by Lawrence Schoonover
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Lawrence Schoonover, who published Queen's Cross in 1955, deserves much credit for his admiring portrait of Queen Isabella of Castile, since this shrewd and deftly autocratic warrior queen did not exactly match the 1950s concept of the ideal American woman.
As a seventeen-year-old princess, having refused to join a rebellion against her much-older half-brother, King Henry IV of Castile, Isabella helped negotiate a treaty in which Henry named her his heir, passing over his daughter. Successfully evading Henry's efforts to select her husband, Isabella chose instead to wed the young and dynamic Ferdinand, then King of Sicily and heir to the throne of Aragón. Upon Henry's death, she enforced her right to the throne of Castile by going to war against his daughter. She and Ferdinand, now King of Aragón, ruled jointly as equals over the two Spanish kingdoms their marriage united. In 1492, the pair conquered the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, Isabella financed Christopher Columbus's voyage of discovery, and she reluctantly allowed the Inquisition into Spain, appointing her confessor, Tomás de Torquemada, as its first Inquisitor General.
Even without fictionalizing, Isabella's life story reads like a novel, and Schoonover presents it, for the most part, with brisk straightforwardness. Some aspects of Queen's Cross are dated, with the characters tending toward the stereotypes of a bygone age. Henry IV is a swishy homosexual who enjoys abusing teenaged boys and pouts, "I am of all the world's kings the most ill used, absolutely ill used!" His queen is a scheming, adulterous vamp. Ferdinand affectionately patronizes Isabella as "my little statesman," while she takes meticulous care to avoid bruising his fragile ego. Readers who prefer to avoid explicit sex and violence will appreciate that the violence (however horrific) happens off-stage and the novelist follows no one into bed. (1955, 389 pages in the 2008 Fountain City edition)
More about Queen's Cross at Powell's Books
Other novels about Queen Isabella:
Crown of Aloes by Norah Lofts (1973). More info
Castile for Isabella by Jean Plaidy, (1960), #1 in the Isabella and Ferdinand trilogy. More info
Spain for the Sovereigns by Jean Plaidy (1960), #2 in the Isabella and Ferdinand trilogy. More info
Daughters of Spain by Jean Plaidy (1961), #3 in the Isabella and Ferdinand trilogy. More info
Nonfiction about Queen Isabella:
Isabel Of Spain: The Catholic Queen by Warren H. Carroll. (2004).
Isabel the Queen by Peggy Liss (1992) More info
Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin Stuart (1991). More info
At the Movies:
1492: Conquest of Paradise, Ridley Scott's 1992 movie about Columbus includes a performance by Sigourney Weaver as Queen Isabella. More info
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