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Isabel of Castile

Civilization:Hispanic: Castile
Era: Reconquista
1451–1504Field of Renown:monarch: Queen
 Isabella of Castile.

The reign of Queen Isabella of Spain was one of the most significant periods of Spanish history. With her husband Ferdinand, Isabella united the Kingdoms of Spain under a single crown, drove the last of the Moors from the Iberian Peninsula, and supported the voyages of Columbus. While Ferdinand was the military leader of the most important campaigns of this era, Isabella herself played a key role in virtually all of the major developments of Spain during this period and directed most domestic policy.

The reign of Isabella was striking in many regards. The court of Castile, when she first came to it, was very corrupt and fractured. From the first, powerful nobles both inside and outside of Castile sought to drive her from the throne. The courage and nobility with which she bore herself throughout her reign gained her great esteem among large segments of the population and the Spanish army, which enabled her to succeed in difficult political positions. Besides fending off numerous outside enemies, such as the king of Portugal and the Moors of Granada, she defended herself against internal ones, and managed to increase the power of the Spanish crown relative to dozens of largely autonomous nobles. Above all, she was the rarest of creatures: an authentically Christian monarch. Her conduct at all times—even when she made choices which have been criticized by historians—was driven by genuine principle and sincere belief rather than opportunism.

When Isabella was only three, her half-brother Henry IV became king of Castile and she was exiled with her mother and brother. Ten years later a group of nobles, led by the Bishop of Toledo, tried to place her younger brother on the throne, but failed. When her brother was killed, they turned to her, but she refused to allow them to overthrow Henry IV in her name. In spite of the fact that he was a deeply corrupt character, Isabella at all times sought to avoid civil War. She was named as his successor and secretly married Ferdinand of Aragon at a young age, largely to avoid an unwanted marriage arranged by her brother.

In spite of much intrigue and distrust, Isabella managed to avoid further conflict with her brother until she assumed the throne in 1474. At that point, war with the king of Portugal, who claimed the Castilian throne broke out, but Ferdinand led the Castilians to victory at the Battle of Toro. Once their throne was secure, the monarchs embarked on a difficult, ten-year crusade against the Moors of Granada, and in 1492 finally achieved victory. This increased Castilian territory directly, by taking control of the southern regions, but also did much to unify the feisty and independent nobles under the Spanish Crown. The victory over the Moors was not only a military victory, but also a political one, since it established Spain as a unified country that was to be ruled under a single crown.

Besides laying the foundation for the Kingdom of Spain, Isabella is famous for her sponsorship of Columbus. She financed his voyage over the objections of many of her advisers and with only half-hearted support by Ferdinand. She remained true to Columbus in spite of his many enemies at court, and tried to protect his interests. Both Columbus and Isabella were authentic in their desire to "convert" the Indians and bring the best elements of Christianity to the new world, but their efforts were largely ignored and undermined. Isabella established a firm decree in 1503 demanding humane treatment of the natives, but it was not enforced after her death.

The greatest tragedies and disappointments of Isabella's reign were domestic in nature. Although she raised five children and carefully groomed them all to reign with virtue and prudence, many of her children pre-deceased her, including her son and her eldest daughters. Only her daughter Juana, who had married an intemperate and philandering prince was left to inherit the throne. Juana, however, was mentally unstable and under the influence of a corrupt husband, so Isabella's plans to found an upright dynasty were nearly ruined. She died in 1504 after a long illness.

Key events during the life of Isabella of Castile

Year Event
1451 Birth of Isabella
1454 Henry IV, older half-brother of Isabella becomes king of Castile.
1455 Isabella and younger brother Alfonso are sent into exile.
1467 Nobles rebel against Henry IV and attempt to place Alfonso on the throne.
1468 Isabella is named as successor to her brother Henry IV.
1469 Isabella secretly marries Ferdinand to avoid having an arranged marriage thrust upon her.
1474 At the death of Henry IV, Isabella ascends to the throne of Castile.
1476 At the Battle of Toro, Ferdinand puts down the King of Portugal's claim to crown of Castile.
1479 Ferdinand succeeds to the throne of Aragon. Castile and Aragon are joined to become Spain.
1482 Castilians take toe fort of Alhama from the Moors—commence the War of Granada.
1492 Conquest of Granada is complete.
1492 Isabella agrees to fund the venture of Columbus to sail west to Asia.
1492 Expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Spanish territory.
1494 War with France over territories in Italy begins.
1497 Death of Don Juan, the crown prince, and Isabella's only son.
1498 Death of Isabella's eldest daughter, and heir to the throne.
1498 Isabella continues to support Columbus in spite of opposition and jealousies at court.
1503 Isabella demands gentle treatment of the American Indians, but her commands are largely ignored.
1504 Death of Isabella.

Book Links
Isabella of Castile  by  O. O. Howard


Story LinksBook Links
Chivalry and Crime  in  Romance of Spanish History  by  Abbott
Ferdinand and Isabella  in  Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Horne
Moors Driven out of Spain—The Rise of Spain  in  Story of Europe  by  Marshall
Marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella  in  Romance of Spanish History  by  Abbott
Domestic Sorrows  in  Romance of Spanish History  by  Abbott
The Death of Columbus  in  Child's History of Spain  by  Bonner
Men who Ask Questions  in  Story of Liberty  by  Coffin
Ferdinand and Isabella  in  Spain: History for Young Readers  by  Ober

Image Links
Queen Isabella  in Romance of Spanish History The coronation of Isabella  in Romance of Spanish History Columbus before Ferdinand and Isabella  in Romance of Spanish History
The surrender of Granada  in Child's History of Spain Death-bed of Queen Isabel  in Child's History of Spain Columbus at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella  in Famous Men of Modern Times
The reception of Columbus at Barcelona  in Famous Men of Modern Times Boabdil presenting the keys of Granada to Isabel and Ferdinand in Greatest Nations: Spain The wedding of Ferdinand and Isabella  in Greatest Nations: Spain
Columbus before Isabella  in Greatest Nations: Spain Isabella of Castile  in Isabella of Castile Isabella offering her Crown Jewels to Columbus  in Isabella of Castile
Statue of Isabella in Cathedral at Malaga  in Isabella of Castile Reception of Columbus by Isabella at Burgos  in Isabella of Castile Tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella  in Isabella of Castile
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella receiving Columbus  in Story of Columbus Reception of Columbus by Ferdinand and Isabella  in Historical Tales: 7—Spanish The parting of Columbus with Ferdinand and Isabella, 3rd August 1492  in Book of Discovery
Columbus at the Court of Spain.  in European Hero Stories Columbus at the Court of Spain.  in Old World Hero Stories

Contemporary Short Biography
Ferdinand of Aragon Ruled united Spain with Queen Isabel. Drove the Moors out of Granada, implemented the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
Christopher Columbus Sailed across Atlantic Ocean and discovered the Americas.
Gonsalvo de Cordova Spanish general who fought for the re-conquest of Granada, pioneered modern techniques of warfare, and also gained territory in Italy.
Torquemada Dominican priest who was a confessor of Isabella I, and was influential in establishing the Spanish Inquisition.
Cardinal Ximenes Active and influential Cardinal at the court of Isabel and Ferdinand who did much to reform and reorganize the Spanish government.