Sunday, July 29, 2018

Women in Power: Who was Queen Isabella of Castile? - Part 2

Under the united crowns of Castile and Aragon, the 2 monarchs put an end to centuries old aspiration and began a new that propelled their kingdom to an empire.
Isabella in the The Capitulation of Granada

The Reconquista
With the rise of Ferdinand as King of Aragon, most of Spain by then belonged to them, but in the south laid the last vestiges of Islamic states – the Kingdom of Granada. For centuries the Reconquista became the focus of many rulers in Spain. As “Catholic” monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand re-intensified the campaign in 1482.

While the men worked with arms, Isabella worked in improving the military’s logistics. She also established hospitals for the wounded.
For a decade, the Catholic monarchs campaign ferociously until January 2, 1492 when the ruler of the Kingdom of Granada surrendered. Isabella and Ferdinand marched into the city of Granada and then dazzled with the beauty of the Alhambra, which became their home and court. With the Reconquista complete, both could concentrate ruling their kingdoms.
The Capitulation of Granada by F. Padilla
Age of Exploration

Europe saw the couple Isabella and Ferdinand a power couple. Many sought an alliance with them as well as their patronage to different endeavors. Among the aspiring clients of Isabella, a Genoese navigator with the name of Cristobal Colon or Christopher Columbus needed investors for his audacious plan to discover a westward route to the exotic goods of India and China.
Columbus before the Queen by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
The meeting of the Cristopher Columbus and Queen Isabella came in time of tremendous political changes in the continent. To the east, the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) fell to the hands of the Muslim Ottomans. As Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand viewed the Ottomans with suspicions. Moreover, the Silk Road that brought oriental goods, such as porcelain and spices to Europe then laid in the mercy of the Ottomans. An economic threat to the opulent lives of Europe’s rich and wealthy.

Hence, a search for a new route that laid beyond the Ottomans’ control became a fascination to Spain. Already, Castile had taken the early steps in exploration and finally colonization with the conquest of the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa. With Columbus’ proposal, Isabella made the choice of supporting this Genoese navigator even her court and herself doubt its success. Isabella’s patronage gave Columbus 3 ships and an expedition that began in April 17, 1492. Though the expedition failed to reach Asia, Columbus opened a new continent for Spanish conquest – the New World – the Americas. Following Columbus’ expedition many more followed that later sowed the seeds for a vast Spanish colonial Empire. Isabella’s risky investment paid off in the long run.

Besides financing expeditions, Isabella also concerned herself with the affairs of the growing Spanish colonies. He cashed in the profits from goods imported from the colonies by demanding 10% of the profits. Then in 1503, he approved the establishment of the Board of Trade to oversee colonial affairs and commerce.
The Return of Christopher Columbus by Eugene Delacroix
The 3 G’s (Gold, Glory, and God) became vital principles of Spain’s colonial expansion. Isabella enjoyed the gold and glory, but she also took in mind God. As a Catholic monarch, fair treatment of the natives of the colonies became her advocacy. When Columbus returned to her with natives as slaves, she demanded their freedom and fair treatment. She also ordered it in other Spanish colonies as a top policy. But with bad communication and lack of strict supervision, it went into deaf ears.

The Spanish Inquisition
Tomas de Torquemada
Though humanitarian towards natives, much cannot be said on her policy towards none Catholics within her realm – especially towards Jews and Muslims. Isabella supported the establishment of the most notorious institutions in Spanish history, the Inquisition. In its head, she placed her longtime confessor Tomas de Torquemeda to organize the Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition aimed to root out heretics and non-Catholics. Isabella’s religious zeal along with the Inquisition forced the conversion of thousands of Jews and Muslims. All those who failed to convert faced expulsion, such as the case of the Jews in 1492. In 1502, she decreed Islam forbidden throughout Castile and Spain. All aimed in creating a pure Christian Spain.

See also:

Chapman, Charles. A History of Spain. New York, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918.

Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

General Reference:
Boruchoff, David. "Isabel I of Castile." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Edited by Bonnie G. Smith. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Tarver, H. Michael & Emily Slape. "Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Castile and Spain (1451-1504)." In The Spanish Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. Edited by H. Michael Tarver and Emily Slape. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2016.

Highfield, J.R.L. "Isabella I." In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on July 22, 2018. URL:

No comments:

Post a Comment