Isabella by Kristen Downey

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Really depends who you are on whether you like her or not.

Quick synopsis: A complete biography of Isabella I of Castile.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Yes, that Isabella. 1492, Columbus and all that.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Isabella was truly a badass woman both for good and bad. She was a warrior, built the Spanish Empire, was devout, brutal, and politically savvy. She was everything really. For history nerds, her reputation goes off a cliff because of the Inquisition. She is also the mother of Catherine of Aragon.

My Take: Isabella is one of the most amazing characters in history in my opinion. She has everything for the amazing and adventurous life people dream about. She had to take her throne by force and as a woman. This was not an enlightened world which would follow a woman blindly. She needed to be special and Isabella clearly was.

She married for love against her half-brother’s wishes. She immediately cleaned up his mess by refilling the treasury and fixing the justice system. She was a devout Catholic. Maybe a bit too Catholic.

She was the reason Columbus sailed across the ocean blue. She found powerful matches for her children. She was a force.

She also was instrumental in the Inquisition. That is what I meant by “maybe a bit too Catholic.” If you are Jewish, you are probably not a fan either. Yes, massive understatement.

This is a massive life to cover and Downey does a great job with it. She keeps the narrative flowing and also keeps all the characters straight. It can be exhausting when reading history and having to look up people because they disappear from the narrative.

Downey’s one shortfall is the Inquisition. She tries to let Isabella off the hook as being led astray by other people. However, when you look at her life as a whole, there is no way anyone led Isabella but herself.

Verdict: Great book on an amazing historical character.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Justin Pollard, Alfred the Great
  • Michael Jones, The Black Prince: England’s Greatest Medieval Warrior
  • Thomas Asbridge, The Greatest Knight
  • Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon
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Isabella by Kristen Downey
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