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The Kingdom of Castile was a large and powerful state on the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages. Its name comes from the host of castles constructed in the region. It began as the County of Castile (Condado de Castilla), an eastern frontier lordship of the Kingdom of León in the 9th century. During the 10th century its counts increased their autonomy, but it was not until 1065 that it was separated from León and became a kingdom in its own right. Between 1072 and 1157 it was again united with León, and after 1230 this union became permanent. Throughout this period the Castilian kings made extensive conquests in the southern Iberia at the expense of the Islamic principalities. Castile and León, with their southern acquisitions, came to be known collectively as the Crown of Castile, a term that also came to encompass overseas expansion.



Isabella I was the Queen of Castile and León for 30 years, and with her husband Ferdinand, laid the groundwork for the consolidation of Spain. For her role in the Spanish unification, patronage of Columbus' voyages to America, and ending of the Reconquista (Recapturing) of the Iberian Peninsula, Isabella is regarded as one of the most beloved and important monarchs in Spanish history.

Early Years[]

Isabella was born on April 22, 1451 in Avila to John II of Castile and Isabella of Portugal. She had an older brother, Henry (her elder by 26 years), and later a younger brother Alfonso, who displaced her in the line of succession. When her father died in 1454, Henry took the throne of Castile as King Henry IV, and Isabella and her family moved to Arevalo and lived in a destitute castle, where her mother slowly started to lose her sanity. It wasn't until years later, when Henry's wife gave birth, that Henry allowed his siblings to move back to the main court in Segovia.

Here Isabella was educated in all manners of queenly disciplines and her life improved considerably, but Henry put one limiting condition on her - she was forbidden to leave Segovia without his permission. Henry claimed this was to keep Isabella from the political turmoil brewing in the kingdom over his choice of heir (his new daughter Joanna), but it could have also been to restrict her access to the rebelling noblemen.

The nobles, however, had no problem speaking with her younger brother Alfonso, and he instigated the Second Battle of Olmedo in 1467, demanding that he be made Henry's heir. As a compromise, Henry named Alfonso the Prince of Asturias, a title that would be given to the heir apparent of both Castile and León, and thought about marrying his daughter Joanna to Alfonso. But Alfonso didn't have long to enjoy his new role; he soon died, probably a casualty of the plague. Alfonso had named Isabella his successor in his will, and the title passed to her.

Rather than continue the rebellion against her older brother, Isabella met with Henry at Toros de Guisando and negotiated a permanent peace settlement. Henry would officially name Isabella as his heir, but she would not be allowed to marry without his consent. However, Henry could also not force her to marry against her will. Both parties pleased with their settlement, Henry began his search for a fitting husband for his younger sister.

Henry Fails at Matchmaking[]

At this time, Isabella was betrothed to Ferdinand, son of John II of Aragon (and had been since the age of three), but Henry broke off this agreement. Instead, he attempted to wed Isabella to Charles IV of Navarre, another of John's sons, but John refused the offer.

Soon after in 1464, Henry attempted to marry Isabella off to King Edward IV of England, but Edward also refused. Many attempts were then made to wed the girl to Alfonso V of Portugal, but she refused him at the altar due to his old age.

The Castilian's personal soap opera continued with Isabella's betrothal to Pedro Giron, the brother of Henry's favorite Don. Isabella prayed feverishly that the marriage be called off, as Don Pedro was 27 years older than she. Isabella fervently believed that God had answered her plea, as the Don died from a burst appendix on the way to greet his fiancée.

Next up in Henry's shrinking line of suitors was Louis XI's brother Charles, Duke of Berry. At this point Isabella had had enough of Henry's thinly veiled attempts to remove her from the line of succession with a poor political marriage, and she began to negotiate with John II of Aragon in secret to once again secure a marriage to his son Ferdinand.

Ferdinand and the Fight for the Throne[]

Although all parties were in favor of the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand (except of course for Henry, who was still trying to woo France and Portugal), there was one small problem - the young couple were second cousins. By church law, a Papal Bull was required for a wedding of closely related cousins, but the Pope was loathe to grant one from fear of retribution from Castile, Portugal, and France.

However, Isabella refused to marry without the dispensation, as she was by this point a very devout woman. Ferdinand sought the help of Rodrigo Borgia in Rome (later Pope Alexander VI) and presented Isabella with a "Papal Bull" from Pius II. The probable forgery was good enough for her and she quickly agreed to the marriage. With the excuse of visiting her brother's tomb in Avila, Isabella managed to escape Henry's sight and Ferdinand slipped into Castile disguised as a merchant. Isabella's rather Shakespearian journey ended on October 19, 1469 when she wedded Ferdinand in Valladolid.

Henry found out about the marriage rather quickly after this, and pleaded with the Pope to dissolve the marriage. The new pope, Sixtus IV, didn't have any of his predecessor's qualms about Castilian hostilities and instead gifted the wedded couple a real Papal Bull, thwarting Henry.

