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Isabella of Castile: Europe's First Great Queen

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  205 ratings  ·  40 reviews
A major biography of the queen who transformed Spain into a principal global power, and sponsored the voyage that would open the New World.

In 1474, when Castile was the largest, strongest, and most populous kingdom in Hispania (present day Spain and Portugal), a twenty-three-year-old woman named Isabella ascended the throne. At a time when successful queens regnant were fe
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Bloomsbury USA (first published February 9th 2017)
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4.12  · 
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In 1474 the twenty-three-year-old Isabella of Castle (1451-1504) ascended to the throne of Castle, the largest and strongest kingdom in Spain. She was a young female ruler in a male-dominated world, and she held her own. She set about reforming a corrupt, crime ridden kingdom but one with violent political fractions to caused her problems. She also set about converting the Jews and Moors to Christianity and was responsible for the Inquisition. Her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon united the two k ...more
Leanda Lisle
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
With his vast head and squashed nose, Enrique IV of Castile was said to resemble a lion. No one could think of any such tactful comparison for the peculiar shape of his penis. With its oversized head and narrow base, it was too bottom heavy to maintain erections. His droop was, however, his half sister, Isabella’s, opportunity.

By 1469 when she was eighteen, Isabella had already proven herself unusually independent minded and determined. Despite swearing to marry only with the consent of the king
3.5 stars.

600 pages is a length that is very daunting for a biography, regardless of how many pages are devoted to the author's bibliography at the end. Isabella led a life that is certainly interesting to probably warrant the 600 pages, and there's an incredible amount of facts and research that has gone into Tremlett's work. I don't have the knowledge to debate the use of his sources or his retelling of events, but I should probably explain my lonely 3 star rating in a sea of 4 and 5's.

For me,
Alex Marshall
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
What do you make of a pious, humble woman who starts her adult career at the age of 16 by seeing off a couple of kings and marrying another despite all attempts to stop her? And ends her life with her kingdom united and expanding into realms hitherto unknown, though at the cost of countless innocent lives and a drastic loss of what we would call diversity? She was the woman who sent Columbus off to find the New World. The same year, she expelled all Jews from her dominions and took over Granada, ...more
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Isabella of Castile: Europe's First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett is a fantastic biography on one of Europe's first Great Queens, and an early look at proto-absolutism in European politics. Isabella was originally farther back in line to replace the unlucky Henry IV (The Impotent - poor man), who suffered from some birth defects, preferred to keep to himself, and had difficulty siring an heir. He was also merciful and forgiving, something seen as a weakness in Castilian society. The nobles of Ca ...more
Very disappointing. Questionable use of sources, reiterative, abounds in commonplaces and offers a poor and groundless psychological portrait of the different characters.
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spain
A Game Of Thrones-esque biography of Isabella of Castile.

I knew Isabella formed a unique leadership style by marrying Ferdinand of Aragon and sharing the ruling of each inherited region but that was all.

I learned so much more about Spain and Latin America’s first contact with European explorers.

I maintained interest throughout every page. Each chapter covered a major theme or milestone. It covered not just information from Isabella’s actions but also what powerful forces or influences were ar
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Isabella is a notable historical queen because she did so much in a world where men dominated. Fierce will and a passion for ruling. Honestly in terms of accomplishment, she dominated among the European courts. I got the impression that she viewed education as important.

I find it interesting that despite trying to conquer the "infidels," it was noted that she found the palaces of Granada which had been under Muslim rule for centuries before she conquered them, beautiful. There are all sorts of r
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
First my disclaimer, I won this book through Goodreads in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Isabella, think Ferdinand and Isabella and Christopher Columbus, was one of only a very few strong female rulers. Not only is that an accomplishment, but the fact that she was a strong female ruler in a conservative country like Castile is even more amazing. I’m always impressed with and pleased to read about queens like Isabella and I wasn’t disappointed. She did some wonderful things—such as unifyin
Good essay source, but I preferred “Isabella: The Warrior Queen” by Kirsten Downey.

The order of events in this book were slightly confusing.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Writing her letters from the new world, her man in the Indies described the glories and riches that would be hers. He told of blue-green islands of impossibly fertility and beauty; of colorful parrots like rainbows and all kinds of fruit trees; and of people who were docile and, as yet, did not know God. And did he mention there was gold? Endless supplies of gold that would prove to be as much as she needed; like the slaves--it was all endless. And reading these letters from her man in the Indie ...more
Lynn Smith
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent read. Great historical insight into her character and clearly well researched and evidenced.
Sophie Le
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thorough and transparent in the best of ways

This biography is long but well-organized and not at all boring. Isabella of Castile is not an easy subject for any biographer, but Tremlett has managed to present a fully realized look at her life, in all its complexity.

