, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Isabella I (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504) was Queen of Castile from 1474 and Queen consort of Aragon from 1479, reigning over a dynastically unified Spain jointly with her husband Fernando II.

Isabella I,

Isabella was born in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Ávila, to King Juan II of Castile and his second wife, Isabella of Portugal on April 22, 1451. At the time of her birth, she was second in line to the throne after her older half-brother Infante Enrique of Castile. Enrique was 26 at that time and married, but childless. Isabella’s younger brother Alfonso of Castile was born two years later on November 17, 1453, lowering her position to third in line.

Infante Enrique, Prince of Asturias celebrated had his marriage to Blanche of Navarre in 1440, when he was 15 years old. Blanche of Navarre Was the daughter of John II of Aragon and Blanche I of Navarre.

The Cardinal Juan de Cervantes presided over the official ceremony. The marriage had been agreed in 1436 as part of the peace negotiations between Castille and Navarre.

Enrique alleged that he had been incapable of sexually consummating the marriage, despite having tried for over three years, the minimum period required by the church. Other women, prostitutes from Segovia, testified that they had had sexual relations with Enrique, which is why he blamed his inability to consummate the marriage on a curse.

Enrique IV, King of Castile

Enrique’s claim of “permanent impotence” only affected his relations with Blanche. Blanche and Enrique were cousins, and he was also a cousin of Joan of Portugal, whom he wanted to marry instead. Therefore, the reason he used to seek the annulment was the sort of curse that only affected his ability to consummate this one marriage, and would not cause any problems for him with other women. Pope Nicholas V corroborated the decision in December of the same year in a papal bull and provided a papal dispensation for Enrique’s new marriage with the sister of the Portuguese king.

When Isabella’s father, King Juan II died on July 20, 1454 her half-brother ascended to the throne as King Enrique IV of Castile. Isabella and her brother Infante Alfonso were left in King Enrique IV’s care. Isabella, her mother, and Alfonso then moved to Arévalo.

Infanta Joan of Portugal was the the posthumous daughter of King Duarte of Portugal and his wife Infanta Eleanor of Aragon, the daughter of Fernando I of Aragon and Eleanor of Alburquerque. The wedding was celebrated in May 1455, but without an affidavit of official bull authorizing the wedding between them, although they were first cousins (their mothers were sisters) and second cousins (their paternal grandmothers were half-sisters). On February 28, 1462, the queen gave birth to a daughter Infanta Joanna la Beltraneja. On May 9, 1462, Joanna was officially proclaimed heir to the throne of Castile and created Princess of Asturias. Enrique had the nobles of Castile swear allegiance to her and promise that they would support her as monarch.

Infanta Joanna la Beltraneja, Princess of Asturias.

These were times of turmoil for Isabella. The living conditions at their castle in Arévalo were poor, and they suffered from a shortage of money. Although her father arranged in his will for his children to be financially well taken care of, King Enrique did not comply with their father’s wishes, either from a desire to keep his half-siblings restricted, or from ineptitude. Even though living conditions were difficult, under the careful eye of her mother, Isabella was instructed in lessons of practical piety and in a deep reverence for religion.

Some of Isabella’s living conditions improved once they moved to Segovia. She always had food and clothing and lived in a castle that was adorned with gold and silver. Isabella’s basic education consisted of reading, spelling, writing, grammar, history, mathematics, art, chess, dancing, embroidery, music, and religious instruction. She and her ladies-in-waiting entertained themselves with art, embroidery, and music. She lived a relaxed lifestyle, but she rarely left Segovia since King Enrique forbade this.

In early 1460s, Castilian nobles became dissatisfied with the rule of King Enrique IV and believed that Queen Joan’s child (Joanna, Princess of Asturias) had not been sired by Enrique. Propaganda and rumour, encouraged by the league of rebellious nobles, argued that her father was Beltrán de la Cueva, a royal favorite of low background whom Henry had elevated to enormous power and who, as suggested by Alfonso de Palencia and others, may have been Enrique’s lover. This resulted in giving Infanta Joanna, Princess of Asturias the name “Juana la Beltraneja”, which has stuck with the girl throughout history. If Joanna was illegitimate, the next in line was Alfonso. If she was legitimate—which is entirely possible—then Alfonso and, ultimately, his famous sister Isabella were both usurpers. Considering Isabella’s impact on world history, this question has fascinated historians for centuries.

The question of Isabella’s marriage was not a new one. She had made her debut in the matrimonial market at the age of six with a betrothal to Infante Fernando of Aragon, the younger son of King Juan II of Aragon and Navarre (whose family was a cadet branch of the House of Trastámara) and Juana Enriquez de Córdoba, 5th Lady of Casarrubios del Monte. At that time, the two kings, Enrique IV and Juan II, were eager to show their mutual love and confidence and they believed that this double alliance would make their eternal friendship obvious to the world. This arrangement, however, did not last long.

In 1465, an attempt was made to marry Isabella to King Alfonso V of Portugal, Enrique IV’s brother-in-law. Through the medium of the Queen and Count of Ledesma, a Portuguese alliance was made. Isabella, however, was wary of the marriage and refused to consent.

A civil war broke out in Castile over King Enrique IV’s inability to act as sovereign. Enrique now needed a quick way to please the rebels of the kingdom. As part of an agreement to restore peace, Isabella was to be betrothed to Pedro Girón Acuña Pacheco, Master of the Order of Calatrava and brother to the King’s favourite, Juan Pacheco. In return, Don Pedro would pay into the impoverished royal treasury an enormous sum of money. Seeing no alternative, Enrique IV agreed to the marriage. Isabella was aghast and prayed to God that the marriage would not come to pass. Her prayers were answered when Don Pedro suddenly fell ill and died while on his way to meet his fiancée.

