Mercedes of Castile: or, The Voyage to Cathay

Mercedes of Castile: or, The Voyage to Cathay

by James Fenimore Cooper
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Mercedes of Castile: Or, the voyage to Cathay 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
James Fenimore Cooper's 1840 novel, MERCEDES OF CASTILE, or, THE VOYAGE TO CATHAY is a classic historical and romantic novel in the style set by Sir Walter Scott's WAVERLEY. It takes us readers from the October 1469 wedding of Fernando (Ferdinand) of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to September 1493 and the beginning of Columbus's second voyage to the New World. In 1469 two 18-year-old first cousins once removed overcame formidable obstacles to wed. Isabella had personally chosen Fernando among several candidates for her hand. And their marriage proved a happy one. ***** We now advance two decades to January 1492, just outside the walls of the last remaining Muslim city in Spain: Granada. Here Ferdinand and Isabella enter in triumph. On hand, still after seven years patiently waiting for his commission to sail west to Japan and China, is the great Genoese navigator, Christopher Columbus. Columbus and Queen Isabella are painted in glowing colors by Fenimore Cooper. Both are far-sighted, religious and persevering. Isabella, in particular, is a mother to all her subjects. ***** This would not be a classic historical novel if all its characters were real, historical giants such as Fernando, Isabella and Columbus. Another historically attested person, Isabella's girlhood friend Beatriz de Bobabdilla is made to link the two "reyes catolicos" to Luis Bobadilla, a 20-year old nephew of Beatriz and to her ward and adopted daughter, the beautiful young Mercedes de Valverde. Luis and Mercedes are in love. But both his aunt Beatriz, the Marchioness of Moya, and her great friend Queen Isabella worry that Luis is too wild and unsettled to be permitted to wed Mercedes. The young couple have been chums since childhood and for the past two years, Luis, this young Achilles of Spain, has poured out his love to his beloved. Finally, Mercedes demands a half hour to give him her reaction: "I have heard thee patiently some years, and it is now my turn to speak and thine to listen" (Ch. 5). She loves him but will never marry him unless he subordinates himself to Christopher Columbus and goes to seek the New World. This is the wish of Her Majesty to whom Mercedes has vowed that she will wed no one without her permission. ***** Luis, incognito, joins Columbus, the only grandee to do so. Day by day their epic voyage is detailed by Fenimore Cooper. On the island of Hispaniola, Luis rescues from kidnapping a beautiful Haitian princess, Ozema and takes her back to Spain among those selected by Columbus to present to the Queen. Ozema loves Luis, misconstrues his Castillian gallantry to be a declaration of marriage. Placed in the care of Mercedes and her guardian Beatriz, Ozema causes great woe to both Mercedes and the Queen. Luis is in no little danger of being punished, until Columbus convinces all parties that Luis's only love is Mercedes. Broken-hearted, Princess Ozema dies, a baptized Christian denied by the officiating archbishop her humble request to become Luis's second wife. Queen Isabella was warm to convert all willing New Worlders to Christianty. The tragedy of Princess Ozema is the first of many cross-cultural misunderstandings and failures to come. ***** This is a grand tale of Christopher Columbus, Queen Isabella and the earliest days of late medieval Spanish imperialism. -OOO-