Isabella of Castile
Co-ruler of Castile and Aragon, 1469-1504
"She dreamed of greatness for her Spain"
Isabella of Castile is a shining example of powerful queenship in the late medieval age.
At eighteen she was blue-eyed, chestnut-haired and striking. Already she favored the jewels and magnificent gowns that she wore throughout her life. As heiress to the throne of Castile she had her pick of royal suitors. In 1469 she chose Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Aragon. Thus began the thirty-five year joint rule of a unified Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. The Pope bestowed the title on them in 1492 after they routed the Moors from Granada, ending eight centuries of Moorish domination in Spain.
Also in 1492, a landmark year for Isabella, she agreed to sponsor Christopher Columbus's voyage of discovery, which brought the New World and its wealth to the Spanish crown. Until her death she was concerned with the welfare and rights of the natives of the lands she had acquired.
She and Ferdinand were also concerned with the eternal souls of their Spanish subjects. They established the Inquisition to ferret out Jews and Muslims whose conversion to Christianity was doubtful. In 1492, the same year they conquered the Moors, the Catholic Monarchs expelled all nonconverted Jews from Spain.
Isabella's intense piety was accompanied by a sincere interest in education. She became proficient in Latin in her thirties. She encouraged scholars at her court and set up palace schools. She patronized artists and collected art.
The reign of Isabella and Ferdinand was a golden age for Spain. But her last years were marred by family sorrows. Of her five children, two predeceased her. So did her grandson and heir. Her daughter Joanna--Juana la Loca-was mentally unstable.
Isabella died in 1506 at the height of her power, leaving Ferdinand to reign as regent for twelve years. Perhaps Isabella, who dreamed of continuity of rule for her family and of greatness for her country, would have been cheered to know that after Ferdinand's death, Joanna's son Charles became not only king of Spain but Holy Roman Emperor.
Learn more about Queen Isabella:
Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays. Edited by David A. Boruchoff. Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.
The Castles and the Crown: Spain 1451-1555, by Townsend Miller. Coward-McCann, 1963.
Imperial Spain, 1469-1716, by J. H. Elliott. Mentor, New American Library, 1966.
Queen Isabella of Castile
Biographical material from who2.com
Isabella I of Spain
From the Women's History section of About.com
Excerpt from the will of Queen Isabella of Castile
Isabella's deathbed instructions regarding treatment of Indians