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Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: Isabel the Queen by Peggy K. Liss

Isabel the Queen: Life and Times by Peggy K. Liss
e-Book, 496 pages
University of Pennsylvania Press
December 1, 2004

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Source: Personal purchase for my Masters class
Queen Isabel of Castile is perhaps best known for her patronage of Christopher Columbus and for the religious zeal that led to the Spanish Inquisition, the waging of holy war, and the expulsion of Jews and Muslims across the Iberian peninsula. In this sweeping biography, newly revised and annotated to coincide with the five-hundredth anniversary of Isabel's death, Peggy K. Liss draws upon a rich array of sources to untangle the facts, legends, and fiercely held opinions about this influential queen and her decisive role in the tumultuous politics of early modern Spain.

"Isabel the Queen" reveals a monarch who was a woman of ruthless determination and strong religious beliefs, a devoted wife and mother, and a formidable leader. As Liss shows, Isabel's piety and political ambition motivated her throughout her life, from her earliest struggles to claim her crown to her secret marriage to King Fernando of Aragon, a union that brought success in civil war, consolidated Christian hegemony over the Iberian peninsula, and set the stage for Spain to become a world empire."
My knowledge of Isabel, Queen of Castile, has been limited to what you learn about her involvement in the “discovery” of the Americas and the Inquisition and the fictional interpretation of her life in The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner. I endeavored to read this book as an assignment from class and selected it from the class syllabus, but I was very pleased to find out that this book was referenced as one of Gortner’s sources in his novel.

Isabel the Queen brings the reader into the world of Isabel by introducing the rule and times of her father, Juan, and half-brother, Enrique. The author includes this information as a means of establishing what Isabel had as her professional examples and to show the differences when Isabel became the Queen. I think that this worked well, but I did get a little tired reading statements like, “and it proved a costly mistake whose lessons would not be lost on Isabel” (Kindle loc. 757). The author makes it VERY clear with these kinds of statements to draw the divisions between Isabel and her brother especially.

This book was chock full of information on not just Isabel as a person, but also the world of Spain and Europe around her. It was very dense and not a book that you finish in a short period of time, believe me, it will take you awhile to read it all; this is certainly more of a research book than a fun reading book. However, you will come away from it with a new knowledge and appreciation of the time.

Any discussion of Isabel inevitably wades in the water of controversy with the portrayal of the Columbus expedition as well as the handling of the Spanish Inquisition and persecution of the Jews and Muslims. Liss doesn’t shy away from these controversial subject and does lay out the information, both positive and negative, but she doesn’t take a firm stance in either direction. As the book was originally published around the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ expedition and then was republished around the 500th anniversary of the death of Isabel it makes sense that she treads carefully around these subjects in order to take advantage of these dates.

I came away from this book with a much more concrete sense of who Isabel was as a person and as a Queen. I would recommend this book, but just know it might be a little denser than you are looking for.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

**Read an Excerpt**

Also by Peggy Liss:
Atlantic Empires

Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. This sounds interesting. Like you, I mainly know Isabel from her Columbus connection. But I think it will be awhile before I am ready to tackle such an in=depth book.

  2. Sounds good! I know very little about Isabella and her hubby.


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