In this stunning novel, C. W. Gortner brings to life Juana of Castile, the third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, who would become the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne. Along the way, Gortner takes the reader from the somber majesty of Spain to the glittering and lethal courts of Flanders, France, and Tudor England.
Born amid her parents’ ruthless struggle to unify and strengthen their kingdom, Juana, at the age of sixteen, is sent to wed Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her dashing young husband, and at first she is content with her children and her married life. But when tragedy strikes and she becomes heir to the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it costs her everything.
Praise for The Last Queen
“This moving tale of Juana la Loca (the Mad) vividly re-creates the passion, politics, and betrayals that drove a smart and spirited queen to the brink of insanity . . . or perhaps, as C. W. Gortner suggests, to the pretense of insanity–a pretense that baffled Juana’ s enemies and led to triumph for her children and her country. The Last Queen is an absorbing account of one of history’s most fascinating women, from her never-before-told point of view.”—Donna Woolfolk Cross, author of Pope Joan
“I ached for this intelligent, one-of-a-kind queen. Her struggle and passion kept me up until the early hours of the morning. A page-turner, a nail-biter, an eye-opener: I loved being possessed by The Last Queen!”—Ki Longfellow, author of The Secret Magdalene
“A vibrant tapestry of love and hate . . . brings to life an extraordinary queen at an unforgettable time in history.”—Sandra Worth, author of Lady of the Roses
“An exquisite evocation of a dangerous era and of a forgotten queen.”—Holly Payne, author of The Virgin’ s Knot
“Gripping and unforgettable . . . captures Juana of Castile’s electrifying drama.”—Judith Merkle Riley, author of The Water Devil
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.
Read an Excerpt
I was thirteen years old when my parents conquered Granada. It was 1492, the year of miracles, when three hundred years of Moorish supremacy fell to the might of our armies, and the fractured kingdoms of Spain were united at last.
I had been on crusade since my birth. Indeed, I’d often been told of how the pangs had overcome my mother as she prepared to join my father on siege, forcing her to take to her childbed in Toledo–an unseemly interruption she did not relish, for within hours she had entrusted me to a nursemaid and resumed her battles. Together with my brother, Juan, and my three sisters, I had always known the chaos of a peripatetic court, which shifted according to the demands of the Reconquest, the crusade against the Moors. I slept and awoke to the deafening clamor of thousands of souls in armor; to beasts of burden dragging catapults, siege towers, and primitive cannon; to endless carts piled with clothing, furnishings, supplies, and utensils. Rarely had I enjoyed the feel of marble underfoot or eaves overhead. Life consisted of a series of pavilions staked on stony ground, of anxious tutors gabbling lessons and cringing as ﬂaming arrows whooshed overhead and crashing boulders decimated a stronghold in the distance.
The conquest of Granada changed everything–for me and for Spain. That coveted mountain citadel was the most opulent jewel in the Moors’ vanishing world; and my parents, Isabel and Fernando, their Catholic Majesties of Castile and Aragón, vowed to reduce it to rubble rather than suffer the heretics’ continuing deﬁance.
I can still see it as if I were standing at the pavilion entrance: the lines of soldiers ﬂanking the road, winter sunlight sparking off their battered breastplates and lances. They stood as if they had never known hardship, gaunt faces lifted, forgetting in that moment the countless privations and countless dead of these ten long years of battle.
A thrill ran through me. From the safety of the hilltop where our tents were, I had watched Granada fall. I followed the trajectory of the tar-soaked, ﬂaming stones hurled into the city walls and beheld the digging of trenches ﬁlled with poisonous water so no one could breach them. Sometimes, when the wind blew just right, I even heard the moans of the wounded and the dying. At night while the city smoldered, an eerie interplay of shadow and light shivered across the pavilion’s cloth walls; and we awoke every morning to ﬁnd cinder dust on our faces, our pillows, our plates–everything we ate or touched.
I could scarcely believe it was over. Turning back inside, I saw with a scowl that my sisters still struggled with their raiment. I had been the ﬁrst to wake and don the new scarlet brocades my mother had ordered for us. I stood tapping my feet, as our duenna, Doña Ana, shook out the opaque silk veils we always had to wear in public.
“A curse on this dust,” she said. “It has seeped even into the linen. Oh, but I cannot wait for the hour when this war is at an end.”
I laughed. “That hour has come! Today, Boabdil surrenders the keys to the city. Mamá already awaits us in the ﬁeld and–” I paused. “By the saints, Isabella, surely you don’t plan to wear mourning today of all days?”
From under her black coif, my elder sister’s blue eyes ﬂared. “What do you, a mere child, know of my grief? To lose a husband is the worst tragedy a woman can endure. I will never stop mourning my beloved Alfonso.”
Isabella had a ﬂare for the dramatic, and I refused to let her get away with it. “You were married less than six months to your beloved prince before he fell off his horse and broke his neck. You only say that because Mamá has mentioned betrothing you to his cousin–if you ever stop acting the bereaved widow, that is.”
Prim Maria, a year younger than I and possessed of a humorless maturity, interposed herself. “Juana, please. You must show Isabella respect.”
I gave a toss of my head. “Let her ﬁrst show respect for Spain. What will Boabdil think when he sees an infanta of Castile dressed like a crow?”
Doña Ana snapped, “Boabdil is a heretic. His opinion is of no account.” She thrust a veil into my hands. “Cease your chatter and go help Catalina.”
Sour as curdled cheese our duenna was, though I suppose I should have spared a thought for the trials the crusade had wrought on her aged bones. I went to my youngest sister, Catalina. Like Isabella, our brother, Juan, and, to some extent, Maria, Catalina resembled our mother: plump and short, with beautiful pale skin and fair hair, and eyes the color of the sea.
“You look lovely,” I told her, tucking the scalloped veil about her face. Little Catalina whispered in return, “So do you. Eres la más bonita.”
