1. In the Author's Note, you mention that The Constant Princess was one of your "most fascinating and most moving novels to write." How so? What first sparked the idea to write a story about Katherine of Aragon?
I admired the Katherine of the historical record when I was researching for The Other Boleyn Girl. Her courage and determination when she was neglected and then abused by her husband Henry and his lover Anne was striking, and her courage in survival was moving. I knew then that I would want to write both about her and her daughter Mary. I wrote about Mary in The Queen's Fool and knew I would want to write about her mother.
2. In your previous novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, Katherine of Aragon is a peripheral character. At the time you wrote that novel, how much did you know about the first wife of Henry VIII?
I think, like many people, I became familiar with Katherine after her arrival in England so I knew a little about her life with Henry and then a good deal about the divorce and the start of the Reformation. What I didn't know until I came to research for this novel was the history of Spain, her parents, and of Katherine as a Spanish princess, the daughter of a newly-united kingdom. That has been fascinating.
3. How has history remembered Katherine of Aragon? How do historians account for the question of whether or not she and Arthur consummated their marriage?
I think Katherine is one of the most provocative characters of the period, readers feel very strongly either in favour of Anne Boleyn or in favour of Katherine, and historians throughout the centuries have tended to take sides also. In general, people tend to remember Katherine as the old wife replaced by the young and glamorous lover, and it has been a great joy to write a book which shows Katherine in her youth: as the young and glamorous princess that she was.
As regard the consummation question, it is fascinating to see how historians have tried to believe Katherine's version of events. She was highly regarded by the Victorian historians who tended to believe that a woman so spiritual could not tell a lie. The actual events - the public bedding, and the records of the time, suggest without doubt that the marriage was consummated. It says much for her personal charisma that she could state the contrary and people should believe her at the time, and that her lie should carry weight for centuries. I think most modern historians now believe that the marriage was consummated but as far as I know, I am the first to tackle the question of why she should tell the lie.
4. Why did you choose to structure the book as you did -- ending with Katherine's victory over the Scottish and then jumping forward in time sixteen years to the concluding scene in which she attends the papal legate sitting? What parallels can be drawn between these two pivotal moments in Katherine's life?
I didn't want to go into the years of Katherine's defeat, partly because I have dealt with that period in The Other Boleyn Girl, and partly because I wanted to present a new picture of Katherine: as the woman she was when she was in her prime, at her ascendant. I thought that the battle of Flodden was the fulfillment of her education and destiny, and that her walking into court to defy Henry showed her at her greatest moment of personal power. I wanted to honour those two moments of triumph for her. I do believe that the moment in court when she stood up to Henry and he, with every reason to defeat her, could not even speak, is a real pivotal moment in Tudor history.
5. You mention in the Author's Note that you took a trip to Granada, Spain, to research aspects of Katherine's background and homeland. What can you tell us about this trip? What was your most memorable experience? In what ways did having this first-hand knowledge bring color to the novel?
I went to Ludlow Castle as well! Perhaps less glamorous than the Alhambra Palace but both of them gave me a powerful idea of what it would have been like to have lived there at the time. As a novelist I have to have a real sense of the place as it was, and there is nothing better than going there in person. I can't pick out one memorable experience over another, the beauty of the building and the gardens was quite overwhelming, but I was also delighted to go to the cathedral in Granada and see a statue of Isabella. I was very moved by the realistic image of her, and I wanted to give a fair portrait of her and her daughter.
6. Prior to The Constant Princess, you wrote about Katherine's daughter, Mary I, in The Queen's Fool. What similarities did you find between mother and daughter?
I think there is a powerful tradition of courage and spirituality and duty (also blinkered stubbornness) which goes through three generations of women from Isabella to Katherine to Mary. I think Mary's good and bad characteristics come from her mother. The powerful sense of duty, the sense of kinship with God, that dangerous sense of being guided and samctioned by God, and a genuine love of Englanad both people and countryside.
7. Several of your books have centered on members of the Tudor family. What is it about this particular royal line that you find so intriguing?
It is an extreme time in terms of danger and opportunity and it gives rise to extreme and extraordinary people. The women especially have to be heroic to survive the dangers which are part of their lives. I love the energy of the Tudors and their ambition, and I love the fact that they are building the world that we inherit. It all starts here.
8. In addition to Katherine of Aragon, The Constant Princess also gives readers some insight into the character of Henry VIII. He was raised as a second son, pampered, and never expected to take the throne. Does this account for some of his self-indulgent behavior, including his decision to divorce Katherine in favor of Anne Boleyn?
Absolutely, I try to give the impression that Henry throughout his life is really a spoiled boy without the sense of duty that was instilled in Arthur. He has enormous talents and enormous energy and if Katherine had borne him a son and they had remained married I think he would have been a truly great king, guided by her. But in the event his life encouraged some of the worst aspects of his character which come to fruition in my next novel which tells of his treatment of Anne of Cleeves and Katherine Howard.
9. In your opinion, what was the greatest impact that Katherine had on the future and politics of England?
The defeat of the Scots at Flodden gave England a desperately needed peace, and a chance to redefine England's borders. In some ways it is her failure that moulded England, If she had given birth to a son I am certain that England would have remained Catholic, probably Papist. Similarly, the infertility of her daughter meant that the Protestant Queen Elizabeth inherited and the country became and remained Protestant. In the long terms she failed to keep England Catholic and the enormous changes of the Reformation took place despite her.
10. In one instance in the novel, Katherine says in reference to her mother, Isabella, "My story won't be like hers, of course. I have been born to less exciting times." Although she might not have led armies into battle, in what ways was Katherine's life as dramatic as that of her mother?
Isabella's life was like something out of a fairystory, I could not resist giving glimpses of it in the novel as Katherine tells her family history to Arthur; but really Isabella's life was played out with full power on a huge stage. Katherine is right, she is born to less exciting times but her regency of England was dramatic and successful and she was the first Queen militant that England had ever seen. Her courage was reflected in her daughter who also commanded her own army, and we see it again in Elizabeth and the famous speech to the troops at Tilbury. I don't think Elizabeth could have been the Queen she was without those two predecessors. In personal terms, with two marriages to two Princes of Wales, almost all the power of ruling the Kingdom, and a great place on the stage of Euirope, Katherine's life was very dramatic.