European unions: The Spanish wife and the Scottish widow in Shakespeare and Fletcher's Henry VIII and Ford's Perkin Warbeck

Steven Veerapen

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This paper examines Shakespeare’s Henry VIII (1623) and John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck (1634), to assess the extent to which European royal marriage alliances were promoted or interrogated as a means of strengthening diplomatic ties. It pays close attention to the portrayal of the marriages of European women, chiefly the Scottish Katherine Gordon and the Spanish Katherine of Aragon, and their assimilation into the English political sphere. In so doing, it uncovers theatrical suggestions that traditional ideas of European royal marriage – that it adds lustre to the English crown – were tempered with a championing of the relative virtues of Englishwomen. Thus, the two plays engage with a growing sense of English nationalism, as they represent the Scot and the Spaniard as potentially subversive influences. In Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, aged and querulous, appeals unsuccessfully to her imagined continental power; in Perkin Warbeck, Katherine Gordon resists the overtures of Henry VII and retains a dangerous autonomy as a widow in an England still uncertain of its own identity.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEarly Modern Literary Studies
VolumeSpecial Issue 27
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2017


  • Shakespeare
  • literature
  • John Ford
  • drama

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