The King's Pleasure: A Novel of Katharine of Aragon

The King's Pleasure: A Novel of Katharine of Aragon

by Norah Lofts


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Released for the first time in decades, this international bestseller powerfully tells of the life of Katharine of Aragon, from her childhood in Spain to her reign and downfall in England as the first wife of Henry VII. A princess by birth and a queen by marriage, Katharine always held the highest aspirations for her life, never doubting a vision both she and her mother, Isabella of Spain, had of her becoming one of the great rulers of Europe.

After a short-lived and childless marriage to sickly prince Arthur of England, Katharine finds herself handed down to his brother, the future king Henry VII, a handsome, passionate man with whom she forms a strong bond of mutual admiration and love. Their relationship seems ideal — equals in status, ambition, and respect for each other.

As the years go by, King Henry becomes consumed by greed, paranoia, and arrogance, with a roving eye that has settled on the young Anne Boleyn. It is this obsession that will lead to his destruction and the humiliation of Katharine, the woman he once would have done anything to protect, forever changing the face of English history and religion.

Beloved by her fans and a queen of the genre, Norah Lofts wrote tales of royal Britain that have stood the test of time, and The King's Pleasure is now reissued for a new generation of adoring readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416590897
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 12/02/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 774,154
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Norah Lofts was one of the best known and best loved of all historical novelists, renowned for her authentic use of period detail. Born in 1904 in Norfolk, England, Lofts wrote more than fifty books of fiction, nonfiction, and short stories over the course of her half-century-long writing career, including The King's Pleasure and Here Was a Man, and was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read an Excerpt


Mules, everybody agreed, were more sure-footed, so Isabella of Spain rode on a mule, her heavily pregnant body wrapped in a rain-repellent leather cloak, on her head a hood of the same material, her feet encased in a pair of boots similar to those worn by foot soldiers. The winter rains had set in and the roads which through the long hot summer had been ankle-deep in dust were now over hoof deep in mud, sticky as glue. Every time the mule put foot down there was a squelching sound, every time it lifted one there was a plop. Sometimes, under the smooth shining surface of the mud, there was a dip; then the mule stumbled, recovered itself with a jerk and a heave and plodded on: sometimes, under a mere skim of mud there was a boulder, thrown in to fill a hole visible last summer; striking one of these the mule stumbled again; recovered and plodded on. Each time this happened Isabella felt like a woman holding a basketful of eggs riding on a seesaw; after each jolt the question, All right? All well? Yes, thanks be to God, no harm done. The child, so soon to be born, would be her tenth; four were alive, thank God; few mothers had been so blessed; but every stumble and jolt she knew a small fear — not here, please God, not in the open, in the rain. Alcalá de Henares is not so far away; the road is bad, the going slow, but please, I beseech thee, let me arrive, settle into the place prepared for me and there let the child be born.

She was Queen; she could have ridden comfortably in a litter slung between two mules, or carried on the shoulders of willing men, but to do so would have been a concession to female weakness, and she scorned it. God had called her to take a man's place in the world, and handicapped as she had been by her female body, she had taken that place, filled it adequately, done as much as, or more than, any man could have done — all by the help of God. She must not weaken now.

In everything Isabella could see the hand of God, working slowly, sometimes obscurely but to a sure end. Because there was no male heir she had become Queen of Castile, and she had married Ferdinand of Aragon, thus uniting the two kingdoms and making them strong enough to attempt to drive out the Moors who had occupied the south of the Iberian peninsula for six hundred years. She did not deceive herself; Ferdinand might look upon the campaign, now in its fifth year, as a means to increase his own power; for her it was a Crusade, Christian against infidel, as urgent and important as any Crusade waged centuries earlier to free the Holy Land. For Isabella, Spain was holy land and to wage the war of freedom she had ridden, slept, eaten, suffered and endured alongside her army, showing fortitude in the face of hardship and in defeat a certain grim cheerfulness which communicated itself to the men.

