Isabella I didn't have an easy childhood. At the age of 13, upon the death of her father, John II of Castile, she was left in the care of her older half-brother Henry IV of Castile. During this time she, her mother, and younger brother were moved to a castle in poor conditions where they also suffered from a shortage of money. Despite the conditions, Isabella thrived under her mother’s watchful eyes.
Eventually karma worked its magic, and Isabella was made her brothers heir in place of his own daughter, Joanna. After several attempts to marry Isabella off, for his own political gain, she escaped her brother’s court and married Ferdinand of Aragon, who crossed Castile in secret, disguised as a merchant. What girl could say no to that kind of dedication?
Upon the death of her older brother, Isabella was made queen, but not without being challenged by supporters of her older brothers daughter, Joanna and her husband/half-uncle Alfonso who was 30 years her senior...ewwww!!!
Okay I know I’m getting off track here, but I just have to tell this little tidbit. Rumor has it that Joanna’s father, Henry IV was impotent and her mother, Joan was having a relationship with a Castilian noble named Beltran de La Cueva during the time of Joanna’s birth. From the time she was born, Joana was given the nickname the Beltraneja (a mocking reference to her assumed real father). Soon her mother was banished to Bishop Fonseca’s castle where she fell in love with Fonseca’s nephew and became pregnant. Henry divorced her shortly afterwards. Not that I’m a fan of infidelity, but Henry was an ass and the sex wasn’t even good, so I’m defiantly team Joan on this one.
Now back to our story. After several years, the war between Isabella and Alfonso finally ended in favor of Isabella, which was good because she was a honey badger when it came to reform and negotiations. During the time of her brother’s reign, he did little to enforce the laws, so murder, rape, and robbery ran ramped, without punishment. This changed when Isabella formed the crowns first police force. She also made it a point to restore peace to the areas that had become infested by robbers that oppressed the smaller towns and villages.
Henry had left Castile in great debt, so Isabella set about restoring the Crown’s finances, by taking over the mint and limiting coinage. She also reacquired royal estates that had been sold during her brother’s reign well below their value, buying them back for the amount they were sold for. Those that wished to keep their estates now had to purchase them at a fair price. Her one stipulation was that there would be no revocation of gifts made to churches, hospitals, or the poor.
In spite of her talented ability to rule, it is her sponsorship of Christopher Columbus and her daughter Catharine, first wife to Henry VIII of England, that she is most remembered for. She was a fierce ruler, but a fair one for the most part...At least until you get to her religiously motivated decisions, such as the Spanish Inquisition.
So, what are your thoughts on Queen Isabella? Does the Inquisition alone make her a bad ruler? And why do we celebrate Columbus Day? I mean there were people here that had already discovered the place about 20,000 years prior and all Columbus brought to the table was European diseases....Not nice, but I guess that is a story for another day.
Author of Spell Checked: Book One of The No Uncertain Logic Series