I smiled. Catalina was eight. She had yet to master the art of the compliment. She couldn’t have known her words eased my awareness that I was unique among my siblings. I had inherited my looks from my father’s side of the family, down to the slight cast in one of my amber eyes and unfashionable olive complexion. I was also the tallest of my sisters, and the only one with a mass of curling coppery hair.
“No, you’re the prettiest,” I said, and I kissed Catalina’s cheek, taking her hand in mine as the distant blast of trumpets sounded.
Doña Ana motioned. “Quick! Her Majesty waits.”
Together, we went to a wide charred ﬁeld, where a canopied dais had been erected.
My mother stood clad in her high-necked mauve robe, a diadem encircling her caul. As always in her presence, I found myself bending my knees slightly to conceal my budding height.
“Ah.” She waved a ringed hand. “Come. Isabella and Juana, you stand to my right, Maria and Catalina to my left. You are late. I was beginning to worry.”
“Forgive us, Your Majesty,” said Doña Ana, with a deep reverence. “There was dust in the coffers. I had to air their Highnesses’ gowns and veils.”
My mother surveyed us. “They look splendid.” A frown creased her brow. “Isabella, hija mia, black again?” She shifted her regard to me. “Juana, stand up straight.”
As I did her bidding, another trumpet blast reached us, much closer now. My mother ascended the dais to her throne. The cavalcade of grandes, the high lords and nobles of Spain, materialized on the road in a ﬂuttering of standards. I wanted to shout in excitement. My father rode at their head, his black doublet and signature red cape accentuating his broad shoulders. His Andalucian destrier pranced beneath him, caparisoned in Aragón’s scarlet and gold colors. Behind him rode my brother, Juan, his white-gold hair tousled about his ﬂushed, thin face.
Their appearance elicited spontaneous cheers from the soldiers. “Viva el infante,” cried the men, beating swords against shields. “Viva el rey!”
The solemn churchmen followed. Not until they reached the ﬁeld did I catch sight of the prisoner in their midst. The men drew back. My father motioned, and the man on the donkey was made to dismount and forced forward, to raucous laughter. He stumbled.
My breath caught in my throat. His feet were bare, bloodied, but I marked his inherent regality as he unwound his soiled turban and cast it aside, revealing dark hair that tumbled to his shoulders. He was not what I expected, not the heretic caliph who’d haunted our dreams, whose hordes had poured boiling pitch and shot ﬁery arrows from Granada’s ramparts against our army. He was tall and lean, with bronze skin. He might have been a Castilian lord as he crossed the ﬁeld to where my mother waited, his steps measured, as if he crossed an audience hall clad in ﬁnery. When he fell to his knees before her throne, I caught a glimpse of his weary emerald eyes.
Boabdil lowered his head. From his neck, he removed an iron key on a gold chain and set it at my mother’s feet, a symbolic symbol of defeat.
Jeering applause and insults came from the ranks. With an impassive countenance that conveyed both his inviolate disdain and inﬁnite despair, Boabdil allowed the applause to fade before he lifted his practiced plea for tolerance. When he ﬁnished, he waited, as did everyone present, all eyes ﬁxed on the queen.
My mother stood. Despite her short stature, slackened skin, and permanently shadowed eyes, her voice carried across the ﬁeld, imbued with the authority of the ruler of Castile.
“I have heard this plea and accept the Moor’s submission with humble grace. I’ve no desire to inﬂict further suffering on him or his people. They’ve fought bravely, and in reward I offer all those who convert to the True Faith baptism and acceptance into our Holy Church. Those who do not will be granted safe passage to Africa–providing they never return to Spain again.”
My heart missed a beat when I saw Boabdil ﬂinch. In that instant, I understood. This was worse than a death sentence. He’d surrendered Granada, thus bringing an end to centuries of Moorish dominion in Spain. He had failed to defend his citadel and now craved an honorable death. Instead, he was to be vanquished, to bear humiliation and exile till the end of his days.
I looked at my mother, marked the satisfaction in the hard set of her lips. She knew. She had planned this. By granting mercy when he least expected it, she had destroyed the Moor’s soul.
His face ashen, Boabdil came to his feet. Burned earth clung to his knees.
The lords closed in around him, leading him away. I averted my eyes. I knew that if he’d been victorious he would not have hesitated to order the deaths of my father and my brother, of every noble and soldier on this ﬁeld. He’d have enslaved my sisters and me, defamed and executed my mother. He and his kind had deﬁled Spain for too long. At last, our country was united under one throne, one church, one God. I should rejoice in his subjugation.
Yet what I most wanted to do was console him.
We entered granada in resplendent procession, the battered cruciﬁx sent by His Holiness to consecrate heretic mosques carried aloft before us, followed by the nobility and clergy.
Discordant wailing sundered the air. The Jewish warehouses were being impounded. Gorged with fragrant spices, yards of silk and velvet, and crates of medicinal herbs, the market represented Granada’s true wealth, and my mother had ordered the wares secured against looting. Later, she would have them inventoried, tallied, and sold to replenish Castile’s treasury.
Riding with my sisters and our ladies, I gazed in disbelief upon the ravaged city. Shattered buildings stood empty, seared by ﬂame. Our catapults had leveled entire walls, and the stench of rotting ﬂesh wafted from the mounds of broken stone. I saw an emaciated child standing motionless beside some dead rotting animal bound to a spit; as we passed, gaunt women knelt in the ruins. I met their impenetrable stares. I saw no hatred or fear, no remorse, as if the very life had been drained from them.
Then we started to ascend the road to the Alhambra–that legendary palace built by the Moors in their ﬂush of glory. I couldn’t resist rising in my saddle to peer through the gusts of dust kicked up by the horses, hoping to be the ﬁrst to see its fabled walls.
Someone cried out.
Around me the women pulled their mounts to a halt. I looked about in bewilderment before returning my gaze to the road ahead.
A high tower thrust into the sky like a mirage. On its parapet I could see a tiny group of ﬁgures, the wind snatching at their veils and ﬂimsy wraps, light sparkling on the metallic threads woven through their gowns.
