Isabel was born on April 22, 1451, at Madrigal de las
Altas Torres, to King Juan II and Queen Isabel of Castile. King Juan had ascended the throne when he was only 14 in
1419. His mother and his uncle, King Ferdinand I of Aragon, had both acted as regents during his teenage years. His
first wife, Maria of Aragon, produced a male heir, Enrique, born in 1425, before she died in 1445. King Juan took on a second
wife, Isabel, a bride sent from Portugal, in 1447, suggested by his trusted confidant, Don Álvaro de Luna. Although Juan
was nearly 15 years older than Isabel, the two were a faithful and loving couple, and produced two children: Isabel, and a
boy, Alfonso, born in 1453. Isabel saw Juan as controlled by Luna, and she urged his independence. Juan listened to his wife
and finding Luna suspicous, had him executed the same year of Alfonos's birth. A year after Alfonso's birth, King Juan died
at the age of 49, supposedly overcome by grief of loosing Luna. Enrique was crowned King of Castile, and two years later he
married the sister of King Alfonso V of Portugal, Juana, in May of 1445. Juana was born in 1439, 14 years younger than Enrique.
Juana was very unfaithful and very flaunting. Her behavior was no better than that of a woman in the brothels. Because
of her scandalous ways, when she gave birth to a daughter in 1462 named Juana, the baby was nicknamed 'la Beltraneja'. Many
believed her father was not King Enrique but was Beltran de la Cueva, Enrique's chief steward. While Juana drained the treasuries
to live in luxury and finery, Enrique lived in a lifestyle opposite from his wife's. He did not bathe, he was dirty, and he
never changed his clothes. King Enrique had been married once before, to Blanca of Navarre. She had died in 1464. King Enrique
and his family lived at the castle of Segovia, where he also kept Isabel and Alfonso. Isabel grew up in the secluded castle
and was very religious, which would come into play later in her life. She and her ladies entertained themselves with music,
embroidery, and art. She lived a relaxed lifestyle, but she rarely left her prison. Enrique was keeping her from the political
turmoils going on in the kingdom, though Isabel had full knowledge of what was going on and her role in the feuds.
Nobles in Castile were rallying to usurp the throne
of Castile and put Alfonso in the seat of power. They saw Enrique as a weak king, which indeed her was, and the behavior of
his wife was an insult to their virtuous culture. In 1467, Alfonso's supporters proclaimed him King of Castile. Civil war
exploded in Castile, Enrique's forces against Alfonso's supporters. In the end, neither side won, but instead Alfonso mysteriously
died at the age of 14 in 1468, probably poisoned on Enrique's orders, though some say that he died of the plague. Alfonso's
supporters turned their attention towards Isabel, and proclaimed Isabel as Queen of Castile. Isabel decided to not take the
crown from her brother, which delighted him and made him name Isabel as his heir, which enraged his wife and his daughter,
who fought to crown Juana 'la Beltraneja'. However, Isabel had wars of her own to fight at home. Queen Juana and King
Enrique were both searching for a suitor for Princess Isabel. Among them were: Charles, Duke of Berry; Richard, Duke of Gloucester;
Pedro Giron, Enrique's friend; King Alfonso V of Portugal, Queen Juana's brother. As her brother and sister-in-law decided
who to marry Isabel to, Isabel continued her relaxed lifestyle. She and her governess, Clara, and confidante, Beatriz de Bobadilla,
were deep and close friends, and defied the expectations of a Castilian woman by educating themselves deeply. Isabel learned
histories, arts, languages, and was very skilled in diplomatic arts. Above all, she remained devout to Catholicism and her
confessor, Tomas de Torquemada. Isabel and her entourage were permitted to travel, although accompanied by Enrique's court.
Isabel was able to visit her mother, who had broken down and gone insane, confided at Isabel's birthplace in Madrigal.
At the age of 18, Isabel took wedding matters into
her own hands when she fell in love with Prince Fernando of Aragon. Enrique did not find him suitable and Juana was determined
to marry Isabel to her brother, paving the way for her daughter to become Queen of Castile. However, Isabel and Fernando were
married in Valladolid without Enrique's approval on October 19, 1469.
