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Isabella I of Castile

Isabella I of Castile biography
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Isabella I of Castile biography

Isabel de Trastámara, better known as Isabel the Catholic or Isabella I of Castile (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504). Queen of Castile, Sicily, and Aragon. She was born in the town of Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Castilla, Spain. Daughter of Juan II of Castile and Isabel of Portugal. Since she was a child she was surrounded by an excellent group of escorts and tutors, chosen by her father. From them, she learned about grammar, rhetoric, painting, philosophy, and history. Her father died on July 22, 1454. Because of this event, Isabella, her brother and her mother retired to live in the castle of Arévalo with an invaluable entourage and relatively precarious assets for their real condition.

Isabella was mainly devoted to prayer and reading pious works until she and her brother were transferred to Segovia. A short time later, on February 28, 1462, Joanna, the first daughter of her brother, was born. Isabel was her godmother of christening.

In her youth, persuaded by the archbishop Alfonso Carrillo and her mother, Isabel took as a marriage suitor the Aragonese candidate, Fernando, son, and heir, of Juan II. Everything was discreetly carried. On September 5, 1469, her fiancé left Zaragoza disguised as a servant and accompanied by a few people. Four days later it was the nuptial ceremony, blessed by Archbishop Carrillo. The next day, as was customary, the marriage was duly consummated in the nuptial chamber before a chosen group of witnesses. This union, more than sentimental motivations, was made by political interest.

On December 12, 1474, the news that Enrique had died arrived at the Alcázar de Segovia, the couple’s residence. As a result, Isabella I self-proclaimed herself solemnly Queen of Castile, prepared to send letters to the main cities of the kingdom reporting the news and demanding obedience. Everything looked good until a noble faction recognized Joanna, her niece, as queen. In addition, the bellicose king Alfonso of Portugal, negotiated a marriage contract to unite the forces of both kingdoms with the desire to defend their rights and remove the throne to Isabella I. Carried by the desire of power, Henry IV assured that the marriage of Isabella and Fernando was not valid because there was no papal bull to prove it, but Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull that proved its legality. All these events began a bloody civil war for the Castilian throne.

In 1479, with the triumph of Isabella I the Catholic, the treaties of Alcáçovas and Moura were drafted. Queen Isabella I demanded that her niece renounce marriage to Alfonso and enter the ecclesiastical life in the convent of the Poor Clares of Coimbra. With this, the queen tried to certify that her rival had no offspring.

After the moment of agitation, Isabella I together with Fernando II of Aragon concentrated on the destinies of the kingdom, began to consolidate and expand the real power, stimulate the economy, the reconquest of all the peninsular territory inhabited by the Muslims and the strengthening of the Catholic faith, cause for which Pope Alexander VI granted them the title of Catholic Monarchs.

To consolidate the monarchy and give more prestige to the Catholic Church, the Queen established the Holy Brotherhood, institution entrusted to ensure the stability of public order and the administration of justice, repealed the prerogatives granted to the nobility by Henry IV and endowed the Royal Council of real importance turning it into the main governing body of the kingdom, to the detriment of the Cortes.

At an economic level, Isabella the Catholic sanitized public finances through a strict fiscal system and encouraged the development of sheep farming and wool trade. In addition, they improved the military field, achieving the expansion of Castile toward the conquest of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada and Melilla. Undoubtedly the greatest achievement of the Elizabethan foreign policy was the support to the expedition that would provoke the arrival to America by Christopher Columbus. Finally, in religious matters, Isabella I the Catholic carried out a remarkable ecclesiastical reform jointly with Cardinal Cisneros, established the tribunal of the Inquisition following Catholic orthodoxy in 1478 and culminated the cause of religious unification with the dispossession of the Jewish community and the Mudejars.

Isabella I of Castile moved to Medina del Campo, sick and uneasy for the discouraging future of her kingdom. The only thing she did during her days of torment was writing her will and waiting for her husband to improve the bad dynastic situation. Upon his death, on November 26, 1504, the Castilian throne passed to his daughter Joanna I of Castile, mother of the later king and Emperor Charles. His body was buried in the Royal Chapel of Granada.

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