Sister Queens Katherine of Aragon and Juana Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first bride, has become an icon: the betrayed wife, the revered Queen, the devoted mother, a woman callously cast aside by a selfish husband besotted by his strumpet of a mistress. Her sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the most powerful man in Renaissance Europe, is still more of a legend. She is ‘Juana the Mad’, the wife so passionately in love with her husband that she could not bear to be parted from him even by death, keeping his coffin by her side for year upon year. They were Sister Queens – the accomplished daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella, the founders of a unified Spain.

A gripping tale of love, sacrifice, the demands of duty and the conflict between ambition and loyalty – at a time when even royal women had to fight for their positions in society – Julia Fox’s vibrant new biography teems with life. Linked not only by blood but by cruel experience, their dual stories enrich our understanding of them both, casting a searchlight onto the turbulent age in which they lived.

Juana of Castile, Joana the mad or Juana la Loca. She was the daughter of the “Catholic Monarchs” Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the mother of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Imprisoned for close to five decades, she is certainly a well-known historical figure, but we still know little about her. Her younger sister, Katherine of Aragon, on the other hand, is one of the most famous Queens in medieval history, cast aside by her mad husband Henry VIII after more than two decades of marriage so he could preserve the Tudor line.

There is simply not enough material to provide a weighty biography of Juana, and of Katherine there is not a lot of new material to be used. By writing a dual biography Fox has drawn enough parallels between them to create a refreshing view of the two women. Both women were trapped by the men in their lives, Juana imprisoned by her father and then by her son, Katherine trapped in a foreign land close to poverty by her father-in-law, then banished by her husband.

Fox has written an exhaustive account of Katherine, including her betrothal and wedding to Arthur, her years in limbo under Henry VII and her ultimately turbulent marriage with Henry VIII, one of England’s most famous Monarchs.

In turn she goes to great lengths to dispel the myth that was Juana la Loca. Using as much available information as possible backed with a detailed account of the political climate in Europe throughout Juana’s long life Fox presents a compelling argument for a woman who spent the better part of her life trapped in two rooms.

Julia Fox has a wonderful easy style of writing, she paints vivid pictures with her extensive descriptions, details casually thrown in on everything from architecture, gifts exchanged, and letters written to sumptuous clothing worn on important days. This is a tragic tale of two women, two sisters, Princesses and Queens and the men in their lives determined to crush their spirit and Fox has done them justice with this well-researched, exhaustive and compelling account of their lives.

Rating: ★★★★★

With thanks to Random House for the review copy

You can read more on Julia Fox’s website


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Sister Queens: Katherine of Aragon and Juana Queen of Castile