Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. Read more...
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Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and a mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and Leon. Her subsequent feats were legendary. She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing North African invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus's trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain's reputation for centuries. Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, in which millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella's influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey's luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she brought under her command."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-09-08
- Reviewer: Staff
The reserved, devoutly Catholic Isabella seized the Castilian throne in 1474, when she was just 23 years old. Having relegated her unwise husband Ferdinand to consort status, Isabella enjoyed major military successes, popularity with both her advisors and her subjects, and significant territorial acquisitions in the New World. Downey (The Woman Behind the New Deal) argues that Isabella served as a true paragon of Machiavelli’s good prince; from her demonstrations of political and battlefield strength in quelling the Ottoman Empire’s efforts at expansion to negotiating treaties and her offspring’s politically fraught marriage contracts. Downey shows how Isabella’s reign prepared Renaissance Spain’s rise to superpower status by consolidating multiple, often ineffectually led, kingdoms into one, all the while patronizing exploration and art. Perfect for both historical novices and experts in European history, this solidly-researched, engaging description of Isabella’s achievements also humanizes her through discussion of her intricate relationships with combative family members and allows readers to see Isabella’s fingerprints on Renaissance culture and religion. (Nov.)
A queen who made her mark
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, November 2014
From “Game of Thrones” to The Pillars of the Earth, popular culture offers up medieval stories where royals grab for power, where crucial alliances are built between church and state, where important people suddenly fall over dead after a sumptuous meal, poisoned by a hidden rival. But this world did, in fact, exist, and the subject of Kirstin Downey’s fascinating new biography, Isabella: The Warrior Queen, maneuvered through it with unlikely and thrilling success.
Most have heard of Isabella and Ferdinand, the monarchs who commissioned Columbus’ famous voyage, but what is less widely known is that Isabella ran the kingdom while Ferdinand merely signed the papers. Born in 1451, she left her fingerprints all over Spain by initiating the Inquisition, waging war against foes, pursuing a trans-Atlantic empire and brilliantly matchmaking her five children.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of an acclaimed biography of Frances Perkins, Downey is a brilliant storyteller. Despite the difficulties posed by a limited and inevitably incomplete archive, she writes with eloquence and intensity about Isabella’s life. And readers will quickly see why she chose to write about this medieval queen, whose life often seems pulled from the pages of a novel. Take, for example, Isabella’s engagement to a man she passionately did not want to marry. She prayed to God to smite either the man or her, and the suitor died on the road of a sudden illness.
Because she wanted her daughters to be powerful leaders, Isabella made sure that their education (unlike her own) included instruction in Latin. And when she encountered the articulate dreamer Christopher Columbus, she chose to financially support his expeditions against the recommendations of her advisors. Downey’s Isabella is a generous, insightful and extremely ambitious leader who was determined to expand her kingdom against daunting odds—and who helped shape the world we inhabit today.