Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Last Queen

I just finished this book, The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner. I've read it twice now because it is fascinating. The author is male, but he writes in the first person as the female character. It works well. This book is about Juana, one of the Spanish infantes of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand. Or Juana the Mad, as locals know her as. One of her sisters Catalina, became Queen of England. She was the first wife of King Henry VIII.
As all princesses are, Juana had no choice in who she was to marry. Her betrothal to Phillip of Flanders. Most marriages were made for the alliances it provided, not the potential of a love match. After being raised in Spain for 17 years, Juana was used to the Castilian ways. Her parents were the powerful Isabel and Ferdinand. She was used to a life living in tents on the battlefield, with sand caked on everything. They did live in palaces, but Juana was used to roughing it as well.
The first day she landed in Flanders, Juana met Phillip. His adviser Besancon asked why she was veiled. The custom in Spain was not to uncover your face until the wedding day. Juana decided to show him her face to surprise him. The court was astonished by her beauty. Juana was very tall with reddish brown hair. When she met Phillip she was surprised to find herself attracted to him. She had prepared herself for a marriage alliance without love. He suggested they get married then and there, even though she had just arrived. She decided to agree; she wanted to show him she was a match for his wit.
Her ladies were shocked and some even left court. They did not condone a marriage not done in a proper church. In a short period of time she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Eleanor. While getting used to the ways of her new life, Juana discovered her husband was not loyal to her. She became very upset and left with her daughter for awhile. With some convincing from her sister-in law she went back to Court. Phillip apologized and things were soon well again. Juana decided it was the life of a Queen and she had no choice but to accept it. She soon gave birth to a son, their heir Charles.
News came to court from time to time, and heard her brother Juan passed away. Her parents now had no heir. Next in line was her sister Isabel. She was also pregnant. Sadly, she died giving birth to a son. He died within the year. Soon negotiations were opened up between Phillip's nasty advisor Besancon and Juana's parents. They named Juana as their heir, and her son Charles after her. Juana was surprised to find herself in this position. She had never thought she would have to rule Spain. Her mother was a hard woman to impress, and she didn't think she was her favorite anyways.
Juana had a daughter Isabel before they left, and she had to leave the 3 children behind with their nurses and Aunt. Relations between Phillip and Juana had become tense because the advisor Besancon was always scheming. He was trying to get Phillip invested as King in Spain over Juana. The Cortes did not accept a man to rule though, a woman only could rule. Queen Isabella ruled alone, her husband was second to her. Phillip tried to find ways to change that fact. While in Spain, Juana had to watch her parents and Phillip fight over the heirdom. During their stay, Besancon died of a water sickness. Some believed he had been poisoned. Juana was secretly pleased he was gone.
Juana was pregnant again with her 4th child, and her father Ferdinand was with her husband Phillip. During their meetings across Spain Phillip fled to France--their enemy. Juana received no letters from him for a long time. Her mother persuaded her to stay until the baby was born. She had a boy named Phillip. Juana soon felt like she was being imprisoned by her mother and found some letters that hadn't been delivered like she thought. She found a way to get out and visited her mother in her castle. She discovered her mother was very ill and near death. They had been keeping Juana from her mother. Juana entrusted her mother with the care of Phillip, and sent a letter to her father that his wife was dying. She decided to head back to Flanders and leave baby Phillip behind. She hadn't been home for almost 2 years.
On her arrival, her 3 children greeted her like strangers. She also discovered in her absence that Phillip had a mistress who he had given all of her clothes and jewels to. There is a widely documented account of Juana attacking her and ripping off a brooch of hers. The rumors started spreading that Juana was mad. Things were terrible between her and Phillip; he repeatedly beat and took advantage of her. He needed Juana in order to become King of Spain. She pretended to be docile so she wouldn't get more hurt. She soon had another daughter, Mary, her 5th child.
Juana worked secretly with her advisor to find out what Phillip was up to. Soon she received news that her mother had passed away. She was very sad because their reunion before her leaving was bittersweet. She had come to realize how much her mother loved her. She left a codicil that would protect Juana after her death. It said the kingdom went to Juana and her son Charles, with no provision anywhere for Phillip. Her mother had safeguarded her future she thought.
Once again they left for Spain, and she left 4 children behind. Phillip was still abusing Juana and trying to get his way. He had become an angry vicious man, thirsty for power. They were waylaid in England on their way there. Juana was able to meet secretly with her sister Caterina and discovered she had been kept waiting in poverty to wed King Henry. During this time Juana became pregnant again. She tried keeping it from Phillip so he couldn't use it against her. Once entering Spain, Phillip became angry at the way the people praised and greeted their new Queen Juana. He didn't know the language so he became upset.
With his bribes and trickery, he bought over the Cortes to become King of Spain. King Ferdinand was away trying to keep baby Phillip from the grasp of his evil father. Juana was able to get some secret support and appeared suddenly in a council of the Cortes. They were trying to establish that she was mad. She walked in and showed the people she was sane, and said she wanted to serve as Queen. Phillip had spread lies that she was mad and wanted him to rule for her. Before a decision could be reached, plague broke out. Everyone dispersed and ran to different places.
During this time Phillip contracted the French pox, and the physicians said he would still live for years to come. Juana was overcome with emotions; she knew she had to kill him or he would destroy Spain and her and her children. She put some herbs and roots in his wine, and he died within 2 days. Don Manuel, the evil advisor of Phillip and her dead mother, had become corrupt. He also tried telling people Juana was mad and steal the power for himself. Juana decided to walk alongside her husband's coffin so the people could see her. She wanted them to think she was a little mad, so they would have sympathy for her. On the road she gave birth to her 6th and last child, Catalina. Named after her dear sister in England.
After some more intrigues and plots, Juana was reunited with her father Ferdinand, and her son Phillip. Juana told her father she desired them to rule together, and things were peaceful for a time. She set up Court with her 2 children with her ladies. She asked to send for her 4 children in Flanders. Her father refused her request. He said they didn't have the money to support them. Over time, Juana discovered now her father was intriguing against her. He had lived his whole life in the shadow of his wife Isabel, never able to rule in his own right. Now he was taking it out on his daughter.
Juana was imprisoned with her daughter Catalina in Tordesillas. She lived until the age of 76 after 46 years of captivity. Her daughter Catalina was taken away from her during that time. During her imprisonment she earned the title of Juana the Mad. Her father Ferdinand remarried a French lady, and upon his death Charles served. Because Juana never gave up the right of Queen, her son was able to rule.
"I heard his words, felt them in my blood and my sinews; in that terrible moment, I knew with a sudden, deep certainty what I had to do. It had been with me all this time, the hour when I must face both my past and my future and decide my own course. I had been a pawn blown by the vagaries of fate for most of my life; an innocent girl used for political alliance, a wife deceived and manipulated for her crown. Now, at long last, I had the strength to be the woman I had always wanted to be, the queen my mother had believed I could become." (page 344)
This book was so sad to me, Juana's life was just miserable. She was betrayed by her husband in many ways, not able to be with or raise most of her children, then later betrayed by councillers and her own father. I am actually surprised she didn't kill herself while imprisoned. She didn't actually kill Phillip, that was the author's interpretation of it. Poison is always suspected when a monarch dies. I just felt so bad for her throughout the book, but admired her courage, wit and brains. You could see that there is a lot of pride in the Spanish heritage. I can't imagine having such powerful parents. I recommend this book if you know the ending is not happy. I love these books because I admire strong and powerful women.

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