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Queen Isabella

1451-1504

Isabella - Queen regnant of Castile and León. She and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, laid the foundation for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

Isabella I (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504, reigned 1474-1504) was Queen regnant of Castile and León. She and her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon, laid the foundation for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

The Castilian version of her name was Ysabel (Isabel in modern spelling), which is etymologically the same as Elizabeth, but in Germanic countries she is nevertheless usually known by a Latin form of her name, Isabella. The official inscription on her tomb renders her names in Latin as "Helizabeth". Pope Alexander VI named Isabella and her husband the Catholic Monarchs, therefore she is often known as Isabel la Católica ("Isabella the Catholic") in Spanish.
Early years

Isabella was born in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Spain on April 22, 1451. Her brother Alfonso was born three years later. When her father, John II, died in 1454, her much older half-brother Henry IV became king. As soon as he ascended to the throne, he sequestered his half-siblings to Segovia and his stepmother to Arévalo, in virtual exile. Henry IV, whose first marriage to Blanca of Navarre was not consummated and had been annulled, remarried to have his own offspring. He then married Joana of Portugal. His wife gave birth to Joan, princess of Castile. When Isabella was about ten, she and her brother were summoned to the court, to be under more direct supervision and control by the king. In the Representation of Burgos the nobles challenged the King; among other items, they demanded that Alfonso, Isabella's brother, should be named the heir to the kingdom. Henry agreed, provided Alfonso would marry his daughter, Joan. A few days later, he changed his mind.

The nobles, now in control of Alfonso and claiming him to be the true heir, clashed with Henry's forces at the Battle of Olmedo in 1467. The battle was a draw. One year later, Alfonso died at the age of fourteen, and Isabella became the hope of the rebelling nobles. But she refused their advances, acknowledging instead Henry as king, and he, in turn, recognized her as the legitimate heir in the Treaty of the Bulls of Guisando, rather than Joan whose paternal origin was in dispute. In 1475, Joan married her uncle, the King of Portugal, but their marriage was later annulled by the Pope because of their family relation. Henry tried to get Isabella married to a number of people of his choice, yet she evaded all these propositions. Instead she chose Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon. They were married October 19, 1469 in Valladolid.

 

The events of 1492

1492 was an important year for Isabella: seeing the conquest of Granada and hence the end of the 'Reconquista' (reconquest), her successful patronage of Christopher Columbus, and her expulsion of the Jews.

Granada

The Kingdom of Granada had been held by the Nasrids dynasty. Protected by natural barriers and fortified towns, it had withstood the long process of the reconquista. However, in contrast to the determined leadership by Isabella and Ferdinand, Granada's leadership was divided and never presented a united front. It took ten years to conquer Granada, culminating in 1492.
 

The Capitulation of Granada by F. Padilla: Boabdil before Ferdinand and Isabella.
 

The Capitulation of Granada by F. Padilla: Boabdil before Ferdinand and Isabella.

When the Spaniards, early on, captured Boabdil (Sultan of Granada) they set him free - for a ransom - so that he could return to Granada and resume his reign. The Spanish monarchs recruited soldiers from many European countries and improved their artillery with the latest and best cannons. Systematically, they proceeded to take the kingdom piece by piece. Often Isabella would inspire her followers and soldiers by praying in the middle of, or close to, the battle field, that God's will may be done. In 1485 they laid siege to Ronda, which surrendered after extensive bombardment. The following year, Loja was taken, and again Boabdil was captured and released. One year later, with the fall of Málaga, the western part of the Muslim Nasrid kingdom had fallen into Spanish hands. The eastern province succumbed after the fall of Baza in 1489. The siege of Granada began in the spring of 1491. When the Spanish camp was destroyed by an accidental fire, the camp was rebuilt, in stone, in the form of a cross, painted white, and named Santa Fe (i.e. 'Holy Faith'). At the end of the year, Boabdil surrendered. On January 2, 1492 Isabel and Ferdinand entered Granada to receive the keys of the city and the principal mosque was reconsecrated as a church. The Treaty of Granada signed later that year was to assure religious rights to the Muslims - but it did not last.

