Reign of Madness

Reign of Madness

by Lynn Cullen

Jemille Williams (07/18/11): Being a princess was no fairy story! This tale is more tangled than Rapunzels!

Reign of Madness is an account that begins as a sunny romance and ends in gothic noir. Juana of Castile was a bartered bride, following in her sister Catherine of Aragons doomed footsteps, bargained off as a political pawn to Habsburg Philippe the Handsome, Archduke of Flanders

A flowering branch of one of the mightiest family trees in history, she was the daughter of Spains Ferdinand and Isabella. Her brother-in-law was history's most infamous king, Henry VIII. She gave birth to a full house of two emperors and four queens, yet spent the last five decades of her life alone under house arrest in a convent.

At 16 years of age she left the hilly high country of sunny Spain and descended to the rainy grey lowlands of the Netherlands, becoming mired in a sordid Renaissance Gaslight. Initially swept off her feet by her handsome groom, she acquiesced to an impromptu marriage with none of the pomp due her circumstance. She never saw her mother again, and surely came to wish she hadn't seen her father again after his duplicitous treachery.

Her story reflects the sad reality of the lot of the woman, even when that woman's title was Queen. In the end, she is betrayed by husband, father, and son, and left childless and alone in a tower. Most historians disagree with her moniker of Juana the Mad, and Reign of Madness chronicles the rampant use of poison widely employed back in the day to kill or merely weaken its victims. Through disinformation and innuendo her power is wrested from her and the affections of her children alienated.

Lynn Cullen continues to outdo herself with each successive work. She obliquely mentions Juana of Castile in her wonderful Creation of Eve and her story unfolds in Reign of Madness. Her meticulous research gives substance and texture to the fascinating historical faction of one of history's most hapless heroines. Cullen pulls the reader right into the heart of the court and castle, bringing home the passions and disappointments of this most pitiful queen.

The maps and family charts are a welcome enhancement and aid in keeping the august cast of characters straight. Her frequent inclusion of nature, especially birds, brings a vibrant immediacy to her writing that draws the reader deep into the narrative. Her mastery of the telling sexual details is not lurid, but evocative of Edith Wharton. Like a train wreck, you won't be able to stop turning the pages, in false hope that surely things can't go as badly awry as they seem.
Rating: *****

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