HENRY IV OF CASTILE by Townsend Miller


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A flowery, sentimentalized biography of the hapless 15th century Castilian monarch known to history as Henry the Impotent. The sobriquet aptly characterized Henry's failings, political as well as sexual. Castile, under his vacillating and incompetent rule, lapsed into the near-anarchy that prepared the way for the ascendancy of Aragon under the management of Henry's scheming uncles and cousins. The author, who confesses his quixotic fondness for the most inept of kings, plays out the theme of vultures closing in around their guileless prey. In an attempt to compensate for Henry's lack of kingly virtues, Miller endows him with ""an artist's soul,"" ""humanitarianism,"" and a ""profound conviction of the futility of war"" -- attributes which understandably impressed the estates and baronage not at all. Coy about Henry's probable homosexuality and regretting his penchant for stableboys and other lowly sorts, Miller demurs quoting the Coplas del Provincial in which contemporaries mocked the king's limp virility, but does report that attempts to rouse him prior to his second marriage included ""broth of bull's testicles, salves of the libidinous Italians, powder of porcupine quills."" Dynastic intrigues for the succession to the throne (it went finally to Isabella, Henry's half-sister) dominate the stage; the disintegrating economy, soaring prices, and devalued currency which made Henry's subjects fear the collapse of the realm are alluded to but never pursued. Shrinking and unattractive, with ""teeth like organkeys"" and a strange empathy for Moslems and disloyal, rapacious advisers, Henry probably merits some rigorous psychological scrutiny which this biographer is unwilling or unable to provide. As a statesman he was an utter flop, and you can only wonder why Miller tries so hard to find some saving graces.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1971
Publisher: Lippincott