The European Voyages of Exploration
Adapted from New Advent Catholic Website
Isabella I, Queen of Castile, was born in the town of Madrigal de las Altas Torres April 22, 1453 and died a little before noon November 26, 1504 in the castle of La Mota, which still stands at Medina del Campo (Valladolid). She was the daughter of John II, King of Castile, by his second wife, Isabella of Portugal. Being only a little more than one year of age when her father died in 1454, she was brought up carefully and piously by her mother, at Arevalo, until her thirteenth year. Her brother, King Henry IV, then took her, together with her other brother, Afonso, to his court, on the pretext of completing her education, but in reality to prevent the two royal children from serving as a standard to which the discontented nobles might rally. The Castilian nobles had been constantly increasing in power during the repeated long minorities through which the Crown had passed, and had taken advantage of the weakness of kings like Henry II and John II. At this period they had reached the point of almost completely stripping the throne of its authority. They took advantage of Henry IV's sexual inhibitions, his queen's unfaithfulness with his chief steward, and the supposed illegitimacy of the Princess Juana.
The nobles were defeated at Olmedo and deprived of their leader, the Infante Afonso, who died by poison, on July 5, 1468. They sought to obtain the Crown for the Infanta Isabella by rejecting the king's presumptive daughter, Juana, who was called "La Beltraneja" on the supposition that Don Beltran was her real father. On this occasion Isabella refused to usurped the Crown offered to her and declared that she would never accept the title of queen while her brother lived. The king compromised with the nobility and recognised Isabella as his immediate heiress September 19, 1468, to the exclusion of Juana. Historians have generally been willing to interpret this act of Henry IV as an implicit acknowledgement of his queen's infidelity. The year before Isabella had been living at Segovia, apart from the court, which resided at Toledo; after the conclusion of the pact she was at odds with her brother, the king on account of his plans for her marriage.
In 1460 Henry had already offered the hand of Isabella to Don Carlos, Prince of Viana, the eldest son of John II of Aragon, and heir, at the same time, to the Kingdom of Navarre. This Henry did in spite of the opposition of the King of Aragon, who wished to obtain the hand of Isabella (which carried with it the Crown of Castile) for his younger son, Ferdinand. Negotiations were protracted until the unhappy death of the Prince of Viana. In 1465, an attempt was made to arrange the marriage between Isabella and Afonso V of Portugal, but the princess had already chosen Ferdinand of Aragon for a husband and was therefore opposed to this alliance. For the same reason, she subsequently refused to marry Don Pedro Girón, Master of Calatrava, a member of the powerful Pacheco family, whom the king sought to win over by this means. Other aspirants for Isabella'a hand were Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV of England, and the Duke of Guienne, brother of Louis XI of France.
The Cortes was assembled at Ocaña in 1469 to ratify the Pact of Guisando, when an embassy arrived from Portugal to renew the suit of Afonso V for the hand of Isabella. When she declined this alliance, the king went so far as to threaten her with imprisonment in the Alcazar of Madrid, and although fear of her supporters prevented him from carrying out this threat, he exacted of his sister a promise not to enter into any matrimonial negotiations during his absence in Andalusia. Isabella, as soon as she was left alone, journeyed to Valladolid, and from there sent loyal followers in search of Ferdinand, who had been proclaimed King of Sicily and heir of the Aragonese monarchy. Ferdinand, after a perilous trek to the Vivero mansion, was married to Isabella on October 18, 1469.
On the death of Henry IV, Isabella, who was then at Segovia, was proclaimed Queen of Castile. But Princess Juana had been betrothed to Afonso V of Portugal, and was recognised as Henry's true heiress by his supporters. The Archbishop of Toledo, the Marqués de Villena, the Master of Calatrava, and other nobles, who in Henry's lifetime had denied Juana's legitimacy, now defended her claims. And thus was begun a war between Spain and Portugal which lasted five years, ending with the peace of 1479, when a double alliance was arranged. Juana, however, abandoned her claims, taking the veil in the monastery of Santa Clara of Coimbra (1480). With that event, the right of Isabella to the throne of Castile became unquestioned. Ferdinand had meanwhile succeeded to the throne of Aragon, and thus the definitive unity of the Spanish nation was accomplished in the two monarchs to whom a Spanish pope, Alexander VI, gave the title of "Catholic" which the kings of Spain still bear. Isabella displayed her prudence and gentleness–qualities which she possessed in a degree seldom equalled–in the agreement she made with Ferdinand as to the government of their dominions: they were to hold equal authority, a principle expressed in the device or motto, "Tanto monta, monta tanto–Isabel como Fernando (As much as the one is worth so much is the other–Isabella as Fernando)".
The harmonious union of the peoples and the Crowns being thus realised, it was necessary to reduce the power of the nobles, who had acquired a position almost independent of the Crown and rendered good government difficult. Towards this object, the Catholic sovereigns directed their efforts. They proceeded with: (1) the establishment of the Santa Hermandad (Holy Brotherhood), a kind of permanent military force, very completely organised, supported by the municipal councils, and intended for the protection of persons and property against the violence of the nobles; (2) an improved and properly ordered administration of justice with a wise organisation of the tribunals, the establishment of the Chancery at Valladolid, and the promulgation of the royal edicts generally called "Edicts of Montalvo" after the jurisconsult who drew them up; (3) the abolition of the right of coining money, which certain individuals held, and the regulation of the currency laws so as to facilitate commerce; (4) the revocation of extravagant grants made to certain nobles during the reigns of the late monarchs, the demolition of their castles, which constituted a menace to public peace, and the vesting in the Crown of the masterships of military orders. Finally, to preserve the purity of the Catholic Faith Isabella and Ferdinand petitioned Pope Sixtus IV for permission to establish the Spanish Inquisition.
Their government thus strengthened at home, the sovereigns proceeded to bring to a completion, with the conquest of Granada, the great work of reconquest which had been virtually at a standstill since the time of Afonso XI. The taking of Zahara, afforded an occasion for the war; which opened with the conquest of Alhama (March, 1482). The Christians were favoured by the internal troubles of Granada, which were due to the Emir Muley Hassan and his son Boabdil, and followed by the supporters of his uncle Abdallah el Zagal. Despite serious defeats at Ajarquia and Loja, Isabella and Ferdinand's forces successfully regained Coin, Guadix, Almería, Loja, Vélez, Malaga, and Baza.
Isabella took a prominent part in this war; not only did she attend to the government of the kingdom, and provide for the support of the army, while Ferdinand did battle at its head, but she repeatedly visited the camp to animate the troops by her presence. At this time the city of Santa Fe was built, to put an end to any hopes that the Catholic sovereigns would abandon their campaign. Granada surrendered on January 2, 1492, and the territorial unity of the Spanish monarchy was established. To protect this unity, an edict was issued three months later (March 31) expelling from Spain 170,000 to 180,000 members of the Jewish faith, whose cities had admitted the Moorish armies in the eighth century. The Spanish monarchy saw the Jewish community as a perpetual danger to the independence and security of the kingdom.
While Spain was carrying on its war against Granada, Christopher Columbus presented himself to the Catholic sovereigns. It was Queen Isabella who gambled on Columbus' proposal for a western route to China, a proposal that had not been understood at Genoa, at Venice, or in Portugal. Protected first of all by the Spanish friars, Columbus was presented to the queen by her confessor, Padre Hernando Talavera, and Cardinal Mendoza (el Cardenal de España). Isabella provided the funds to outfit the three famous caravels which placed America in communication with the Old World. Sailing, August 3,1492, from the port of Palos, Columbus arrived on October 12, at the first of the Bahama Islands.
Queen Isabella by her example led the way in fostering the love of study, and in many respects her Court recalls that of Charlemagne. When she was already a grown woman she devoted herself to the study of Latin, and became an eager collector of books, of which she possessed a great number. Her Castilian has been ranked as a standard of the language by the Spanish Royal Academy. She was extremely solicitous for the education of her five children (Isabella, John, Joan, Maria, and Catherine), and in order to educate Prince John with ten other boys, she formed in her palace a school similar to the Palatine School of the Carlovingians. Her daughters, too, attained to a degree of education higher than was usual at that epoch, and they so combined with their learning the industries peculiarly appropriate to their sex, that Ferdinand the Catholic could imitate Charlemagne in using no article of clothing that had not been spun or sewn by his consort and his daughters. This example of the queen, a model of virtue, piety, and domestic economy, who mended one doublet for her husband the king as often as seven times, exercised a great moral influence on the nobility in discouraging inordinate luxury and vain pastimes. It also fostered learning not only in the universities and among the nobles, but also among women. Some of the latter distinguished themselves by their intellectual attainments: Beatriz Galinda, called la Latina, Lucia Medrano, and Francisca Nebrija, the Princess Joan and the Princess Catherine (who afterwards became Queen of England), Isabella Vergara, and others who reached great proficiency in philosophy, Latin, and mathematics, and became qualified to fill professional chairs in the universities of Alcalá and Salamanca.
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