Behind me Doña Ana hissed, “Quick, cover the child’s face. She must not see this.”
I swiveled in my saddle to look at Catalina. My sister’s eyes met mine in fearful confusion before one of the ladies pulled the veil over her face. I clenched at my reins, turning back around. A cry of warning hurtled up my throat as I saw, in paralyzing horror, the ﬁgures seeming to step out over the parapet, like birds about to take ﬂight.
Around me, the ladies gasped in unison. The ﬁgures ﬂoated for an impossible moment in the air, weightless, shedding veils. Then they plummeted downward like stones.
I closed my eyes. I willed myself to breathe.
“See?” chortled Doña Ana. “Boabdil’s harem. They refused to leave the palace. Now we know why. Those heathen whores will burn in hell for all eternity.”
The words echoed in my head, a terrible punishment I could not imagine. Why had they done it? How could they have done it? I kept seeing those fragile forms in the pinpricked darkness behind my eyelids, and as we rode under the Alhambra’s gateway, I did not point and laugh with the other women at the broken bodies strewn on the rocks below.
My parents, Juan, and Isabella swept ahead with the nobility. Maria, Catalina, and I remained behind with our women. Taking Catalina by the hand and hushing her anxious questions, for she knew something terrible had happened, I gazed at the citadel. With the afternoon light turning to vermilion on its tiled facade, it appeared blood-soaked, a place of death and destruction. And still I was overwhelmed by its exotic splendor.
The Alhambra was unlike any palace I’d ever seen. In Castile, royal residences doubled as fortresses, encircled by moats and enclosed by thick walls. The Moorish palace had the mountain gorge for protection, and so it sprawled like a lion on its plateau, sheltered by cypress and pine.
Doña Ana motioned to Maria; together with our ladies-in-waiting, we marched into the audience hall. With Catalina’s hand still clutching mine, I took in everything at once, my heart beating fast as I began to see just how magniﬁcent the Moor’s world was.
An immense space of saffron and pearl opened before me. There were no scarred doors, no suffocating staircases or cramped passageways. Instead, carved archways welcomed me into rooms where honeycomb walls curved, and secret mosaic terraces could be glimpsed. Glazed porcelain vases held vigil under smoke-darkened hangings of every imaginable hue; quilted pillows and divans were strewn about as if their occupants had just retired. I looked down at my feet to a scarf coiled on the tiled ﬂoor. I feared to touch it, thinking it might have been dropped by one of the concubines on her doomed race to the tower.
I had dwelled in ignorance. No one had told me the heretic could create something so beautiful. I gazed up to an inverted cupola. About its perimeter, the painted faces of dead caliphs stared at me with laconic reproach. I swayed where I stood, overcome. I now understood why the concubines had chosen death. Like Boabdil, they could not bear to live without this Eden that had been their home.
The scent of musk crept past me. I heard water everywhere, a constant murmur as it ﬂowed through rivulets carved in the marble ﬂoors, emptying into alabaster pools, set to dance in the patio fountains.
I paused. A sigh shifted through the pilasters, stirring the hair of my nape. Catalina whispered, “Hermana, what is it? What do you hear?”
I shook my head. I could not explain.
Who would have believed me if I said I could hear the Moor’s lament?
What People are Saying About This
"An exquisite evocation of a dangerous era, and of a forgotten queen."
author of THE VIRGIN'S KNOT
Reading Group Guide
1. This novel is told from the point of view of a woman. Do you think the male author does a convincing job of immersing the reader in Juana’s thoughts and emotions?
2. The Last Queen is set mainly in sixteenth-century Spain. What did you learn about life in Spain during this time? How does the Spanish court differ from other courts you may have read about?
3. When Juana is told she must marry Philip, she begs to be released of her duty. How did you react to her mother, Queen Isabel, deciding to marry her off against her will? What do you think about Isabel’s notions of duty?
4. Princesses did not often get to choose whom they would marry, nor were they allowed to leave or divorce their spouses. How does this affect Juana in her struggles?
5. When Juana discovers her mother is dying, she realizes she cannot evade her destiny. Why do you think she decides to return to Flanders to fight for Castile? What are your impressions of her conflicts with her inheritance?
6. The differences in societal power between men and women in the sixteenth century are a principal theme in this novel. How do they compare to gender relations today?
7. Juana makes a terrible choice to free herself from Philip. Do you think her act was justified? How do you imagine you might have acted in her place?
8. History has dubbed Juana the Mad Queen. Do you believe she was mad? What are your impressions of her as a person and as a monarch?
9. Fernando of Aragon is an enigmatic personage in this novel. How do you feel about him and his actions?
10. Which of the characters in this novel were your favorites? Which did you dislike the most? Do you think the characters were portrayed as true to their time?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From the opening line: 'Midnight has become my favorite hour,' you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller, one who has turned the tables on popular history to present an erudite and compassionate view of one of history's most misunderstood figures. Known as the Mad Queen, in her own words Juana of Castile tells the story of her life, and what a life it is - filled with passion, intrigue, and terrifying betrayal. To my relief, I found Juana to be neither self-pitying nor morbid. In her candor and wit, Juana demonstrates a singular humanity that highlights the ruthlessness of her 16th century world. She is a brave and decisive woman, far removed from the 'victim' that she has so often been portrayed. Readers who known about her from films like 'Mad Love' will be intrigued by Gortner's deft handling of her mental state, and surprised by her own secret admissions. This is a refreshingly vivid and well crafted example of historical fiction that does not compromise, from a writer who obviously cares both for his subject and for the intelligence of his readers.
Juana of Castile has probably been shortchanged by history, which remembers her as the mad Spanish queen. C.W. Gortner, following considerable research, attempts to reconstruct what might have really happened, seeing in her a victim of the misogyny and politics of the time. One of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella (and sister of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife), Juana is a lively and intelligent young woman who is betrothed to Archduke Phillip, heir to the Habsburg dynasty. When they meet in Flanders for the wedding, it's instant lust, and they're in bed with each other before the final marriage vows. Juana is happy for several years, until she realizes Phillip's true character at the time she becomes successor to the Spanish throne - he is vain, emptyheaded, and ambitious, a lethal combination in a ruler. Sadly, life begins to go downhill for her, and ultimately hers is a tragic fate, including a reputation for insanity which was probably undeserved - and motivated by politics. Beautifully written, sensuous and sexy as well as sympathetic, this is a book historical fiction fans will savor.