The army, with one of its hardest and most successful campaigns behind it, was moving into winter quarters, making on this drear day for the bleak upland town of Alcalá de Henares, where there was a palace of a sort. It was a comfortless place, ancient, ill-heated and in poor repair; its owner, the Bishop of Toledo, used it only once a year when he made his visitation, and he took good care that this should be neither in winter nor in summer, but in late spring or early autumn when, for a brief period the weather was tolerable. He was always preceded by a baggage train, laden with hangings and cushions and soft, feather bedding, silverware and little luxuries in the way of food. The Queen of Castile could have taken similar precautions, but she never did. The horses, mules and donkeys in her train were laden enough without carting a lot of useless gear from place to place. Even her personal luggage was kept to the minimum; with her always were her suit of armor, her riding clothes, three changes of linen and two dresses, one plain and simple made of Flemish cloth, the other very fine, a rich reddish purple silk, so boned and padded and embroidered that it was almost as stiff as armor. Both were old; she had other things to do with her money than to buy fripperies. Yet she was an elegant woman, with narrow feet and delicate hands, white and well kept; her hair, once golden, now silver-gilt, was washed every other Monday, even when, as often happened, Monday had seen fighting renewed. She had a fastidious nose and in her youth had used and liked a perfume distilled from roses; but the trick of making it was a secret, brought to Spain by the Moors when they came out of the east and as soon as she knew her destiny she had abandoned its use, making do with the simpler preparation made from crushed lavender, native to Spain.

On this day her few clothes, her few toilet necessities were all contained in a brassbound hide box, which also held everything that a baby might need. The enforced parsimony was evident there, too. For the new baby nothing new. The baby clothes had served many times already; for Isabella, Juan, Joanna and Maria and babies who had died young; well washed and bleached by the summer sun in the south, they would serve again for the child who would, God willing, be born in the Bishop's palace at Alcalá de Henares. Not in the rain and the mud, the birth precipitated by a fall. Isabella hoped for another son. The one she had already, Juan, had survived the danger period of infancy and first youth and was now seven years old, healthy, intelligent, charming, God be thanked; but he was only one life, only one heir; life was so full of threats; another boy would be a kind of security; and if this child were a boy, and if Juan lived, the younger one could become a cleric — perhaps even Pope.

Jerking along, in increasing discomfort, the leather cloak growing heavier and then porous so that finally the wetness seeped through to her skin, Isabella cheered herself with thoughts of the future. Juan King of a united Spain, with not a Moor left alive in it; Carlos — for so she would name this child, should it be a boy, on the Papal throne, and all her daughters married to kings, linking Spain, so long isolated, to Europe, carrying their Spanish piety and good manners with them.

To her second son, if God so favored her, she would say, "You were almost born in a saddle." She would not say that if this child were a girl. She had learned from a long, hard experience what turns of speech appealed to men and what to women. She had been compelled to speak both languages and could switch from one to the other without conscious thought. When her husband, Ferdinand, who had been at the rear of the long train, urging on the laggards, brought his horse alongside her mule and asked how she did, she said:

"Mules are somewhat overrated; but at least I am still in one piece."

He laughed. A woman would have been more sympathetic, would have said things like "Poor lady!" or "How courageous you are, madam." Weakening words. The sort that she had resisted for years.

Ferdinand said, "Not long now. That fellow who broke his ankle and was heaved up on top of one of the baggage wagons just told me that he could see the roofs. Then the road dipped and he lost sight of them again, but in less than an hour we should be there."

They were there in less than an hour. The Bishop's palace was as stark, as bare as she remembered it; but it was a suitable place for the birth of a child who, if a boy, would be obliged to subjugate the flesh, at least for a time, and if a girl would be the fourth daughter, with all the really advantageous marriages made before it was her turn, and might become a nun.

Freed of the mule's movement and relieved of her sodden clothes and heavy boots, the Queen felt better and derided herself for her fears of a somewhat premature delivery. She proceeded in her usual, orderly way, moving slowly but purposely. First a visit to the little chapel, ill-lit and cold as a tomb, where she knelt and thanked God that the journey had been completed without mishap save for a broken ankle and one wagon wheel smashed; she prayed that God would forgive her for the lack of complete faith that had made her fears possible. Then to more mundane matters. First of all — before the children, even, the need to make certain that every man would sleep under cover in this night of wind and rain.