 

Columbus

Columbus before Queen Isabella. Detail of the Columbus monument in Madrid (1885).

Columbus before Queen Isabella. Detail of the Columbus monument in Madrid (1885).


Queen Isabella rejected Christopher Columbus's plan to reach the Indies by sailing west three times before changing her mind. His conditions (the position of Admiral; governorship for him and his descendants of lands to be discovered; and ten percent of the profits) were met. On August 3, his expedition departed and arrived in America on October 12. He returned the next year and presented his findings to the monarchs, bringing natives and gold under a hero's welcome. Spain entered a Golden Age of exploration and colonization. In 1494, by the Treaty of Tordesillas, Isabella and Ferdinand divided the Earth, outside of Europe, with king John II of Portugal.


Isabella tried to defend the American aborigines against the abuse of the colonists. In 1503, she established the Secretary of Indian Affairs, which later became the Supreme Council of the Indies.

Expulsion of the Jews and Muslims

With the institution of the Roman Catholic Inquisition in Spain, and with the Dominican friar Tomás de Torquemada as the first Inquisitor General, the Catholic Monarchs pursued a policy of religious unity. Though Isabella opposed taking harsh measures against Jews on economic grounds, Torquemada was able to convince Ferdinand. On March 31, 1492, the Alhambra Decree for the expulsion of the Jews was issued (See main article on Inquisition). Approximately 200,000 left Spain. Others converted, but often came under scrutiny by the Inquisition investigating relapsed conversos (Marranos) and the Judaizers who had been abetting them. The Muslims of the newly conquered Granada had been initially granted religious freedom, but pressure to convert increased, and after some revolts, a policy of forced expulsion or conversion was also instituted in 1502 (see Moriscos).
 

 

Later years

A document signed by Isabella I in Granada in March 1501.

A document signed by Isabella I in Granada in March 1501.

Isabella received with her husband the title of Reina Católica by Pope Alexander VI, a pope of whose secularism Isabella did not approve. Along with the physical unification of Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand embarked on a process of spiritual unification, trying to bring the country under one faith (Roman Catholicism). As part of this process, the Inquisition became institutionalized. After an uprising in 1499, the Treaty of Granada was broken in 1502 and Muslims were forced to either be baptized or to be expelled. Isabella's confessor, Cisneros, was named Archbishop of Toledo. He was instrumental in a program of rehabilitation of the religious institutions of Spain, laying the groundwork for the later Counter-Reformation. As Chancellor, he exerted more and more power.

Isabella and her husband had created an empire and in later years were consumed with administration and politics; they were concerned with the succession and worked to link the Spanish crown to the other rulers in Europe. Politically this can be seen in attempts to outflank France and to unite the Iberian peninsula. By early 1497 all the pieces seemed to be in place: Don Juan, the Crown Prince, married Margaret of Austria, establishing the connection to the Habsburgs. The eldest daughter, Infanta Isabella, married Manuel I of Portugal, and the Infanta Juana was married to another Habsburg prince, Philip of Burgundy. However, Isabella's plans for her children did not work out. Juan died shortly after his marriage. Isabella, Princess of Asturias died in childbirth and her son Miguel died at the age of two. Queen Isabella's titles passed to her daughter Joan the Mad (Juana la Loca) whose marriage to Philip the Handsome was troubled. Another daughter,Catherine, became the first wife of King Henry VIII of England. She gave birth to a daughter, Mary, who would become the fourth crowned monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Isabella died in 1504 in Medina del Campo, before Philip and Ferdinand became enemies.

Isabella 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 Juana and Juana's husband Philip; and Isabella's 2-year old grandson, Miguel (the son of Isabella's daughter, also named Isabella, and King Manuel of Portugal). The museum next to the Capilla Real houses her crown and scepter.

