THE CATHOLIC KINGS

This is a trilogy written by Jean Plaidy which is the pseudonym that Eleanor Alice Burford used when writing historical fiction. She wrote many other types of books as well, including Gothic Romance, using different pseudonyms, but these are the first and only books I’ve read from this prolific 20th century author who penned more than 200 books during her lifetime, which is an impressive feat by all accounts. I was drawn to this trilogy because of my Spanish heritage on my father’s behalf—my ancestors were originally from Valencia, Spain. My great-grandfather was the first immigrant that came to Panama, Latin America, where the Catholic religion is the most culturally predominant. Panama is also the country where my family and I currently live.

The trilogy about the Catholic Kings is about Isabel’s ascension to the throne in the 1400’s. Queen Isabel of Spain is renowned for several things, the most important which are the sponsoring of Cristopher Columbus’s voyage to the new world, the conquest of the moors, and also, regrettably, the Spanish Inquisition. This is also a book about Ferdinand, Isabel’s husband and King of Aragon. Under their rule, they were able to unite all of Spain under one banner. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of immense suffering for both the moors and the Jews, and also anybody else who wasn’t Catholic or embraced the Christian religion.

Nevertheless, I was drawn to Plaidy’s portrayal of the historical figure of Isabel. She was depicted as extremely moral and steadfast, with a calm disposition, and as a person of integrity. Her fault was that she placed too much trust on her religious leaders, which were the cruel Archbishops of Spain. It was their idea in the first place to start the Inquisition, and because Isabel plainly believed in the authority of the bishops, she supported this horrible initiative since the start. She had a good marriage to Ferdinand, at first an idealized union before Ferdinand’s faults and infidelity came to light. But even then, Isabel and Ferdinand were a good team and clearly loved and respected one another, even if Ferdinand resented Isabel’s status as Queen of all Spain, which was a higher title than his own as King consort.

Despite their relatively happy marriage, Isabel’s family life turned out to be tragic. Her son, the heir to the throne of Spain, died during his honeymoon. Her eldest daughter who married the King of Portugal died during childbirth. One of her grandchildren was born stillborn, and the other died during infancy. One of her daughters went mad, just like Isabel’s own mother had also been mad. It was almost as if her family was cursed, perhaps because of all the suffering that all the non-Catholic people had to endure. Isabel’s family was cursed by the people that they had killed and tortured. Or at least this is one of the themes that the last book of this trilogy explores. In any case, it’s hard not to think of it as some sort of karmic retribution, at least in some degree.

Out of all the books, my favorite in this trilogy is the first one, called “Castille for Isabel”. In this first book, Isabel is a teenager just coming into her own, but because of her quick wits and calm demeanor, she is more than able to navigate the court intrigue surrounding her. Through her own personal moral fiber, she rises above the schemes and manipulations and manages to assert her marriage to the King of Aragon and also crown herself as the legitimate Queen of Castille and consequently, of all Spain.

Throughout all of the books, I liked Plaidy’s style of writing, which is sort of detached but also very encompassing of all the historical facts and events and characters. I am eager to read more of her and see what else she has written both in the historical fiction genre and also in her gothic romances, which I am intrigued by. I will let you know what I think once I do!

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