Saturday, October 23, 2010

Move Over Xena: Queen Isabella Was a True Warrior Princess!

You always dress your finest for battle!
Last night I was reading David Starkey's book, "Six Wives:  The Queens of Henry VIII."  Thinking I knew a lot about Henry's first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, I skipped ahead to read about his third wife Katherine Howard.  Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was Anne Boleyn's first cousin and a mere teenager when she became queen.  Her teenage antics and eventually beheading, however, didn't enthrall me.  After a while beheadings, adultery accusations and Henry's violent temper no longer entertain, so I began reading about Katherine of Aragon.

I had always pictured Queen Isabella of Spain, Katherine's mother, as a zealous Catholic and a typical woman of her time period.  During her reign with King Ferdinand, the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon drove the Moors (Muslims) from Spain, sent Christopher Columbus on his infamous voyage and began the Spanish Inquisition.  Being the typical 21st century woman, I figured that her husband was in charge of everything.  Was I ever wrong!

Queen Isabella was a true warrior princess!  After marrying Ferdinand of Aragon, her brother disowned her and she fought a war against her niece for the crown of Castile.  After defeating her niece and sending her to a nunnery (mental note, never mess with Isabella), she turned her attention to the kingdom of Granada to the south.

Granada was the last Moorish stronghold in Spain and Isabella was determined to rid Spain of them forever.  Isabella, however, didn't sit around in her castle, greeting courtiers, looking beautiful and have babies.  She was on the front lines, even when she was nine months pregnant with Katherine.  Only retiring back to her castle after a key Moorish stronghold had fallen.

Remembering my own pregnancy, I can hardly imagine riding into battle with a swollen belly, surging hormones and bad indigestion.  Perhaps it was the acid reflux or the raging hormones that kept her energized on the front lines.  Or maybe she wanted the pomegranates that the Moors grew?  Pregnancy cravings are a vicious thing.  I had to have ice cream mixed with milk.  What ever works, Isabella, what ever works...

Queen Isabella also believed the reconquering of Spain was the perfect time for family bonding.  Katherine, her two sisters and brother, often accompanied their mother to the front lines and spent a large part of their childhoods in military encampments.  This makes my childhood look like a piece of cake.  All I had to wear was a hobo costume, which I still need therapy for.  Katherine, however, had plenty of baggage.

I guess this goes to show, that anyone, anywhere, in any time period can surprise you!  We can never assume we know anyone, even if the facts are staring us in the face.


  1. Catherine Howard was Henry's fifth wife; his third wife was Jane Seymour and his fourth wife was Anne of Cleves.

  2. Jessie, thanks for pointing out the typo! I have corrected it!


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