Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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

The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile is a 2012 fictional novel by C. W. Gortner on the life of Isabella I of Castile from her formative years as an Infanta of Spain to her pivotal role in sending Christopher Columbus on his voyage to discover the Americas.

Our story begins at the deathbed of King Juan II of Castile, Isabella's Father. There are rumors in court that he has lost the will to live after ordering the execution of his favorite, Alvaro de Luna, under the influence of his second wife, Isabella of Portugal, Isabella's Mother. 

After Juan's death on July 20, 1454 and Enrique IV's ascension, Juan's eldest son from his first marriage, Isabella and her younger brother, Alfonso, are taken away to live at Arevalo with their Mother, away from court. At Arevalo, Isabella lives an isolated life where she is forced to deal with her Mother's increasingly unstable mental state, brought on by her guilt in her part in de Luna's death. 

In Isabella's thirteenth year, Juana, Enrique's second wife (his first wife being repudiated for not giving him an heir - although rumors have it that the marriage was not consummated.  How he expected her to provide him an heir, we'll never know), after seven years of marriage, gave birth to a girl, named Juana (called Joanna in the book to differentiate between Mother and daughter). With the birth of an heir (Castile not being bound to Salic law), Enrique brings Isabella and Alfonso to court, much to their Mother's distress. They are accompanied by Archbishop Carillo, who promises to watch over them while in the lion's den.

When the two siblings arrive at court, they quickly realize the licentious nature of the court led by Queen Juana. But also at court is Isabella's cousin, Fernando, whom she quickly becomes enamored with. There are rumors circulating around court circles that Joanna's Father is not the King but Beltran de la Cueva. Jealous of Beltran's rise in status and unwilling to serve a false King, many nobles flock to Alfonso side, and under Carrillo's influence, he declares himself King and starts a civil war.

In an attempt to restore order, Enrique has Isabella betrothed to Pedro de Giron, brother to the King's favorite, Villena. The Infanta aghast at this and prays fervently to God that it should not be. Her prayers were answered when Giron falls ill and dies on his way to meet his bride. 

With the storm passing, news comes to Isabella that her brother has won the war. The siblings happy reunion is cut short when Alfonso dies on July 5, 1468; poisoned by Enrique. Isabella is now heir to the Castilian throne.

Enrique signs a Treaty at Guisando agreeing that he will not force his sister's hand into marriage without her approval in exchange her getting his consent should she marry. And the man that Isabella has her eyes set on is none other than Fernando of Aragon. However, Enrique breaks his promise to the Princess and arranges a marriage with her to Afonso V of Portugal. Since Enrique didn't uphold his end of the deal, Isabella fleas to Valladolid and marries Fernando on the19 October 1469. Their first child, named Isabella (called Isabel in the book to differentiate between Mother and daughter), was born the next year.

Enraged that his younger sister would defy him, Enrique removes Isabella from the succession, leaving his throne to La Beltraneja. The entire country is an uproar over this, flocking to Isabella's banner. Realizing that he is defeated even before the battle has begun, Enrique welcomes his sister back to court and the two reconcile; just in time for Enrique death on 11 December 1474.

There are now two contenders for the crown of Castile; Isabella and her niece, Joanna la Beltraneja. Joanna betroths herself to her Uncle, Afonso V of Portugal, as a means to gain the throne that she believes is rightfully hers. Yet Isabella won't go down without a fight. working around the clock to ensure a victory in her name, eventually suffering a miscarriage from the ongoing struggle. But where the Lord takes, he can also give and in 1479, Afonso retreats and Isabella is crowned as Castile's undisputed Queen.

As Queen in her own right, Isabella begins reforming Castile. One of them being ending the corruption of the grandees that were left to their own devices during the reign of her half-brother and father. And another being the expulsion of the Jews from Castile.

Since her miscarriage, Isabella has been unable to conceive. Her luck changes, however, eight years after the birth of her first child, Isabella brings a healthy baby boy into the world, named Juan after his grandfather. And as a great show of Isabella's fertility, the year after Juan's birth, his sister, Juana, is born, named after his paternal grandmother.

For ten longs years from 1482-1492, Isabella and Ferdinand engaged in a holy war with the Moors to regain Spanish territory in what is known as the Reconquista. Her last two children; Maria (who had twin that was born stillborn) and Catalina were born during the ongoing struggle with the Moors. On January 2, 1942, the last piece of Moorish Spain, Granada, fell into their hands.

The book ends with Isabella sending Christopher Columbus off across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

I give this book a 4.5/5. As always, fabulous work done by C.W. Gortner (I love the Last Queen). But one negative comment I have about the novel was the way Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias was portrayed. I am more accustomed  to the image of an Angelic Prince than that of a lost one. Still, much praises to Mr. Gortner.