The Bishop's palace, like every other place where Isabella had stayed in the last four years, was virtually a barracks, only a few private rooms reserved for the Royal Family and its immediate entourage; but even so, and with every outbuilding brought into service, it was still necessary to find outside billets for a great number of soldiers, and a senior officer had been sent on ahead to make arrangements. The Queen knew how ordinary people felt about having soldiers thrust upon them, but it was a necessity in winter and it was the turn of the people up here in the northwest to assume their part of the burden; the towns and villages to the south, near the fighting front, had stripped themselves to keep the army fed during spring and summer; that was what made these long winter journeys an essential part of the year's routine. Isabella had done her best to instill a crusading spirit into her army; men were forbidden to loot or to meddle with respectable females; they knew that their Queen disapproved of drunkenness and of the use of foul language. On the whole her rules and her wishes were regarded, but there were exceptions which distressed her less than might have been supposed; it was an army of men, not of monks that she had gathered and she was shrewd enough to realize that the men who sometimes broke rules were not necessarily the worst soldiers.

"Every man has a roof over his head?" she asked.

"Yes, your Grace." The officer added — for unless the queen was in childbed tomorrow, she would be out and about, inspecting and criticizing, and he did not want his efforts underrated: "Of a sort. It was not easy. Since last year a dozen houses at least have become untenanted and have fallen into total disrepair; and at the lower end of the town there is a sickness."

"Plague?" Isabella asked sharply, prepared to move on tomorrow if this were so. Of all diseases the plague was most to be dreaded; even the bodies of the dead emitted a fatal contagion.

"No, madam. I was not myself sure, but the surgeon-in-chief whom I consulted as soon as he arrived, assures me that it is not. The sick are fevered, restless and raving, but they show no sign of plague. I ordered the area to be cordoned off and placed out of bounds. It contains several wine shops and...other places."

"You did well," she said. She knew what he meant by other places. Again regrettable, but what could one do? Take an ordinary man away from his family, deprive him of most of life's comfort, expose him to the constant danger of death, and could you blame him for snatching at a passing pleasure? You could not. Nor were the women themselves, the rather pathetic camp followers or the homebound ones who welcomed an army's arrival in their town, much to be blamed. They were so poor. The poverty of her people was a matter of great concern to Isabella; she could distinguish between poverty accepted as a way of life, for the glory of God, by certain religious orders, and poverty inflicted by circumstance. Over the greater part of Castile, and of Aragon, the soil was poor and the climate inclement, veering between too-cold winters and too-hot-and-dry summers. North of the Pyrénées was France, very fertile and rich, and farther north still England where green grass was plentiful all the year round and there were — it was said — more sheep than people. The wool of these sheep was shipped to Flanders where it was made into cloth, a saleable commodity. In this lucrative two-way trade Spain could take no part. It was a pity, but it was a situation which would not last forever. Next year, please God, the rich Moorish provinces would be restored to Spain; minerals, vineyards, orange and lemon groves...And at the very back of her mind there was another thought.

There was a Genoese sailor, a man called Christopher Columbus, wandering about the courts of Europe, searching for a patron who would fit out an expedition to enable him to prove his contention that the world was a globe, not a flat surface and that by travelling towards the west he could reach the rich, fabulous world of the Indies whence came by slow, expensive, overland route or by Portuguese caravel things like sugar and cloves and cinnamon and ginger and precious stones. It sounded a fantastic idea, but no more fantastic than that a woman should be Queen of Castile in her own right and called to wage the last Crusade. And win it. She meant to, if she lived. She visualized the last Moorish King driven out of Granada fleeing back to Africa, where the Moors belonged; she visualized herself just able to afford this westward voyage which might conceivably end in the East and bring the wealth of the Indies, where even kitchen utensils were — they said — made of silver and gold, under the control of Spain. To God nothing was impossible.

The matter of the soldiers' comfort dealt with — not without reason they regarded her as The Mother, and so referred to her — she turned her attention to those to whom she was actually mother. They were, so far as the building and its amenities allowed, comfortably installed. There was the Infanta Isabella, fifteen years old, very solemn and, even Isabella admitted, pompous; an admirable girl in a way, but once she had so exasperated her mother that Isabella had said "You talk to me as though you were my mother-in-law!" The younger Isabella's destiny was settled; she would be Queen of Portugal, and her solemnity, pomposity and complete lack of humor would make her a most excellent queen; she had been reared and educated for the position. Isabella the Queen of Castile had always been aware of her own faulty education — she had become Queen through the premature death of her stepbrother and been obliged to learn Latin, the language in which all legal and diplomatic matters were phrased, in a hurried three weeks. As a result she had paid particular attention to her children's education.

