One of the darkest periods in Spain’s history provides rich pickings for writers, says the children’s author, inspiring novelists from Jean Plaidy to Philippa Gregory
Scottish author and librarian Theresa Breslin has written over 30 books for children. Ranging from historical fiction to tales of modern life and from fantasy and science fiction to school stories, Breslin’s books for young adults include the Carnegie medal-winning Whispers in the Graveyard, starring a dyslexic main character, and Divided City. Her titles for younger readers include Bullies at School and The Magic Factory series.
Her new novel Prisoner of the Inquisition, set during the Spanish inquisition and following the story of the pampered daughter of the town magistrate Zarita, and a boy who swears revenge after his father is hanged for an assault on Zarita he didn’t commit, is out on 1 April.
1. Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition by Rafael Sabatini
If you’re looking for factual background to the subject of the Spanish inquisition, Sabatini would be a good first port of call. This is a colourful and dramatic biography of the monk who became the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, and whose name has come down to us through the ages associated with torture and terror.
2. The Rise, The Growth and The End of the Spanish Inquisition by Jean Plaidy
A three volume non-fiction work which attempts to cover the whole history of the Spanish inquisition. Although sparing of consideration of any aspect of contemporary brutality and comparison with the times, it’s still a good introduction and gives conversational style detail as well as an insight into the workings of the inquisition in Spain.
3. The Inquisition of the Middle Ages: Its Organisation and Operation, and A History of the Inquisition of Spain by Henry Charles Lea
If you want to cover the vast scope of the subject, go ahead and knock yourself out with the whole shebang in these titles. Accused of prejudice, exaggerations and inaccuracies, these still remain the seminal texts on the subject. They don’t flinch from detail, however, so are not for the fainthearted.
4. Torquemada by Howard Fast
With such a compelling subject and dramatic characters, it’s not surprising that a great many novelists have covered the period of history encompassed by the Spanish inquisition. Most books focus on the early years — the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand and the dreaded but fascinating Tomas de Torquemada. Fast’s novel is a chilling psychological study of the relationship between two men: one a Spanish nobleman, the other the monk newly elected as Grand Inquisitor of Spain during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. A tale of obsession, of righteous conviction which obliterates compassion and the effect this has upon the psyche of each man, Torquemada explores the inner truths of the human soul. Utterly compelling.
5.The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
Brilliant portrayal of Katherine of Aragon from a magnificent historical novelist, this book skilfully uses flashback to tell of Katherine’s life in Spain as a pampered princess of the Spanish monarchs. Worth reading too for an insight into the difficulties of the life of Queen Isabella. Gregory’s use of language made me feel as though I was walking with Katherine on slippered feet through the halls of the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
6. Castile for Isabella and 7. Spain for the Sovereigns by Jean Plaidy
It’s great to see Jean Plaidy’s work being reissued with classy covers. I’m sure I owe a lot of my love of history to Ms Plaidy, as I gobbled her books up as teenager. She might be considered a little old-fashioned in style now, but her well-researched historical settings give her scenes authenticity, while her dialogue develops character and enlists the sympathy of the reader. Without avoiding the ravages of the inquisition, these books personalise the life stories of the great monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, who unified Spain, brought law to an unruly land and had the foresight to finance the expedition of a little known explorer-mariner called Christopher Columbus.
8. The Last Queen: a Novel of Juana La Loca by Christopher Gortner
A highly readable account of the fascinating life of one of the daughters of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. Juana was sister to Katherine of Aragon who married Henry VIII of England, and like her sister Katherine, Juana’s life was one of many trials. Always mercurial in temperament, she was driven to madness by the death of her much-loved husband. So besotted was she, and so unable to accept the fact he had passed on, that she carted her husband’s corpse around with her on her travels for months after he died. The book is a sympathetic treatment of the main character, Juana, and the tragic life of a woman who perhaps lived and loved too intensely.
9. The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus edited and translated by JM Cohen
Gives extracts from the log books and diaries Columbus kept while on his voyage, and includes material from the biography written by his son as well as from the letters of some of the officers who voyaged with him. This book allows the reader an intimate glimpse of the compulsion which drove the explorer, the movement in the minds of his contemporaries and the times that shaped him.
10. The Mysterious Lost Book
I know, I know. In addition to being a writer I’m a librarian — professionally trained and everything. I should have all my stock catalogued and key-worded and arranged alphabetically with index cards for each one in little drawers, but I didn’t, I didn’t. And I’m really very sorry that I didn’t. So now I’ve got a book I can’t find. I don’t know the title and I can’t remember the author (his first name may have been Frank). My edition had a racy cover showing a voluptuous female falling out of the front of her (red?) dress. In that respect the book promised more than it delivered, but it did have a riveting plot and was very revealing on the complexities of religious tension in Europe, relating that the upright Calvinists were not averse to devious plotting and burning a few folks when they felt like it. Oh how I used to adore people who came into my library and asked me to find a book with such scant information. But now I’m offering a prize — a signed copy of the first hardback edition of Prisoner of the Inquisition to anyone who tracks this one down for me. So, go for it, all you interested-in-the-inquisition bibliophiles out there, and let me know if you can track that one down. I’m waiting to hear from you.