Book Synopsis: Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country¿s throne, has been for centuries and enigmatic figure shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the berefet widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C.W. Gortner challenges the myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand. The third child of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain, Juana is born amid her parents¿ ruthless struggle to unify their kingdom, bearing witness to the fall of Granada and Columbus¿s discoveries. At the age of sixteen, she is sent to wed Philip, the archduke of Flanders, as part of her parents¿ strategy to strengthen Spain, just as her youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, is sent to England to become the first wife of Henry VIII. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her handsome young husband, the sole heir to the Habsburg Empire. At first she is content with her children and her life in Flanders. But when tragedy strikes and she inherits the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, her intelligence and pride used as weapons against her, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it could cost her everything. I admit it. I am a history snob. I don¿t know what it is, but ever since I was young I found history boring and it was always my worst subject in school. But, I have been fortunate to have seen the error of my ways, and this book is a prime example. To be totally honest, I have never heard of Juana of Castile. This book has truly compelled me to learn more. After being part of an arranged marriage, Juana is unsure what is to become of her life. Her mother, Isabel, Queen of Castile, and Father, Fernando, King of Aragon, have worked hard to make their two countries unite and will do anything to ensure that their people are safe. They have arranged the marriage as a way of securing power and freedom for their people. Even though Juana is less than thrilled about marrying a complete stranger, she has the same tenacity that is characteristic of her mother and agrees for the good of the country. She is pleasantly surprised when she finally meets her husband, Philip, the Archduke of Flanders. Their marriage is riddled with love and passion that most newlyweds wish for and things seem to be going exceptionally well. Until Juana catches him in bed with another woman while pregnant with her first child. Philip is flabbergasted and apologizes profusely, but this is just the start of a life of betrayal that is to be Juana¿s curse. Growing up, I think a lot of little girls (mine included) dream of being a princess. When you read a book like this, you realize that being royalty is not so much of a blessing as a burden. Everything you do is scrutinized and you are expected to act and carry yourself in a certain way. But we see, time and time again, that Juana was courageous and wouldn¿t change her beliefs for anyone. Even after tragedy strikes, Juana is prepared to take her rightful place as Queen, even if it means fighting those she is closest too. In the end it just wasn¿t enough. In a shocking turn of events she ends up a prisoner and is never allowed to fulfill her rightful place as Queen. Many historians have speculated that Juana was schizophrenic and that is what led to the imprisonment that she endures for most of her life. Mr. Gortner does and excellent job of portraying a vibrant woman whose sanity was stretched to its limits by the betrayal and cruelty that would likely break any ¿sane¿ person. I applaud his efforts to show us the other side of Juana la Loca and show that maybe she wasn¿t insane after all, but simply a victim of
The Last Queen is the fictionalization of the life of Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the ¿last Queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country¿s throne.¿ Many myths have spread throughout the sands of time. Who was the woman behind the myths? Was she insane? The setting is 1492, the year Columbus discovered the New World. She and her sisters are married to strengthen the throne. It is fortunate that Juana comes to love the man she marries. Perhaps it is her upbringing that form her strength and determination to fight for the throne and the unity of Spain, risking all that she holds dear. C.W. Gortner brings Juana back to life. He introduces her to his readers. It is obvious that Gortner has well researched the life of Juana. He brings passion and expertise to this beautifully written story. While I know in my head that this is a fictional tale, my heart tells me that Gortner has written with much more truth than fiction. The Last Queen is an amazing story, and it is sure to make a best seller list. Fans of historical fiction will greatly enjoy The Last Queen. .
Another fascinating book, as historical fiction I don’t know how much is true but I like that it wasn’t that Juana was really loco but that her husband & Father drove her to action and they spread the rumors that she was mad. I have read plenty of books about women being put in asylums because they didn’t act in a way their husband or fathers thought they should and this was closer to our own time than this so it is easy for me to believe that this may have been the case with Juana. Also who wouldn’t go mad when everything you know and love is ripped from you and you sent away never to see anyone again? People romanticize royals so much but the more I read about them I think it’s really a terrible life, someone else is always running your life, there is always someone out to usurp your throne, you have to put up with all these people with their own agendas especially the religious leaders that seem to want to rule over everything. I read The Queen’s Vow first then this one and I’m glad I read them in this order instead of the published order because this book picks up pretty much where the Queen’s Vow leaves off so it was interesting to see the relationship with her mother before I got to the book about her, so for people who haven’t discover this author yet, I’d read them in the order I have. This is historical “fiction” and for me when an author takes liberties I don’t mind and as I said above I liked this take on her life, even if it isn’t factual, if I wanted completely factual I would read a non-fiction. But what this does is makes me want to do more research and read up on what her life was really like and for me that’s the key to historical fiction when it makes you want to find out more. Audio production: There were times when Marguerite Gavin’s voice was so breathy that it bothered me and there is one spot in the beginning of the second half where her voice changes completely in tone and volume in the middle of sentence then goes back to how it sounded at the beginning it kind of threw me and think it was some kind of editing gone wrong. ( I meant to write it down at what time but didn’t). but all in all I thought she did a pretty good job at the narration although it was uneven at times. I am hooked on C.W. Gortner and the Spanish Royals I’ve already bought another book about Juana & Catalina/Catherine to continue my immersion into this time period. I will also be getting any other books written by this author! 4 ½ Stars
Juana's courage, strength, and passion amazed me as The Last Queen came of age so vividly under C.W. Gortner's admirable pen. This historical novel is fraught with crushing battles of power and chilling intrigue throughout the courts of her parents, Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, and of her husband, Philip of Flanders, as the Infanta of Spain attempts to take her rightful place on the thrown she inherited from her mother. My soul was struck as I witnessed, through Gortner's well paced story, the agony Juana endured as her faithless husband raped her night after night, as she was forced to leave her first born behind in Flanders and another child taken from her breast by her father to raise as his own, and as she ultimately succumbed to the captivity that often befell women of royalty in those times. Had she been driven mad by her treacherous husband and her scheming, duplicitous father as they vied for her position or had Juana la Loca, as she came to be known, been wrongly labeled and shut away by the two men she learned to loathe? That question is one for which we don't have an answer, but I felt compelled to honor her sanity and believe she would overcome the perils in her path to rule over the people of her beloved Spain. Her fate was sealed in loneliness and sorrow with no escape. I felt her loss as well as my own.
