Monday, September 8, 2008

"The Last Queen"

C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Last Queen, and reported the following:
The Last Queen is the story of Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne. Born the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, Juana inherited Castile and waged a relentless fight for her crown against her powerful husband, Philip of Hapsburg. Known as Juana la Loca— the mad queen— Juana’s story has been made into two award-winning movies in Spain, and been the subject of numerous biographies. Juana was also the elder sister of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon and the mother of the Emperor Charles V. She led a life full of drama, intrigue and passion, one rarely covered in historical fiction.

It took six years to research and write The Last Queen. I took several trips to Spain and visited places in Brussels where she lived as archduchess. She went to Flanders (the northern region of modern-day Belgium) as a sixteen year old bride; here, she fell in love with her husband and was for a time his beloved consort, unaware of the tumultuous fate that awaited her. On page 69, Juana realizes she can no longer conform to her duenna Doña Ana’s rigid Spanish ideals:

She had gone too far. I whirled about. “Enough. I’ll not be spoken to as if I were a child!”

Doña Ana’s mouth hung open. Before she could find her voice, Madame de Halewin moved to me. “I believe this sleeve should be raised at the shoulder,” she murmured. About us, the Flemish girls looked from Doña Ana to Madame de Halewin and back to me. Beatriz went to Doña Ana. “Señora, let us take a walk. You look pale.”

“Yes,” I added pointedly, “go with Beatriz.” I waved a preemptory hand.

Doña Ana trudged out. As the door closed, I distinctly heard her say: “She’ll not get away with this. I’ll write to Spain this very afternoon, so help me God.”

Madame de Halewin waved aside the whispering girls. “You, too. Get to work. Her Highness’s bedchamber needs cleansing.”

I studied my reflection. Doña Ana would not spoil this for me. The gown might be indecent according to Spanish standards, but it was more luxurious than anything I’d owned. And I had a lovely bosom; everyone said so. Why shouldn’t I display it to my advantage? Veils and high-collared robes would not go over well with the Hapsburg court.

Madame de Halewin met my gaze. With uncanny prescience she said, “I cannot help but notice your duenna’s outbursts have become more frequent.” She let out a sigh. “Your Highness has shown remarkable restraint, considering she acts as though you’re incapable of making your own decisions. What will she do when you embark on your tour with His Highness, I wonder? The Hapsburg territories are large. Germany, Austria, Holland: the trip could take months.”

The intimation in her words cut deep, as did the thought of Doña Ana blighting what in effect would be my official presentation by Philip to our future subjects. As Madame knelt to check my hem, I suddenly realized I couldn’t stomach another confrontation with my duenna.

This scene illustrates the pressure Juana lived under during the early years of her marriage to assume her husband’s customs and discard her own—an expectation that would exact its toll on her and reveal how little she could trust Philip. The conflict between her Spanish roots and the Hapsburg prepotency eventually spurred her determination to defend her realm against her husband. This page sets the first stages of Juana’s transformation from naïve wife to courageous queen.
Read an excerpt from The Last Queen, and learn more about the book and author at C. W. Gortner's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue