Friend and Supporter of Columbus

1451 – 1504 A.D.

Isabella of Castile was born in Madrigal, April 22, 1451. She was the daughter of John II of Castile by his second wife, Isabella of Portugal, and was therefore descended, through both parents, from the famous John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

Until her twelfth year, Isabella lived with her mother in retirement in the small town of Arevalo. After numerous intrigues on the part of her royal sponsors to contract political marriages that were distasteful to her, she finally married, in 1469, Ferdinand V, king of Aragon, whose suit both policy and affection inclined her to accept.

After the death of her brother Henry IV, in 1474, she ascended the throne of Castile, to the exclusion of her elder sister, Joanna, who had the rightful claim to the crown. During the lifetime of her brother, Isabella had gained the favor of the estates to the kingdom to such a degree that the majority, on his death, declared for her. From the others, the victorious arms of her husband extorted acquiescence, in the battle of Toro, in 1476.

After the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were thus united, Ferdinand and Isabella assumed the royal title of Spain. Thenceforward, their fortunes were inseparably blended. For some time they held a humble court at Dueñas, and afterward they resided at Segovia.

With the graces and charms of her sex, Isabella united the courage of a heroine, and the sagacity of a statesman and legislator. She was always present at the transaction of state affairs, and her name was placed beside that of her husband in public ordinances. The conquest of Granada, after which the Moors were entirely expelled from Spain, and the discovery of America, were, in a great degree, her work. When all others had heard with incredulity the scheme of Columbus, she recalled the wanderer to her presence with the words, “I will assume the undertaking for my own crown of Castile, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, the funds in the treasury should be found inadequate.” In all her undertakings, the wise cardinal Ximenes was her assistant.

She has been accused of severity, pride, and unbounded ambition; but those faults oftentimes promoted the welfare of the kingdom, as well as developed her virtues and talents. A spirit like hers was necessary to humble the haughtiness of the nobles without exciting their hostility; to conquer Granada without letting loose the hordes of Africa on Europe; and to restrain the vices of her subjects, who had become corrupt by reason of the bad administration of the laws.

By the introduction of a strict ceremonial, which subsists to the present day at the Spanish court, she succeeded in checking the haughtiness of the numerous nobles about the person of the king, and in depriving them of their pernicious influence over him. Private warfare, which had formerly prevailed to the destruction of public tranquility, she checked, and introduced a vigorous administration of justice.

The very sincerity of her piety and strength of her religious convictions led her more than once, however, into great errors of state policy, which have never since been repaired, and into more than one act which offends the moral sense of a more refined age.

In 1492, Pope Alexander VI confirmed to the royal pair the title of Catholic king, already conferred upon them by Innocent  VIII. The zeal for the Roman Catholic religion, which procured them this title, gave rise to the inquisition, which was introduced into Spain, in 1480, at the suggestion of their confessor, Torquemada. This was followed by a wholesale proscription of the Jews and other acts of fanaticism which history has been very slow to approve, though all historians agree in applauding her beauty, virtue, piety, learning, and political wisdom.

Isabella died in 1504, having extorted from her husband (of whom she was very jealous) an oath that he would never marry again. She had five children: Isabella, married to Emmanuel of Portugal; Juan, a virtuous prince who died in 1497, aged 20; Juana, who married Philip, Archduke of Austria, and who was the mother of the emperor Charles V; Maria, who espoused Emmanuel after the death of her sister; and Catharine, the wife of Henry VIII of England.


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence, and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World published by the King-Richardson Co. in 1903.