Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile

C.W. Gortner is a friend of mine on Facebook and I was pleased to make his acquaintance.  I have already reviewed The Last Queen and The Tudor Secret.  He also wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici which is also fabulous.  It has been a little bit since my last entry, I was re reading Madame Tussuad by Michelle Moran.  This book is a novel about Isabella of Castile; I was first familiar with her because of her daughter Catelina who married Arthur and then King Henry VIII.  Since I am quite familiar with The Tudor period I first heard of her and Fernando of Aragon.  My first impression of her was a warrior queen, which isn't far off. 

The book starts out with the death of her father, King John II of Castile.  Her mother, the Queen Isabella of Portugal, takes her two children Isabella and Alfonso with her to Arevalo.  They live there in seclusion and peace while their half brother Enrique is king.  They know one day their peace will be shattered and he will come for them.  Their mother has to be cared for as she is prone to despair and depression and often goes into a deep melancholy that only Isabella can get her out of.  Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo helped her mother escape with the children and has worked for them tirelessly.  Isabella's friend and lady in waiting Beatriz is with her all the time.  Soon a letter comes announcing the birth of a daughter to King Enrique and his wife Queen Juana.  They were invited without their mother to be at the babe's baptism.  While at court, Isabella quickly realizes how her whole world has changed.  She was used to just one woman waiting on her and the privacy and seclusion of her old home.  There she runs into Fernando from Aragon.  Both families shared Trastamara blood, but as enemies Castile and Aragon waged war against one another.  The hope was one day to put an Aragonese prince on Castile's throne.

Enrique is painfully obvious that he is not as good a king as his father was, and soon rumors are spread about that his sole child is illegitimate.  Soon Castile is involved in civil war between her brother Alfonso who has disappeared, and her half brother Enrique.  Isabella is watched closely while the war goes on.  Queen Juana is so hateful towards her believing she knew about this and was helping her brother.  Carrillo had gone with Alfonso, and Isabella had no doubt he put him up to this.  Forced to grow up fast, Isabella realizes during these times that she will have to take her destiny into her own hands.  Enrique is being poisoned by those around him and she worries for her brother's life should he be found and her own.  They try marrying her off to Queen Juana's brother King Afonso to get her out of the way and basically deserted.  Her father had put in his will that her marriage had to be approved by the Cortes before her marriage, and this is what saved her momentarily.  A proposed alliance between the heir Joanna and Alfonso fell apart, while Alfonso's supporters seized numerous provinces.  The King didn't have much left; the land was devastated and the people suffering.  Alfonso's army is spotted  and he is victorious.  They return to Arevalo to see their mother first before doing anything else.  On their way back to Segovia, Alfonso dies they believe from poisoning.

Isabella is now the heir to the throne.  She hides in a convent to process everything that is going on while the grandees wait to approach her.  She wishes for peace and desires for her half brother Enrique to still rule and would be content to be named his heir until his death.  Then she would be queen of Castile.  In the meantime she had been in correspondence with Fernando and set in motions their betrothal.  This way she could unite the two countries and claim her right to Castile.  It is not long before Enrique tries to betray her again and goes against his word.  Isabella is taken to Ocana where she is armed with 200 men to keep her from escaping.  She gave her word to Enrique that she wouldn't.  With the help of Beatriz, Carrillo among others she is able to escape to Valladolid.  While waiting for Fernando to come Isabella tried to keep her wits about her.  Their dispensation arrives from the pope just in time for them to wed as they are second cousins.  After giving birth to a daughter, Enrique disinherits her.  The people everywhere were in an uproar.  By 1472 more than half of Castile's fourteen major townships were in their grasp, thanks to Fernando; by now most the grandees were in support of Isabella and Fernando.  Isabel is four years old when she finally meets with Enrique again.

The king's lover had passed away and it looked like he wasn't faring too well himself.  Not long after their meeting he dies of a stomach pain.  Isabella still has to contend with the dead king's latest lover, who was also the son of Villena.  Joanna she will also have to contend with as well one day, the child still believed she was her father's true daughter.  Juana was put in a convent with another bastard child where she could no longer wreak her havoc.  Together Isabella and Fernando rule and are best known for helping the cause of Christopher Columbus.  Isabella was known for being deeply religious and believing she did the work of God.  As Christians, she tried to purge Spain of conversos that weren't true to the faith.  A converso is one that pretended obedience to Christianity when they really were Jews. The Spanish Inquisition came and many were killed.  She was also responsible for expelling the Jews unless they converted.  Her goal was to expel the infidels and bring Spain under one crown, one country and one faith.  They were at war for over 10 years and finally captured Granada.

Queen Isabella had five children- Isabel, much later her only son Juan, Joanna, then Maria and Catelina or Catherine.  In Castile she made her husband Fernando equal to her; they just recognized her as queen and him as consort.  It would haunt her husband after her death that he was not equal to his wife, if you read The Last Queen.  They were very much in love and together made a kind of Renaissance state.  She believed in education even of women; female scholars in Spain were allowed to teach.  When she came to the throne, which was not expected being the third child, it was impoverished and divided.  Some of her actions such as expelling the Jews she is widely criticized for having done so.  It is said she didn't attend a single burning of a heretic.  Being so religious no doubt led her to her actions, believing she was God's annointed and therefore owed him her very best.

As usual it is hard for me to review a book with so much depth and information.  I think the author did a good job but it almost seemed to fall short or end too quickly.  When I don't personally feel like I like the main character it can also be hard to get really into it.  I wasn't particularly drawn to this character because of her religious beliefs and how she persecuted so many because of it.  The book did show her trying to go back and forth so it makes you wonder if she made those decisions lightly or was persuaded to.  Her daughter 'Juana the Mad' can be read about in The Last Queen.  I recommend if you are a fan of the author and/or this time period.


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