I was excited and honoured to be asked to take part in a Blog tour for C.W. Gortner’s new book The Queens vow. Below is my review of the book and then the author has kindly written a blog piece to accompany my review.
Isabella, as a royal princess of the Castille royal family, had only ever known the luxury and safety of her father’s court. Brought up with great wealth and privilege her world is turned upside when Juan II dies. As her half brother, Enrique seizes the throne, Isabella, her brother Alfonso and their mother are whisked away to safety by a rival faction.
Sent to live in a rural backwater for safety, the family struggle to make ends meet and deal with the increasingly fragile mental health of their mother. As the children become pawns in the power politics of the Castille court, and with Civil war breaking out, Alfonso becomes the figurehead for opposition to Enrique’s rule and Isabella, stuck at court must endure the hostility of her brother and his queen. Isabella must use all of her skills and intelligence to know who to trust and who to fear.
With the Civil War becoming increasingly bitter, Isabella turns to the power of the church to help her and learns that to survive and prosper she must be in control of her own destiny and make the hard decisions on her own.
When events conspire to place the crown of Castille on her head and her husband Ferdinand inherits the throne of Aragaon it seems that God really is smiling them. They then embark on a campaign to secure her throne from rebellious barons and to reunite Spain under their rule, this means taking the war to the Muslims of Southern Spain and finish the reconquista. The church also attracts their attention but the church has a high price for the help they received in grabbing power and Isabella is forced to unleash the Inquisition onto the suspecting people of Spain. As they increase their power and prestige in Europe a meeting with a charismatic sailor will lead to the discover of a new world and an Empire unrivaled in history.
I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive when I agreed to review this book. My usual reading is heavy on warfare and warriors with plenty of blood and guts chucked in so to be asked to read a book on a Spanish queen and her struggle for power was a slight departure from normal! This book was a joy to read, it was such a refreshing change to read history from a different point of view.
Isabella is, willful, headstrong and proud but she is never the less a warm and likable character who I felt a lot of affection for. As she struggles to survive you really get a sense of her anger and at times hopelessness as she has to deal with a man’s world and a set of rules and traditions designed for men by men. Her relationship with Ferdinand is also well written, they draw strength from each other and drive one another to fulfill their ambitions for Spain. I also loved her frustration and loneliness as Ferdinand went to war and fought her wars for her and the desperation for news of his successes and survival.
This really was a great book and such a surprise for me, it was easily one of my books of the year.
This is a blog post by C.W. Cortner
Isabella of Castile: An Embattled Princess
When most of us think of Isabella of Castile, we tend to see the staid image of her later years—the somber, driven queen characterized by extreme piety. This image is partly true and partly the result of subsequent praise and criticism heaped on her by historians.
It cannot be denied that religion had a defining role in Isabella’s life. Like most of her fellow sovereigns in Europe, she was Catholic and believed Catholicism was the only true faith. And in her later years, as she endured personal tragedy, she turned increasingly for solace in her faith. But she had once been young and vibrant; and while doing intensive research into her tumultuous rise to the throne for my new novel, The Queen’s Vow, to my delight I discovered an Isabella we rarely see— a passionate princess, who overcame significant odds to be queen.
Though it may seem impossible in hindsight, at the time no one believed Isabella was destined for greatness. Her father King Juan died when she was a child; as the daughter of a royal widow, she and her younger brother were sent from court to reside in the stony isolation of Arévalo, a castle set in a rural area that was also impoverished. Isabella was educated, but it was rudimentary, designed to prepare her for marriage. She did not benefit from the breadth of opportunities that other Renaissance princesses would enjoy; indeed, she was not even taught Latin, the language of international diplomacy, and it was a handicap that she so regretted later as queen, she determined to remedy it.
Yet she possessed something innate that could not be taught: intelligence and a keen sense of her own self. These qualities served her in the stead of a broad education, as she discovered when she was thrust into danger while still in her teens, after being summoned to her half brother King Enrique’s licentious court. At court, depravity was a way of life. Enrique’s vivacious queen, Juana of Portugal, was almost certainly adulterous and set on corrupting young Isabella, who posed a threat to her own daughter. Isabella withstood numerous assaults on her honor with admirable stoicism; even when accused of treason, she did not waver in defense of her stance. We tend to forget she was only sixteen when she confronted that maelstrom of intrigue that might have cost her her life. It is undeniable testament to her integrity that she managed to overcome a situation that would have undone a lesser princess.
Isabella truly displayed her strength of character when she became heiress of Castile. Surrounded by opportunists, each seeking an advantage, she stood alone at a treacherous crossroads, where she could have taken a step in any direction but the right one, leading to her downfall. No queen had successfully ruled Castile for long; no one at the time, save perhaps Isabella herself, believed a queen could. She had few trusted friends to turn to for advice, and none had political standing. Without formal training as a future ruler, at eighteen years of age, Isabella might have done any number of things to put herself in jeopardy; instead, she alone devised a solution that displayed astonishing maturity, one that would maintain her prestige and attempt to resolve the civil war that had devastated Castile. Her decision would cost her later, but she never regretted it. For Isabella, the right way was almost always more important than the easy one.
The story of this embattled princess who was unexpectedly propelled to the throne is fraught with peril, intrigue, and twists of fate that no writer could make up; it is a story of resiliency and indomitable pride, of a woman who was determined to rule with greatness and ended up transforming the world. It is also a story that has rarely been told.
I sincerely hope you enjoy The Queen’s Vow.
Thank you for spending this time with me. To find out more about me and my books, please visit me at www.cwgortner.com