01 June 2017, The Tablet

Power and fanaticism

by Giles Tremlett

 

The restless, formidable queen who drove the Spanish Inquisition

This is a most enjoyable book - a lively, intense page-turner written in straightforward, unpretentious prose. Giles Tremlett’s previous works, Ghosts of Spain: Travels through a Country’s Hidden Past and Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen have established him as a well-respected historian of Spain. Here, Tremlett balances academic scholarship with journalistic flair to produce an enthralling biography. The subtitle, Europe’s First Great Queen, is deliberately provocative: arguably queens such as Eleanor of Aquitaine or Blanche of Castile dominated the European stage long before Isabella. Yet Tremlett rightly emphasises Isabella’s lasting importance for Europe, whether positively, through the burgeoning wealth and prestige of Castile and Aragon, or negatively, in her treatment of Jews, Muslims and conversos (persecuted Jews who converted to Christianity). He is also right to underline Isabella’s significance, through the voyages of Christopher Columbus, for the future history of the world. No less astute a man than Henry VII of England recognised Isabella’s prowess and hoped that such a woman’s daughter, when married to his son, would prove similarly formidable. 

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