In 15th century Spain, Juana 1 of Castile is born the second daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon whose marriage united the two kingdoms, but it was her mother who possessed the most power and greatest influence. Beneath the intensity of her politically shrewd mother, the serious, introverted Juana grew into adolescence, well educated in Latin and music. At the age of 16, her parents betrothed her Juan to Philip of Flanders, the heir of Emperor Maximilian I. With a magnificent entourage in tow, Juana crossed the vast waters to Flanders, arriving sick and in a weakened state. At first sight of her betrothed, Juana is bewitched by his handsomeness and succumbs to his attentive charms. Philip is also intrigued with his new wife. Soon, however, intertwined with the birth of their children, Philip¿s infidelity tarnishes their marriage. His strong political ambitions clash powerfully with those of her parents and Spain. All her attempts to influence Philip otherwise are thwarted by Philip¿s power-hungry advisors. Juana is caught between the dreadful clashes of her mother and husband. Matters deteriorate when Philip enters into an alliance with France, historical enemies of Spain. Philip grows progressively more menacing towards Juana and her parents in his quest to rule Spain. His terrible conspiracies result in continual betrayals as Juana struggles to maintain a stance amidst a world of powerful, ruthless men. When a series of deaths strikes the royal heirs of Spain, Juana is forced to become queen with Philip as her royal consort. Before long, she is betrayed on all sides by callous, authoritative men, and Juana finds herself imprisoned for madness. Christopher Gortner spins a grand tale of opulence and deception, privilege and destruction, madness and fragile love. His riveting prose grabs the reader¿s emotions from the very start and twists and wrenches them until the very poignant ending. Inspired by his love for his Spanish heritage, Christopher Gortner paints a vivid picture of life in 15th century Europe. He writes in an evocative prose, rich in quality and simplicity. Books like this happen rarely. The author is a skilful writer who artfully relays a rich story peppered with unpredictable twists and turns that keeps the reader enthralled upon every word to the very end.
Loved this book. Not one dull sentence. I highly recommend this book.
The Last Queen C.W. Gortner C.W.Gortner chose to write this book because he is a half-Spanish person and he probably had a lot of background of the Spanish culture and what their traditions were and are. So it was pretty easy to write this book for him and ti give many detail, which he did. Gortner was trying to convince the reader that being a queen isn't as easy as some people think. He does a very good job of showing it by using the main character Juana the queen of Castile who had to marry Philip the archduke of Hapsburg at a very young age. For four years she loved him and then for five she hated him, with him she had six kids. This book is for people who are sixteen and older, if a younger person then sixteen reads this book they might not understand it the way the author intended it to be. The way Gortner wrote this book was amazing he used some of the Spanish words that made it very challenging, he was very detailed in painting a picture of the states and the people. This book changed the knowledge of queens in general for me, I never thought that queens had so much to do and I would recommend this book to people who want to know more about Spain and the life of a queen.
With his debut novel The Last Queen, author C.W. Gortner has painted a powerful, moving and haunting portrait of Queen Juana de Castile, the last queen of Spain known as Juana La Loca or the Mad Queen. Written in the first person, this book easily transported me into Juana's world as she tells of her childhood, her tumultuous marriage to Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire and her unexpected and incredible rise to the position of Queen of Spain-a position for which she fought and sacrificed everything. The Last Queen is a gripping story that takes you by the hand and doesn't let go until the last page is turned. It is a drama that comes to life under Gortner's deft pen and meticulous historical research. It is a story of passion, of love for one's land and people, of longing for love and the innocence of childhood. Ultimately, Queen Juana's story is a sad one, filled with intrigue, betrayals, and psychological-political battles against power-hungry clergymen, monarchs, and lords. It is a story that will stay with you long after you've read the last words. Gortner's style of writing is simply beautiful. It drew me in every time I picked up the book. His writing brought the setting and characters to life rendering them vivid and exotic and very real. Here's an example from page 27: "The Alhambra reclined on its hill, tinted amethyst in the dusk. Above its towers, the sky unfurled like violet cloth, spangled with spun-glass stars." Sometimes Gortner's descriptions were utterly breathtaking (I read them twice just to savour them) and his storytelling brilliant, making me keenly feel Juana's isolation, her heartbreaking separations, and her engulfing desperation. There are a few explicit but brief sex scenes that thankfully do not use vulgar terms. However, this book isn't a romance novel and these scenes are not glorified. I admired Juana's fidelity to her husband, although he did not reciprocate. Gortner skilfully portrayed the strengths and weaknesses of the female monarch and how a man could use his manhood to conquer. But Juana's spirit was not easily broken. A reader may be sceptical when a man writes in the voice of a woman, but Gortner's portrayal captured Juana's feelings, fears and pride so convincingly, I related to her as a woman. The author states in his own words regarding this fact: "I can't afford to be ambiguous: I must become the person I am writing about and stay true to the facts of her life, even if she does something that I, as myself, would not do." I was really taken in by this novel, especially since the topic of losing one's mind or suffering from extreme mental trauma can be more easily understood given certain circumstances, and Juana's situation was certainly one that could drive a person to insanity. But sometimes, insanity is a matter of perspective. If you like historical fiction, you must add this book to your reading list. It is truly an unforgettable read. For me, Gortner has just become one of my favourite authors.
