Isabella of Castile 1451–1504 Spanish Queen

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Isabella of Castile
Spanish queen

Isabella of Castile and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon had an enormous impact on Spain. Their 1469 marriage united two Christian kingdoms, which formed the basis of modern Spain. Known as los reyes católicos (the Catholic monarchs), Isabella and Ferdinand ruled jointly. During their reign the international standing of Spain soared, and the nation began a period of exploration and conquest that created a global empire.

Isabella was the daughter of King John II of Castile and Isabella of Portugal. When her father died in 1454, Isabella's half-brother, Henry IV, became king. However, in the 1460s a group of nobles denounced Henry as a tyrant and declared his younger brother Alfonso the rightful ruler. When Alfonso died suddenly in 1468, Henry again took the throne. The following year Isabella married Ferdinand, prince of Aragon, and on Henry's death in 1474 she inherited the crown of Castile.

Although Isabella had little formal education, she had a good mind, a clear sense of duty, and natural political skills. She realized that a woman could rule only with a strong man at her side. Her husband Ferdinand filled that role superbly. He agreed to live in Castile and gained acceptance by the Castilians. Although Isabella insisted that they rule jointly in Castile, she never gave up her role as the rightful ruler. Remarkably, the couple not only had a good working relationship but also a marriage that included love and trust.

Isabella and Ferdinand accomplished much in uniting Spain and laying the foundation for a global empire. However, this success was not without cost. War dominated much of Isabella's reign, ranging from civil conflicts to a ten-year campaign against the Muslim kingdom of Granada in southern Spain. The Spanish Inquisition* began under Isabella, and her reign is remembered for the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. That same year brought the fall of Granada and the reconquest of Spain from the Moors*. After 1492, Isabella focused primarily on ensuring peace within Spain and on arranging good marriages for her children.

Under Isabella, the Spanish Renaissance leaned toward the humanists* of northern Europe with their emphasis on Christian piety and good works. The queen, an important patron* of the arts, also preferred the art of the northern Renaissance. She collected Flemish* tapestries and paintings by Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden, and she hired German builders and architects.

The queen commanded great respect from her subjects. Although they may have resented the central control and wartime hardships of Spain under Isabella and Ferdinand, they welcomed the monarchs' strong leadership and the safety and security it brought.

(See alsoInquisition; Moriscos; Queens and Queenship. )

* Spanish Inquisition

court established by the Spanish monarchs that investigated Christians accused of straying from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly during the period 1480–1530

* Moor

Muslim from North Africa; Moorish invaders conquered much of Spain during the Middle Ages

* humanist

Renaissance expert in the humanities (the languages, literature, history, and speech and writing techniques of ancient Greece and Rome)

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer

* Flemish

relating to Flanders, a region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands

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Isabella of Castile 1451–1504 Spanish Queen

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Isabella of Castile 1451–1504 Spanish Queen