Influence

Isabella and her husband established a highly effective coregency under equal terms. They utilized a prenuptial agreement to lay down their terms. During their reign they supported each other effectively in accordance to their joint motto of equality: Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando ("They amount to the same, Isabella and Ferdinand"). In addition to her sponsorship of Columbus, Isabella was also the principal sponsor of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the greatest military genius and innovator of the age. Isabella and Ferdinand's achievements are remarkable - Spain was united, the crown power was centralized, the reconquista was successfully concluded, the groundwork for the most dominant military machine of the next century and a half was laid, a legal framework was created, the church reformed. Even without the benefit of the American expansion, Spain would have been a major European power. Columbus' discovery set the country on the course for the first modern world power.

 

Isabella and contemporary politics and religion

In the twentieth century, the regime of Francisco Franco claimed the prestige of the Catholic Monarchs. As a result, Isabella was despised by those opposed to Franco.

Some Catholics from different countries have attempted to have Isabella declared as Blessed, with the aim of later having her canonized as a Saint. Their justification is that Isabella was a protector of the Spanish poor and of the American Indians from the rapacity of the Spanish nobility; in addition, miracles have reportedly been attributed to her. This movement has met with opposition from Jewish organizations, Liberation theologians and Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, due to the fact that Isabella had many Moors killed after her entrance to Cordoba. In 1974, Pope Paul VI opened her cause for beatification. This places her on the path toward possible sainthood. In the Catholic Church, she is thus titled Servant of God.

Isabella was the first named woman to appear on a United States coin, an 1893 commemorative quarter, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus's first voyage. In the same year she was the first woman to be featured on U.S. postal stamps, namely on three stamps of the Columbian Issue, also in celebration of Columbus. She appears in the Spanish court scene replicated on the 15-cent Columbian, on the $ 1 issue, and in full portrait, side by side with Columbus, on the $4 Columbian, the only stamp of that denomination ever issued and one which collectors prize not only for its rarity (only 30,000 were printed) but its beauty, an exquisite carmine with some copies having a crimson hue. Mint specimens of this commemorative have been sold for more than $20,000.

Isabella in popular culture

  • Ferdinand and Isabella appear in Lope de Vega's play Fuente Ovejuna (c. 1611), represented positively as supporters of a group of villagers in their struggle against their feudal overlord.
  • Isabella appears as the mother of Catherine, the titular heroine of the novel The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory.
  • The Royal Diaries, a series of biographical novels about royal women from around the world, includes Isabel, Jewel of Castilla, Spain, 1466 by Carolyn Meyer. It details her life from the time she was exiled to the time she married.
  • Isabella is movingly evoked in Norah Lofts' historical novel "Crown of Aloes" (1973).
     
  • Christopher Columbus negotiates with Isabella and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, in Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.
  • Isabella is a character in the short story "Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain Consummate Their Relationship" by Salman Rushdie.
  • In film, Isabella has been played by Lola Flores, in Juana la Loca, de vez en cuando (1983), by Sigourney Weaver, in Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), by Rachel Ward, in "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery" (1992), and fictionally interpreted by Rachel Weisz in Darren Aronofsky's film, The Fountain (2006).
  • She was also played in the 1985 TV miniseries "Christopher Columbus" by Faye Dunaway, opposite Gabriel Byrne as Colombus.
  • In the video game Civilization IV Isabella appears as a leader for the Spanish Empire.
  • Isabella is the Royal leader of the Spanish Empire in the computer game Age of Empires III.

Ancestors

Isabella's great-great-grandfather, the founder of the Trastámara dynasty, Henry II of Castile was a son of Castilian King Alfonso XI and his mistress Eleanor of Guzman. Katherine of Lancaster, Isabella's paternal grandmother, was a granddaughter of Peter of Castile and his mistress/wife Maria de Padilla. Her maternal grandmother was the daughter of Afonso, 1st Duke of Braganza, whose mother Ines Pirez, a mistress of John I of Portugal.

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