Isabella Warrior Queen – Book Review

For the past two years I have printed out Tim Challies “Reading Challenge Book List“. Last year I read a total of 17 books off that list and it was so much fun trying to find “new” books I wouldn’t normally read. This year, so far, has not let me down!

The first option on the reading list is to read a biography. So I chose a book on Queen Isabella of Spain. I had never read on her and the few things I did know about her were indirectly because I am an absolute fan on all things relating to Henry VIII’s wives. (Queen Isabella’s last daughter was Katherine of Aragon and she became King Henry VIII’s first wife.)

The book “Isabella The Warrior Queen” covered everything about her and it also provided mini-biographies on other major people influenced by her like Christopher Columbus, Mehmed the Conqueror, Pope Alexander VI, Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, Henry VII of England and other very interesting people.

The author – Kirstin Downey – did a very great job in providing first hand account information on both sides of history. The war accounts given in the book are bloody. The slavery, kidnappings, rape, torture, disease and outright hopelessness mentioned in this book really gave me a sense of gratitude that I live in the day in age I do.

The Spanish Inquisition is covered extensively, but new insights of how many actually died in it were given.  And some of Isabella’s thoughts on leniency in this matter are evident in her letters to her Inquisitors.

There is also a rather big section on the degeneration of the Catholic church. She boldly reprimanded Pope Alexander VI for his lascivious behavior and simony. She even imprisoned his son Cesare (yes, they are supposed to be celibate) for murder. Another large section on Christopher Columbus and the Americas was also surprising. She expected both these men to represent Christ (especially the pope!!) where they were at and she did not shy away from pointing out their many faults in their representation – always reminding them where their money came from.

I was also very surprised by how well Isabella knew war and strategy. Even when her husband Ferdinand didn’t think she could win, she proved him wrong several times. It was with her campaigning and insight that Spain was able to stop the Muslim expansion into her kingdom and because of her that they conquered even more ground. She truly was a warrior queen! It is even believed that the queen piece in chess was given more “power” in the game due to Isabella’s prowess in war.

She loved her husband passionately and her children also. But she did not let that love hinder her from making sound decisions on all aspects regarding her kingdom.

I also couldn’t stand King Ferdinand throughout the book. On Isabella’s death bed, Isabella begged Ferdinand not to marry after she was gone so as not to jeopardize the inheritance of their children and grand-children destabilizing all they had worked for.  Ferdinand promised her he wouldn’t, but less than a year later, he was married again. Throughout the book he is a conniving man that really got on my nerves.  Ferdinand died several years later due to a bad concoction of bull testicle juice that supposedly would help his vigor in producing a male heir.  Very fitting I thought.

There is so much more to her in this book that makes for a great soap opera and what is amazing is that it is true! She really existed! She really was a fascinating woman in a time when the only fascinating thing about women was their beauty. She was a great debater and protector of women and children. She was a learner, a warrior and a reader and she loved her God. The faults she did have, the whole world can judge for themselves on her motives. Regardless, I do not believe it takes away from what she accomplished.

To the Christian: This year marks the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I was very pleased to read in this book that Isabella was reading material that Martin Luther read as a young man and that influenced him later to nail his 95 thesis. She defended men who called out the outright debauchery of the Catholic church. I wondered a lot about where she would have stood during the times of the Reformation due to other opinions she had about the way the Church was going. This book also gives us plenty of  history of what was going on in the church and I shudder at what many did in the name of Christ. But there were glimpses of light still there during such a dark time. Some things to ask ourselves is how do we twist Scripture to enhance our fleshly agenda? How and when do we call out behavior that paints the Church or Christ in a bad light? How best can we exemplify Jesus in a world that is so divided and dark? With many flaws, Isabella did it in a way she thought best, having effects that still impact us today. For example, I speak Spanish and most of my family is Catholic even though we live thousands of miles away from her kingdom and it is because of her. What we do as Christians can also impact generations from now.

May all we do bring glory to God.

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