A few years later in 1474, Henry died and a succession war broke out across Castile. Portugal supported Henry's daughter, Joanna, to take the throne, but Isabella had the support of Aragon (through Ferdinand) and later France. The war dragged on for four years, but ultimately Sixtus IV again came to Isabella's rescue. The Pope annulled Joanna's marriage to Alfonso V of Portugal, ironically on the grounds of their close familial relationship. Joanna was forced to renounce her titles of Princess and Queen of Castile, and the throne passed to Isabella on January 20, 1479.

The early years of Isabella's reign mostly involved solidifying her power base and continuing the Reconquista (Recapturing) of the Iberian Peninsula. However, her reign became memorable, in the momentous year of 1492.


Almost everything Isabella is known for in history took place in this year: the end of the Reconquista, the patronage of Christopher Columbus, and the intensification of the Inquisition.

Spanning seven centuries, a lengthy war known as the Reconquista was fought by the Iberian monarchs, who were attempting to regain control of the region and force the Muslims out. For the last 200 of these years, the Emirate of Granada remained the final stronghold of the Muslim dynasties on the Iberian Peninsula. Isabella and Ferdinand continued the war and led a determined raid into the kingdom starting in 1482. Isabella often took it upon herself to rally her soldiers by praying in the middle of the battlefield, and even built her stronghold outside the city of Granada in the shape of a cross, believing she was doing God's will. Eventually Isabella's forces were victorious and she signed the treaty of Granada, ending the Reconquista after 700 years of fighting.

Earlier in her reign, Isabella had been approached by a young explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus, who sought funding for a new expedition to reach the Indies by sailing west. Her advisors judged his plan impractical and believed that his proposed distance to Asia was much too short to be possible. However, instead of turning him out as Portugal had done, Isabella gave him a small annual allowance and free lodging in all her cities. He continued to try and sell his plan to the monarchs, and they continued to decline.

Upon returning from Granada, Isabella was again approached by Christopher Columbus. On the advice of her confessor, Isabella this time firmly turned him down. As Columbus was leaving Cordoba in despair, Ferdinand quickly convinced Isabella to change her mind. She sent a royal guard to fetch him and began to draw up plans for funding. Columbus left on his fateful voyage on August 3, 1492, and landed in America on October 12. Isabella and Ferdinand's patronage of the intrepid explorer began Spain's Golden Age of exploration and colonization.

No One Expects the Inquisition[]

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain (or more succinctly, the Spanish Inquisition) was established in 1478 by Isabella to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in Castile and Aragon, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition currently under Papal control. However, in 1492, it took a turn for the worse.

A Dominican friar, Tomas de Torquemada became the first Inquisitor General and pushed the two monarchs to pursue a more active policy of religious unity. While Isabella was loathe to take harsh measures against the Jews in her kingdom, Torquemada was able to convince Ferdinand and through him, Isabella. The Alhambra Decree was signed on March 31, 1492, calling for the forced expulsion of the Jews. About 200,000 Jews immediately left Spain while some others converted, but this latter group fell under strict scrutiny of the Inquisition.

The Muslims in the Granada region, who had originally been granted religious freedoms, were pressured to convert. After many Muslims revolted, a policy was enacted to force conversion or expulsion, much like with the Jews.

The Later Years[]

Isabella continued to stabilize her growing empire throughout her reign, and worked to link her children with other European nations, hoping to avoid another succession war similar to her own. She strived to finally unite the Iberian Peninsula under one crown. She married her eldest son to an Austrian Archduchess, establishing a link to the Habsburgs, and her eldest daughter to Manual I of Portugal. However, Isabella's plans were laid to waste when both children died soon after and the crown passed to her third daughter, Joanna the Mad. Joanna married Philip of Burgundy and became the last Trastamaran monarch. After her, the crown passed to the Habsburgs.

Isabella died in 1504 and was entombed in the Royal Chapel of Granada.

Legacy in History[]

Under Isabella, Spain was united, the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula concluded, and the power of the region centralized. She also laid the groundwork for the most dominant military machine in the next century (The Armada), reformed the Spanish church, and led the Spanish expansions into the new American colonies. Although many criticize her role in the Inquisition and in the persecution of Jews and Muslims, others are currently campaigning to have the late Queen canonized as a Saint in the Catholic Church. Regardless of her questionable acts persecuting others' religious beliefs, Isabella remains one of the most influential and significant monarchs of Spain.


Isabella was the first woman to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp, commemorated for her involvement with Christopher Columbus, as well as the first woman to appear on a U.S. coin.

Unique Components[]


As a military term, jinete means a Spanish light horseman armed with a javelin, sword and a shield, a troop type developed in the early Middle Ages in response to the massed light cavalry of the Moors. Often fielded in significant numbers by the Spanish, and at times the most numerous of the Spanish mounted troops, they played an important role in Spanish mounted warfare throughout the Reconquista until the sixteenth century. They were to serve successfully in the Italian Wars under Gonzalo de Córdoba and Ramón de Cardona.


The Conquistadors were the Spanish soldiers and explorers who conquered much of the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries. Having recently driven the Moors from Spain in the famous Reconquista, the Conquistadors were seasoned veteran light cavalrymen. Their ability to traverse difficult terrain on horseback made them especially effective against the natives of the New World, who lacked horses altogether and were unable to outrun their terrifying opponents.