Reading Journal Entry: Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi, by Cecil Roth

A book group selection. This is non-fiction month, and the first time I've attended since December. Dona Gracia, of the title, was one of the most powerful women of the 16th century, and I've never heard of her before. A fascinating figure. Her family was among the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, then forcibly converted to Christianity.

After the death of her husband and brother-in-law, she was left in control of one of the largest mercantile fortunes in Europe. Her family fled from Portugal to Antwerp to Italy, always at risk of their property or persons being seized by the Inquisition or the temporal powers, who at one point schemed to kidnap her daughter and niece as marriage prizes.

Finally she found a place of refuge in Constantinople and openly reverted to Judaism. She devoted the rest of her life to safeguarding Jews, funding escape from Europe for other 'forced converts', funding rabbinical schools and good works in Israel.

Cecil Roth's writing style is a little dry, especially compared to the lush novelistic writing of modern historical non-fiction. But it was an amazing story, and I'm glad to have read it.

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