My knowledge of Queen Isabel of Castile is very limited. She is remembered for the Reconquista, the Spanish Inquisition and of course for sponsoring the voyages of Christopher Columbus. And being a fan of Tudor history, I knew of her as the mother of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. But I’m interested in knowing more so I’m reading a couple of biographies about her, including this one.
Ms. Liss wrote this book in honor of the 500th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus in North America and a revised edition was released in 2004 for the 500th anniversary of Isabel’s death. It is an academic work, printed by the University of Pennsylvania Press and has been on my shelf for some time. Liss is an expert on Isabel and the book is filled with many great details about the era and Isabel’s reign and personal life.
This is a comprehensive work. As I don’t know much about Spanish history, the short timeline Liss gives is most appreciated. Liss writes a great deal about Isabel’s motivations for her actions as monarch in the context of the history of Spain and she is possibly a bit of an apologist for Isabel. I realize we shouldn’t put our 21st century sensibilities onto an older era. But much of what Isabel did was repugnant as many of the aspects of this book describe.
There is also much to admire about Isabel. She and Ferdinand had something very rare; a loving marriage. She was adamant that her children be educated too, especially her daughters, giving them something she lacked as a child. Isabel worked very hard at consolidating government on the Iberian Peninsula and administering justice. While executing war on various surrounding kingdoms, Isabel acted as quartermaster, raising funds and supplies and getting them to the theater of operations. Basically, whatever Fernando needed, she delivered. When asked by her husband, she would appear before the troops to lift their spirits.
I loved the description of Isabel’s first meeting with her future husband Fernando of Aragon. It was quite romantic. There is an honest assessment of her relationship with her daughter Juana, also known as Juana la Loca. While Isabel knew Juana had mental difficulties, she followed tradition and wrote in her will that she was to succeed her as Queen of Castile. The epilogue of the book describes how a lot of Isabel’s lifetime work for Spain was undone by Juana.
To be honest, Liss’ grammar and syntax are dense and a little hard to read. This is not a curl up with the cat and cuppa tea read and is more suited for historical research. But I still recommend it if you want to learn more about this complex and admirable queen as the details of her reign are extraordinary. On to the next biography.