Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain spent a lifetime winning their country back from the Moors. They finally succeeded in 1492 with the fall of Granada. They would use their four daughters to cement alliances with other European countries in order to obtain peace for themselves and their people.
Juana of Castile is like any other princess of the time, bound up in duty to her family and her country. At sixteen she is married to Philip, the Archduke of Flanders. It is difficult for her to leave the land of her birth but she never gives a thought to being an heir to the Spanish throne. She has both a brother and an older sister who will come before her. As she departs for Flanders she never expects to set foot in Spain again.
At first things in Flanders go well. Philip is handsome and Juana is surprised to find herself happy in her new life. She feels pampered and loved, she gives birth to two children and grows used to the luxury of her life as an Archduchess. It is a far cry from the austerity that the royalty of Spain believes in. In her happiness she allows herself to forget the lessons of her parents and her childhood.
When tragedy strikes repeatedly in Spain, killing in quick succession Juana's brother, older sister and baby nephew, Juana is suddenly the heir to the Spanish throne. She becomes the pawn in every power scheme for the crown and is betrayed by nearly every man that she has ever known and loved. They will stop at nothing. They accuse her of madness in order to show her inability to rule in her own right. The oldest trick in the book, used to wrest power from women down through the ages. She uses all her wits to fight them, will it be enough to save her throne?
With the great number of historical novels written about British royalty lately, I was happy to immerse myself in a story whose history I knew little about. Mr. Gortner does a wonderful job bringing sixteenth century Europe to life and explaining the convoluted politics of the time. I fell in love with Juana of Castile, who was as trapped in her life as any prisoner in a cell, though she fought valiantly to escape it. It is the wrenching story of a strong woman who had to face tremendous obstacles.
The Last Queen is published by Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-50184-4
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