Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

Isabel Rules: Constructing Queenship, Wielding Power

Synopsis

As queen of Spain, Isabel 1 of Castile (known to history as Isabella the Catholic, 1474-1504) oversaw the creation of Europe's first nation-state and laid the foundations for its emergence as the largest empire the West has ever known--nearly a century before the better known and more widely studied Elizabeth I of England. What we know of this remarkable ruler is typically gleaned from hagiographic texts that negate her power and accept her own propagandistic self-fashioning as legitimate heir, pious princess, devoted wife, and heaven-sent healer of the wounds inflicted on Spain's body politic by impotent kings, seditious nobles, and such undesirable others as Jews, Muslims, and sodomites. Isabel Rules is the first book to examine the formation of the queen's public image, focusing on strategies designed to cope with the ideological and cultural dissonance created by the combination of her gender and her profoundly patriarchal political program for unifying and purifying Spain. Barbara Weissberger identifies two primary and interrelated strategies among the supporters of the queen--often writing in her employ--and her critics. Her loyalists use Marian imagery to portray Isabel as a pious, chaste, and submissive queen consort to her husband Ferdinand, while her opponents imagine the queen as a voracious and lascivious whore whose illicit power threatens the virility of her male subjects and inverts the traditional gender hierarchy. Weissberger applies a materialist feminist perspective to a wide array of texts of the second half of the fifteenth century in order to uncover and study the masculine psycho-sexual anxiety created by Isabel's anomalous power. She then demonstrates thepersistence of the two sides of the propagandistic construction of the Catholic queen, reviewing modern treatments in Francoist schoolbooks and in the fiction of Juan Goytisolo, Alejo Carpentier, and Salman Rushdie. A deconstructio

Excerpt

In March 2002, the Episcopal Conference of Spain announced its intention to reopen the case for the beatification of Isabel I, known to history as Isabella the Catholic. Although the process had been initiated by the Archbishop of Valladolid in 1958, under the regime of Francisco Franco, it took until 1972 to assemble the thirty volumes of supporting documentation. In that year Vicente Rodríguez Valencia, the official postulator of the Queen’s case, published a slim volume summarizing the evidence of her saintliness. Artículos del postulador: sobre la fama de santidad, vida y virtudes de la sierva de Dios, Isabel I, Reina de Castilla (Articles of the postulator: On the fame of sanctity, life, and virtues of Isabel I, Queen of Castile, servant of God) lists and illustrates the qualities of obedience, humility, prudence, and religious zeal that made Isabel “magnificently submissive” [una sumisa grandiosa] (17, quoting Ramón Menéndez Pidal). In 1991, at the request of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity, Pope John Paul II halted the beatification process. The Spanish bishops hope that the Vatican will now finally recognize Isabel’s “Christian virtues to a heroic degree” [virtudes cristianas en heroico grado] in time for the quincentenary of her death in 2004. The ultimate goal of the Spanish church is canonization, a distinction earned by only one other Spanish woman, the Doctor of the Church Teresa of Ávila.

The trope of “Saint Isabel,” the archetypally Catholic Queen, has retained its cultural currency in Spain for more than half a millennium. It is largely responsible for the continuing elusiveness of this powerful monarch. But hagiography is only one of the threads used to fashion xi . . .

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