Thursday, 15 May 2008
The Last Queen
The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner opens with and aged and imprisoned Juana of Castile, recounting her life. I have been interested in the story of Juana for some time after first reading about her in passing as a sister of Katherine of Aragon. It always seemed like an interesting story, or a supposedly insane queen carting around the remains of her dead husband and being imprisoned for man, many years. And that this should happen to the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the sister of a queen of England and the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, still seems astounding.
As much as her mother might of tried to prevent it, Juana ended up as a pawn in the political games of men. Her husband, her father and ultimately her son, betrayed her due to unrifled ambition, with the lure being the kingdom of Castile. From the small snipets I had previously read of Juana, I had accepted the story of the insane queen. But having read more about this period of time, it seems as though it was really an age of propaganda, and now having read Gortner's book, I will certainly question more about the historical character's I read about.
Juana has for so long in the English language, been a figure of passing mention. It is eye opening to read about her as a central figure. Here she is a red blooded passionate Spaniard sent of to Flanders to marry the heir to the Hapsburg empire, Philip the Handsome. She sets off with trepidation, her only solace being that she is serving the interests of Spain. But she falls crashingly in love with her husband from the first moments. They are happy for a time.....untill Juana becomes heir to the throne of Castile, and Philip's ambitions, and lust for the crown surpass his love and respect for his wife. He turns from the glowing centre of her world, to a scheming, dark, manipulating man desperate to clutch the crown at all costs. And he has a veritable bevy of syncophants around him to help him reach his lofty goals as well. And the father that she so adored as a child, turns into much the same.
Gortner tells Juana's story with a great deal of compassion. And we are left wondering how a woman could be so badly treated by her husband, and father, and then left to dwell in prisoned in a castle by her son.
The Last Queen is being re-issued soon, and for those people that have an interest in the Tudor time period, it is a fantastic read, showing Spain and the European stage at the time, and developing more interest in characters that are afforded just short mentions in the stories of the Tudor court. It is interesting to put her timeline in perspective with the goings on in England, which I am much more aware of. She was born in 1479, so during the reign of Edward IV, and died after 46 years in prison in 1555, during the reign of her niece Mary I.
I will definately be seeking out more about the sad story of Juana, and have another Gortner book, The Secret Lion, waiting to be read. He also has a book in the works about Catherine de Medici, another of my favourites!