- Queen Isabel I of Castile: Power, Patronage, Persona
This collection of essays assembled by Barbara F. Weissberger addresses the iconic persona of Isabel I, Queen of Castile (1474–1504). Weissberger's overarching argument that Isabel's iconicity has pervaded the twentieth-century postcolonial spirit is evident not only in her introductory chapter, but also by her editorial choices that shape this entire volume. Weissberger asserts that Isabel's self-fashioning not only created a pervasive identity and personality that would distinguish her from other Spanish monarchs in her time, but that at the same time her persona was as elusive in fifteenth-century Europe as it is in twentieth-century America. It is not surprising that this influential queen, who as Weissberger describes her, "decide[d] when, why, and to which [End Page 524] rhythm she danced," would capture the attention of the chroniclers and artists of any century (xvii). The interrogations that construct the thesis of this volume are broken down into eleven essays divided into three parts. These parts, "Influence," "Patronage," and "Period," each examine her through the perspective of history, music, art, and the literature produced during her reign. Pleasantly, each contribution provides significant contextual historical background and a clear discussion of the various theoretical approaches used, translates all quoted material to English, and in general makes the material presented accessible to the non-specialized reader. In fact, the arrangement of the chapters provides overlapping and chronological arguments that invite the reader to follow the book from beginning to end. However, it is also possible to perform a cross-sectional approach through the various disciplines, allowing a reader to focus on individual areas of interest.
Three chapters in this book are primarily concerned with history. Isabel and Fernando's uniquely shared powers were characterized in their own time by the well-known motto "Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando" (12). This motto, roughly translated as "each as important as the other," continues to be present in the collective consciousness of the twentieth-century Hispanic world. This shared governance is the focus of Theresa Earenfight's essay, in which she clearly discusses Isabel's significant decisions to determine her own political powers, and the relevance of her independence in understanding the shared governance of the Catholic Monarchs. Because of this unique political arrangement, most conventional attempts at rigid definitions of Isabel's persona present a limited perspective. Earenfight's discussion overcomes this limitation through a postmodern feminist approach that elucidates how Isabel and Fernando managed to maintain a unique form of governance that had little precedent.
Four key historical events of Isabel and Fernando's monarchy have endured: the unification of Castile and Aragon and the conquest of Granada (two events that were instrumental in the creation of Spain), their sponsorship of Columbus's voyage to America, and the establishment of the Inquisition. Less known are the particulars of Isabel's assertive role in the conquest of Granada, and Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt shows that a wide range of perspectives were held by Isabel's contemporaries regarding her role in this pivotal moment of history. By examining the Queen's three primary fifteenth-century historians—Fernando de Pulgar, Alfonso de Palencia, and Diego de Valera—Lehfeldt illustrates this range that includes, on one end, Pulgar's acceptance of Isabel's positive characteristics when raising troops, supplies, and money for the war in Granada, Palencia's less positive and only slightly negative representation of Isabel, and finally, Valera's distanced portrayal of the Queen and [End Page 525] his lack of commentary on her shared governance of Castile and Aragon with Fernando. As these three historians have had an overwhelming influence on Isabel's legacy, Lehfeldt provides a refreshingly balanced view in her analysis of Isabel's role in the war and the Catholic Monarchs' shared sovereignty.
If we were to isolate one iconic element of the Catholic Monarchs' reign for which they are universally known, it would probably be their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus's journey to...