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Thursday, July 29, 2010

For a Queen’s Love by Jean Plaidy

Title For a Queen’s Love
Author- Jean Plaidy
Publisher Random House
Release Date 2010
Rating-Rating: 4.25 Crowns out of 5

From the Back Cover:

Power-hungry monarch, cold-blooded murderer, obsessive monster – who could love such a man?

Set against the glittering courts of sixteenth-century Europe, the Spain of the dreaded Inquisition, and the tortured England of Bloody Mary, For a Queen’s Love is the story of Philip II of Spain – and of the women who loved him as a husband and father.

This was my very first Plaidy novel and I chose to start with this one because I knew very little about Philip aside from his time as Mary Tudor’s husband. I was hoping to get a feel for this prolific author’s style while learning something new in the process and I was not disappointed.

The novel begins with Philip as a child, raised as the heir to Charles I and the greatest kingdom in the world with all of the pressures and formalities that go along with such a heavy burden. He is a solemn child, anxious to perform as expected, almost obsessive in his desire to please and to be loved in return. The novel follows him as he grows and demonstrates how each of his first three wives had an effect on shaping his personality, from the awkwardness and tragedy of first love during his teenage marriage to Maria Manoela, to the smothering, unstable, loveless marriage of state to a much older Mary Tudor, and then on to a more satisfying, if not perfect marriage to the young and pretty Elisabeth Valois of France. And all the while Philip’s first son and heir, the undesireable Don Carlos, haunts his footsteps and creates a great sense of urgency and obligation to produce another male heir.

Throughout Philip’s life two frightening themes pop up over and over: the abundance of inbreeding within the royal family, which seemed to be the cause of some serious mental and physical deficiencies, and the horrors of the Inquisition. Philip is devoutly Catholic and was taught from an early age that the greatest threat to his empire was the heretic and thus as he grows older his desire to serve God by ridding the world of heretics begins to consume him. He fails to achieve the English crown, he fails to secure great military victories, but he believes that he may achieve greatness yet in his efforts to please God and feels justified in his actions during the Inquisition, actions that have led to his depiction as a “monster”:

Philip was thinking of God’s pleasure in the drama which was about to be enacted; he was thinking of the delight of God in maimed and tortured bodies, in the cries of agony.

The Inquisition in its mercy gives these people a foretaste of Hell that they may repent in time and save themselves from an eternity of suffering.

Plaidy's take on Philip appears to be historically accurate for the most part, although the fate of Philip's first son, Don Carlos, is debated. Plaidy has taken the dramatic route in this novel, but while scholars agree he was physically deformed and mentally unstable and there is evidence that he may have plotted to kill Philip, most modern historians believe Don Carlos died from complications of his own ill treatment of his body and not at the hands of his father.

I do wonder why the author chose not to go on to Philip's fourth marriage to his niece, Anna of Austria, daughter of Philip's cousin, Maximillian, and Phillip's sister, Maria, who bore him five children over ten years, including Philip III. Historians seem to agree that this was a happy marriage and that Anna had a positive effect on Philip and the Spanish court. It may very well have been that in this last marriage Philip finally received the love of a queen he had so desperately been searching for. After reading up a bit on this last marriage, I feel like no portrayal of Philip’s life could be complete without its inclusion and that’s my main reason for not rating this higher.

This novel combines vividly evocative, engrossing, informative, and eye-opening historical content with a poignant tale of a boy turned man turned king who struggled to please too many at the expense of himself. A fascinating, entertaining portrait of a man who has been often overshadowed in history by his father and his second wife. Highly recommended.

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Unknown said...

Very interesting review. I think I have read 4 or 5 plaidy's. I didn't even know about his 4th wife - all the books i have read only cover his first 3 - interesting...

Jenny Girl said...

Interesting indeed. Don't know too much about this royal fellow so this would be a good place to start. Thanks for the good review.