August 2, 2013

GUEST POST: Isabella and Fernando by C.W. Gortner

Please welcome C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen's Vow, which I loved and reviewed here.  Today, Gortner has stopped by to talk about the relationship between Isabella of Castile and Fernando of Aragon.  

After the guest post, read up more on The Queen's Vow below.  

Isabella and Fernando: Love and Politics
One of the most interesting parts of Isabella’s life is her marriage to Fernando of Aragón. Isabella chose her husband in an era when almost no princess enjoyed the privilege; a random search of royal women born within 10 years of Isabella reveals that none chose their husband, including Isabella’s own daughters. Royal marriages were arranged for dynastic advantage; these were political alliances between countries. The personal preference of those involved was rarely, if ever, taken into account.

Which is why Isabella’s flouting of convention is so fascinating. It is tempting, and not entirely inaccurate, to see her choice as romantic; as circumstances would show, this was a love match. However, first and foremost in Isabella’s mind must have been the advantages Fernando presented, as opposed to other candidates being foisted on her, as well as her own personal circumstances.

Spain at the time was divided, with the kingdom of Castile and León, to which Isabella was heir, being the foremost power. An independent northern realm, smaller and more vulnerable, Aragón was also war-torn and impoverished. Like Isabella, no one thought Fernando was destined to rule; he, too, was born of a second marriage (and was second-cousin to Isabella) between his mother, a daughter of a noble Castilian clan, and his father the king of Aragón. It is rumored that Fernando’s mother plotted to advance her son by poisoning his elder half-brother, Aragón’s crown-prince. Nothing can be proved, but whatever the case, Fernando became heir and rose precipitously in importance. So precipitously, in fact, that Isabella’s half-brother Enrique, king of Castile, prohibited her from entering into alliance with him. Enrique’s fear was that marriage to Fernando would propel Isabella—who was already proving quite a handful— to such acclaim that she would be his, Enrique’s, undoing.  To counter the threat, he was pushing to wed her to the widowed Portuguese king, which would have forced her to live across the border, in exile. To Isabella, of course, these were the very reasons why she must marry Fernando.

Popular history and extant documentation indicate that, at least officially, Fernando and Isabella did not meet in person until the night before their marriage. In The Queen’s Vow, I took the liberty of backdating their first meeting for dramatic effect; I felt it vital to their development as characters. And, indeed, I found no reason to think they might not have met earlier in their lives, only it was never recorded because at the time, no one thought it mattered. Regardless, the negotiations were carried out in utmost secrecy; when rumor leaked, Isabella had to flee pursuit and Fernando forbidden to set foot in Castile on pain of arrest. It bears reminding that at the time Isabella was just eighteen and Fernando a year younger. They were teenagers, acting against the king’s express orders; they risked their lives to be together. And their determination sparked a civil war.
As we know, the marriage proved to be one of the most successful in history, though it was by no means perfect. What marriage is? Some modern historians have sought to portray Isabella and Fernando as partners of convenience, in which love was secondary to political interest. This may have been true at the start (though doubtful, given their natures); however, within weeks, their mutual love is evident in the extant words they’ve left from this troubled period of their lives, and, perhaps most compelling, in their stalwart defense of their marriage, even when under serious peril. Never were two people more committed to each other; indeed, in all their years together, come hell or high water, Isabella never wavered in her support of Fernando as her equal— even when he hardly deserved it.

We tend to want to pigeonhole Isabella in easy clichés, as we do every historical character; we forget that like all of us, she was a complex personality of her time. While a powerful monarch in her own right, who ruled when women rarely did, Isabella was also deeply conventional in her personal life. Despite having flouted tradition to marry Fernando, she believed in a sacred duty to husband and family. She is one of the few queens to personally raise her children, even bringing them with her on crusade. And though she championed women’s equality when it hardly existed as a concept, she was by no means a feminist. I believe it is important to remember this side of her and indeed to respect it, for in the end these are the very contradictions which make us human.

I sincerely hope you enjoy The Queen’s Vow. Thank you for spending this time with me. To find out more about me and my books, please visit me at:

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Ballantine Books
Paperback; 416p
ISBN-13: 9780345523976 

No one believed I was destined for greatness.

So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

Praise for The Queen’s Vow

“A masterwork by a skilled craftsman . . . Make a vow to read this book.”—New York Journal of Books

“A beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction . . . Gortner’s vivid details blend with his deeply intensive research to re-create Isabella and Castile in a way that the reader will find compelling and immersive, bringing not just the Queen but the whole nation to life.”—RT Book Reviews

“A fascinating story . . . Through his creative and spellbinding storytelling, Gortner’s readers come to know Isabella intimately in mind, heart and body as she lives through a tumultuous time, her intense longing to be the determiner of her own unique destiny.”—Wichita Falls Times Record News

“A novel of triumph as Isabella vanquis
hes her enemies one by one . . . [She is] a very human and appealing character.”—The Roanoke Times

“Politically charged, passionate . . . [a] well-researched, intriguing historical.”—Bookreporter

About the Author

C.W. Gortner is the author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Tudor Secret and The Queen's Vow.  He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has experienced life in a Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall. Half-Spanish by birth, he lives in Northern California.

You can find more information on C.W. Gortner's website and blog.  You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me today. I'm delighted to be here and hope your readers enjoy THE QUEEN'S VOW.

    1. Thanks for the wonderful post and the wonderful book! :D

  2. I've only read his book The Last Queen which I thought was fabulous and am so glad to see the author now brings us Isabella and Fernando's story!

    1. I am also reading his book, The Tudor Conspiracy, which is also amazing!

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