The Dona Gracia Project

Commemorating a Remarkable Jewish Woman

An award-winning biography based upon newly-discovered documents

The Woman who Defied Kings

Paragon House, 2002

Comprhensive biography based upon original 16th century documents. This excerpt gives you an introduction to the theme and material and also the easy-reading style of the writing.



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 Doņa Gracia Nasi, and for their infant daughter, Ana.
Not only were they losing a husband and father. The death of Francisco would have larger implications that Doņa Gracia, still in her twenties, must have feared almost more than widowhood.
In time, Francisco's death would catapult his spirited, strong willed young widow to the helm of one of the foremost banking houses of Renaissance Europe. But her inherited wealth would prove as much a burden as a boon.
At her dying husband's side, Doņa Gracia would have known even then that ruthless courtiers were plotting to seize his estate. Francisco had been a powerful confidante of Portugal's King John III. He had been regularly supplying the crown with indispensable loans. These connections had always shielded her and Ana while he was alive. No longer.
Moreover, if she chose to retain control of her life and fortune and fulfill her political goals, she was well aware that the emotional and social comforts of remarriage, or even a publicly-recognized lover, would be off limits to her for the remainder of her days.
It was a classic 16th century woman's dilemma and an agonizing prospect indeed.
Doņa Gracia's apprehensions were well founded, as we shall see. Yet with her shrewd intelligence, taste for intrigue and exquisite timing, she was to become more than a match for any of the royal adversaries she would confront during her turbulent life.
While steering Francisco's sprawling business interests, she would defy her enemies by spending most of her fortune on a humanitarian enterprise that would engross her more than the profitable royal loans, spice monopolies, syndications and currency arbitrage favored by her husband....

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July 5 - 11
A session on Dona Gracia will be part of a week-long program studying Jews in the Renaissance. Berkshire Hills Adult Vacation Center, Copake, N.Y.
August 3 - 5
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