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Sister Queens    by Julia Fox order for
Sister Queens
by Julia Fox
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

As daughters of the powerful monarch, Isabella of Castile, Katherine of Aragon and the woman history has labeled Juana the Mad were destined for greatness since birth. Katherine was to wed Prince Arthur of England. Juana was to wed Philip, the archduke of Burgundy. But fate had a different plan in mind for the royal sisters. Shortly after Katherine's marriage to Prince Arthur, the heir to the throne fell ill and died. Juana's match with Archduke Philip of Burgundy proved to be a real love match, but her passionate love slowly evolved into an obsession which would provide ammunition for those who wished to remove her from the line of succession. Through it all, the sisters would maintain the dignity and courage expected from Spain's powerhouse couple - Isabella and Ferdinand.

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile is a one of kind biography of two queens. Fox places Katherine's role as Henry VIII's wife on the backburner and focuses on her duty and loyalty to Spain. Acting as an ambassador to her home country after the death of her first husband, Katherine fights to retain the alliance between England and Spain. Katherine is also forced to confront Henry VII when he refuses to make her engagement to his second son official. Katherine proves as politically astute as her mother, even ruling England as regent after Henry VIII declares war on France. Fox stresses Katherine's ability to manipulate to gain advantage, especially in the name of Spain and the Catholic Church. Katherine's character becomes apparent when Henry VIII seeks an annulment after she fails to provide him with a male heir.

Although Juana is blessed with many heirs for Spain, her undying love for her husband, Philip, ultimately robs her of the right to rule her own country. When Isabella's male heirs die, followed by Juana's older sisters, Juana is next in line to the throne. But her bizarre and frightening tantrums arouse talk of mental instability. When the love of her life dies, Juana cannot bear to be parted with him even after death. Rumors of Juana's periodically opening the coffin to gaze on her beloved Philip result in her lifelong imprisonment, first by her father, and then by her son. Yet, Fox argues that Juana was the victim of her male relatives' ambition, especially that of her son Charles, who would eventually become Holy Roman Emperor and the most powerful man in Europe.

Sister Queens will please readers who wish to see a different side of Katherine of Aragon and also those who question Juana's mental illness. Fox presents both Katherine and Juana as resilient women who were unfortunately oppressed by the male dominated world of the sixteenth century. This is the perfect book for those who fail to view Katherine of Aragon as a saint. Fox believes Katherine had the capacity to be every bit as scheming and opportunistic as her mother. I also enjoyed how Fox staunchly supports her theory that Juana was never unfit to rule Spain, while placing the blame for her supposed mental illness on her male contemporaries. Fox's dual biography is a thought provoking and fascinating read.

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