Juan, as the heir, already had his own establishment, a separate little court for which Isabella had lain down the rules and which, even on journeys like this one, ran smoothly. All well, Isabella thought, and moved on to the more cramped quarters where her two younger daughters and their attendants were housed. Maria, the baby of the family until the new one came, was settling down to sleep, almost too drowsy to be aware of her mother's presence; Joanna, who was six, was giving trouble; not for the first time. She had rejected her supper and now refused to go to bed.

Isabella endeavored to be an impartial mother and outwardly achieved this aim, but Joanna, so beautiful, so precocious and so strange, was her favorite daughter, almost as much loved as the only son. Deep concern and apprehension lay at the root of this preference. It was impossible for Isabella to look upon her second daughter and not remember that her own mother had been mad and had passed the last years of her life under restraint. But I am sane, she told herself whenever that memory struck; and then immediately she would think of things like left-handedness, stammering, a coloring of eyes or hair skipping one generation. To any of her other children, on this evening she would have administered a rebuke, an admonition; to Joanna she said:

"Come here and tell me what is the matter."

She sat herself on a hard wooden stool and would have taken Joanna on to her lap — but she had no lap these days, instead she put her arm around the child and pulled her close, held her firmly, aware of vibrating tremor.

"We have all had a hard day," she said in her calm, low voice. "It is unkind of you, Joanna, to make things more difficult."

"I know. I am sorry."

"Then why do you do it?"

"It is a bad place, Mother. Not a place to eat and sleep in. A place to go away from. Could we not go away? Now."

"It is cold, and not very comfortable," Isabella said. "But it is better than being out in the night and the rain. I think it is a good place, Joanna. I was very glad to arrive here. I shall eat my supper and go to my bed and be grateful to God for the food and the resting place. You should do the same. Come along now, eat just a little and then go to bed like my good, sensible little girl."

"I can't," Joanna said with a violent shudder. "Not here."

"Why not?"

"Because of the coffin."

"What coffin?"

"The brown one."

Despite all her faith, despite her practical and rational mind, Isabella felt a little superstitious shiver. She had long ago, before she bore her first child, given orders that no money should be wasted on her funeral, should she die. Masses for her soul, yes, they must be asked for, paid for, but no mummers, no black plumes; and a simple wooden casket, such as every peasant somehow managed to afford. It would be brown.

More to herself than to Joanna she said:

"This is nonsense! You were so tired that you fell asleep on your feet and dreamed. Making such a fuss about nothing, about a dream! And if you are not hungry, I am," she said, fighting off fear as she had done so many times before: she was thirty-four years old; women who did not die in their early child-bearing years often did later on, in their thirties; and the last months had been strenuous, the last ride not one that a woman so far advanced in pregnancy should have attempted. But if she died, she died; God ruled; it might not be His wish that she should live and drive the Moors from Granada and send the Genoese sailor on his westward voyage. It was all in God's hands and she must leave it there. What was left to her own mere human agency was to see that this distressed child ate something and went to bed.

"Come," she said, heaving her laden body up; "you can share my supper if you promise, afterwards, to go straight to bed."

Always the same, the lady governess thought sourly; the normal child, sound in mind and wind and limb was taken for granted, the less normal one pampered and spoiled.

Isabella, watching the child eat and become restored, even merry, thought about life and death, soldiers, children, the vast responsibility which lay upon a woman called upon to play a man's part in the world without owning a man's impregnable body. Tonight, tomorrow or perhaps the next day, she and the task she had to set herself, might end in the bloody and painful business of giving birth. But if so — the brown coffin — all the will of God, not be questioned or disputed. Copyright © 1969 by Norah Lofts Copyright renewed © 1997 by C. Lofts


The baby was born on December 16th and was a girl. Isabella was disappointed that the dynasty had not been reinforced by the birth of another prince, but since God in His infinite wisdom had given a daughter instead of a son, she accepted His decision with cheerfulness.

