Colonial American History Stories – 1215 – 1664
Chapter title – October 19, 1469 – Ferdinand and Isabella Marry, Uniting Aragon and Castile
The marriage of the two sovereigns that would set Spain off on its course of colonial empire and world dominance began in a swirl of political intrigue and a secret elopement.
Isabella I of Castile (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504)
The daughter of John II of Castile and Isabella of Portugal, Isabella was native to the city of Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Ávila in west central Spain. She had a brother, Alfonso. This was a tumultuous era in Spain’s history and resources were stretched thin, even for those of royal blood. Second in line to the throne to her half brother Henry after Alfonso, Isabella’s living conditions as a child were frugal at best. At times, there was little food and sometimes the household struggled to find proper clothing. The royal household suffered an almost continuous shortage of money. Isabella received a good education in spite of the living conditions. Henry became King of Castile on July 21, 1454 three years before Isabella’s birth.
Henry plotted advantageous marriages for his young sister at an early age, betrothing her to Ferdinand, son of John II of Navarre when she was six. This betrothal was short lived, but Henry continued to plot. Henry married Blanche II of Navarre in 1540, but the union produced no children, as Henry was unable to consummate the marriage. Henry blamed his condition on a curse, one that only affected his relations with his wife. Pope Nicholas V annulled the marriage, paving the way for Henry’s eventual marriage to Joan of Portugal. The union produced a daughter, Joanna, in 1462. Political enemies of Henry continually questioned Joanna’s parentage, claiming Henry did not sire her. After Joanna’s birth, Henry summoned his eleven-year-old half sister to court, where her living conditions improved.
Henry named Joanna as his heir, but conflicts among the nobles concerning her paternity caused Henry to compromise, naming his half brother Alfonso as his heir. Civil war began when Henry reneged on this arrangement and began supporting his daughter again. The rebelling nobles conducted an insurrection during which they named Alfonso king. This dispute ended when Alfonso died suddenly of a disease, though many suspected poison. At his death, he left his throne to his sister, Isabella. Avoiding civil war, Isabella and Henry agreed that Isabella would be his official heir. She could marry only with his permission, but he could not force a marriage on her.
Ferdinand II of Aragon (March 10, 1452 – January 23, 1516)
The son of John II of Aragon and Juana Enríquez, Ferdinand was native to Sada Palace, Sos del Rey Católico, Kingdom of Aragon. John saw to it that Ferdinand received an excellent education, well grounded in the humanities and government. Ferdinand was an ardent supporter of the arts and music. John named Ferdinand his heir in 1461. He would become King of Sicily, by virtue of his father’s alliances, in 1468.
Marriage to Isabella
Henry had continued to attempt to find a political union for Isabella that suited his needs. He betrothed her to Pedro Girón Acuña Pacheco, a union that repelled Isabella. Thankfully, for her, Pedro died while she was traveling to meet him. He attempted to marry her to Alfonso V of Portugal, a union she rebuffed. She made a secret promise during this time to marry the young, handsome Prince Ferdinand of Castile. He was seventeen, she eighteen. Isabella and Ferdinand were second cousins, by virtue of a common descent from John I of Castile, thus they would need a special papal dispensation. Ferdinand had his supporters prepare the document, which later turned out to be forged. Ferdinand crossed into Castile in disguise to meet Isabella, who had slipped away from her brother’s court. They married on October 19, 1469 at the Palacio de los Vivero in the city of Valladolid. The union would last until Isabella’s death in 1504 and produce five children.
Union, Reconquista and Columbus’ Voyages of Discovery
Isabella would succeed to the throne of Castile in 1474, Ferdinand to the throne of Aragon in 1479. Neither monarch had any political power in the other’s realms; however, they ran the kingdoms with united goals. Each kingdom retained its own laws; however, their efforts led to the eventual conquest of the remainder of Spain when they drove out the Muslims, completing the Reconquista in 1492. Later that year they would authorize Columbus’ first voyage, forever changing the course of history on three continents.
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