Historical Figures

Isabella I of Castile or Isabella the Catholic

Isabella I of Castile , known as Isabella the Catholic (1451 – 1504) is a Spanish sovereign, queen of Castile and León from 1474 to 1504 and of Aragon and Sicily from 1479 to 1504.

Promise at three years old

Daughter of Isabella of Portugal and John II, King of Castile and León, Isabella was born on April 21 1451 in Madrigal de las Altas Torres. When her father died in 1454, Isabella and her brother Alfonso were children and it was their half-brother, Henry IV of Castile, who acceded to the throne. Isabelle and Alfonso live with their mother who suffers from bouts of dementia and is in a difficult situation, especially economically.

In 1461, the noble family of the Cortes brought Isabella and Alfonso to Segovia, with the aim of opposing the king and his half-brother. Henri, who had no legitimate children, designated Alfonso as heir, but the latter died in 1468, possibly poisoned. Under pressure from the nobility, Henri then chose Isabelle to succeed him.

Negotiations take place for the marriage of the young woman. Pledged at three years old to Ferdinand, son of Jean II of Aragon, Henri IV tried unsuccessfully to marry her to Charles, Prince of Viane, then to King Alphonse V of Portugal. For her part, Isabelle considers that Ferdinand is the best match and secretly negotiates with John II of Aragon. Henri IV refuses this marriage and it is against his will that, on October 14, 1469, Isabelle and Ferdinand marry. Henri then designates his daughter Jeanne, whose legitimacy is disputed, as his heiress.

Queen of Castile and León

On the death of Henry IV in 1474, Isabella proclaimed herself queen and a succession crisis broke out. Isabelle and Fernand wage a civil war to dispossess Jeanne, who is rumored to be the daughter of the king, of the throne. At the end of a battle, Jeanne is locked up in a convent and Isabelle and Fernand accede to the throne; it is Isabelle, however, who exercises the reality of power. In 1479, Ferdinand inherited the crown of Aragon and Sicily and reigned with his wife.

Ferdinand and Isabelle will have six children. Very Catholic, they lead an aggressive religious policy, expelling Jews refusing conversion to the Ottoman Empire and reorganizing the Inquisition. They completed the Reconquista in 1492 by annexing Granada, the last vestige of centuries of Muslim presence in Spain. It is Isabelle who approves of Christopher Columbus' plan to seek a new route to India.

Isabella I of Castile died on November 26, 1504 of cancer of the uterus.