In United States History class, children are taught that Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas under the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Though much is written of Columbus, Queen Isabella often takes a backseat in the history lesson. In Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey, Isabella’s story comes to the forefront.
Born without fanfare, (and really without too much attention) into a royal family that makes the term dysfunctional family seem like a compliment, Isabella de Castile became a deeply devout Catholic girl raised on the stories of Jean d’Arc and romantic tales of bravery. Desperate to be strong and brave like her literary heroes, Isabella learned to keep a very straight and unemotional face. This came in handy with her brother, King Enrique of Castile, and his questionable marriages and behaviors. Used as a pawn, Isabella would end up married to King Ferdinand of Spain, but not end a life of quiet suffering. She is in the end remembered for helping lay the foundations for a unified Spain, end a twenty four-generation struggle between the Christians and Muslims of the realm and help finance the voyage that would lead to further exploration of the Americas.
Isabella: The Warrior Queen is a highly informative book, but certain sections give the readers pause. Downey’s book seems to sensationalize somewhat regular male behaviors for the time-. A few times she makes claims that appear to be less than accurate in regards to the sexuality of famous figures of the time period. Though she has many sources, I found myself questioning the accuracy of the translations of some of her documentation. Overall, the message of a woman in power comes through with a strong message.
Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey is available now from Doubleday Books.