Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, has been for centuries and enigmatic figure shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the berefet widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C.W. Gortner challenges the myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.
The third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, Juana is born amid her parents’ ruthless struggle to unify their kingdom, bearing witness to the fall of Granada and Columbus’s discoveries. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to wed Philip, the archduke of Flanders, as part of her parents’ strategy to strengthen Spain, just as her youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, is sent to England to become the first wife of Henry VIII.
Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her handsome young husband, the sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. At first she is content with her children and her life in Flanders. But when tragedy strikes and she inherits the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, her intelligence and pride used as weapons against her, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it could cost her everything.
I admit it. I am a history snob. I don’t know what it is, but ever since I was young I found history boring and it was always my worst subject in school. But, I have been fortunate to have seen the error of my ways, and this book is a prime example.
To be totally honest, I have never heard of Juana of Castile. This book has truly compelled me to learn more. After being part of an arranged marriage, Juana is unsure what is to become of her life. Her mother, Isabel, Queen of Castile, and Father, Fernando, King of Aragon, have worked hard to make their two countries unite and will do anything to ensure that their people are safe. They have arranged the marriage as a way of securing power and freedom for their people.
Even though Juana is less than thrilled about marrying a complete stranger, she has the same tenacity that is characteristic of her mother and agrees for the good of the country. She is pleasantly surprised when she finally meets her husband, Philip, the Archduke of Flanders. Their marriage is riddled with love and passion that most newlyweds wish for and things seem to be going exceptionally well. Until Juana catches him in bed with another woman while pregnant with her first child. Philip is flabbergasted and apologizes profusely, but this is just the start of a life of betrayal that is to be Juana’s curse.
Growing up, I think a lot of little girls (mine included) dream of being a princess. When you read a book like this, you realize that being royalty is not so much of a blessing as a burden. Everything you do is scrutinized and you are expected to act and carry yourself in a certain way. But we see, time and time again, that Juana was courageous and wouldn’t change her beliefs for anyone. Even after tragedy strikes, Juana is prepared to take her rightful place as Queen, even if it means fighting those she is closest too. In the end it just wasn’t enough. In a shocking turn of events she ends up a prisoner and is never allowed to fulfill her rightful place as Queen.
Many historians have speculated that Juana was schizophrenic and that is what led to the imprisonment that she endures for most of her life. Mr. Gortner does and excellent job of portraying a vibrant woman whose sanity was stretched to its limits by the betrayal and cruelty that would likely break any “sane” person. I applaud his efforts to show us the other side of Juana la Loca and show that maybe she wasn’t insane after all, but simply a victim of circumstances.
About the author:
C.W. GORTNER’s fascination with history, in particular the Renaissance, is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and has taught university seminars on the 16th century. In addition, he travels extensively to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch—or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass—as many artifacts of the era as he can find.
He has served on the board of the Women’s National Book Association/SF Chapter, an organization that promotes literacy, and he’s a regular contributor to the Historical Novels Review and Solander, publications of the Historical Novel Society. He is also a passionate advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.
Raised in Málaga, Spain, C.W. Gortner is half-Spanish by birth and fully bilingual. He currently lives in Northern California.
For more information, please visit www.cwgortner.com
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