One wintry day early in 1535, merchant banker Francisco Mendes lay dying in his whitewashed, tile-roofed home near the royal palace in Lisbon. It was a pivotal moment for his elegant wife Beatrice, later known as Dona Gracia Nasi. The death of Francisco, one of Europe's wealthiest spice traders, offered Dona Gracia, still in her twenties, an unsettling mix of promise and peril." So begins the remarkable rise to power of one of the greatest Jewish women of all time; an international woman banker who used her family's fortune and access to the royal courts of Europe to save thousands of her people from torture, ruin and death at the brutal hands of Inquisition officials.
The Woman Who Defied Kings is the first modern, comprehensive biography of Doña Gracia Nasi, an outstanding Jewish international banker during the Renaissance. A courageous leader, she used her wealth and connections to operate an "underground railroad" that saved hundreds of her fellow Spanish and Portuguese conversos (Jews who had been forced to convert to Catholicism) from the horrors of the Inquisition. Born in Lisbon in 1510, she later moved onto Antwerp, Venice and Ferrara where she was constantly negotiating with kings and emperors for better conditions for her people. Doña Gracia Nasi helped lead a boycott of the Italian port of Ancona in retaliation for the burning of 23 of her people by the Inquisition--an outrageous act in an era when Jews were more accustomed to appeasement. Finally settling in Constantinople, she persuaded Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to grant her a long-term lease on the Tiberias region of the Palestine where she spearheaded one of the earliest attempts to start an independent state for Jews in Israel. Doña Gracia Nasi is equally important to history because she shatters the stereotype of how women, especially Jewish women, conducted their lives during the Renaissance period. Some historians have called her the most important Jewish woman since Biblical times.
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