The story of Henry VIII and his six wives—the divorces, executions, law-breaking and rule-rewriting that irrevocably altered European history—dominates history books and television screens to this day. But the woman who always gets lost in the drama is the one who arguably lit the match that set the British monarchy aflame: Catherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife. The Spanish Princess, a new series from Starz, offers a look at the changing world of Renaissance England from her perspective, one completely unknown to contemporary audiences. Here, Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) takes back her narrative with steely resolve, painting an image of a woman who lived, loved, and lied to protect her people.
Today, BAZAAR.com has an exclusive look at nine glorious portraits of the characters who populate Catherine's world, with commentary from The Spanish Princess showrunner Emma Frost. "Catherine's story has always been told from the point of view of Henry VIII. She's the wife you don't want, and Anne Boleyn is there being all sexy. She's not given any agency," Frost says of the decision to adapt two Philippa Gregory novels, The King's Curseand The Constant Princess, to make the show. "It's an incredibly male-skewed point of view, and it does her a real disservice to suggest that she's just this boring character who can be discarded so easily."
For Frost and her co-showrunner Matthew Graham, it was paramount that women were telling Catherine's story behind the camera, too. 75 percent of the show's directors and editors are women, as is the director of photography, Maja Zamojda, and producer Andrea Dewsbery. "That really blew a different kind of energy into the show," Frost says. "We had a lot of conversations about the female gaze. You can really feel that female perspective of these [characters] as they struggle for power and struggle to have their own agency."
The Spanish Princess premieres Sunday, May 5 on Starz.
4 Prince Harry (Ruairi O’Connor)
“History has done him a disservice as well,” Frost says of the man who would be Henry VIII. “All anybody knows is Henry and his six wives. But if you take it from the beginning of the story, Henry marries this woman in good faith and he loved her. But year after year, she cannot produce a living son. To a religious man, the only read of that is, ‘Why is God punishing me?’ And the easiest thing to pin that on is, ‘Oh, it’s not me that’s sinned, it’s Catherine. She wasn’t a really virgin, and I’m being punished, we’re both being punished.’
“In the worldview of that period, that would be catastrophic to Henry. He would think he’s going to hell. He’s the king; he’s supposed to be the highest human on the earth, closest to God. And instead there is this terrible realization. And when you look at what happens between him and Catherine through that lens, it’s very human. It makes sense. For 20 years he loved her, but it was eroded by this absolute terror of the sin he felt they had committed, and the lie he felt that she had told him.”