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May 18, 2010

GIVEAWAY! Mitchell Kaplan's 'By Fire, By Water' Author Post

Available today for purchase!
Other Press (May 18, 2010)
The Burton Review is pleased to announce the virtual presence of Mitchell Kaplan, the author of the new novel By Fire, By Water. May 18th is it's official release date and I wanted to help promote this spectacular piece of work with a giveaway and a guest post! I recently reviewed this book (linked here) and I recommend this novel to anyone interested in the dynamics that the Spanish Inquisition had on the common folk of the times. Read further for the details on how you can win a copy of this inspiring novel.

The Pope and the Spanish Inquisition
by Mitchell James Kaplan

In the late 1470s, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand approached Pope Sixtus IV with a request to establish an inquisition in Castille. The purpose of this tribunal would be to root out the “judaizing heresy” among so-called New Christians. Many of these New Christians descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity two generations earlier.

The pope refused to authorize the establishment of this special inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand answered by threatening to withdraw their military support for the pope’s crusade against the Ottomans.

This crusade was Sixtus’s most important project. The Islamic Ottoman empire had been slowly expanding since the 13th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was felt as an earthquake throughout Christendom. During the following decades, the Ottomans took the Balkans, Greece, much of North Africa, and even parts of present-day Italy. From where the pope sat, it looked like Rome was next. His primary responsibility was to protect Christendom.

Although wealthy New Christians effectively made their case to the pope, all their eloquence and gifts were worth little compared to the possibility of Spain’s withdrawal from the pope’s crusade. Yielding to Isabella and Ferdinand’s pressure, Sixtus IV finally allowed them to establish an inquisition in Castille. In a break with tradition, he even allowed them to appoint the inquisitors themselves.

To understand what Isabella and Ferdinand did with this historically unique opportunity, and why, you have to understand who they were.

In my view, Isabella of Castille was a usurper. She invented the myth that her half-brother Henry IV was “impotent” and/or a “sodomizer” and that Henry’s daughter Joanna, to whom he willed the throne, was illegitimate. She waged war on Henry and Joanna and ultimately prevailed, but only by marrying Ferdinand and adding the power of Aragon’s military to her own.

Isabella and Ferdinand were conquerors. Once they consolidated power in their own lands, they were not inclined to stop. In attempting to retake Granada from the Moors, they appealed to their soldiers’ religious zeal and patriotic fervor. But where had that zeal been when Isabella and Ferdinand had threatened to withdraw from the pope’s crusade? Surely the Ottomans represented a far greater threat to Christendom than the tiny Nasrid emirate in Granada.
The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I, of Castile and León
In order to carry out their plan and achieve the greatness for which they believed they were destined, the monarchs needed capital. The fastest way to acquire this capital was to steal it from New Christians, who as a class had acquired sudden wealth since leaving their ghettos. By weakening the New Christians, Isabella and Ferdinand were able to appease their aristocratic supporters, many of whom felt threatened by the rapid rise of an “upper middle class” of New Christian traders, physicians, legal advisors, and cartographers.

In By Fire, By Water, I hinted at the struggle between the New Christians, the pope, and the monarchs of Spain. In one of the early drafts, I developed this thread further. But I came to feel it distracted from the thrust of my story, which needed to be focused on Luis de Santangel and Judith Migdal even while suggesting the complexity of their world. By Fire, By Water is not a book about the Inquisition per se. It is the story of a man whom the Spanish Inquisition scorched but did not burn.

Thank you so much to Mitchell for providing us with more insights into his novel.

The publisher is generously offering two copies for a giveaway (US/Canada only). To enter for this random drawing, you must comment with your email address, discussing anything related to the topics above, such as Isabella of Castille or Ferdinand of Aragon, Christopher Columbus/Colon (a character in the novel), or the Spanish Inquisition.

Edited to change the Giveaway date to May 28th. Good Luck!