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Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

Reign of Madness (2011)

by Lynn Cullen

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698264,497 (3.77)12
A fictionalized account of Spanish queen Juana de Castile traces her succession to the throne after the reign of Queen Isabel, her marriage to Philippe the Handsome, and the accusations of insanity that prompted her half-century tower imprisonment.



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Juana of Castile, also known as “Juana the Mad”, was the daughter of Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. With two older siblings, she never thought she’d have a chance to be queen. She was married to Philippe of Flanders, who was lower ranked than she was. Initially in love with Philippe, things turned sour after a while, as Philippe dallied with other women, and began to treat Juana badly. When Juana did inherit her mother’s crown in Casile, Philippe managed to take her power from her.

The book started when Juana was young and living with her parents and siblings. It continued to follow her and Philippe’s relationship and travels between the Spains and Flanders. I found the beginning of the book a bit slow. It also jumped over time a bit. But, I thought it really picked up about the time Juana realized what a cad Philippe was. The author fictionalized a reason why Juana may have ultimately wanted to stay out of the limelight and not be queen, which was somewhat entertaining. In any case, I found the additional information about Christopher Columbus interesting, as I haven’t read much about him (though I did know his explorations were funded by Isabel and Ferdinand). The author did have a note at the end, separating out fact from fiction, which is always nice. It was particularly interesting to note what really happened with Beatriz, who was Juana’s closest lady. ( )
  LibraryCin | May 20, 2019 |
I will admit this book had me fooled. I judged this based on the brief description I read and the cover. I must be grabbed in the first five minutes or I tend to put books down. Well this book did not grab me. However it was sent to me to review so I muddled through it.

Overall this was well written. The author takes the time to explain the circumstance behind the happenings. After I got through the first few chapters I was hooked. I am glad I took the time to read this finally. ( )
  jaynep140 | Mar 10, 2012 |
I was intrigued by the story and knew very little about Spanish history and about Juana the Mad when I began reading Reign of Madness. I think that this lack of background information made it easy for me to dive into the story, to sympathize with Juana and to find myself staunchly on her side.

Juana had never expected to become queen of Spain. She was the daughter of Queen Isabela, one of the most powerful queens in Spanish European history and the mother of Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire but she was third in line to the throne. Cullen's book is historical fiction and much dramatized, but I was fascinated by Juana's situation and her reaction to her husband's dominance and manipulation. His power over her -- from his position as husband and her lack of allies in the Netherlands -- and his emotional and sexual dominance kept Juana from exercising her considerable political power.

The relationship between Juana and her mother Queen Isabela is even more fascinating. Juana grew up intimidated by and scared of her mother, the Queen. But Juana eventually understands her mother's point of view and the lessons that Queen Isabela tried to pass on and the attempt to reconcile is heartbreaking.

If you enjoy historical fiction, intrigue and drama, you will thoroughly enjoy Reign of Madness. I highly recommend it!

ISBN-10: 0399157093 - Hardcover $25.99
Publisher: Putnam Adult (August 4, 2011), 448 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher. ( )
1 vote gaby317 | Sep 11, 2011 |
Juana of Castile is just a girl in the court of her illustrious parents, Isabel and Fernando, rulers of the Spanish Empire, when she gets the news that she is to marry Phillipe the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy. This means traveling to a country very different from her own to live with a man she’s never met, a situation that troubles her. When she’s received in Phillipe’s court, brave Juana is hopeful that life with her doting and handsome husband will be all she hopes it can be. And for awhile, it is. Phillipe is loving and attentive, and despite some minor flaws, treats his new wife with tenderness and love. But soon Juana is noticing that Phillipe has an eye for the ladies and would much rather spend his time hunting then with her and the royal heirs. But still Juana is patient with her husband, until the day when plans are made to transfer the power of the Spanish throne to her with Phillipe acting only as king consort. This seems to quietly enrage Phillipe, and soon he is on a campaign to smear Juana's name and reputation. When he plants rumors that she’s gone mad and locks her away, Juana is confused and saddened but doesn’t know how best to quash this threat. Soon Juana is alone and friendless with rumors of her madness spread far and wide. Will Phillipe succeed in taking the crown of Spain for himself and making everyone truly believe that Juana is mad? Or will someone or something help Juana overcome this disaster that seems to be shaping her future? In this breathtaking and provocative new novel by Lynne Cullen, the doors are thrown open to the past and the story of Juana the Mad is re-imagined with a fresh perspective that might be closer to the truth than anyone has ever realized.