Her moment's superstitious fear, which Joanna's mention of a brown coffin had evoked, was not in the least justified; it was a comparatively easy birth; the baby throve and in a short time Isabella was on her feet again, resuming the duties of Queen, army commandant and mother. But while she lay in bed, recovering, she had time to think and some of her thoughts centered about Joanna who, at six, should now be outgrowing childish fancies. Princesses were born to a definite destiny, that of making marriages which bolstered political alliances and their characters must be trained for the purpose; to allow a king's daughter to grow up fanciful, wilful and unpredictable could make trouble in the future and was certainly not kind. Princesses must be stolid, placid, adaptable. Joanna might be steadied by responsibility; so, from the first Isabella placed upon her some of the duties of caring for the new baby. "If she cries, you must try to soothe her. When she is older you must amuse her. You must always think of her welfare and comfort before your own." She intended the duties to be merely nominal, a means of occupying Joanna's attention, but Joanna, in whom there was a capacity for boundless, blind devotion, took them seriously and sometimes annoyed both ladies-in-waiting and nursemaids by her officiousness; sometimes there were complaints and appeals to the Queen who could always point out that in general Joanna's behavior had greatly improved and that while she was fussing around the baby nobody else needed to.

Isabella had had an English grandmother, Katharine of Lancaster, and for her she named her fourth daughter; an act of sentiment rather than policy; England and connections with England — except in the way of trade — were worthless now. The Wars of the Roses had ravaged the country and decimated its nobility, and since August the country had been ruled by an upstart Welshman whose only claim to the throne was through his great-grandfather, a bastard later legitimized but excluded from inheriting the crown. There were men with better claims, there were pretenders and it seemed highly unlikely that Henry Tudor would be King of England for long. When Isabella, taking her brief rest, looked at her fourth daughter and speculated about her future she never once visualized her as Queen of turbulent England; there were steadier thrones. And in her heart Isabella still felt that this child, born in the very middle of a Catholic Crusade, might show a vocation for the religious life. Such things must be left to God; what must not be left to God, since He must not be bothered with such petty details, was the matter of rehousing twenty men lodged in a barn that had lost its roof in a recent storm; dealing with a soldier accused of rape, the non-delivery of a consignment of grain, promised from nearby Aragon, Ferdinand's own Kingdom. Tact must be exercised there; Ferdinand was still very Aragonese in his thinking; Castile was his because he had married her, Queen of Castile, but Aragon was not hers, even to criticize. Perhaps, when she was up and about again and capable of looking into the matter closely she could find, somewhere involved, a Jew who could be made culpable. Jews had no nationality; they could be blamed with impunity...There were dozens of such things to be seen to.

Katharine, as she emerged from baby to identifiable child, was, Isabella rejoiced to see, going to be pretty; not beautiful like Joanna who had the fragile, vulnerable loveliness of a flower, but pretty; she had clear large eyes, grey, tinged with green, her eyebrows were thin and arched, her hair, darkening from childish silver-gilt became brown, with a russet red shade in it, her complexion was fair and unblemished and she had inherited her mother's grace, and ability to look elegant without extraneous trimmings. Her temperament was as satisfactory as her appearance; less stolid than the Infanta's or Maria's, less volatile than Joanna's.

For Katharine, making every day another step out of babyhood into ordinary life, the center and pivot of her life was, for years, Joanna, slavishly devoted so far as physical matters were concerned; she would change plates if her portion of any dish seemed preferable to that given to Katharine; for Katharine always the rosiest apple, the juiciest orange. From Joanna, Katharine received her first lessons, plodding away to learn things which Joanna had mastered in an hour. "You are slow," Joanna sometimes said impatiently and Katharine came to realize that, compared with Joanna whose acceptance or rejectance of everything was instant, she was indeed slow. "But I never forget anything," she said, not defensively, but humbly — offering her good memory as a sop.

