As long as I remember that I am reading a NOVEL (and therefore take things with a grain of salt), I think learning history from fiction works best for me. Because of this, when I became familiar with The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile, by C.W. Gortner, I was eager to use it as a basis to learn about this renowned queen of Spain. After all, all I really knew was that she was the mother of Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine and the monarch who sent Christopher Columbus on his mission that ultimately changed the world.
Oh, and then there was that whole Spanish Inquisition thingy.
For someone who loves historical fiction as much as I, it is remarkable that I had never heard of Gortner, who, in addition to Queen Isabella, has written novels of real-life characters ranging from Queen Isabella of Spain to Coco Chanel. To the extent I can tell, this novel was well-researched and stuck fairly close to the queen’s real life.
This isn’t to say, however, that it wasn’t a sympathetic version of Isabella, but as they say, context is everything. And it IS a novel.
No one believed I was destined for greatness.
These are the opening words of the novel, which is written in first-person. Isabella becomes Queen of Castile in somewhat circuitous fashion, and after much drama involving sex and lies. But not sex and lies from Isabella, who was a loyal soldier of Christ and a supporter of the people of Castile.
Isabella’s story is extraordinary, to say the least. She was an independent woman, committed to ruling Spain and her subjects as she believed God willed. The book is a love story about Isabella and her beloved king Fernando of Aragon. But it is also the story of sheer will, good intentions, and misguided loyalty to God in times that were tumultuous at best.
The author provides context for what ultimately resulted in the Spanish Inquisition. As it is a novel, the actions aren’t approved or disapproved, just presented in an interesting manner. But there is much more to this interesting queen and the impact she had on the entire world, which ended up being much larger than anyone imaged.
The novel is lengthy, and dragged in parts. Overall, however, I enjoyed this novel very much, and recommend it to anyone who likes to become acquainted with history via novels.