Juana of Castile, middle daughter of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel, grew up with the knowledge that her role in life is to further her family’s ambitions through marriage. She is wed to the Duke of Burgundy, otherwise known as Philippe the Handsome, and surprises herself by falling in love with her charming and adoring new husband. But the ambitions of her husband soon outweigh any love she has for him, when years later her mother dies, leaving the Spanish crown up for grabs. Rumors are spread about Juana, she is called crazy, possessive, and insane, as Philippe vies for the title of King of Spain that he believes is rightfully his. This novel explores the truth behind Juana of Castile – who was she really, and what role did her husband’s ambition play in creating this image of her that Spain still carries to this day?
I first became interested in Juana of Castile when I read C.W. Gortner’s take on her life, The Last Queen [my review], and I’ve been wanting to read more about her ever since. For this reason, I was super excited to pick up Reign of Madness and dive deeper into the history of Queen Juana, and luckily I found myself just as happy with this novel as I was hoping to be. Cullen truly brought this time period to life before my eyes and allowed me to get another in-depth look at this fascinating historical personality.
The way that Lynn Cullen chose to tell Juana’s story was just perfect. She told the story from Juana’s point of view, offering the reader a peek into what she may have been thinking and feeling during crucial events in her life. Also, the book spans decades – beginning when Juana is just fourteen and ending when she is an old woman. This gives the reader a unique opportunity to get into Juana’s head, throughout all the ups and downs of her life, and get the chance to truly understand her. This worked for me so well because I connected with Juana quite easily. Every time I read historical fiction about royalty, I always feel so deeply sorry for the women as they had so little autonomy over their own lives, and reading this book gave me that same feeling about Juana. She was forced into a marriage to further her family’s kingdom, lucked out enough to actually fall in love with her husband, but then had to deal with his affairs, his drinking, his being away from their home all the time, etc., without any options of getting out of this relationship that was no longer healthy or happy. It just made me sad.
However, reading this novel illustrated for me how strong and determined Juana really was. She did what she could to protect her family of origin and also her new family – her husband Philippe and their children. She loved her husband with a passion and devotion that surprised me, considering how terribly he treated her throughout much of their marriage. She loved her children and wanted badly to be with them even when they were forced to live in different countries. History may call her Juana the Mad but I think a more appropriate name for her, based on what I’ve read in this book, would be Juana the Brave.
Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the peek into Ferdinand and Isabel’s marriage and history. Also, Christopher Columbus was a character in the novel, which was interesting and very enjoyable. It was nice to see another take on what may or may not have happened from the Spanish perspective over that period of history. Cullen made these characters come to life for me and not only was the book nice to learn from, but it provided a very fun reading experience.
I was extremely impressed by Reign of Madness and would definitely recommend it. For those of you who enjoy historical fiction, this book is not to be missed.