I picked this book up because it was a bargain book. I never expected to love it and find a new author! Juana was a strong woman, ahead of her time. What she went through was disturbing. I know all about Tudor history and about her sister (Katharine of Aragon/Queen of England) but I knew nothing about Juana. I'm so glad C.W. Gortner brought her story to life! I can't wait to read his newest "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici."
Another fascinating book, as historical fiction I don¿t know how much is true but I like that it wasn¿t that Juana was really loco but that her husband & Father drove her to action and they spread the rumors that she was mad. I have read plenty of books about women being put in asylums because they didn¿t act in a way their husband or fathers thought they should and this was closer to our own time than this so it is easy for me to believe that this may have been the case with Juana. Also who wouldn¿t go mad when everything you know and love is ripped from you and you sent away never to see anyone again?People romanticize royals so much but the more I read about them I think it¿s really a terrible life, someone else is always running your life, there is always someone out to usurp your throne, you have to put up with all these people with their own agendas especially the religious leaders that seem to want to rule over everything.I read The Queen¿s Vow first then this one and I¿m glad I read them in this order instead of the published order because this book picks up pretty much where the Queen¿s Vow leaves off so it was interesting to see the relationship with her mother before I got to the book about her, so for people who haven¿t discover this author yet, I¿d read them in the order I have.This is historical ¿fiction¿ and for me when an author takes liberties I don¿t mind and as I said above I liked this take on her life, even if it isn¿t factual, if I wanted completely factual I would read a non-fiction. But what this does is makes me want to do more research and read up on what her life was really like and for me that¿s the key to historical fiction when it makes you want to find out more.Audio production:There were times when Marguerite Gavin¿s voice was so breathy that it bothered me and there is one spot in the beginning of the second half where her voice changes completely in tone and volume in the middle of sentence then goes back to how it sounded at the beginning it kind of threw me and think it was some kind of editing gone wrong. ( I meant to write it down at what time but didn¿t). but all in all I thought she did a pretty good job at the narration although it was uneven at times.I am hooked on C.W. Gortner and the Spanish Royals I¿ve already bought another book about Juana & Catalina/Catherine to continue my immersion into this time period. I will also be getting any other books written by this author!4 ½ Stars
She is known through history as Spain's Mad Queen. But was Juana, daughter of the powerful Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, really as mad as they say? Juana of Castile, also known as Juana "La Loca" for her rumored insanity, lives again through the pages of C.W. Gortner's beautifully written story of trust and betrayal. Gortner has taken a much different and unexplored approach to Juana, instead portraying her as a passionate woman who was not at all insane, but rather a victim of history's chauvinistic attitude towards women.Every man who came into Juana's life wanted her only for her crown. And when she refused to freely give what was rightfully hers, her enemies spun a wheel of treacherous deceit and manipulation, telling all who would listen that Juana was unfit to rule, a women driven mad by her passions. This sad fact truly angered me, as it seems to play off that age old idea of "women and their hysterics." While Juana did occasionally unleash a raging bout of anger or despair, it is clear that any woman of feeling would have been similarly driven to act out in some way if put under the same circumstances. I felt SO frustrated at certain points just reading as Juana fell into one trap after the other, blindly trusting those who should have been her staunchest allies, were they not only looking out for their own selfish ambitions.I really like that the author has challenged a widely-accepted point of view on one of history's most misunderstood, and under appreciated, of women. Recorded history in and of itself does not always amount to pure fact, indeed there were many men in Juana's life who sought to tarnish her reputation forever in order to cover their own greed and the injustices that Juana was made to suffer. In Juana's case, "recorded history" must be challenged, as much of the conventional wisdom on Juana's character comes from the very men who sought to bring down this most tragic queen, and who thereby would have reason to wish to see Juana's name sullied, her abilities as a queen held to indefinite question.I cannot emphasize enough how stunningly this book is written. I've never read an historical novel on Spain before, and this author expertly wove in prose and poetic wording to bring this country's history and its pious but prideful people brilliantly to life. He really captured the essence of Spain under the great Isabel, and the dramatic shift to hardship and chaos that took place there immediately after her death. Many of the betrayals Juana endured throughout her life came from the most unexpected of sources. Gortner is really good at tricking you as the reader into trusting these two-faced characters as well, which helps the reader to better understand Juana's situation. His ability to make the reader feel empathetic, as though he or she were experiencing Juana's hardships as their own, attests his abilities in evoking emotion and his overall artistry as a creative writer.Gortner excels particularly at expressing the internal feelings and emotions of his main character Juana. I will admit I had my doubts at first when I learned that C.W. was a male author writing in first person from a female perspective, but after reading The Last Queen, he is now one of my new favorite authors. The Last Queen is right up there with Josephine B and Signora da Vinci for me; truly a splendid gem of a novel.
This review was originally posted on my review blog : Falling Off The Shelf.Oridinarily I would give you a brief summary of the book in question. I feel that the above synopsis pretty much sums up what this book is truly about, and that is why I am just going to push ahead and give my review of this wonderful novel.This was one of those books that drew me in from the very first page. It's so full of emotion that I was easily feeling what the characters on the pages were experiencing. At times, I got angry and would shout, which is not something I will normally do when reading a novel. I usually leave that kind of behaviour for when watching movies, but this book was so extremely descriptive and alive that I felt like I was watching a movie. Each scene was unfurled effortlessly, and it was easy to just keep on reading until there were no more pages to turn.I honestly never knew anything about the last queen of Spain, Queen Juana. It was a complete surprise to me to learn her side of a story long forgotten. Although this novel is written as fiction, there are some truths to be had amongst it's pages, and luckily Gortner explains a lot of how he came to write this novel, at the end of the book. I feel like I know Queen Juana now, and feel like she was treated unfairly in her life. I honestly wanted to reach into the pages at times to shake her opponents until they stopped their cruel ways. I was hoping throughout the entire novel that Queen Juana would get her revenge on those who did her and her country harm.I'm extremely greatful to have been given the chance to read and review this novel. I would honestly recommend this book to anyone who loves history, historical fiction, romance, and ever growing drama. I couldn't get enough of Gortner's voice on the history of Queen Juana, the last queen of Spain.
