I received a free copy for my honest review.
About the Book:
An engrossing and revolutionary biography of Isabella of Castile, the controversial Queen of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World, established the Spanish Inquisition, and became one of the most influential female rulers in history
Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and a mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and León. Her subsequent feats were legendary. She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing North African invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus’s trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain’s reputation for centuries. Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, in which millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella’s influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey’s luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she brought under her command.
About the Author:
KIRSTIN DOWNEY is the author of The Woman Behind the New Deal, which was a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She was one of the writers of the New York Times bestselling Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, and was previously a staff writer at the Washington Post, where she shared in the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. She was a Neiman fellow at Harvard University in 2001. She is married to Neil Warner Averitt, and together they have five children.
Isabella of Castile is often remembered as the other half of Ferdinand and Isabella. Women in her day were not seen as much more than “producers of the heir.” While history did not, until recently ascribe much more to her than being her husband’s helpmate she was the driving force in the marriage and the ruler of Castile. She came of age in a troubling time in the world and was reared with the Catholic church at the center of her life. She was also given an extraordinary education for a woman of her time. She was well read and spoke several languages.
Isabella was never really considered to be in line for the throne as she had several brothers but as happens the time came when the country needed a strong leader and she took advantage of the situation. She had the brains and she had the support so she made a run for the throne after Enrique’s death. Ferdinand was not with her so he lost his shot at claiming the succession -he spent a fair amount of time away from her both politically and physically. I don’t think he was nearly as intelligent as she was – but that is personal opinion from various books I’ve read but that is neither here nor there.
I found this book to be very easy to read and actually quite hard to put down which is unusual for me in reading a non fiction book. Ms. Downey is truly in love with her topic – at times though, I feel this can be to the detriment of presenting a full picture. Isabella was responsible for the inquisition and no amount of rationalizing is going to explain away the damage that body did in “God’s” name. Granted much damage has been done throughout history in the name of one religion or another and many people died for their faith but there was something particularly evil about the Inquisition and it can only be laid at her feet. She too, is also responsible for forcing the Jews to leave Spain when they had been living there for centuries – another incalculable evil done to the people of her country. All under the umbrella of “God.” I think a more balance approach to these topics was needed within the scope of the book – Isabella was a woman far ahead of her time in many ways but she was far from the super woman portrayed within the pages of this biography.
It is well researched and I learned much I had not known prior to my reading. It does an excellent job of capsuling the complicated history of the times without overwhelming the reader and turning away from Isabella as the main subject of the book. It is heavily footnoted and there is a section at the end describing the impact of her death and what happened after as Ferdinand tried to maintain what she had built and to pass it on to their son.
Isabella was responsible for turning Spain into the country that found the New World and started populating it – for better or worse – she financed the trip of Christopher Columbus and this trip was the beginning of the grand explorations of all of those that came after leading to the outward colonization of North and South America. She built Spain into a powerful, strong country and she is only getting her due. She is more than just the Inquisition and deserves to be remembered for her other achievements.
You can purchase Isabella: The Warrior Queen on Amazon.com