Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen

Giles Tremlett. Bloomsbury, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-1-63286-520-5
Tremlett (Catherine of Aragon), Madrid correspondent for the Economist, reveals how decades of ineffective rulers led the Crown of Castile to land on the unlikely head of Isabella (1451–1504), who usurped the throne of her underage niece in her quest to create a powerful unified Spain. He successfully argues that Isabella’s strong sense of duty to God and country strengthened her resolve for unification and her drive to convert heretics to Christianity, resulting in a reign with long-lasting consequences in the Western world. Much of this well-written account covers Isabella’s unique working relationship with her less politically astute husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, and her eagerness to wage war. Tremlett emphasizes her zeal and deftness with resources in furthering Spain’s interests as she perceived them. Clear descriptions of Castilian court politics reveal how the hopeful explorer Columbus finally received Isabella’s funding and approval for his westbound routes, inadvertently launching the Native American genocide while expanding Spanish supremacy. However, despite much attention, there’s little sense of immediacy regarding the Moorish invasions that Isabella (and the Iberian Peninsula generally) feared, making her forced conversions during the Inquisition and Reconquista less understandable to modern readers. Tremlett’s unsentimental portrait reveals an ambitious queen whose accomplishments of prescient religious reform, westward exploration, and empire-building far outshone those of her contemporary European monarchs. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/2017
Release date: 03/07/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-5436-2398-7
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