Fascinating Queen, So-So Book. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads.
In the author’s afterward, C. W. Gortner explains that he wanted this book to help readers better understand the contradictions that are intrinsic to Isabella of Castile (Spain). But I think he did so with only marginal success.
Isabella (one half of the Ferdinand and Isabella duo you probably learned about in elementary school) was certainly one of the most notable rulers in western history. And her accomplishments clearly speak to a visionary monarch who, on the one hand, possesses a deep regard for knowledge and progress, but, on the other, is capable of the most brutal persecution of her own people.
* Isabella inherited the kingdom of Castile in her own right — unusual for a woman in the 1400s.
* She managed to outmaneuver powerful advisors and multiple political efforts to keep her from the throne.
* She chose her own husband, Ferdinand of Aragon— virtually unheard on for any woman at this time, let alone a princess.
* She inherited and then transformed a fractured kingdom dominated by powerful nobles into one of the great world powers of the time.
* With her marriage to Ferdinand, she unified the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile into what we now know as Spain.
* She mandated learning for women, opened many new centers for education, and used the new printing press to extend access to books to her citizens.
* She formulated battle strategies that eventually led the once-powerful Moors to leave her country.
* A devoutly religious woman, Isabella resurrected the Spanish Inquisition to weed out non-Christians in her realm, earning special recognition from the Pope.
* Despite a long history of borrowing from Jewish moneylenders to finance wars and even an elaborate trousseau for her daughter, she issued an edict in 1492 to expel the Jews from Spain.
* She funded Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World.
Quite a fascinating woman! But while Gortner lays out the contradictions that form Isabella’s legacy, for me, he never presents a satisfactory psychological explanation for them. Too much of the book was devoted to tedious battle detail and not enough about what was happening in the mind of Isabella. I take away a strong female monarch who exercised power in a male-dominated world. I see a wife who deeply loved her husband, despite his philandering. And I see a woman who was, in many ways, ahead of her time. But at the end of the book, I don’t feel I understand Isabella much better.
More about C. W. Gortner.
You may also be interested in my reviews of other historical novels from C. W. Gortner: