The Spanish Princess Shows Katherine of Aragon Embracing Her Destiny & Having Red Hair
An adaptation on Katherine of Aragon* that is based on her early years and gives her historically accurate red hair?! Sign me up. Oh wait … based on the novels by Philippa Gregory. Damn it. Well, I’m still going to watch it.
As an armchair Tudor history buff, the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII and the women of the Tudor era itself has always been something I’ve been drawn to. Despite it being such a constantly revisited period of history whenever there is an adaptation, a new narrative always comes forward. People will choose to focus on other things, and each author has their own interpretation of the women.
When it comes to balls-to-the-wall versions of the Tudor women, author Philippa Gregory has some of the most dramatic.
From her deep hatred of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, to the idea that Margaret Beaufort was behind the suspected murders of the Princes in the Tower, and supporting the theory that Perkin Warbeck was legit, even if she does pick these things for entertainment value, sometimes it can come off as sort of pitting women against each other for the sake of it.
The Spanish Princess is based on two of Gregory’s novels: The Constant Princess, which tells the story of Katherine of Aragon and takes the angle that Katherine did lie about being a virgin to marry Henry VIII, and The King’s Curse, which tells the story of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, one the last Plantagenets, who was executed at 67 by Henry VIII for “treason.”
A lot of what’s in the trailer is paint-by-numbers, big-budget Tudor drama with some added fictionalized lady vs. lady drama (I severely doubt that Elizabeth of York would be that severe with Katherine considering her international status, even if this is post-Isabella’s death). However, the two biggest things that stand out for me are the inclusion of Katherine’s red hair and giving Katherine a diverse court.
One thing that often happens in adaptations of the Tudor story is giving Katherine of Aragon—and by extension, Mary I—dark hair to signify her non-English heritage and overplay her Spanish background. However, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter were both red-haired women because Spanish =/= non-white, and Katherine herself was descended from the English royal house on her mother’s side through her great-grandmother Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
John of Gaunt is a pretty big deal in English History he was one of the richest men of his era, highly politically influential, and created the House of Lancaster, which would be one of the two royal rival factions during the Wars of the Roses.
Henry VII would come to power on the Lancaster side of the team, despite not really being a Lancaster, and so bringing in a true Lancaster descended princess to help strengthen their claim was a big get. By keeping Katherine’s hair, it pushes back against the idea that she and her daughter were these hot-blooded Spanish”foreigners” who didn’t care for England, when they had just as much English royal blood as anyone.
Actress Stephanie Levi-John is playing a fictional character, Lina de Cardonnes, who serves as Katherine’s Moor Lady in Waiting. In real life, Katherine’s lady in waiting for most of her time in England was Doña Elvira Manuel, who later betrayed Katherine. By switching it up, the series is acknowledging that, due to the Reconquista, there were Black Moors in Spain at the time who were part of the Spanish court.
I’m sure the series will whitewash some of the more colonialist and imperialist parts of the narrative, but it’s good to see that producer Emma Frost is doing her best to ensure that these stories don’t have to be 100% white.
I’d also highly recommend reading Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann if you want to know more about how Africans came to be in Tudor England and the part Katherine played in that.
Overall, this trailer looks like the typical fun you get from these series—few stakes because we know the history, but a little bit of added sex and drama to the story in order to make it not just masterpiece theater. As Katherine is my favorite queen, I’m glad to see a story about her that isn’t just her being side-lined for Anne Boleyn and highlights what made her a compelling and revered figure in her time.
Long live the queen.
*Yes, I know the series is spelling it Catherine with a C, but historically, Katherine spelled the English version of her name with a K, and I’m admittedly a pretentious snot about it.
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