The lessons, the lives, the food they ate, the beds they slept in were all subjected to the progress of the war. Isabella, intent to do her duty by everyone, to oversee everything, dragged her family along behind the army. The war went on; there were tedious journeys, uncomfortable lodgings, scanty meals. Always Joanna was there, presiding over Katharine's destiny not like a mother — Mother was waging war on the Moors — but like the good fairy in the stories which Joanna would tell on the long jogging journeys. Joanna was a wonderful storyteller, though sometimes her tales had a frightening element in them that would have scratched Katharine's nerves and made her afraid of the dark, of thunder and several other things but for the fact that Joanna herself seemed so fearless, and Joanna was always there.

The shocking fact that Joanna would not always be there broke upon Katharine on what was, apart from this revelation, a gay and glorious occasion, their sister Isabella's betrothal to Alfonso of Portugal. Isabella was so much their senior, and so sedate that she had played little part in their lives; but she had always been there, and soon she would not be; she would go to live in Portugal.

"You won't ever get married and go away, will you?" Katharine asked anxiously.

"Of course I shall," Joanna said with a rapt look. "I shall live in Burgundy, and in Brussels and Vienna. I'm looking..." she broke off, seeing Katharine's face. "Not yet," she said hastily. "Years and years..." But Katharine was facing for the first time in her life the truth that no human relationship is permanent; she was already, in her mind, bereaved; so she wept with the noisy abandon of a five-year-old. Doña Elvira said sternly, "What behavior! Tears on such a day bring ill luck to the bride." Katharine choked and blinked.

"Joanna, will you have me to live with you whenever you go?"

"I couldn't. You'll be married yourself. You'll have to live in England. In London." That sounded somewhat meager after Burgundy, Brussels and Vienna, so Joanna ferreted about in her mind and produced another place name. "And Windsor, I think."

"Oh. Oh dear. What a pity."

"Yes, it is," said Joanna, worldly wise at eleven years old. "But, you see, there are four of us and you are the youngest..." That again sounded condescending, so she added, "Your husband has a nice name though — Arthur; like the King in the book; the one with the Round Table and all the brave knights." She had read the story in a battered manuscript from her mother's library and retold the tales, much simplified. Not that this English Arthur would be much like the one in the legend; for one thing he was a year younger than Katharine and said to be delicate and he had no breeding. Joanna had a sharp ear for gossip and had mastered the art of being unobtrusive if she chose; things had been said in her presence because she was not noticed or because she was regarded as too young to comprehend. She knew that the King, her father, had not much wanted a marriage alliance with England, and had rejected the first advances; then for some reason that she did not understand, all political, to do with France and Italy, he had changed his mind. It seemed that the King of England had been offended by the rebuffs and now demanded, with Katharine, a dowry that Mother said was extortionate, but admitted must be paid. It could be afforded once Granada was conquered and the war over. It could be the more easily afforded because Joanna herself needed no dowry at all. The Emperor Maximilian planned to marry his daughter Margaret to Juan, at the same time as he married his son, Philip, to Joanna. So there had been a mutual abandonment of dowries. Joanna knew that hers would be the most splendid match of them all and she felt sorry for Katharine who would have to live in a small island where, when it was not raining it was foggy.

"And you'll be rich," she said, still intent upon comforting Katharine. "The King of England is very rich and very, very mean. When he dies Arthur will inherit a great fortune."

She had no very clear idea of what a great fortune meant, and Katharine who was never to have any financial sense at all, understood even less. But it sounded nice, and young as they were, both little girls — like everyone else closely connected with Queen Isabella — knew what it meant to be poor. War was a costly business; cannon and cannon balls and chain shot, and gunpowder and scaling ladders and a hundred other things must come before new dresses or shoes.

"If I am to be rich," Katharine said, "I shall buy some horses, and come to visit you."

"I will visit you, too. Though I shall not be rich. My father-inlaw squanders and borrows and does not repay. Mother said so. But if I can get a horse I will came."

It was typical of their upbringing that horses should be almost a standard of currency. They had spent more than one night in a wagon from which the horses had been unhitched in order to be harnessed to a gun carriage; they had seen knights in armor made temporarily as useless as tortoises because their horses had been killed. They had heard it said of a beleaguered city — And now they are eating their horses! A good sign; soon that city would yield.

War with its privations, its horrid sights, its occasional glories, its setbacks, was for years their natural environment because Isabella was conscious of her duty as warrior and as mother. She never willingly allowed them to be in danger; she had them housed and fed as well as she could and gave them as much attention as possible. But she was engaged in what she regarded as a Holy War and that came first.