I’ve got to hand it to Lynne Cullen. This is the second book of hers that has just blown my socks off. Last year, I read and loved The Creation of Eve, and was impressed with Cullen’s fluid writing and gift for story creation. While it’s no secret that I adore historical fiction, there are some specimens that are better than others, and Cullen’s books seem to have that undefinable sprinkling of magic that make my eyes want to rove slowly and languorously over the pages. In her fictional treatment of the infamous Juana the Mad, Cullen gives us an inexpressibly human character who is caught in one of the most bizarre and terrifying situations ever to be imagined. And though the truth may be stranger than fiction, as Cullen mentions in her end notes, this book certainly captures the perplexing situation that Juana of Castille found herself in.

While at times I thought Juana was a little naive, when I stopped to examine the situation a little more fully, I realized that it wasn’t really naivety that kept Juana at a disadvantage with Phillipe. it was more that she had a forgiving and optimistic heart, and that she wished to create a situation that was more peaceable not only for herself, but for her family and subjects. And I came to see then than Juana was very brave, though perhaps a little foolhardy, when dealing with her husband who turned like a chameleon from attentive and loving to domineering and controlling. It was such a complete reversal that I could see why Juana was stunned and confused by him. Where at first Phillipe didn’t seem to care about becoming acting regent for Spain, his interest suddenly sharpened and began to overwhelm all the other aspects of his personality. When Phillipe begins to do the unthinkable to Juana, there is little power the woman can assert as she has been virtually isolated in this foreign land.

A good portion of this book also examined the relationship between Fernando and Isabel as seen through the eyes of their middle daughter, Juana. Because of Isabel’s formidable personality as regent, Juana was never able to become close to her mother, and was never able to learn about her to any satisfactory degree. Fernando, though seemingly content, was portrayed as feeling somewhat emasculated by his strong wife whose subjects often called her King Isabel. In later chapters, Fernando is also responsible for keeping Juana’s crown from her, and one wonders if this was due to the rumors that Phillipe spread about the realm or if it was his own ambition that was in play. It was sad to realize that Juana was beset by traitors from all sides, and although she felt content to relinquish her power at times, it was clearly wrong for others to try to usurp it. It angered me to see her disregarded and treated as a joke or a nonentity, and though she was tractable, it was hard not to feel that there was a degree of weakness to Juana’s actions. But truth be told, there really weren’t many options open to her.

In this examination of Juana’s life, I came to see that the power plays between monarchs and their courts could not only be dangerous but also deceptive and controversial. In the end notes, Cullen speaks about a trip to Spain where the old myths about Mad Queen Juana are seriously offensive to some of the natives. It’s in this kernel of revelation that the story in Reign of Madness really begins to pepper its readers about the accuracy of the history we’ve all been taught and believe. Cullen rounds out her tale with guest appearances from Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and other famous regents and religious men of the time. The effect is one of total encapsulation of the time period, and brings Juana and her life into fulsomely colorful relief, rendered with an expert’s hand at sussing out conspiracy, plots and revenge.

I loved this look into the life of a woman that I knew so little about, and I thought Cullen did a wonderful job of creating a vivid representation of what might have actually happened in the life of Mad Queen Juana. Cullen has once again exceeded my expectations and delivered a flawless historical fiction novel that I fully savored and appreciated. It was a wonderful book that is sure to have its share of admirers. Highly recommended! ( )
  zibilee | Aug 24, 2011 |
I did not know much about Juana of Castile before reading this book but I now know that I want to know more.This tale of yet another young woman in history sold to a man she did not know for political reasons is unbelievably sad. While a work of fiction the story is based on what fact has come down through history.

Juana was the third daughter of the very famous Ferdinand and Isabella. She was not expected to ever ascend to the throne of "the Spains" but as a royal daughter she was sent to Austria to marry the Duke of Burgundy, known as Philippe the Handsome. He does seem to care for her as much as he can care for anyone other than himself but he is a vain, power hungry man. When Juana, through the tragic deaths of her brother, sister and mother ends up becoming Queen of Spain he in cahoots with her father has her locked up for close to 50 years. The men in her life, the men who were supposed to love her and support her stole her power and created the myth that she was crazy.

Ms. Cullen creates a fictional reason why Juana allowed this to occur since no one knows the true reason. The book fascinated me. I was drawn in from the beginning and I fell in love with this poor young woman. I feel so very sorry for what she had to endure and for what history has done to her.

The beginning of the book details Juana's life as a child in her parent's court. She meets Christopher Columbus and becomes infatuated with his son Diego. She is eventually told of her marriage to the Duke of Burgundy and embarks on her way to meet and marry him but is shocked at the ways of his court and people. She finds a way to adapt so as to keep him happy since a man at that time owned his wife and could do anything to and with her. There is much foreshadowing early in the tale.

Ms. Cullen's writing style is easy to read and draws you in to the era. History is finite so it is a good author that can breathe such life into old myths and create a reason to reconsider what has come through time. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Aug 9, 2011 |
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