Isabella

by Giles Tremlett, Bloomsbury, £25

From ascending the throne in 1474 to her death in 1504, Isabella of Castile transformed her homeland, a “fractious, ill-disciplined nation” into a European powerhouse. Intense, devout and single-minded, she “did more than any other monarch of her time” to reverse the decline of Christendom. Her achievements are “not just remarkable because of her sex, merely more so”.

Forever throwing herself into military preparations, and always thrilled by victory in war, Isabella “stepped outside the limits of traditional womanly behaviour, provoking both perplexity and admiration”.

An outstanding military planner, Isabella pioneered front-line medical treatment and, at Granada, oversaw the construction not just of a camp, but also of a small fortified town for her besieging armies.

Her peripatetic court had its own hospital for the poor, augmenting her popularity as she traversed her realms. She held that “monarchs who wish to govern must also work”.

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