Review: “Isabel: Jewel of Castilla” by Carolyn Meyer

For the love of books

Carolyn Meyer contributed an enticing account of the life of Isabel I to The Royal Diaries.  The author’s narrative, Isabel: Jewel of Castilla, depicts Spain in the fifteenth century through Isabel’s eyes.

Beginning her journal when she is still a young princess, Isabel is disgusted by the sinful and hypocritical nobility of the Spanish court; she inwardly rebels against the enclosing walls of her “prison,” which is the castle her half-brother, the king, forces her to live in.  Although Isabel has her own family problems, she soon becomes a political pawn in the hands of kings and powerful nobles.  Isabel refuses to marry without love, even for financial security and power.  But since she is technically penniless and powerless herself, Isabel must decide whom to trust with constantly changing enemies.

Isabel decries her own vices as well as those of her relatives.  She calls the journal she is writing a penance for her sins, as directed by her confessor, the infamous Torquemada.  In fact, it is a recording of her interesting political and religious observations.  Religious prejudice and the roots of the Spanish Inquisition are prevalent concerns of those times, and Isabel is no exception to prejudice in the storyline.  However, her inner contention with her doubts is suppressed by her desire to learn, especially since princesses were not given higher education.  Royalty seems to be a farce played by weak actors, and Isabel understands this.

Nevertheless, she has higher ambitions for her future, and she survives her lack of freedom despite her complaints.  Isabel is strong-willed and she takes Catholicism very seriously regardless of her own fears and Catholicism’s sexism.  Scandals, civil war, and romance shake the foundations of Spain, but Isabel is an intelligent princess who maintains her dignity nonetheless, which in turn establishes her worth as a future queen.  Isabel: Jewel of Castilla has realistic characters and a believable storyline while portraying a famous monarch from a different, inside perspective.

Original review: Isabel I reveals her very soul in her journal, Examiner.com

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