A riveting portrait of 15th-century Spain, by Pulitzer Prize–winner Reston, the concluding volume in a quartet of books that “have peered into dark corners of Christian Church history” (Warriors of God, 2001, etc).
The year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, 1492 was also the year that Moorish Granada fell to Catholic Spain and the year King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Spanish Jews. Reston brings together these three stories, showing how the exploration of the New World, the war against Muslims and the Inquisition were part of the monarchy’s attempt to purify the world for Christendom and advance the Spanish empire. The three threads were intertwined pragmatically as well as ideologically: Property confiscated from Jews and heretical Catholics went into the war chest that funded the march against the Moors. Jews who had converted to Christianity came under suspicion if they so much as set their table with a fresh tablecloth on Friday (the Inquisitor and his minions saw that as a sign that the converso might be observing the Jewish Sabbath), and Reston spares no detail when describing the atrocities the Inquisition committed against these suspects. This history is also distinguished by its vivid portrait of Queen Isabella (Ferdinand is not quite so well-developed), who emerges as a woman of deep faith and more than a hint of grandiosity, frequently likening herself to the Virgin Mary and the apocalyptic woman of the Book of Revelation. The most important sections chronicle Spain’s pursuit and conquest of Moorish land, from the fall of Málaga in 1487 to the seizing of Granada. The defeat of the Moors may seem like ancient history to Americans, Reston points out, but it is vivid indeed to the Islamic terrorists who bombed Madrid.
Rarely has medieval history seemed so urgent.