The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile
by Julia Fox
From the book
A Triumph of Faith
The snow-covered mountains of the Sierra Nevada were clearly visible from the high, castellated red walls of the citadel as the slight figure of Boabdil, the last king of Granada, slipped out of its gates for the final time. Mounted on his mule and accompanied by fifty of his most trusted soldiers, he slowly made his way down the steep, icy paths formally to surrender the keys of the city. Its conquerors, Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and his wife Isabella, Queen of Castile, were waiting with their children by the banks of the Genil River in the fertile valley below. The date was January 2, 1492. To Boabdil, the day marked the loss of a kingdom and the beginnings of humiliation and exile. To Ferdinand and Isabella, on the other hand, it marked a triumph of faith; faith in the destiny of their country, in their dynasty and, above all, faith in the Holy Catholic Church and the God who was the core of their existence.
For Boabdil was a Moor. The Moors were Muslims who had first invaded the Spanish peninsula from North Africa back in the eighth century and who had quickly dominated much of it. Christian Spanish kings had fought against them over the centuries, gradually winning city after city and mile after mile of hotly disputed territory. The Moors had slowly been pushed back so that by the time of Isabella's birth in 1451 they were concentrated only in the south of Spain. But they had never been completely defeated until that cold January day when Boabdil was forced to give up their last stronghold: the city of Granada itself.
The formalities of surrender had been agreed in advance. Resolutely refusing to face further humiliation despite his defeat, Boabdil had already declared that he would not kneel to the victorious monarchs. Isabella was equally determined that he should show due respect to herself and her husband, for this was the day of which she had dreamed since her wars against the Moors had begun ten years earlier. Too much Christian blood had been spilled, and she was very conscious of the malnourished and overworked Christian prisoners languishing in chains in the circular well-like subterranean dungeons of the Alcazaba, the main fortress contained within the walls of the Alhambra, Boabdil's palace and administrative complex. The captives would soon be freed, but their plight, and the sacrifices of the Christian armies, could not go unrecognized; Boabdil would be treated fairly, but he could not expect to get away scot-free. Nor would he.
As arranged, Boabdil turned his mule toward Ferdinand and ostentatiously pretended to dismount and remove his hat. Ferdinand, equally ostentatiously, courteously indicated that he should remain in the saddle. Before handing over the keys of the city to Ferdinand, Boabdil rode toward Isabella, who, glitteringly dressed and sitting upon a great white horse, also received him graciously. Knowing his wife as he did, Ferdinand immediately passed the keys on to her. Iñigo López de Mendoza, Count of Tendilla, the new governor of the city, and Hernando de Talavera, the gentle, ascetic cleric who had served as the queen's confessor and whom she had appointed its archbishop, then rode up the hill and away from the rejoicing crowds toward the Alhambra itself. The city, complete with its citadel, was now part of Spain. Moorish control was over, and Ferdinand and Isabella's crusade against the Moors concluded, if only for the moment.
Leaving behind his lands and his palaces, Boabdil settled on the estates allowed him by Ferdinand and Isabella in the Alpujerras, an area lying to the south of Granada. He would stay there for only one year. In...
"Julia Fox's vivid and sympathetic book now shows us [Katherine of Aragon's] life and marriage in another context, setting it against the even more terrifying story of her elder sister, Juana. . . . As Fox recreates Juana and Katherine's lives in colorful detail, she manages to draw out the spirit and resilience of two women fearfully abused in a very cruel, very male world."--The Spectator (UK)
"[Fox] offers an absorbing, rich, and fresh view of the entwined royal relationships that helped define the 15th- and 16th-century European political landscape."
- Booklist "A talented entrant in royal biography, Fox fairly bids for the popularity historian Alison Weir currently wields."
- USA Today "Fox does a splendid job in conveying life at the top of the Tudor pyramid."
- The Austin Chronicle "Fox is an English historian [who] imbues her writing with rich detail and confident knowledge. . . . She's given depth and character to Jane Boleyn."
- Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire "Outstanding . . . a fascinating and moving read."
- Leanda de Lisle, author of The Sisters Who Would Be Queen "Julia Fox's immaculate detective work and vivid storytelling bring to life one woman's struggle to survive at the apex of a society where success could bring untold riches and a king's anger could cost you your life."
- Kirkus Reviews "Engrossing . . . a sparkling chronicle, fine-tuned to the personal stories that lend texture and emotion to a biography."
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