Isabella: the Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

This is the story of a 15th-century princess whose brother, the king, was making plans to Isabellaarrange a marriage for her.  Wanting to make her own decision, and especially disgusted by one suitor’s  “spindly legs and weepy…eyes,” she secretly married the prince of her choice.  Later, when her brother died, she quickly declared herself queen.  Her story is not a Disney film about girl power; it’s the real-life story of Queen Isabella of Castile (a nation which made up most of modern-day Spain).  You may remember her as the queen who supported Columbus’ voyages, making a decision that brought great wealth to her country.  Her husband was Ferdinand, who became the king of the smaller nation of Aragon.  Castile and Aragon later united to become Spain.

Castile was at war for many years of Isabella’s reign, and she and her family, including the small children, moved around to be near the armies.  She took her role so seriously that she once attended a military council even though she had to leave early to give birth to a baby.

When she learned about the native Americans whom Columbus had encountered, she told him to make sure that they received kind treatment.  Sadly, he and his fellow explorers did not obey.

She was a loving mother who sought to further Spain’s goals through the marriages of her children but also attempted – sometimes successfully – to choose spouses who would bring them happiness.  Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was the youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand.

Although Isabella was a beloved monarch, her reign was far from perfect.  For example, she bore some responsibility for the Spanish Inquisition.

The biography is the result of extensive research; its bibliography is almost twenty pages long.

Isabella is a controversial figure.  You may or may not admire her, but if you enjoy reading about women from the medieval and Renaissance periods, you’ll probably be fascinated by this biography!

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


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