A young Isabella I on her throne. Here long red blonde hair is down and falling around her shoulders. She is wearing a green and white square neck dress with a white floral pattern
Escuela flamenca (??). Atribuida a Gerard David (??). Anónimo flamenco (del Círculo de Jan Gossaert)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

4 Minutes With Queen Isabel I of Castile

Getting to know the Queen, Marriage Edition

Avana Lilly
Apr 17 · 4 min read

Queen Isabel I of Castile and Leon has long been a role model of mine. Brave, witty, and determined, she forged a new empire. A nation that would become one of the greatest in history. Today we discuss her engagements and marriage.

There was a large range of potential suitors. Ferdinand of Aragon, Edward IV of England, or one of his brothers, probably Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to name a few.

Isabel’s Marriage Trials

Isabel’s brother King Henry had promised her that when it came to her marriage she would have the final say. He broke this promise not once, but on several occasions, trying to force her into unwanted marriages.

After that, the young princess took control of her fate. The determination of her future spouse would come down to a battle of wits and power. Unfortunately for King Henry, he was outmatched on both fronts.

Round 1:

In 1469 her brother King Henry tried to cash in and marry Isabella off to a horrible man named Pedro Girón Acuña Pacheco, a Castilian nobleman. Don Pedro was willing to pay the royal treasury an enormous amount of money to wed her. Henry heard that loud ch-ching and agreed. (Ewww!)

Isabella was shocked and angered by this betrayal. So the princess did the only thing she could do. She went over Henry’s head and prayed to God that the marriage would not come to pass.

Her prayers were quickly answered when Don Pedro suddenly fell ill while on his way to meet his forced fiancée. The seemingly healthy young Don was dead before he reached her.

*Personal Note: Don’t cross Isabel

(Isabel 1 / Henry 0 / Don Pedro -1 RIP)

Round 2:

After Henry’s little stunt with Don Pedro (Eww! Again!), the King broke his promise again. When a second marriage proposal came from arrived from Afonso V of Portugal. Isabel turned him down again.

(Isabel 2 / Henry 0 / King Afonso V of Portugal 0, Again)

Round 3:

Henry who apparently was not a quick learner tried again with Charles, Duke of Berry. At this point, our girl Isabel was like, enough of this.

So she started secretively negotiating with King John II of Aragon who, much like Isabel, was just done with Henry and his BS.

They started to make plans for her to marry Prince Ferdinand, King John II’s younger son. He was very handsome, of noble bearing, decidedly chivalrous, and catholic — our girl had found her perfect man.

(Isabel 3 / Henry 0 /Charles Duke of Berry 0 — that was a long ride back to France / King John II of Aragon 1)

Round 4: On 18 October 1469, the formal betrothal took place. Knowing her brother wouldn’t approve, Isabel left Henry’s court under the ruse of visiting her brother Alfonso’s tomb in Ávila. Meanwhile, Ferdinand was busy sneaking into Castile secretly disguised as a servant.

There was only one thing standing in their way. Since Isabella and Ferdinand were second cousins, they couldn’t be legally married without a Papal dispensation.

The current pope, though, didn’t much care for Aragon, and he refused to grant them a dispensation. So they did what anyone in that situation would do. They falsified one with a little help from Ferdinand’s countryman, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (yes, that Borgia).

The two were presented with a supposed (*wink, wink*) papal bull signed by Pius II, who had died 5 years earlier in 1464. I mean, dead men tell no tales, right? This allowed Ferdinand to marry a relative like Isabel, thus making their marriage legal. (Looks like Ferdi had some tricks up his sleeve too).

The couple wed on October 19, 1469, in the Palacio de los Vivero, in the city of Valladolid, four days after they first met. They had a clear prenuptial agreement on sharing power. Like Ferdinand’s motto “tanto monta, monta tanto”. Translated, it roughly means, one is the same as the other.

Isabel 4 / Henry 0 / Ferdinand 2 (1 for the costume, 1 for the good connections) / John II of Aragon 2

Isabel for the win!

Queen Isabel was a strong, determined woman from a young age. She was never content to let someone else decide her future or her fate. This I find great inspiration in, even over half a millennia later.

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_I_of_Castile, https://theeuropeanmiddleages.com/spain/isabella-i-of-castile-the-catholic-queen/

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Avana Lilly

Written by

Writer, book enthusiast, lover of all things cute & cuddly, pet parent. A history buff, who likes art, nature, and baking. A new book + pastry = A Happy Life.

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

Avana Lilly

Written by

Writer, book enthusiast, lover of all things cute & cuddly, pet parent. A history buff, who likes art, nature, and baking. A new book + pastry = A Happy Life.

Exploring History

Exploring History is a publication about history. Instead of focusing on any particular time period of history, we explore anything about the past that helps our readers understand the world they live in today. We pay special attention to historiographical rigor and balance.

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