Lodged behind the lines, in places to which any man who might be expected to survive in order to fight on another day was brought and roughly cared for, the children became accustomed to the sight of maimed men, and dying men. The Moors had devices as yet unknown to the west. One of them was a thing no bigger than a pear, with a fuse of tow; this when thrown exploded and stuck to the object against which it exploded. A knight in armor, hit by one of these things, could be roasted alive; or, hacked out in time, be horribly scarred. And there were men with hands and arms lopped off, men holding their bowels in their hands against the gaping stomach wounds. There were dead men too.

Katharine was still a child when she realized what a dead man meant. She had never seen Alfonso of Portugal, but he died, and Isabella came back to Spain, all muffled in black, pale and weeping.

Mother said, "You must all be kind to Isabella; she has suffered a great loss."

Joanna said. "To lose a husband must be the worst thing..."

Katharine thought: And every dead man we have seen carried past meant as much to some woman...

It was a thought to put away, prickling and uncomfortable and not to be shared. Who would understand?

There was another thought, running alongside, more personal and immediate.

"Joanna, I cried that day in Seville and Doña Elvira said tears brought ill luck to the bride. Am I responsible for this?"

"How could you be, stupid one? Doña Elvira has a sharp tongue. Had you laughed she might have said the same. Men die when God wills. And you need not grieve for Isabella. I will tell you, but it is secret. You must not say a word. Promise. She is to have another husband. Alfonso's cousin, Manoel, who is now King of Portugal. She says she would sooner be a nun, but Mother thinks that by the time the arrangements are completed, she will have come to her senses."

But what about all the other dead men and the women who wept?

There was little time for such thought. Granada fell, and Katharine stood, in her best dress, holding Joanna's hand and watched the last Moors ride, defeated, out of the palace-fortress of the Alhambra. And when the Te Deum had been sung in the building, only this day snatched back from Allah and Mahomet, they had the whole, fabulous fairy tale place to explore. Flowers and fountains, marble floors, terraces. A different and very wonderful world.

And then, in no time at all, another wonderful and amazing thing; a visit to Barcelona to welcome home the Genoese sailor, Christopher Columbus, whom Mother, despite all her other commitments had furnished out with three little ships so that he could go out and test his theory that the world was a globe and that by going west he could reach the east, the Indies.

"Nobody else in the whole of Europe," Joanna said, gripping Katharine's hand hard, "would give him a hearing, leave alone a ducat. Mother did. And she was right."

So it seemed the swaggering little Admiral believed that he had proved his theory; he had brought back specimens of strange birds and beasts, most of them stuffed, but monkeys and parrots still alive, and six wild brown Indians, painted and clad in feathers. Of the great wealth in gold and silver of the East he brought on this trip only sample quantities; but it was there. Spain would one day be as rich as Portugal; and since Spanish ships would sail to the west, while the Portuguese held the old sea road around the tip of Africa, the friendliness between the countries would not be impaired.

Now that the main war was over — though the conquered province was far from completely subdued — a more settled and normal way of life was possible and Isabella brought attention to bear upon her daughters' education. They were more thoroughly instructed in academic subjects than most princesses of the time, and they must also learn domestic skills, spinning, weaving, plain sewing. Then there were the social arts, singing, dancing, playing the lute, doing fine embroidery, mastering the rules of precedence and etiquette, learning how to behave with grace and dignity even in trying circumstances. Joanna would be Empress one day, and Katharine Queen of England. They must be fitted for their high positions. For Maria no definite plans had yet been made, but she, too, must be ready for the position to which God would undoubtedly call her. Copyright © 1969 by Norah Lofts Copyright renewed © 1997 by C. Lofts

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Questions for Discussion

1. When Katharine is preparing to go to England and marry Arthur, Isabella tells her, “Of all my children you are most like me and for that reason I wish to spare you. . . . There is nothing in this world that once taken in the hand is worth handling. . . . I pity you. You will have the world to deal with” (page 29). How do Isabella’s words foreshadow what lies ahead for Katharine? How does Katharine’s life parallel her mother’s life? When Isabella offers Katharine the choice of entering a convent instead of marriage, what is ironic about Katharine’s refusal?

