeland as 'Juana the Mad.' When I found I couldn't get her out of my mind, the idea of bringing the sisters--whose lives were once so intertwined --back together again took root.

A pivotal moment in my research was when I visited Granada. If one single episode influenced Katherine and Juana, it's the fall of the Moors' final bastion on the Spanish mainland, an event that was so momentous in its own time, it ranks with the D-Day landings and the end of the Second World War in ours. As young, impressionable girls, Katherine and Juana were present when, after years of bloodshed and suffering, the last Moorish king rode down the steep track leading from his great palace complex of the Alhambra to surrender the keys of his city to the sisters' parents, Ferdinand and Isabella. The girls were left in no doubt that they must fight for what they believed to be right, no matter what the personal cost.

Even today, the Alhambra is magical. We can climb the paths into the intimate, intricately-carved rooms of the Moors' magnificent palace where the sisters would once have sat, wander through shady gardens, peer into subterranean dungeons which once held manacled captives; we can gaze up at the tower where the Christians raised their banners (amazingly, still preserved) to signal the triumph of their faith. We can go to the Royal Chapel in the city where Juana lies with her husband and her parents, each in narrow iron coffins, in a small, dimly-lit vault beneath the imposing mausoleums above. To see all this is to enter Katherine and Juana's world, and yearn to discover more.

And the archival sources remain. Letters, contemporary records and first-hand accounts survive in abundance, allowing the sisters to speak to us with their own voices across the centuries. It was in that evidence that I immersed myself over the three years it took to research and write this book. I tried to approach it with a fresh eye, re-evaluating everything and sweeping away the cobwebs, aiming to portray these women, warts and all, as the flesh and blood figures they once were. I owe them that.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:46 -0400)

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Historian Fox offers this first dual biography of the daughters of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella whose entwined royal relationships helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape.

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