Queen of Castile y Leon
For six days and nights, Fernando and Isabel
and their guests celebrated the royal wedding. However, when King Enrique received word of the marriage, he was furious. One
by one he tore Isabel's few possessions, towns from which she received taxes, from her. Fernando and Isabel were without money
and Fernando was away from his wife for many months at a time fighting wars in Sicily or Aragon, family possessions. On October
2, 1470, a daughter named Isabel was born to the couple. A daughter was not worth as much as a son, and King Enrique was delighted,
who had changed the succession to Juana 'la Beltraneja'. Four years later, King Enrique became seriously ill and died
on December 11, 1474. His councilors urged him to name his heir, but Enrique remained silent. When Isabel heard the news,
she grieved for the loss, but there was not a moment to spare if she was to claim the throne. Fernando, who was fighting in
Zaragoza, could not be summoned in time. On December 13, 1474, Isabel was crowned Queen of Castile in Segovia's Plaza Mayor
by her counselor, Archbishop Carrillo. Fernando returned from Zaragoza not soon after and found himself 'king consort' to
Isabel. Although somewhat upset, he and his wife forged a loving partnership.
Archbishop Carrillo, who had known Isabel as
an obedient princess, now found her as an independent and strong-willed queen. Feeling that he had not been rewarded for his
aid with the couple in their marriage and coronation, he turned his allegiance to King Afonso V of Portugal, who was now betrothed
to his niece, Juana 'la Beltraneja'. King Afonso declared war on Castile to protect his niece's rights, who was 'the rightful
queen'. Castile defeated Portugal, and Isabel forgave Carrillo, who was at her mercy.
Throughout her life, Isabel was taunted by Juana
'la Beltraneja'. Juana would never accept the fact that she was not the Queen of Castile, and when Isabel ordered her to stop
using that title and she defied her queen, Juana was banished to a convent, where even in within the convent walls she signed
her letters 'Yo la reina', 'I the queen'.
In 1481, Isabel and Fernando set out to do what
no other monarch had done. The Moors, Jewish and Muslim people from North Africa, had settled in the Iberian peninsula in
the 8th century A.D. Being devout Catholics, Isabel and Fernando led the Reconquista, the Reconquest, to take the land from
the Moors, known as Granada. Isabel planned and funded campaigns, even selling her jewels, while Fernando led the troops.
One by one the Moorish lands were added onto Castile y Leon. In January of 1492, the Reconquista was complete.
However, the Reconquista was a dark era also.
Consumed with religious beliefs, Isabel and Fernando set out to rid their kingdoms of Muslims and Jews, making their kingdoms
pure and full of devout Catholics. Though the Moors contributed the most to the economy, Isabel saw those not devout to Catholicism
as sinners and heretics. She decided to begin the Inquisition, with the power to arrest and punish those accused of heresy.
Her confessor from her childhood, Tomas de Torquemada, was named the Inquisitor General, a title he neglected at first but
was forced upon him by Isabel. The Inquisition was a terrible period of Isabel's reign. Neighbors turned against each other.
Anyone could be accused, and you would never know who had accused you. You were guilty until proven innocent, and most people
were tortured until they confessed to heresy, many times of which the accused were innocent but would do anything to cease
the torture. Trials for heresy, an auto da fe, were public in which those accused were publicly humiliated. Punishment for
heresy was death, which thousands fell victim to and were publicly burned alive. When Cristoforo was preparing to leave
for his first voyage, Isabel declared on March 31, 1492, that all Jews had four months to be baptized into the Catholic faith,
or else they would be forced to leave Castile y Leon and Aragon. Some agreed but most fled. England and France closed their
borders to those expelled from Castile y Leon and Aragon, so most were forced to find refuge into Portugal. Italy, Greece,
and Turkey also opened their doors to the refugees. Others found their way to the New World. Isabel believed that she was
doing God's work, but the horror and cruelty of the Inquisition stains her reign of many achievements. During her reign, Isabel
created a new Espana, many of the Spanish kingdoms joined together. She financed voyages that led to the discovery of the
New World, and created one of the most cultured and powerful kingdoms in Europe.
