In Triumph's Wake : Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory
Queen Isabella of Castile, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and Queen Victoria of England were respected and admired rulers whose legacies continue to be felt today. Their daughters--Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England; Queen Marie Antoinette of France; and Vicky, the Empress Frederick of Germany--are equally legendary for the tragedies that befell them, their roles in history surpassed by their triumphant mothers. In Triumph's Wake is the first book to bring together the poignant stories of these mothers and daughters in a single narrative.
Isabella of Castile forged a united Spain and presided over the discovery of the New World, Maria Theresa defeated her male rivals to claim the Imperial Crown, and Victoria presided over the British Empire. But, because of their ambition and political machinations, each mother pushed her daughter toward a marital alliance that resulted in disaster. Catherine of Aragon was cruelly abandoned by Henry VIII who cast her aside in search of a male heir and tore England away from the Pope. Marie Antoinette lost her head on the guillotine when France exploded into Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Vicky died grief-stricken, horrified at her inability to prevent her son, Kaiser Wilhelm, from setting Germany on a belligerent trajectory that eventually led to war.
Exhaustively researched and utterly compelling, In Triumph's Wake is the story of three unusually strong women and the devastating consequences their decisions had on the lives of their equally extraordinary daughters.
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St. Martin's Press
December 01, 2009
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Excerpt from In Triumph's Wake by Julia P. Gelardi
In Triumph's Wake
QUEEN ISABELLA and CATHERINE OF ARAGON
CALLED TO RULE
The dramatic stories of three unparalleled sets of royal mothers and daughters--stories that span half a millennium--begin with the birth of Queen Isabella of Castile, "an extraordinary woman who was also an extraordinary monarch, one of the most powerful the world had ever known."1 The saga unfolds in the far southwest corner of Europe, some six centuries ago, on the Iberian Peninsula. There, on a melancholy, austere expanse of land known as Castile--a wide plateau in hues of bronze, gray, and green--Isabel of Portugal, queen consort of King Juan II of Castile, gave birth to baby girl. It was April 22, 1451, Holy Thursday. The birth occurred in the small summer palace of the baby's father at Madrigal de las Altas Torres. A multitowered agricultural town of a few thousand inhabitants located inland on the plains of Castile in the province of �vila, Madrigal was named for its many towers, built to help fend off attackers. Inside Madrigal's arched and gold-flecked, domed church of San Nicholas, the baby infanta of Castile was baptized and welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church.
Isabella's birthplace exhibited Muslim and Christian influences, most visibly through the palace and town walls, constructed in the Mudejar style. The Mudejar style, which pervaded Madrigal and many parts of Spain, is characterized by a unique interpretation of Western themes dominated by Muslim influences. The Muslim factor was to loom large in the future Queen Isabella's life. For centuries, Muslims from North Africa, often referred to as the Moors, had dominated swaths of the Iberian Peninsula. By the time of Isabella's birth, other Muslims, the Ottoman Turks, were on the march from present-dayTurkey into eastern Europe, bent on conquering peoples and territories by the sword. Their progress stoked fear among many Europeans.
Little fanfare accompanied Isabella's birth, for no one viewed the baby as having a great role in the future. Enrique, her elder half brother, was already married and destined to succeed their father, King Juan. In that day, brothers superseded daughters in the line of succession. When, in 1453, Queen Isabel gave birth to Isabella's brother, Alfonso, young Isabella slipped a step further away from the Castilian throne and that much more removed from a position of power.
Yet if the throne itself seemed elusive, there was always the possibility that the infanta from Castile, like many princesses before and after, would be a useful commodity in the royal marriage market. Even though princesses were not first choices as rulers, they were valuable as brides to cement alliances between dynasties. Consequently, royal daughters were potentially significant players in the complicated, high-stakes game of international diplomacy.
In order to survive, let alone flourish, in times marked by peril and political machinations, the infanta Isabella had to navigate her way through the treacherous waters of medieval Castilian court life. Turbulence clouded the girl's early years. One of the young Isabella's biggest challenges was her mother's increasingly unstable disposition. Queen Isabel had arrived in Castile at age nineteen, attractive and innocent. Unfortunately, however, her position was thwarted by the king's scheming favorite, �lvaro de Luna. Luna had hoped that Queen Isabel would be a malleable ally. However, not only was she intractable but she saw through Luna's ruse. Queen Isabel obstructed Luna's plans to dominate the monarch. The queen's opposition to Luna's pernicious influence on her husband marked her as Luna's enemy, and the corrupt, arrogant, and power-hungry courtier therefore eyed her warily. Hostility grew between them. Soon, suspicions of Luna and his ill treatment of the queen were on everyone's lips. Isabel's unstable behavior during her pregnancy with Isabella fed the rumors. A melancholy descended that was soon to overwhelm the queen. Some in Isabel's entourage surmised that the cause of the queen's depression was poison ordered by Luna.
Eventually, Luna's manipulations caught up with him. His use of imprisonment and execution as tools to maintain power, plus his unpopular hold over the king, combined to make Luna a hated figure. Queen Isabel's utter contempt for the man sealed his fate. By gaining so many enemies, Luna paved the way for his own downfall. Charged with treason, he was executed in 1453.
Under King Juan's weak reign, which saw much fighting among his nobles,Castile's international prestige plummeted. Aware of his failure, toward the end of his life, Juan II wryly observed that he should have been the son of a mechanic instead of becoming Castile's king. Isabella's feckless father died after an ineffectual forty-nine-year reign. There was much truth in the harsh observation. "King Juan did one thing and one thing only for posterity, and that was to leave behind him a daughter who in no way resembled her father."2 But first, the unlamented Juan II was succeeded by King Enrique IV, son of Juan's first wife, Maria of Aragon. Enrique, nicknamed the Impotent, proved to be even more disastrous a monarch than his father.
King Juan's death left Isabella and her younger brother, Alfonso, in their mother's care. The family of three lived in the small castle in the Castilian town of Ar�valo. Ar�valo, with its stretches of greenery and cornfields, offered Isabella and Alfonso plenty of opportunity to enjoy life outside. The energetic Isabella spent her early childhood there indulging in outdoor pursuits, often accompanied by her best friend, Beatriz de Bobadilla, the daughter of the governor of Ar�valo castle. The friends were a study in contrasts: Beatriz was dark-haired and effusive, while Isabella, the fair-haired one, was restrained and mature. Beatriz and Isabella became like sisters. Among their favorite forms of exercise was riding. Fearless with horses, Isabella became an accomplished horsewoman and indulged in hunting all manner of game, both docile and dangerous. She even hunted down a bear, felling it with a javelin from her own hands. Riding and hunting were time well spent, for they taught the infanta patience, endurance, and an ability to ward off exhaustion.