Isabella and Ferdinand’s reign heralded in a golden age and marked the beginning of Spain’s modern history with the Reconquista, Christopher Columbus and the Inquisition.
Their marriage on 19 October 1469 united Spain. Isabella preferred Ferdinand as she turned down all other offers including the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). He was handsome, a year younger than Isabella, excelled at sport and he was heir to the kingdom of Aragon.
Isabella’s brother Henry IV reigned over a licentious court and anarchy. The treasury was almost empty and Castile was weakened by civil wars. Robbery and murder were common. Many doubted Henry was the biological father of his daughter Joanna, known as La Beltraneja.
Henry died in December 1474 and Isabella was proclaimed Queen. She asserted her rights when Ferdinand insisted taking precedence. The government agreed Isabella was the true heiress of Castile and Ferdinand’s authority derived from her. Ferdinand was not happy but Isabella managed to soothe his wounded vanity and made him see reason.
War of Succession
La Beltraneja was declared the rightful heir by disgruntled nobles and Portugal. The War of Succession lasted four years when Isabella and Ferdinand defeated the Portuguese. Isabella negotiated a treaty with her aunt Doña Beatriz and ended the strife. La Beltraneja spent the rest of her life in a convent.
Isabella and Ferdinand restored law and order. Isabella founded the Santa Hernandad (Holy Brotherhood), a military force, who dealt with highway robbery, burglary, rape and other serious crimes. It was later replaced by a police force.
Reconquista and the Inquisition
The Reconquista was a crusade against the infidel and desire to serve God and the Catholic Faith.
Isabella and Ferdinand focused their attention to Granada, the only Muslim stronghold. Granada finally conceded defeat after eighteen months of sieges. Terms of surrender, which included tolerance of Islam, was respected for only a few years. They rebelled in 1501 and were ordered to convert to Christianity or suffer expulsion.
Isabella granted Christopher Columbus a commission to discover the Americas in 1492. (He actually landed in the Bahamas.) Columbus began the crusade for America and colonisation. His noble intentions were replaced by greed, slavery, disease and genocide.
Isabella vowed to eradicate heresy for God’s glory if she became Queen, but she did not want to establish the Inquisition. She was reluctant to bring further suffering upon her people. The Inquisition was founded in 1478 after a two-year delay.
Resentment towards successful conversos (new Christians who practiced Judaism in secret) increased. Many Jews were robbed and murdered and their houses and synagogues destroyed. They were forced to wear special badges on their clothing, live in ghettos and faced restrictions on marriage, holding public office or employment. (These restrictions were lifted once they were baptized as Christians.)
In 1492, Jews were forced to convert or face expulsion. The mass exodus of Jews severely affected the economy with a decline in revenue. It hindered Spain’s economic future.
Isabella and Ferdinand had five children: Isabella (1470), John (1476), Joanna (1479), Maria (1482) and Catherine (1485).
The heir John died unexpectedly in 1497 when travelling to Portugal for his older sister’s wedding. Their daughter Isabella died a year later in childbirth.
Catherine married Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1501, but he died from tuberculosis in 1502. She eventually married his brother, Henry VIII, in 1509.
Isabella died in 1503. The Castilian throne passed to her eldest surviving daughter, Joanna. Ferdinand assumed the Regency as Joanna was mentally unstable.
Ferdinand spent the latter part of his reign involved in disputes over Italy. Spain was on the threshold of becoming a world power when he died in 1516.
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- Fraser, Antonia, The Warrior Queens: Boadicea’s Chariot
- Kamen, Henry, A Concise History of Spain
- Plaidy, Jean, The Rise of the Spanish Inquisition
- Reston Jr, James, Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition and the Defeat of the Moors