Monday, October 19, 2009

CW Gortner Interview

The wonder C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen, based on Juana of Castile, was kind enough to conduct an interview with me where I was able to ask him some questions about his The Last Queen as well as his future book based on Catherine Medici. I was honored that the talented Gortner was kind enough to take the time to converse with me and take the time to answers my many questions. If you have not read The Last Queen I highly recommend it. You can find my review here

1) Why do you think Juana was betrayed by those she trusted, who let the world think she was mad?

I think Juana was betrayed for the same reasons so many women of the time were: misogyny and power. Her husband Philip wanted her throne so badly, he longed to prove himself so desperately, he just got caught up in his own ambition to such an extent he ceased to see Juana as a human being. Women in particular in those days were still regarded as subservient to men, and though women had ruled countries and would continue to do so very successfully, it still was enough of a rarity for men to challenge it. We must remember that virulent anti-women tracts such as John Knox's, which he published in the 16th century against Mary of Scots and Elizabeth I, reflected a prevailing sentiment; a woman's place was to bear her husband children and care for his hall, not sitting on the throne. It's barbaric but it's one of the distasteful and unavoidable aspects of the era, and Juana was victimized by it as were thousands of other women. Calling a woman mad because she challenged a man's right was, unfortunately, something all too easy to use.

2) How do you think Isabella her mother would have reacted if she had know what was done to her daughter?

I would hope she'd have been horrified. Though Isabella herself did some very questionable things in her lifetime, she believed absolutely in the right of the monarchy and she would have wanted her daughter to rule. Isabella bequeathed her throne to Juana in her will, with the stipulation that if Juana proved unable or unwilling to be queen, a regency would be set up until Juana's son Charles came of age. It is very unfortunate that while on her deathbed, Isabella was so divided by the rumors she'd heard of Juana's alleged instability; it probably tormented her, as she was unsure as to what would happen to Spain once she was gone. But I do not believe Isabella thought her daughter was mad or incapable of ruling: I think she tried to prepare Spain for every possible scenario, in case something happened to Juana.

3) What did you discover about Juana during your research that didn't make it to the book?

Like her mother, Juana was deeply religious. Her faith was strong and it sustained her; unfortunately, during the editing process this aspect of her personality was deleted, to better emphasize her own internal strength and courage. She also had a passionate love of music and always kept a company of hired musicians in her employ.

4) Do you think Philip loved Juana or the titles and lands she brought into their marriage? If he did love her what caused him to treat her so monstrously after such a short time of marriage?

I think Philip was incapable of truly loving anyone. He had such a dysfunctional childhood, with his mother dying while he was a baby and his father being so aloof and physically distant. He was raised by servants and governors, taught to be a Habsburg prince first, before all else. Emotional maturity was secondary, if it was ever considered at all. Power, wealth, and titles: these are what mattered. I think his sense of self was warped by everything expected of him. I believe he probably cared for Juana at first, as much as he could, but when things became difficult he lashed out because he was frustrated by his own inadequacies. While Juana had a truly honest heart, Philip did not. He was horrifying to her, but I do try to understand all of my characters, good and bad, to get a sense of where they come from and what makes them who they are.

5) How do you think Juana would have fared as Queen?

Interesting question. I like to think, with the right Council and advisors at her side, that she would have done well. It's not inconceivable that she could have ruled, but she was under so much pressure from her opponents, had been physically and emotionally abused to such an extent, it's difficult to judge 500 years later how she might have fared. However, judging by how she stood up to everything and never backed down, and looking at her longevity, even while imprisoned, she was undoubtedly a very strong woman, who may well have made a strong queen.

6) I read somewhere that Juana was so in love with Philip that she became mad with her obsessions and this why she is called Juana the Mad. Where do you think this idea came from?

It's part of her legend, the traditional explanation, and an excuse that her opponents used, I think, for why she had to be locked up. I don't believe it; I believe Juana did fall in love with him, yes, but she also did not react to his infidelities in the way she was expected to, and this sowed the legend. In Juana's era, it was expected that a prince would be unfaithful to his wife; she was supposed to deal with it and not make a fuss, much as Catherine of Aragon did with her husband Henry VIII's numerous infidelities, at least until Anne Boleyn came along! But Juana did not act conventionally. On the contrary, she took strong offense to Philip's deceit and even publicly confronted his mistress. To many of those around her, her behavior looked neurotic, almost obsessive. To us today, her reactions seem justifiable, but this is how legends start, with a kernel of fact. Later, when Juana was accused of being mad, her previous reactions to her husband's philandering dovetailed rather neatly into the entire scenario that she'd gone "mad of love" for Philip.

7) And of course I must know more about your next book. I read that you found Catherine to be one of the most fascinating woman in history. What drew you to her story?

Catherine at first for the same reasons that I was drawn to Juana; Catherine de Medici is maligned by history, and I’m always attracted to dark historical legends. I figure, if the person had a strong enough personality to garner a legend, then the truth has to be even more spectacular. And as in Juana’s case, Catherine de Medici’s legend – while certainly lurid, even heinous—doesn’t begin to do justice to her incredible strength and complexity. Catherine rose from obscurity as a neglected queen-consort to dominate France during one of the 16th century’s most savage religious conflicts; she was mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots, and mother of the last Valois kings; she ruled at the same time as Elizabeth I, who seriously considered marrying one of Catherine’s own sons. She led an intensely dramatic, tumultuous life; she made many mistakes, one of them so violent and bloody it blackened her name forever; but she also showed remarkable tolerance in an age infamous for its bigotry, and her fight to save France from destruction forestalled the fall of the French monarchy for 200 years, until the Revolution. I like to say that just as Juana is far more than the stereotypical passionate woman who went mad out of love, Catherine is much more than the clich├ęd evil queen, with her poisons and hidden daggers. I hope readers will find her as fascinating as I have, for she has become one of my favorite historical characters.

8) Also what are you going to work on next after Catherine?

Hopefully, I am returning to Spain. I recently submitted the proposal and sample chapters of my new novel to my editor, so I've got my fingers crossed!

Jasmine, thank you so much for your generosity and for taking this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy THE LAST QUEEN. Readers can always visit me at to learn more about my work and upcoming books, as well as special offers such as a virtual tour of Juana’s world.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to read Catherine, and hear more about your next book CW!