The Queen’s Vow: a promising read

Exclusive interview with author C.W. Gortner and a review of his new book about Isabella, Queen of Castile

 Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Gabrielle Pantera

“There was a ruined castle that had once belonged to Isabella of Castile near my house,” says The Queen’s Vow author C.W. Gortner. “I grew up in southern Spain, near the city of Malaga. In school, I of course learned about her…how she conquered Granada and united Spain, and sent Columbus across the sea to discover the New World. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how little I knew about Isabella’s early years, her tumultuous rise to the throne and struggle to assert her power during a time in history when women rarely ruled.”

Gortner portrays Isabella as a queen who is concerned for her people, and who also believes that doing what the church wants will save her and her kingdom from eternal damnation. The novel explores Isabella’s insecurities, her love for her husband and a growing determination to rule in her own right. Other authors have portrayed Isabella as a warrior queen who made Spain supreme and set in motion the Inquisition. Isabella was the mother of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

The Queen’s Vow grants insight into Isabella, who attains the throne through her sharp dealings with her half-brother. She’s a shrewd negotiator. At times the novel is romantic. Isabella meets her second cousin Ferdinand and falls in love. Isabella is determined to marry him although it’s forbidden because they’re related. Isabella and Ferdinand face many hardships in their marriage. Thomas Torquemada wants Isabella and Ferdinand to burn false converts to Christianity and expel all the Jews in Spain.

“No one expected her to mount the throne, let alone succeed,” says Gortner. “Her love affair with her husband Fernando of Aragón is a historical rarity as well. He was forbidden to her. Her decision to marry him sparked a civil war. As I researched her life, I realized that, as with most legends, there’s far more to Isabella than we’re told. She was both extraordinary for her time and fallible, and her dramatic early years are not well-known outside of academic circles, a perfect choice for a novel.”

The controversy surrounding Isabella concerns her role in the Inquisition. “I was more interested in understanding her motivations than exonerating her deeds,” says Gortner. “To my surprise, I discovered that her decisions surrounding the Inquisition were more complex than popular history has depicted. Isabella had a very rudimentary education. After she became queen, she dedicated herself to learning Latin, the international language of diplomacy. She was the first queen to mandate that women could earn degrees and become professors. She also made available the first printing presses in Spain. I had no idea before writing this novel that Isabella had been so intent on promoting women’s intellectual equality.”

Gortner has written two previous historical novels that are published by Ballantine: The Last Queen, about Isabella’s daughter Juana la Loca and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, about the Italian-born queen who ruled France. Gortner wrote The Tudor Secret, a spy adventure story published by St. Martin’s Press. It’s the first book in a trilogy about a young man with a secret past who rises to power as a spy for Elizabeth I. Gortner’s novels have been translated into fourteen languages and he has been nominated for several awards.

Gortner just completed writing the second novel in her Tudor spy series. He’s currently working on a novel about Lucrezia Borgia, from her youth as the illegitimate child of an ambitious Spanish churchman to her thrust into notoriety as the pope’s daughter. There’s a brutal, dangerous struggle to define herself as a woman as she battles the lethal ambitions of her family. “Once again, I’ve found myself drawn into a woman who has been vilified by history,” says Gortner.

Gortner has lived in Northern California for over twenty years and spends time in Central America and Europe. He was born in Washington D.C.

 The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile [Hardcover]. C. W. Gortner (Author). Hardcover, 400 pages, Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 12, 2012), Language: English. ISBN: 9780345523969