2. When Henry realizes that Katharine will fight him in his decision to end their marriage he tells her, “Those who take up an indefensible position must expect to stand alone” (page 181). What does he mean? What is the significance of his statement as it relates to the book as a whole?

3. Does the endless bureaucracy Henry faces in dissolving his marriage to Katharine remind you of the bureaucracy we see today in similar situations?

4. Maria de Moreto is Katharine’s most loyal companion, servant and friend. How have the early events of Maria’s life shaped her? How has her bitterness and unhappiness in some ways made her a better friend to Katharine?

5. Discuss the theme of parents and children in the novel. Consider the relationships between Katharine and Isabella, Henry and his father, Joanna and her son the emperor, Chapuys and his mother, Katharine and Mary, and Maria de Moreto and her father. How are some of their problems the same, even though they come from different classes?

6. How do Chapuys’s feelings about his mother and memories of his relationship with her affect his relationship with Katharine and his attitude toward her?

7. Of Katharine and Arthur’s actions on their wedding night Lofts writes, “Two children, playing a game of make-believe, conspiring to deceive their elders! The little idyll, so soon over, and now dragged out into the pitiless scrutiny of the law” (page 240). How do some of the characters take actions that, while seemingly insignificant at the time, affect the outcome of their lives?

8. Lofts writes from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, we are able to see into the minds of most of the characters at one time or another. Why do you think she writes this way, instead of choosing only Katherine’s point of view?

9. Many of the characters who mediate between Katharine and Henry, even those who side with Katharine, express extreme frustration with Katharine’s stubbornness. “Even Fisher, completely convinced that her cause was sound and good, prepared to sacrifice his career and if necessary to give his life, felt that momentary repellence . . . that no woman should be so clear-thinking, so concise, so ruthless. . . .” (page 242). Discuss this passage. How are Fisher and other characters ambivalent toward Katharine? Why do you think that is?

10. How is Henry in some ways a sympathetic character, despite everything that he puts Katharine through?

11. Discuss Mary’s relationship to Katharine and Henry. Given what you know about English history and the futures of Mary and Elizabeth, how does Lofts foreshadow what is to come?

12. Discuss the importance of “the people” in the novel. How do the royal characters view them, and does the opinion of the common people influence their decisions?

13. What are the similarities and differences between the political and religious strife of Tudor England portrayed in this novel and the issues of our time?

14. Why does Katharine remain defiant for so many years, despite the obstacles she faces? Why does she hold out hope that Henry will return to her even at the end? How would you have acted in her position?

Enhance Your Book Club

Learn more about the genealogy of the world’s royal families at and

Prepare a royal feast fit for a king (or queen), and don’t forget Countess Willoughby’s cure-all: wine. Each book club member can prepare a hearty dish in keeping with the spirit of the novel. Try for recipes like quail in rose petal sauce and roasted stuffed pheasant.

If you like this novel, try other fictionalized accounts of the royals by Philippa Gregory, Anya Seton, Hilda Lewis, and Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl was recently made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. The Tudors is a Showtime hit series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII.

Learn more about Norah Lofts at

Customer Reviews

The King's Pleasure: A Novel of Katharine of Aragon 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
MsDollie More than 1 year ago
Excellent reading! Wonderful character development as well as a most compelling retelling of history. Will absolutely read The King's Pleasure again someday. Now I'm off to find more by Norah Lofts.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book does truly cover Katharine of Aragon's life from when she was a young Princess in Spain until her death. You are given insight to how she sees the world and the tasks which are set before her. While reading this I gained a new respect for her and found that she is far more interesting than she is given credit for. This book does not show her a an old women who was faithful but as a fighter who is able to stand up for what she believes. The only complaint I have of this book is at times it does tend to drag. This is a must read for any Tudor history buff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have always said most of the past generation writers in terms of fair character writing exceeded, modern writers tend to put characters in a very black and white specteum that you wonder wether are you reading adult fiction or not? Lofts created sympathetic characters of historical figures there is still a lot of controversy about, people either love or hate them. And you can tell she did extenxige researcg for each of her fiction and while yes, like every author she did take some dramatic license, she was honest about it and always cited her sources.