In the premiere episode of The Spanish Princess, Catherine arrives in England. Despite setbacks, Catherine is assured of her direction and destiny. Our review of “The New World”!
In every iteration of Henry VIII’s story, I’ve read, Catherine of Aragon is always the most formidable woman…pious, steadfast, and stubborn as hell. In The Spanish Princess (adapted from Philippa Gregory’s best-selling novels The Constant Princess and The King’s Curse) we get Catherine’s origin story, told in her perspective. And we get to see the circumstances that forged Catherine as a strong, driven, and shrewd woman.
The premiere episode, “The New World” (written by Emma Frost and Matthew Graham, directed by Birgitte Stærmose), begins in 1501 with Catherine in Alhambra Palace, Spain as she prepares to travel to London. We recall that, in order to form a new alliance between England and Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, Henry VII and Elizabeth York propose a marriage between their oldest son Arthur and Catherine. We learn that there have been delays in fulfilling that marriage pact, but finally, Catherine and her retinue will be traveling across Spain and setting sail.
Immediately, we’re confronted with Catherine’s resoluteness, stoked by her mother, Isabella. Catherine is a young woman who knows, exactly, her place in the world and her destiny. Catherine’s assuredness is further strengthened by the letters that she’s been exchanging with Arthur, intimate letters of love words and passionate romance. She will be Queen of England, it’s only a matter of time.
As Catherine and Isabella travel to the port, they are further delayed by a skirmish against the Moors. Isabella and Ferdinand have almost completed a centuries-long campaign to remove the Moors and Islamic influence from Spain (e.g. the Christian Reconquest/Reconquista). So, when Catherine and Isabella are confronted on the road, Isabella is armed and ready to do battle. She demands that Catherine be brave in doing her duty. Her marriage to Arthur will bring more Catholic allies to Spain’s side. Catherine must be assured in the Christian God, her prayers, and her destiny. Incidentally, the choreography in this battle scene is stunning, Isabella is FIERCE, and her forces are victorious.
This continues when Catherine is on board the ship that will carry her to England, and they are assailed by storms and rough seas: “It was God Himself who sent me to England. No wind or rain will stop us.”
Meanwhile, in England, Henry VII and Lizzie are concerned about the repeated delays in Catherine’s arrival. Remember that the Tudor claim on the English throne has been repeatedly questioned within the country and throughout Europe. So, the strength of the Tudor monarchy is dependent on the alliance with Spain through Arthur’s marriage to Catherine. Through Catherine’s indisputably royal lineage, her child (son) with Arthur would undoubtedly be king of England. Catherine’s dowry will also be a nice addition to the royal coffers. Henry VII says it best: “Until that girl arrives, we are lost.”
Yes, Catherine certainly carries a lot on her shoulders, but that doesn’t mean Lizzie is ready to roll out the welcome wagon. Interestingly, neither in Maggie Pole. Over the years, Maggie and Richard Pole have been trusted caretakers to Arthur. But when Maggie hears that she must meet Catherine and Arthur at Dogmersfield House before traveling to London, she’s very resentful. Why would Maggie bear ill-will to Catherine?
When Catherine arrives in England (landing in Plymouth, instead of Southampton), first impressions aren’t very positive. The constant rain and lack of sunshine is demoralizing, as is the seeming disrespect from the English aristocracy around her. Why is Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, flirting with her lady’s maid, Rosa? Why is Her Lady, the King’s Mother insisting on speaking to her in Latin? Catherine knows English, perfectly well. Why is everyone side-eying her when she wants to take a bath and have a siesta?
At least Catherine has the support of her courtiers. Lady Lina, in particular, is avid in her service to the Infanta. Yes, Catherine is going to have *daily* baths of rose, vanilla, and mint. No, the soldiers that travelled with them from Spain as part of Catherine’s dowry will not be forced to use the horse stables as accommodations. And when Catherine questions, just a little…
Catherine: “Where is the light?”
Lina: “It is you, Senora. You are the light.”
Me: MY HEART. I love this friendship.