Tremlett is extremely thorough in his research and documentation of sources, seeming to let Isabella and her contemporaries tell the story in their own voices (through their letters and other documents) as much as possible. He cites a
Joshua Neil
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Isabella of Castile was the first great ruling queen of Europe: an authoritarian ruler who consolidated power in the crown and fought her way in a male-dominated world not only to become monarch but to unite much of Spain, drive the Moors from the continent, and reform the church. Isabella was a divisive monarch, who both challenged gender ideas at the time, forged a kingdom from will alone and discovered the new world, but also expelled Jews and Muslims from her land in mass purges and invente ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of history's greatest (and most ruthless) monarchs, Isabelle of Castile has long needed a biography of this caliber. When you look back at history, it is evident that she was one of the movers and shakers of what was happening on the continent of Europe and her actions and decisions about future actions would shape monarchies in other countries for generations to come. In addition, her almost fanatic belief in the Church created one of the greatest religious witch hunt seen at that time. All ...more
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
I knew very little about Queen Isabella except that she funded Columbus's journey to find north america. This book is a thorough and very detailed history - not only of Isabella - but of the historically important people, places and events that surrounded her, what was to become Spain and Portugal and Europe.

Lots of important and trivial facts and information that create a very vivid picture of an extremely important person - not to mention - woman who played a pivotal role creating in the Weste
Rebecca Halsey
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very comprehensive look at this queen and the decisions that really changed the course of history. Even thought clearly Isabella was self-motivated and one of a kind, she did not shirk from exercising her power. This produces some cringe worthy stories regarding religious minorities and enslaving Native Americans. The author handles these issues with an acknowledgement of the facts, as well as how Isabella’s legacy has been viewed over time. I found the Afterword to be incredibly useful in und ...more
Moniek Bloks
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Giles Tremlett's Isabella of Castile - Europe's First Great Queen is a magnificent volume on the life of, indeed, Europe's first great Queen, a worthy title. It is well-researched and has numerous notes to my great content. Isabella of Castile snakes through the pages as a thriving and ruthless Queen until the disasters later in life take their toll on the once invisible Isabella. Giles Tremlett makes it all come to life. Don't be daunted be the sheer size of this book, you'll be too emerged in ...more
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting read which avoids the romantic depictions of other authors. Tremlett offers discussion of the life and works of Isabel which is complex and nuanced. It is a fair account, and though the retelling of her battles and military campaigns wearies a little - it had to be done - the narrative clips along well and not only provides entertaining snippets but very complete summaries of key issues such as the status of the Jews in Spain.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a piece of art that makes you familiar with perhaps the greatest Queen of the world. As a women she was revolutionary at her time because she assumed the role, the power and responsibilities that, at that time were supposed to be "a men thing". Perhaps the book lacks a more personal approach to the character to know Isabel as a women, mother and wife.

Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Excellent! Highly readable. I learned so much about Isabella & Ferdinand, Columbus, the Spanish Inquisition, suppression of the Jews and Moors. It was an ugly, violent world back then if the Royalty turned against you. The horror and wrongness of ethnic cleansing....still going on today. Isabella will have much to answer for in the next life.
Carrie Waibel
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Here's what you need to know about Isabella: She was one of the first European rulers to truly rule jointly with her husband. They had their stormy patches, but they loved and perhaps more importantly for monarchs, deeply respected each other. They're truly responsible for the united Spain we know today.
George Foord
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
this was a great read, the author acknowledged the flaws and failings of the queen but was also able to write in great detail about her life. It was very written very well, easy to read for anyone but had a lot of detail to please even the most ardent historian
Caitlin Rogers
I did not finish this book, but I did make it through about half. I found it to be an interesting and well written account of Isabella's life!
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: euro
More important than Margaret Thatcher.
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Isabelle was fascinating.
Interesting though slightly tedious at a few points.
Thomas Verstaen
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting read after our visit to Granada. She was cruel, driven lady in a world of men. Incredible achievement, but lost a lot of her family in the process.
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Giles Tremlettis the Guardian’s Madrid correspondent. He has lived in, and written about, Spain for the past twenty years.
“Martín de Córdoba, a distinguished Augustinian friar, disagreed strongly. In a book he wrote to guide Isabella in the exercise of authority, The Garden of Noble Ladies, he claimed that it was ignorant or old-fashioned to ‘believe it evil when some kingdom or other polity falls to a woman’s government … I, as I will declare, hold the contrary opinion.” 0 likes
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