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Queen of Castille, 1474-1504
Isabella was born at Madrigal on April 22, 1451. She was the daughter of John II of Castile and his second wife, Isabella, granddaughter of John I of Portugal. Her father died in 1454 and was succeeded by her brother, who became King Henry IV. To get her away from the intrigues and dangers then prevalent in the Castilian court she was sent to Arevals, where she was educated and kept in strict seclusion. King Henry brought her back to his court in 1464.
By 1468 the Castilian court was fighting a war with the nobility, which had by then assumed most of the ruling authority in the kingdom. Leaders of the revolution offered the crown of Castille to Isabella, but she refused. For reasons still unclear, King Henry then declared Isabella to be the rightful heir to the crown, despite his having a daughter who had the legitimate right to succeed her father.
As Isabella's older brother, Henry had the right to choose her husband and tried to marry her into royal families he believed could benefit him. Isabella had an independent mind, however, and she was determined to marry the heir to the throne of Aragon. She and Ferdinand were married at Valladolid on October 19, 1469; he became King of Aragon in 1479.
Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Castille and Leon upon her brother's death, on December 11, 1474, but her claim to the crown was challenged by her niece, Joan, who by then was married to King Alfonso V of Portugal. The five-year war with Portugal that ensued was ended with an alliance between the two kingdoms which included a renunciation of the Castilian crown by Joan.
Although Ferdinand would have ordinarily assumed the rule of Castile by virtue of his marriage to Isabella, Isabella insisted that the couple rule their respective kingdoms separately. This arrangement continued until her death, upon which Ferdinand assumed authority over Castile.
As Queen, Isabella greatly reduced the power of the nobility and increased the standing of the peasantry. She and her husband expanded their rule over most of what is now Spain, and established a strong Spanish presence in Italy. In 1492 she personally backed the voyage of Christopher Columbus which resulted in the "discovery" of the New World and gave Spain a vast continent full of wealth to exploit.
As a devout Catholic, Isabella (along with her husband) believed it was their duty to rid Spain of all "non-believers," which led to establishment of the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, and to the expulsion of Jews from Spain.
One group of "non-believers" she did not, however, persecute were the natives of the New World. In fact she issued a series of decrees making the protection of Native Americans a duty of all colonists and adventurers, and, in 1503, organized the Secretariate of Indian Affairs to enforce that protection.
Queen Isabella died at Medina del Campo on November 26, 1504.
Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had five children -- Isabella, who became Queen of Portugal; John who died in his youth; Joan was supposed to inherit the Castilian crown but lost her sanity (the crown was held in regency by Ferdinand until his death); Maria; and Catherine, who married Henry VIII.
This page was last updated on January 22, 2017.