Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen

Written by Giles Tremlett
Review by Sue Asher

Isabella of Castile was certainly a formidable queen. You may know her only from a whirlwind Western Civilization class as the Spanish queen who financed Christopher Columbus’ explorations, or as the fanatical Catholic monarch responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews. But there is quite a bit more to this woman, who wrangled her way onto the throne of Castile in 1474 and then, against the wishes of her advisors, wed the heir to the kingdom of Aragon. Isabella and Ferdinand’s marriage laid the groundwork for the unification of Spain. Pragmatic, warlike, pious, and rather devious, Isabella ruled in her own right, not as an extension of her husband.

This detailed, exhaustively researched, clearly presented biography of Isabella lauds her strengths but doesn’t shy away from her faults. The complex political, historical, religious, and geographical issues of the day are explained in a way that provides context for Isabella’s fascinating life. For those interested in royal biography or in the history of Spain as it emerged from the Middle Ages to become a world power, this book is recommended.