In 1464 the league of nobles with the Representation of Burgos controlling Isabella’s younger brother, Alfonso, forced Enrique IV to repudiate Joanna and recognize Alfonso as his official heir. Alfonso then became Prince of Asturias, a title previously held by Joanna. Enrique agreed to the compromise with the stipulation that Alfonso someday marry Joanna, to ensure that they both would one day receive the crown.

However, in 1468 at the age of only 14, Alfonso suddenly died. The cause of death is not known, but it likely to have been an illness such as consumption or plague (although it is rumored that he had been deliberately poisoned by his enemies).

When King Enrique IV had recognised Isabella as his heir-presumptive on September 19, 1468, he had also promised that his sister should not be compelled to marry against her will, while she in return had agreed to obtain his consent. It seemed that finally the years of failed attempts at political marriages were over.

There was talk of a marriage to Edward IV of England or to one of his brothers, probably Richard, Duke of Gloucester,(future Richard III); but this alliance was never seriously considered. Once again in 1468, a marriage proposal arrived from Alfonso V of Portugal. Going against his promises made in September, Enrique IV tried to make the marriage a reality. If Isabella married Alfonso, Enrique IV’s daughter Joanna, would marry Alfonso’s son Juan II of Portugal and thus, after the death of the old king, Juan II and Joanna could inherit Portugal and Castile. Isabella refused and made a secret promise to marry her cousin and very first betrothed, Fernando of Aragon.

On May 10, 1475, King Afonso V of Portugal invaded Castile and married Joanna in Plasencia, 15 days later, making her Queen of Portugal.

On October 18, 1469, the formal betrothal took place. Because Isabella and Fernando were second cousins, they stood within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity and the marriage would not be legal unless a dispensation from the Pope was obtained. With the help of the Valencian Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI), Isabella and Fernando were presented with a supposed papal bull by Pius II (who had died in 1464), authorizing Fernando to marry within the third degree of consanguinity, making their marriage legal. Afraid of opposition, Isabella eloped from the court of Enrique IV with the excuse of visiting her brother Alfonso’s tomb in Ávila. Fernando, on the other hand, crossed Castile in secret disguised as a servant. They were married immediately upon reuniting, on October 19, 1469, in the Palacio de los Vivero in the city of Valladolid.

Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile

When Isabella came to the throne in 1474, upon the death of King Enrique IV of Castile was in a state of despair due to her brother Enrique’s reign. It was not unknown that Enrique IV was a big spender and did little to enforce the laws of his kingdom. It was even said by one Castilian denizen of the time that murder, rape, and robbery happened without punishment. Because of this, Isabella needed desperately to find a way to reform her kingdom.

Queen Isabella reorganized the governmental system, brought the crime rate to the lowest it had been in years, and unburdened the kingdom of the enormous debt her brother had left behind. Isabella’s marriage to Fernando II of Aragon in 1469 created the basis of the de facto unification of Spain. Her reforms and those she made with her husband had an influence that extended well beyond the borders of their united kingdoms.

Isabella and Fernando are known for completing the Reconquista, ordering conversion or exile to their Jewish and Muslim subjects, and for supporting and financing Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage that led to the opening of the New World and to the establishment of Spain as a major power in Europe and much of the world for more than a century. Isabella, granted together with her husband the title “the Catholic” by Pope Alexander VI, was recognized as a Servant of God by the Catholic Church in 1494.

In later years Isabella and Fernando were consumed with administration and politics over the Empire they had forged; they were concerned with the succession and worked to link the Spanish crown to the other rulers in Europe. By early 1497, all the pieces seemed to be in place: The son and heir Infanta Juan, Prince of Asturias, married a Habsburg princess, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, establishing the connection to the Habsburgs. The eldest daughter, Isabella of Aragon, married King Manuel I of Portugal, and the younger daughter, Joanna of Castile, was married to a Habsburg prince, Archduke Philipp of Habsburg, the son of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and his first wife, Duchess Mary of Burgundy. These marriages were one of a set of family alliances between the Habsburgs and the Trastámaras designed to strengthen both against growing French power.

However, Isabella’s plans for her eldest two children did not work out. Her only son, John of Asturias, died shortly after his marriage. Her daughter Isabella of Aragon, whose son Miguel da Paz died at the age of two, died in childbirth. Queen Isabella I’s crowns passed to her third child Joanna and her son-in-law, Philip who is recognized as King Felipe I.

Isabella did, however, make successful dynastic matches for her two youngest daughters. The death of Isabella of Aragon created a necessity for Manuel I of Portugal to remarry, and Isabella’s third daughter, Maria of Aragon, became his next bride. Isabella’s youngest daughter, Catherine of Aragon, married England’s Arthur, Prince of Wales, but his early death resulted in her being married to his younger brother, King Henry VIII of England.

Isabella officially withdrew from governmental affairs on 14 September 14, 1504 and she died that same year on November 26 at the Medina del Campo Royal Palace. She had already been in decline since the deaths of her son Prince Juan of Asturias in 1497, her mother Isabella of Portugal in 1496, and her daughter Princess Isabella of Asturias in 1498.

She is entombed in Granada in the Capilla Real, which was built by her grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (Carlos I of Spain), alongside her husband Ferdinand, her daughter Joanna and Joanna’s husband Felipe I; and Isabella’s 2-year-old grandson, Miguel da Paz (the son of Isabella’s daughter, also named Isabella, and King Manuel I of Portugal). The museum next to the Capilla Real holds her crown and scepter.