The New World
In 1486, the Italian navigator named Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher
Columbus), came to Isabel and Fernando with a proposal that he could find a route to the Orient through the West. That same
year, the monarchs were busy with the Reconquista, but Cristoforo did meet Isabel and Fernando and they agreed to consider
his proposal. For six years Cristoforo waited impatiently while Isabel consulted her counselors, and in 1492, when he was
about to leave Castile y Leon to take his proposal to France or England, Isabel summoned him to court and agreed to finance
his voyages. On August 3, 1492, Cristoforo set sail with three ships--the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. On October
12, 1492, his crew sighted land, which turned out to not be the Orient, but modern-day San Salvador. Five months later, Cristoforo
returned to Castile y Leon with his news. Celebrations greeted him and he was bestowed with the title of 'Admiral of the Ocean
Sea'. In October of 1493, Cristoforo set out with 17 ships and 1,500 colonists. He established a settlement at Hispaniola,
but could not find the riches he promised Isabel. On a third voyage, he was criticized so badly of running the colony that
he was brought home in chains. On his fourth and last voyage, he and his crew suffered terrible hardships on Honduras and
Cristoforo returned home sick and penniless. Isabel was called the 'Mother of the Americas' and known as a visionary
who changed history.
Isabel and Fernando led a large family, all
of whom were deeply educated and religious. They produced five children:
1. Isabel, 1470-1498
2. Juan, Prince of Asturias, 1478-1497
3. Juana, Queen of Castile y Leon, 1479-1555
4. Maria, Queen of Portugal, 1482-1517
5. Catalina, Queen of England, 1485-1536
Isabel married Afonso of Portugal in 1490 at
the age of 20. Soon after, he died in a hunting accident and she married his uncle, Manoel of Portugal, in 1497. She died
a year after in childbirth, giving birth to a son, Miguel, who died at the age of two in 1500.
Juan married Margaret of Austria in 1497 and
died of a fever the same year. Juana is better known as Juana la Loca, Juana the Mad. In 1497 she married Philip I, the son
of Emperor Maximilian I, a Hapsburg. The ruled Castile y Leon after Isabel's death and had six children. Charles, who was
Charles I, King of Spain and Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, and Ferdinand, who was Ferdinand I of Hungary and Bohemia,
were among the six. The four others were daughters: Leonor, Isabel, Maria, and Catalina. Maria was born a twin, whose
sister was born stillborn. She married Manoel, her sister Isabel's widower, and became Queen Maria of Portugal. They had eight
children including King Juan III of Portugal.
Catalina is the most famous of the five children.
She married Arthur, Prince of Wales in 1501 at the age of 15, who died a few months later. Eight years later, after living
as a widow in England, she married Arthur's brother, Henry, who became Henry VIII of England. Catalina is better known as
Catherine of Aragon, Queen Catherine of England. She suffered many miscarriages and stillborns. She never gave birth to an
heir for Henry, only a daughter, who became Mary I of England, which was her downfall. Henry divorced her and banished her
to a convent so that he could marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth I of England. Henry had six wives by
the times of his death. Out of Isabel's five children, it seems they all had tragic lives except for Maria. Isabel died in
childbirth, Juan died at 19, Juana went insane, and Catalina suffered much as the wife of Henry VIII.
End of the Reign
Queen Isabel died on November 26, 1504, at the
age of 53. Her body was wrapped in a Franciscan robe, which she thought would guarantee her entry into heaven. Her tomb is
in the Royal Chapel at Granada, next to Fernando's, who died twelve years after his wife in 1516. They were succeeded by their
daughter, Queen Juana, and their son-in-law, King Philip I.
Although Isabel accomplished much during her
reign, she is remembered most for her funding Cristoforo Colombo, Christopher Columbus. Today she is remembered as a devout
woman, and there is a movement to canonize her into the Catholic faith. However, her role in the Inquisition is blocking the
way for Isabel's entrance into sainthood.