Engaging new appraisal of Europe’s first female monarch and her long, consequential reign.
A century before Elizabeth I, there was Isabella of Castile (1451-1504), whose 35-year reign alongside her less-capable husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, became the model of a strong, enduring, ruthless (rather than enlightened) dynasty. Economist Madrid correspondent Tremlett (Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII, 2010, etc.) puts into lively relief the remarkable talents and drive of this singular female sovereign, who subjugated her husband’s role by law and believed fervently that her “purification” of the Arab lands of Andalusia and Granada was dictated by God. In short, she ruled as rigorously as a man and was beloved for it. She was already proving herself a shrewd operator when, at age 18, she finagled her own choice of a husband in the dashing son of a quarrelsome neighboring dynasty, Aragon. Ascending to the throne of Castile after the relatively short reigns of her weak brother and half brother, she and Ferdinand were able to bring Castile and Aragon together under one crown, which was unprecedented and spurred new ambition in uniting the whole Iberian peninsula—the Reconquista. Isabella delighted in war preparations: she harnessed the power of the Spanish nobility, the Grandees, defeated her usurper, employed a “new sort of army” that used artillery and infantry rather than knights and their mounted followers, and terrified the enemy by her mere presence, as she did in the siege of Baza in 1489. Certain that God was on her side, she and Ferdinand instigated the state inquisition as a harsh system of justice to convert Jews and Moors to Christianity before banishing them both from the kingdom altogether. Tremlett gives a broad sense of the ramifications of her will, especially in sanctioning the expedition of Christopher Columbus and thus spreading Christianity and Spanish influence throughout the Western hemisphere.
A combination of a solid biography of an extraordinary monarch and a concise history of turbulent 15th-century Spain.