The next morning, Henry VII arrives and demands to see Catherine. He storms into the house and promises to remove the door to Catherine’s rooms if she delays. Both Catherine and Lina chastise Henry for behaving this way, waking Catherine from her sleep and not giving her a chance to properly dress. When Lina lets Henry into the room, he seems mildly apologetic, and only after he’s seen Catherine’s face and finds her suitably attractive. Henry says that Catherine will meet Arthur and do so without covering her face.
Catherine is nervous, but excited to meet Arthur. She feels like she already knows him from their letters; and Arthur is clearly taken with Catherine’s beauty. They take a walk on the grounds, even though it’s raining (drizzling, according to Arthur) because the two can’t be alone until they’re married. And when Catherine mentions how caring Arthur was in his letters, Arthur has no idea what she’s talking about. He becomes angry and storms away.
Catherine is also visibly shaken. She goes to her room and looks at those letters, letters where she has bared her heartl. If she hasn’t been exchanging letters with Arthur, who has she been talking to??? Rosa and Lina both point out that the letters have been sealed by a Tudor rose…
At Westminster, Henry and his mother give Elizabeth an update… Catherine is arrogant and over privileged, but beautiful. (And we remember from The White Princess that Henry and his mother prefer their princesses to be humble and penitent, *snort*.) Regardless, Lizzie is intrigued by the prospect of meeting Catherine.
You know who else is intrigued by the prospect of meeting Catherine? Prince Henry, AKA Harry, Arthur’s younger brother. He’s waiting for Catherine as she arrives at the Tower of London, and looking like a whole snack. Harry is also entitled, rude, and cavalier. This is further corroborated when Harry flirts with Catherine and then whispers portions of her letters to her. Yep, Harry is the one who’s been exchanging letters with her and pretending to be Arthur! But why???
Arthur also knows that Harry has been writing to Catherine. He’s disappointed because he wanted to write to her and befriend her before their marriage. Arthur is a sweet boy, but isn’t as charismatic as Harry. Maggie senses Arthur’s concern and reassures him that, Catherine is his and he will be king. Harry’s just jealous.
Later, when Catherine finally meets Lizzie, we learn why some do resent Catherine’s arrival… because of Edward (Teddy) Plantagenet’s and Richard York’s deaths. According to Lizzie, in order to guarantee the marriage between Arthur and Catherine, Isabella demanded that Teddy and Richard be killed in order to eliminate potential rivals to the throne (and guarantee that he daughter would be Queen of England). Catherine seems to know that Isabella would only do something like that if she perceived a threat from enemies. But, we also remember that Lizzie, herself, questioned whether Richard was really her brother, and publicly demanded that this man identify himself as Perkin Warbeck and a pretender. So Lizzie cannot put all of this on Catherine’s shoulders. We also know the source of Maggie’s disdain… Teddy was her beloved brother.
Catherine’s and Arthur’s wedding day arrives and Catherine seems lost. She refuses to get out of her bath, despite running out of hot water. Lina is the one who jars her out of this funk. She reminds Catherine about an encounter with Christopher Columbus. When Catherine asks about his journeys, Columbus shows her his compass. This is how he knows where he’s come from and where he’s going. Columbus, then gifts Catherine that compass. This reminds Catherine of her own journey and direction. She gets out of the bath and dresses.
When Catherine arrives at the cathedral, Harry is there to walk her down the aisle. She asks him why he would write her letters and Harry admits that, at first, it was to needle his brother. But then, he enjoyed getting to know Catherine. Catherine knows she is Harry’s weakness. That will come in handy.
As she proceeds down the aisle, Catherine is once again assured of her direction and destiny: Daughter of Spain. Wife to Prince Arthur. And soon, Queen of England.
A few other points:
1. Rosa should be careful with Stafford…he clearly can’t be trusted.
2. When are Lina and Oviedo going to kiss? *hearteyes* Their repeated interactions are the UST that we live for!
P.S. My LOVE for seeing Black people in this story is boundless.
3. I neeeeeeeeeed for Emma Frost and her team to take on The Other Boleyn Girl. Who do we need to beg and/or bribe to make this happen?
The Spanish Princess airs Sundays at 8:00pm ET|PT on STARZ. Live tweet with us @WeSoNerdy!