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Isabel the Queen: Life and Times (The Middle Ages Series) Paperback – 1 Dec 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 492 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; 2nd edition edition (1 Dec. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812218973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812218978
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,138,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


"An engrossing study."--"Sunday Telegraph"

"Magnificently researched. . . . A valuable reference book for the period and region."--"Library Journal"

"An admirable portrait of an astute ruler whose passionate sense of mission did a great deal to shape the western world as we know it."--"Sixteenth Century Journal"

"Provides a wealth of detail documenting Isabel's love for Fernando, her devotion to her children, her ruthless ambition, and her canny statecraft."--"Publishers Weekly"

"An engrossing study."--"Sunday Telegraph"

"Provides a wealth of detail documenting Isabel's love for Fernando, her devotion to her children, her ruthless ambition, and her canny statecraft."--"Publishers Weekly"

"Magnificently researched. . . . A valuable reference book for the period and region."--"Library Journal"

"An admirable portrait of an astute ruler whose passionate sense of mission did a great deal to shape the western world as we know it."--"Sixteenth Century Journal"

"An engrossing study." "Sunday Telegraph""

"Provides a wealth of detail documenting Isabel's love for Fernando, her devotion to her children, her ruthless ambition, and her canny statecraft." "Publishers Weekly""

"An admirable portrait of an astute ruler whose passionate sense of mission did a great deal to shape the western world as we know it." "Sixteenth Century Journal""

"Magnificently researched. . . . A valuable reference book for the period and region." "Library Journal""

About the Author

Peggy K. Liss is the author of Atlantic Empires: The Network of Trade and Revolution, 1713-1823 and Mexico Under Spain 1521-1556: Society and the Origins of Nationality.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good informative book on an increasingly popular subject - outside Spain of course.
Would recommend as casual read or for research
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa1131c48) out of 5 stars 6 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa11ebfe4) out of 5 stars Peggy Liss and Ysabel Trastámara 21 April 2008
By Spanglophile - Published on
Format: Paperback
The biography is thorough, comprehensive, and current in its interpretation. Liss demonstrates the Spanish queen's mastery of power politics, political theatre, her economic savvy, and her passionate vision. Delightful throughout its long text, the book incorporates the ideological and cultural motivations behind the woman's ambition to revive ancient Castilian traditions and expand the Spanish kingdoms into a new Christian empire. Some scholars are critical of this motivational emphasis, calling it romanticism on Liss's part. It is more a clever capture of the spirit of the times. Sadly, there is no formal bibliography, though prolific footnotes steer serious students to sources in English and Spanish. There are too many editing errors, and some citations are simply incorrect, but overall,the book is a fine overview of one of history's greatest women.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1044eac) out of 5 stars Spanish History as told through the life of its most famous Queen 5 Dec. 2010
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on
Format: Paperback
Dense almost to the point of being annoying, this book, with its necessarily selective facts, nevertheless is a compelling portrait of Spanish history. To its credit, it shows Spain to be as complex, textured, troubling and as interesting as the land is beautiful. The genesis and the evolution of this complex culture is told completely as backdrop to the life of its most famous royal.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the story was the historical prologue: of how Spain actually came into being. Up to the Middle Ages, Spain was just one of several countries emerging from the European darkness on the periphery of the dying Roman Empire. Spain was formed more as an afterthought than as a conscious plan to become a nation. It was an inchoate part of the scramble emerging from the debris left in the wake of the Roman decline. First the Visigoths and later the Western Goths, and then a succession of Christians, Muslims and Jews jockeyed over a wide stretch of history for their share of the spoils that would eventually coalesce into an unsteady national modus vivendi, called Spain For the next dozen generations -- roughly until the Moors were eventually ejected, in 1492 -- Spain would move back and forth between Muslim and Christian rule. In fact, it was this state of turbulence that served as the political and religious backdrop to Isabel's entry onto the national, as well as the international stage.

The main body of her story is by now well-known: that she successfully ejected the Moors; sponsored Columbus' maritime adventures; and also ejected the Jews. This book, is mostly itself a prologue up to the most famous of years of Spanish history of 1492. It explains why she did all the things she did during that period, and much more. For instance, it also gives a lot more detail about her private life, about her tormented upbringing and the palace intrigues that led to her ascension to the throne. It explains how, growing out of a neglected and a desolately lonely childhood, Isabel was steeled for the royal trials ahead; the most important of which was taking over the reigns of power from her weaker half brother Enrique IV.

However, of all the many interesting parts of the book, nothing startled me more than how similar and how utterly eerie was the Spanish treatment of the Jews in the mid-15th Century to that by Adolph Hitler (in the lead up to the European holocaust), a half millennium later.

In 1411 for instance, due mostly to the preaching of the Catholic demagogue priest, Ferrer, Jews were seen as the devil and the Antichrist: "clever, warped and doomed." As this Catholic priest put it: "They tempted people to sin and stole Christian children to sacrifice for blood rituals." After disseminating a healthy dose of this kind of religious poison (which we now know lasted for half a millennium), ordinances were issued for Jews to wear red identifying patches; not to take Christian names; not administer to gentiles; nor engage in the exchange of money -- all of which were later adopted in toto by Hitler in preparation for his "Final Solution." Inexorably, during Isabel's reign this flourishing anti-Semitism came to a head with Jews being forced to convert, leave or be killed.

