The Queen’s Vow is the latest book in my on-going project of trying to read as much as I can about women leaders throughout history. I am slowly realizing, as I move through adulthood, how little I know about the women who have gone before me that have shaped the world. I know more about the men who shaped the world than the women and I’m finding my more and more frustrated by my lack of knowledge of historical women. So, with the help of Goodreads recommendations and some intense Googling, I’ve embarked on a project to change that.

In this book, we meet Isabel of Castille, who I have always known as Isabella of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain who sent Columbus off on his merry way. I knew she was part of the Spanish Inquisition and I knew she was devoutly Catholic. End of knowledge. I assumed she was a passive queen (I have no idea why I assumed that) and went on with my life after learning about her in 10th grade world history.

Good lord, chickens, I was so wrong. What a complex and fascinating lady Isabel was. Born in 1451, Isabel initially understood her role in the family and the kingdom to be one of support. Then her older brother – the only child with a full claim to the throne – died and her half-brother ascended. Isabel’s life then became one of political machinations and intrigue. She was moved from castle to castle to both protect and bully her until she finally took her own future into her hands and married Ferdinand of Aragon against the wishes of that half-brother.

The marriage is one of passion and love and negotiation. Ferdinand clearly loves how passionate and wise Isabel is, but it does take him a while to get used to a queen who demands to her full birthright of ruling. While she welcomes Ferdinand to rule by her side, she refuses to give away any of her own power. The interactions between the two of them were the most fascinating to me and worth the reading of the book alone.

Isabel’s faith is important to her to the core of her being. She is devout and firmly believes her mantel of leadership is from God. She relies heavily on her confessors and advisors to help her discern the will of God for the people of Spain and Gortner makes it clear that all her decisions – good and poor – are for that aim. She is not a selfish person, not portrayed as doing anything for her own legacy or glory. She is worried about Spain, about how God will remove a blessing from it if the people turn from the true faith. She cannot possibly entertain that Judaism or Islam could possibly be valid and thus anyone who believes those things are actually political threats.

It is this impulse – to protect her people from the wrath of an angry God – that led her to begin what would become known as the Spanish Inquisition.  But it’s also the belief that God gave her to the people of Spain that led her to order printing presses and the education of women throughout her kingdom. Her marriage laid the groundwork for the eventual unification of Spain and also for the overturning of the Salic law that made the crown only go to sons. She was a revolutionary in so many ways – but one with quite a conflicted track record.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was well written and engaging and Gortner did his job to make Isabel the star of the story and make it feel like I was reading a fully factual historical text. For anyone who enjoys learning about history, I would absolutely recommend picking up this text. I plan on reading through Gortner’s other works on royal women and I am quite anxious to get started!

For reading any books about Spain, it needs to be wine. For this book, I chose red wine, a good garnacha is my personal favorite. If you can’t get into red wine, then grab some fruit and make sangria!


Further Reading:

  • Queen Isabel: There’s a whole website dedicated to her Catholicism and one of the subtitles is “the greatest woman since the Mother of God” so I’m sure you can tell where the stand on her.
  • Badass of the Week: This cool website featured Isabel a while back and their entry is worth a gander.
  • Christopher Columbus: It’s arguable that Columbus is one of the larger pieces of Isabel’s legacy to the world. He’s certainly a contested one as well. Most American children learn about him as the man who discovered America, but that’s false. This summary from the Independent is a good place to start if you want to know more.


I got a copy of this book from the eBook section of my local library.