The Queen's Vow

by C.W. Gortner

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner The Queen's Vow tells the astonishing story of Isabella of Castile. Three years old when her father died, Isabella grew up in conditions of near poverty while her half-brother Enrique ruled in lavish splendor as king of Castile. At eighteen, Isabella secretly negotiated her own marriage to Fernando of Aragon after avoiding several proposed marriages calculated to eliminate her power. Coming to the throne in 1474, the 23-year-old queen embarked on major reforms. Ultimately, these included instituting a police force, establishing legal standards for coinage, and decreeing that Castilian women be allowed to study and teach at the university level. Yet it was under Isabella, too tender-hearted to watch a bullfight, that religious officials launched the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. Well served by high-level court officials who were Jews and conversos, Isabella and Fernando nevertheless drove the Jews from Spain after razing much of the south in their war against the Moors.

Relatively few novelists have tackled the story of this complex woman, who seems to defy attempts to grasp her character and portray it with consistent sympathy. An especially strong and nuanced portrayal of Enrique, who wears turbans and Moorish tunics "like an infidel," makes him a compelling, even sympathetic character without flinching from the dissolute, irresponsible tone he establishes in his court. This helps modern readers understand the emotional force behind Isabella's piety, which made her dangerously susceptible to advice from clerics. Some scenes are more romaticized, such as a meeting between thirteen-year-old Isabella and twelve-year-old Fernando, both mature beyond their years. His eyes "were gorgeous, a deep brown with a hint of molten honey in their depths, the slight tilt at their corners enhancing their luster. One day, he'd melt hearts with a mere glance."

Well worth reading for anyone interested in Isabella, The Queen's Vow offers a thoroughly researched and readable overview of an extraordinary life. (2012; 382 pages, including an Author's Afterword separating fact from fiction)

More about The Queen's Vow at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Interview with author C.W. Gortner

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

Queen's Cross by Lawrence Schoonover (1955). See review or more info from

Nonfiction about Queen Isabella:

Isabel of Spain: The Catholic Queen by Warren H. Carroll. (2004).
More info

Isabel the Queen by Peggy Liss (1992) More info

Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin Stuart (1991). More info


Queen Isabella at NNDB

Back to Novels of the Renaissance

Back to Directory of Book Reviews