Ferdinand of Aragón (1452–1516)

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FERDINAND OF ARAGÓN (14521516), king of Aragón (as Ferdinand II, ruled 14791516), Castile and Léon (as Ferdinand V, ruled 14741504), Sicily (as Ferdinand II, ruled 14681516), and Naples (as Ferdinand III, ruled 15041516), king of Castile and Aragón.

The son of Juan II of Aragón and his second wife, Juana Enríquez, Ferdinand was educated in a court culture that spanned the western Mediterranean and endowed him with a broad international outlook. With his wife, Isabella of Castile (14511504), Ferdinand governed the united and powerful kingdom of Castile and Aragón. A shrewd diplomat and military leader, he took advantage of spectacular strokes of good fortune and strategic marital alliances to lay the foundations of the vast Habsburg empire in Europe and the Americas that dominated the early modern era.

While a young prince, Ferdinand served as lieutenant in the crown of Aragón (14651468; a group of associated political regions governed separately by the same ruler), gaining experience in governance during the Catalonian civil war (14621472). In 1468, Juan II negotiated Ferdinand's marriage to Isabella, heiress in her own right to the crown of Castile, intending to use the alliance as a way to broker peace at home. The marriage treaty stipulated an unprecedented form of corulership in which both partners retained considerable autonomy in their respective realms while each respecting the customs and laws of the other.

To the surprise of many, the marriage became a personal and political success, but it initially faced serious opposition. In Castile, the barons feared the formidable royal power that would result from the marriage. Both Louis XI of France (ruled 14611483) and Afonso V of Portugal (ruled 14381481), who had hoped for a marriage alliance with Castile, also opposed the marriage. Isabella's brother, Enrique IV, disowned her in favor of his daughter Juana, whose paternity many disputed. In 1474, however, Enrique died and a war of succession ensued. But by 1479, when Ferdinand became king of Aragón in his own right upon his father's death, the opposition was quelled and the union of the two realms was complete.

Five surviving children (Isabel, 14701498; Juan, 14781497; Joanna, 14791555; María, 14821517; and Catherine, 14851536) solidified the union, and Ferdinand's adroit handling of their marriages spread Castilian influence across Europe. Catherine married Arthur, Prince of Wales, and then his brother, Henry VIII of England; first María and then, after her death, Isabel, married Manuel I of Portugal. In a double marriage in 1496 that established the foundations of Spanish Habsburg power, Joanna wed Philip of Burgundy, archduke of Austria, and Juan married Philip's sister, Margaret.

In Castile, Ferdinand and Isabella pursued the conquest of Granada and funded the voyages of Columbus, both in 1492. They promoted a militant Christianitythey expelled both Jews and Muslims and established the Spanish Inquisition (1478)that had the added benefit of enriching the royal treasury. Their actions earned them the title the Catholic Sovereigns (Reyes Católicos), and created an effective impediment to later Protestant reformers. Ferdinand was often absent from his Aragonese realms (Aragón, Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands), which he governed through lieutenants, but he carefully upheld traditional legal and constitutional institutions and kept Aragón strictly separate from Castilian government.

Ferdinand's accomplished diplomacy and skillful military campaigns propelled Spain to the forefront of European politics. He annexed Naples (1504), which remained under Spanish control for over two centuries, added Navarre (1515), and waged war in Africa (15091511). An important figure in the Renaissance, Ferdinand typified Machiavelli's sly fox, a master of political manipulation, more shrewd than pious. Through the Holy League, he contained French aggression in Italy and persuaded the papacy to divide the territories in the Americas between Portugal and Castile along a line of demarcation (ratified by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494). He ushered in modern diplomacy by establishing permanent embassies in Rome, Venice, London, Brussels, and Vienna, staffed with professionally trained officials with Latin as their common language. Ferdinand promoted Renaissance culture through his patronage of humanists Lucius Marineus Siculus and Antonio Geraldi. Under his aegis, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek were taught at the University of Alcalá; Antonio de Nebrija compiled the first Castilian grammar handbook (1492); and the Polyglot Bible was completed (1517).

Isabella's death in 1504 left Ferdinand king only in Aragón, while his daughter Joanna and her husband, Philip of Burgundy, inherited Castile. Hoping to garner support from Castilian nobles, he married Germaine de Foix, niece of Louis XII of France, in 1506, raising the possibility that Aragón and Castile might separate once again, but Joanna's mental instability and Philip's early death (1506) reinstated Ferdinand as effective ruler of Castile with Joanna as titular queen. He supervised the education of his grandson, Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand I), until his death in 1516.

See also Charles II (Spain) ; Ferdinand I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Habsburg Dynasty: Spain ; Inquisition, Spanish ; Isabella of Castile ; Jews, Expulsion of (Spain) ; Joanna I, "the Mad" (Spain) .


Hillgarth, J. N. The Spanish Kingdoms, 12501516, Vol. 2, 14101516: Castilian Hegemony. Oxford, 19761978.

Sarasa, Esteban, ed. Fernando II de Aragón, el Rey Católico. Zaragoza, Spain, 1996.

Vicens Vives, Jaime. Historia crítica de la vida y reinado de Fernando II de Aragón. Zaragoza, Spain, 1962.

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Ferdinand of Aragón (1452–1516)

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