How such ignorance and hatred packaged as Christian orthodoxy and ideology could have used to consolidate a Spanish national spirit in the 15th Century is one thing, but how it could have survived intact for so long is quite another; and in fact is quite scary. And Spanish history aside,that this kind of poison can grip an international community for half millennium, cannot leave one sanguine about the state of modern humanity -- and especial;ly about anti-Semitism's first cousin, skin color-based racism. Four Stars
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa10197e0) out of 5 stars Good but wanted more 18 Jun. 2016
By always learning - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I agree with other reviewer that it was a good biography of Isabella. However, I would suggest as a contrast to read Isabella: Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey. I think both books together provide a balanced portrait. Liss makes some good psychological observations based on Isabella's faith. But still Downey provides a clearer context to the life and times of Isabella. I recommend investing in both biographies.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa10520a8) out of 5 stars Queen of the World? 23 Jan. 2014
By Sylvia McIvers - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mention Queen Isabel of Spain and where do people’s minds jump? Christopher Columbus, Inquisition, Reconquista.

Where did this strong-minded queen, who grew up in an extreme patriarchy, gain her determination to act as she did?

Events which took place during her early life may well have taught young Princess Isabel that a monarch must be strong. When her father the king died, her half-brother Enrique took the crown. Princess Isabel lived with her mother (also Isabel) in a small, out-of-the-way castle. She was very much aware that she and her mother had been shunted aside by the new king. On the other hand, the former queen and the Princess were hardly moldering in obscurity. The castle lay at the crossroad of several trade routes, and an enormous yearly faire attracted merchants from all over.

King Enrique was a weak king, easily swayed by his favorite courtiers. In fact, he seemed content to let them rule while he hunted and enjoyed his menagerie of exotic animals. When he conducted war, the king seemed to make a mockery of it all, reminding his fiery knights of the value of each human life, and ordering them not to cut down fruit trees. King Enrique didn’t show the moral courage a Catholic Majesty should, by passing laws against Jews and Muslims in his territory. Instead, he allowed them to live in the royal city, and even gave them prestigious posts.

(In Granada, the Muslim rulers often had Jewish advisors.)

Most embarrassing of all, he seemed incapable of siring an heir on his wife… and rumors abounded that he allowed his favorites to engender a daughter on his wife. King Enrique had to produce medical proof that he was capable of siring children, but his daughter was called by someone else’s name.

Isabella learned from her half-brother that a king – a monarch – must listen to advisors but hold royal opinion above all; must conduct war with vim and vigor and viciousness,; must hold moral war against infidels within the kingdom: a powerful trifecta which led her to a reign filled with powerful acts.

Contrasting with King Enrique of Castile was Prince Henrique the Navigator of Portugal. His bold and daring voyages no doubt influenced the future Queen’s opinion of one Genoese sailor, Cristoforo Colombo.

King Enrique changed his mind several times about who his half-sister would marry, and whether she or his (his?) daughter would inherit Castile. Perhaps that, too, influenced the princess. A monarch must never change her mind. Ever. Even if she’s wrong. Not that Divine Will would allow a moral monarch to be wrong – therefore a monarch must remain forever moral, and keep divine favor.

Behind every great man is a great woman – and behind this great Queen was another great Queen. Princess Isabel’s mother Isabel was a strong character, daughter of a strong character. She taught young Isabella of strong queens from Castile and Portugal, and of Joan of Arc who heard divine voices and fought and led armies. Also, she and the local priests taught the princess that a woman must be modest and chaste, and not bold in her speech.

The princess must have snickered behind her pious agreement.

On the other hand, Isabel the Queen balanced the two. She was queen-regnant of Castile, a ruler in her own right – but she was a dutiful wife to her husband Ferdinand of Aragon. She was a good mother to her young daughter Isabel, but she rode her horse all around Spain while in her ninth month, and her son was still-born.
As to Inquisition – they never killed Jews, only heretic Christians. Once Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand had conquered the land that once belonged to their Visigoth ancestors (which, centuries ago, the Muslims had dared to conquer – no, treacherously steal! How dare someone take someone else’s land by conquest!) they turned their cleansing sword on the unbelievers within their own borders: Convert, leave, or die. Many converted, and no one believed that it was legitimate religious zeal. The new conversos were watched for Judaizing tendencies.

With the estates of heretic split between the Crown and the Church, no wonder Queen Isabel insisted that accusations be kept anonymous, lest accusers be afraid to come forth.

What effect did the Inquisition have on children? The chapter on Inquisition tells us that several years after the inquisition started, but before the expulsion, the prince and his friends were playing Inquisition. They drew lots as to who would be the judge and who, the accused. The junior judges “read the sentences, stripped the condemned, and were tying them to the stake when an older page…. Ran to the Queen’s apartments. Isabella… hiked her skirts and hurried out , to find the boys at the point of garroting their victims.” Isabella smacked the prince, then had the children untied and wrapped in cloaks. It seems that children really do play in imitation of their elders.

Isabel. Powerful Queen, sponsor of burning people alive, sponsor of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Her life makes an interesting story. I’m glad I didn’t live through it.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1050a80) out of 5 stars Superb history for serious students of Spain 23 Mar. 2016
By John A. La Boone III - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A superb treatment of the life, reign and monumental times of Isabel I. Meticulously researched. Really wonderful scholarship by Prof. Peggy Liss. It offers a great deal of insight into how Spain came together as a country and how all that has led to the country's present-day dynamics. I have visited several regions of Spain on three occasions, and I now have a better understanding of the rich history and culture of both old and modern España. I will definitely keep this book for future reference. It is a delight for the serious student of Spanish story.
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