BRAVOI just finished the Last Queen by Gortner and it was everything an historical novel should be as far as I'm concerned. The author even tells us which parts were real and which imagined at the end. I'm so happy he didn't wander off into that whole romancey thing--I recently tried to read a very very very popular title (Here Be Dragons) and couldn't abide the romantic distractions. Not only do I highly recommend it, but I suggest you not research Juana before you read it because then you'll enjoy a lot of suspense as to how the story will unfold. Wonderful wonderful.Now I have to read Gortner's other books.
To put it mildly, I have been completely blown away by The Last Queen. It is incredible. It was one of those¿I just couldn¿t put it down¿type of books. I thank my lucky stars that I followed the recommendation of several book bloggers for this read. For those of us who love historical fiction, particularly involving The Royals, there is nothing more satisfying than delving into their most intimate moments of life. Seeing the world as it appeared to them during their lifetime. Experiencing their relationships with others. Falling in and out of love alongside them. Marveling at the role they played in history. C. W. Gortner brings to the table all I could have ever asked for, and then some, with his fiction-loosely based on fact-account of Juana The Mad. He has a remarkable ability to spin a tale. Gortner depicts Juana as a strong woman, trying to follow in the footsteps of her mother, the infamous Queen Isabel of Spain. As typical of a woman¿s destiny in her time, Juana¿s life is truly controlled by the men in her life, particularly (but not restricted to) her husband and her father. She is betrayed and used as a pawn time and time again¿thus, a woman scorned must be mad, right? That¿s how Gortner portrays her madness, a figment of her enemies¿ imagination? A concoction? I¿m not sure if I buy this premise in its entirety. I think there are plenty other historical accounts that support the idea that Juana did suffer from some form of mental illness. But, as I am not an expert, I defer to Gortner¿s account---primarily because I really enjoy his story so much that I want Juana to be the biggest victim she can possibly be. It makes The Last Queen all the more tragic in my eyes.The saddest part of Juana¿s story is that she really was locked up by her father--the first man she ever loved, and the last one to betray her. I feel for her in that respect. The betrayal she must have felt is unimaginable. Juana¿s story will stay with me for some time. I hope that forms some type of compliment to Gortner as a thank you for his writing. I cannot express how much I would encourage others to read this book. Without a doubt, I look forward to his next book.
I enjoyed learning about this part of Spanish history. Reading this book made me want to learn more about Isabella and Fernando, as well as what came after where the book ended. I didn't give the book 4 stars because I felt at times the story just dragged on. And there were certain things that didn't make sense to me - like how she could so suddenly forgive her husband when he died and forget what all he had done to her - and grieve for him. Towards the end things seemed forced and mechanical. It seems well researched. Of course this is historical fiction, so I know there are certain elements where the author took licenses. However, I really know very little about western european history of this time, so I will let more knowledgeable readers have the final say on the author's historical accuracy. While I didn't find it the most exciting book I've ever read, I'm glad I read it and I think fans of historical fiction would also find it a good (though not great) read.
I had to say I loved this book. A lot. I liked how Juana stood out from the rest of her sisters and it was nice to see Catalina (afterwards becoming Catherine of Aragon) have a "cameo" appearence in the story. Juana is very headstrong, and despite what she goes through, she manages to be steadfast and it was as if nothing could break her. I admired Juana a lot in this book. I liked how the relationship between Juana and Philip started. It was lovely and reminded me a lot of the love between Catalina and Arthur in The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. It was so sad to see it so short lived. When Philip shows his colors the reader realizes he's not such a great loving person after all. Perhaps because he did not have the right influences and not the most greatest of advisors, however it was sad to see his ambition get to his head. It was so surprising to see Juana so steady and steadfast and even stands up against Philip (although she's beaten back down to submission). I admire her bravery and courage to stand up to a court ruled by men, it seemed as if she was by herself the majority of the time. The story flowed flawlessly and there were no bumps or stops to inturrupt the fluidity of this book. If you want something with lots of court intrigue and plotting this is something for you. There is a lot of plotting behind every character's back in this book and when it's realized, there's explosive confrontations filled with emotion and sometimes violence. I really liked the little tidbits of Spanish in this book (small phrases) it added more realism to the story and it enhanced the reader's ability to actually feel like they were right there in Medieval Spain. I felt a lot of sympathy towards Juana. Although she's very strong, I knew she had her limits and she could only take so much. I realized then, it's not really that she's "crazy" moreso, because of the emotional, mental and sometimes physical abuse it's no wonder she went through a mental breakdown. Juana herself is a very emotional character. She's explosive and has a temper, she's filled with different feelings and is a very passionate person in this book. It's indeed a very sad story. Juana goes through one tragic event after another and she really has no one to trust. Amist the large court with very few people on her side, Juana is a very lonely character. Overall a wonderful book for those always curious or interested in Juana la Loca. The author's note at the end also provides very good information as to what happens afterwards to Juana. It's a very sad tragic tale, and paints Juana in a very different light It's actually a refreshing look on Juana and sheds off the myth of a "madwoman" who was probably not really that crazy after all.
The Last Queen is a novel of historical fiction based on the life of Juana of Castile. It begins with Juana's childhood and leads into her struggle to become queen of Spain. Juana faces heartbreak, love and betrayal among the pages of this story and the reader cannot help but root for her. Throughout the story she faces all hardships with strength and courage as she works to become the rightful queen of Spain and to protect her beloved country.What an amazing read this was! I've begun to read more historical fiction this year than ever before and this trumps everything I have picked up so far. I was instantly attached to Juana's character and couldn't help but hope for the best. The pages of this book were filled with suspense and I found myself reading it long after I should have put it down. But Juana was such a strong main character and she faced such evil at times. And the ending blew me away...I didn't see it coming whatsoever. I cannot say that I'm a history buff and so I didn't have a clue where the ending was going. It was so sad but so perfect in the end. Suffice it say that I LOVED this book! One of the better historical fiction reads that I've picked up so far and I'll be looking for more by this author.
