Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Kim's Review : The Queens Vow - Isabelle of Castille

C W Gortner's "The Queen's Vow" was my first book of Historical Fiction set in Spain, so there was an added sense of discovery while I started reading this.

Isabella is well known for being Columbus' Financier. Along with her husband Ferdinand, she was also recognised for routing the Moors out of Spain, but they were also responsible for the horrific Inquisition.

Gortner tries to humanise Isabella in this book, by putting all the circumstances together to build a case as to why she was helpless in stopping the Inquistion, but I'm not entirely convinced. I've just downloaded a 12 part TV series centering around her. It will be interesting to see what light she is covered in, in that.

Isabella had to grow up in trying times. As King Juan II's second wife, her mother was forced to flee with 3 year old Isabella and her 1 year old brother Alfonso when the King died and his son Enrique IV from a previous marriage took the throne. Inspite of Enrique's wife - Juana being a close relative of Isabel and Alfonso, she did not want them anywhere near the throne. So they were forced to live in near penury away from the capital until Juana herself bore Enrique a son and heir to the throne.

Enrique unfortunately was as weak a ruler as his father and was not a very popular ruler, which gave the dissidents a reason to rally behind Alfonso, which then plunged the country into war. Alfonso's untimely death led to another period of confusion with Enrique condemning his wife as an adulteress and denouncing his own daughter Joanna. A truce of sorts was arrived at with Isabellla refusing to take the throne until her half brother died a natural death. But courtiers kept playing the two against each other and Enrique's death set up "The War of Castillian Succession" between supporters of Isabel and those of Joanna.

Isabel of course, ascended the throne and married her cousin Ferdinand of Aragon, thus uniting the lands of Castille and Aragon against the French.

Through her trying times, Isabel was strongly Catholic and took strength from her faith, so when she came to power she did her best to clean out the rot within the Catholic Church in Spain, but that wasn't enough for her confessor Torquemada - who insisted that most Jews who had converted to Catholicism, were actually still practicing their old religion and he wanted them out of Spain. The Jews were integral to the society of that time, but Torquemada wanted them out along with the Moors and supporters of this view whipped up mob frenzies around the country.

In her drive to create a united nation, Isabella had to bow to these wishes and thus began some of the worst excesses of her regime, which at times even overshadows the leaps she fostered in the fields of education and exploration.

Isabel lived in complicated times, but her youngest daughter Catalina has surpassed her mother in public memory. Catalina is better known as Katharine of Aragon - the first wife of Henry VIII.

The Queen's Vow is a well written book, that immerses the reader directly into an extremely interesting period in Spanish history. He has written one more book centered on Spain - The Last Queen - features another daughter of Isabel and Ferdinand - Juana - their eldest surviving child at Ferdinand's death - also known as the Mad Queen. This is also now on my "To Read" List.

He has also written 3 books on the Tudors, one on Catharine de Medici and one on Coco Chanel.

Rating : 4 / 5

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