The reign of Isabella I brought about the Golden Age of Spain, discovery of the New World and the Spanish Inquisition.
Isabella I of Spain was a mighty woman in her time, co-ruling Spain with her husband, Ferdinand II. Her role was significant to such events as the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Granada, the formation of the Inquisition and Christopher Columbus’s travels to the New World. This woman, who in many ways was mother to Europe in her time, lived a full and intriguing life.
Isabella was born 22 April 1451 at Madrigal de las Altas Torres, the daughter of John II, King of Castile and his second wife, Isabella of Portugal. Princess Isabella was very well educated, as were all of her siblings, regardless of gender. She became a great patroness of the arts early in life as well.
Isabella and Ferdinand Wed
Her brother Henry IV held the throne of Castile before she ascended to it, and she waited patiently for her turn. Her brother was frequently taken advantage of and Isabella was offered the crown illegally due to her brother’s weakness, but she would not accept. Her fidelity won her the title of Henry’s immediate successor, before his own daughter, Joan.
As king, Henry IV had much say in the affairs of his sister, Isabella. In 1460, Henry offered her hand to Don Carlos, Prince of Viana, the eldest son of John II of Aragon and heir to the Kingdom of Navarre. His father, John II, however, wished for her to marry his younger son, Ferdinand, instead so that he may receive the crown of Castile through Isabella.
In 1465, negotiations for her marriage to Don Carlos came to an end at his death. Subsequently, Isabella refused an offer to marry the King of Portugal because she had already decided in favor of Ferdinand. Henry, however, attempted to sway her from her decision. Isabella did not give up her fight, though. In 1467, she stayed away from court because Henry was attempting to arrange a marriage for her which she was unhappy about it.
Finally in 1469, at the palace of Juan de Vivero, Isabella, after sneaking away from court when her brother traveled to Andalusia and having tracked Ferdinand down, she married her chosen husband. Ferdinand had also recently been named King of Sicily.
War Between Spain and Portugal
In retaliation, Henry arranged the betrothal between Alfonso V of Portugal to his daughter, Joan. Before his death, Henry named Joan his immediate successor, thereby cutting Isabella off from the throne.
Not to take such matters lightly, Isabella fought the claim after Henry’s passing. Her former allies against the princess now sided with Joan. War ensued between Spain and Portugal for five years. In 1479, the war ended in peace and a double alliance was made between the two countries. Joan subsequently went into a convent and Isabella took the crown of Castile.
Grenada, the Inquisition and Christopher Columbus
1492 was a significant year for Ferdinand and Isabella. In this year, the Moors and Jews were expelled from Granada and the Inquisition was constructed for the purpose of rooting out non-Christians from Spain and spreading terror in their wake. In the same year, though, Isabella also sponsored the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World.
The successful alliance between Castile and Aragon, after several centuries of separation led to the Golden Age of Spain. Isabella believed in an extensive education for her children, who married into the royal families of Europe. She held many beliefs that were protofeminist in nature. She believed in equal education for her sons and her daughters. Likewise, she thwarted Ferdinand’s early attempts at usurping her position as Queen of Castile. She insisted until the day she died in having a say in the affairs of her territories.
Isabella I passed away 26 November 1504 in La Mota, Medina del Campo. Ferdinand continued to rule for twelve more years after her death. He was succeeded by their daughter, Joanna’s son Charles as Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Another granddaughter, through their daughter Catherine and her husband Henry VIII of England, became Queen Mary of England. Isabella’s legacy continued after her, just as the legacy of a Golden Age queen should.
- Armado, R. R. “Isabella I,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.
- Bard, Rachel. “ Queen Isabella of Castile: Co-ruler of Castile and Aragon 1469-1504,” Medieval Queens. 2004-2008.
- “Ferdinand II of Aragon,” Luminarium Encyclopedia Project. 2001.