After reading all the Philippa Gregory books I was burned out on the whole "poor, mistreated queen with a side of crazy" genre. Honestly, every queen or almost queen or thought about being queen in history must have had a misogynistic twist in their DNA. On the whole I wasn't really excited to read THE LAST QUEEN but I had posted its book trailer so I was obligated. Long story short this was a really good book. THE LAST QUEEN is a fictionalized biography about Juana of Castile, the last Spanish queen of Spain. She is a true individual, and for a brief time, romantic that knows what she wants and plays the right political games to obtain them. However, she has a tendency to be too trusting and allows herself to be tricked by the one person she thought she could trust; her father. To summarize: Juana marries a man , Philip of Flanders, she falls in love with and who has more political aspirations than he is entitled to. Juana becomes heir to the Spanish throne due to a series of tragedies and finds herself and her children embroiled in her husbands schemes. Now disillusioned to her husband's machinations Juana fights to preserve her throne for herself. She keeps her throne briefly and shares it with her father who decides that he wants it for himself. You can imagine the end.I was on vacation when I started this book and surprisingly I finished it in one day. I even skipped dinner with my friend to finis the last 30 pages. This book was captivating and tragic. I knew how it was going to end and I couldn't force myself to look away from Juana's train wreck of a life. Told in the first person the reader quickly feels for Juana, wanting her to find a way to be independent in a world where that is not encouraged.
I just finished listening to The Last Queen: A Novel of Juana la Loca by C W Gortner (unabridged). The narrator, Margarite Gavin, did an excellent job of reading the book and interpreting the characters. She has a lovely voice that makes listening easy.This is what the publisher said about the book:One of history's most enigmatic women tells the haunting, passionate story of her tumultuous life. Juana of Castile is just thirteen when she witnesses the fall of Moorish Granada and the uniting of the fractured kingdoms of Spain under her warrior parents, Isabel and Fernando. Intelligent, beautiful, and proud of her heritage, Juana rebels when she is chosen as a bride for the Hapsburg heir - until she comes face-to-face with Prince Philip the Fair, a man who will bring her the greatest of passions, and the darkest despair.When tragedy decimates Juana's family in Spain, she suddenly finds herself heiress to Castile, a realm prey to scheming lords bent on thwarting her rule. The betrayal of those she loves plunges Juana into a ruthless battle of wills - a struggle of corruption, perfidy, and heart-shattering deceit that could cost her the crown, her freedom, and her very life.In case you didn't understand the title, she was called the "crazy" by many people. We are lead to believe that may have been mostly the based on rumors spread by her power hungry husband and his group and, after his death, furthered by her own father, whose need for power was equally as great as he wished to out shine the accomplishments of his dead wife. Was she crazy? I will let you decide.Was she mad? As in angry? The life of strong, smart, educated women during this time of male dominance was never easy. Women were expected to be docile, marry who they were told to, and bear children (she had 5, only 2 of which for male). How does one stand up for her rights and those of her country, to be a QUEEN, in such an atmosphere?This is a face paced, fascinating autobiographical novel, which drew me in quickly and kept me riveted to her story. Looking through her eye, you clearly see all the different characters, while feeling her reactions.(My husband's comment: "The characters are well formed and developed. Its only flaw is that it reflects a modern woman's perspective of a vastly different time and I wonder if women 500 years ago area accurately depicted int it?)I expect this will be one I will want to read and/or listen to again.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book as I haven't read a lot of historical fiction, and this is the first that I have read from this time period. Thanks to C.W. Gortner, I am now a true fan! This was a beautifully written book that was packed full of information that kept me wanting to read more.One thing this book proved for me is that politics have always been a driving force in society. Arranged marriages have been quite common in some of the previous novels that I have read, but in the case of The Last Queen, marriages were arranged for the purpose of royalty to gain significant power. Juana of Castile knew early on of her future betrothal to Philip of Flanders, but decided to not focus on that part of her life. She thought that so many different things could happen in the future that could change this course of events.The royal betrothal to Philip does take place and Philip and Juana develop a very passionate attraction to each other. Although Juana gives herself fully and emotionally to her new husband, that doesn't seem to be enough to satisfy all of his needs. Juana has a brother and sisters that have all been promised to royalty that would extend the alliances with Spain. Even though her mother, Isabel of Castile was born of the royal blood to rule the country, I don't think that Juana was expecting that this honor would be passed down to her.As it was becoming more apparent that Juana would more than likely have to follow in her mother's footsteps as Queen, her husband Philip gets a glimpse of the power that he could have if he were to become the King of Spain. Since Juana has the royal blood running through her veins, the only way for him to become the King of Spain would be to defeat her by making her give up her crown and turning her back on the country she loves.C.W. Gortner's writing just made this story so vivid within my imagination. I love how he connected the courts of England, France, and Spain and weaved important historical events into the story that helped me with a timeline. Juana of Castile was portrayed as such a passionate Queen that was willing to do just about anything for her country. To think of what she went through with not only her husband, but other family members, all for the love and welfare of Spain is just amazing.I loved this book and look forward to reading future work by C.W. Gortner. This novel is full of passion, intrigue, tragedy, loyalty, secrets, and deception that will hold your attention until you turn the final page. As you can see by my rating below, in the genre of historical fiction this book is one of my favorites.
But I did just finish The Last Queen which was a good book. This was the first I'd read of Juana of Castile and I found her both sympathetic and interesting. I felt like Gortner did a really good job of portraying some of the instances were she seemed to show mental instability. The changing relationship between Juana and her husband, as well as her father was fascinating. She seemed to trust people, only to have that trust come back to bite her. The book also showed how ambition can destroy the strongest of relationships.