Isabella of Aragon
Eldest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, Isabella of Aragon was born in 1470 to the newly married couple. The country was still in great upheaval As Portugal fought for the crown. When Isabella was 7 she got the long awaited baby brother and heir to the throne that pushed the country over the edge in favor of her mother. With tensions still high, Little Isabella was betrothed and eventually married to the heir of Portugal. She fell head over heels, madly, in love with him and was crushed when he tragically died only a year into the marriage.
Her grief was legendary, she vowed to never marry again but, ultimately, her duty to Spain came first and she remarried the new king of Portugal, with one terrible condition.
Spain in the 1400's and Inheritance
Map By Alexandre Vigo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
This is the third generation of this family we've covered on the site, so I'm going to summarize and simplify what has already happened to set the stage. For more information look at previous posts under "Women of the Court of Isabella I."
At this point in history Spain was not one united country it was smaller divided kingdoms. Our main character today is from one of this kingdoms called Castile. For most of the first half of the century Castile was under the control of King Juan II. Juan and his wife Maria only had one child survive to adulthood, Enrique. After almost a decade of Enrique being married it became clear that he would not be having children to inherit. Juan had his wife murded and took a younger wife with whom he had two children Isabella I (who we'll call Izzy to distinguish from our main character today) and Alphonso. After Juan died in 1454 Enrique became king, annulled ed his marriage, found a new wife, and 7 years later had a daughter he named Juana. The main problem was that the nobles and the country didn't believe Juana was Enrique's biological daughter. Also Enrique flat sucked at being king. Civil unrest stirred as a faction of the country declared Alphonso king over Enrique. After Alphonso died in 1468 Izzy chose to uphold Enrique's rule under the condition that she would be the next heir and she could choose her husband. Enrique promptly broke the promise by betrothing her to the old man king of Portugal. She decided to take things into her own hands and secretly married her second cousin, Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 with a forged papal dispensation.
Enter Our Girl Isabella
So, Izzy gives birth to Isabella within a year of marriage which seems like it would be great news for the country to start stabilizing the succession. Unluckily for everyone, Enrique was big mad about Izzy getting married without his consent and declared the marriage invalid and Izzy would no longer be his heir, reinstating Juana. (and to be honesty the papal dispensation was forged so...) This meant that little baby Isabella was now illegitimate and couldn't inherit.
Now just a minute to think about the common people who lived in this time. There had been war for decades, they could never be sure who the next leader would be, the country is massively in debt, and there have even been time when they weren't sure who the current king was. I wouldn't want to be there.
The Death of a King and the War with Portugal
So Isabella is immediately a major player in a major country but she has this huge thing hanging over her head with the illegitimacy, of course at this point she's a baby so I doubt she realizes it. To Izzy's huge relief, Enrique dies in 1474 and she rushes in to be coronated only two days later.
Through her whole life Izzy has been and will continue to be extremely devoted to her Roman Catholicism religion. At this point the pope is absolutely fan-girling over Izzy and Ferdinand, calling them "The Catholic Monarchs." Huge sigh of relief, he declared the marriage valid and thus Isabella is now a legitimate princess.
But all is not well, Juana La Beltraneja is still around and has supporters saying she is the rightful queen. King Afonso of Portugal invades and marries Juana to prop up her claim. Once again, they're at war. As we know, I'm not great with war and it doesn't affect Isabella's story. So, moving on to when the war came to a head. The Battle of Toro took place in 1476 and it ended in a draw. Neither side was sure if they won or lost. Ferdinand went on a propaganda trail, telling everyone that they had won by a landslide. People on the other side, heard this and started to desert and it gave Castile a big leg up.
Izzy was never one to let an opportunity, she used this success and held a ceremony making Isabella the official Princess of Asturias, heir to the throne. This helped it appear to the public that not only was Izzy the rightful queen but she was continuing her dynasty.
So now everything is looking up for Isabella, the people of Castile love her, there's more support than ever for her parents, and she is the legitimate daughter and next ruler of two very powerful countries. She's 6 at this time and on the top of the world.
Just one year later, in 1478 Izzy gave birth to a second child, a boy named Juan. Now, this meant that that Isabella was replaced as the new heir, but it also persuaded much of the country who were on the fence to Izzy's side and gained her a massive amount of support. So as far as Isabella is concerned I would call this a win.
Around the same time, Isabella went through the first majorly traumatizing experiences of her life. Her parents were out at war, and left Isabella in a city called Segovia leaving some nobles in charge in their absence. Unrest started almost immediately. The people hated who was left in charge and how much chaos the country had been in for decades now. A rebellion broke out and princess Isabella was trapped in a tower with crowds just outside screaming for blood.
Imagine the terror this would put into a 10 year old girl who just happened to have been born into this situation. We see princesses as these decadent, beautiful, young women who's only job was stand around, look pretty, and have babies but sometimes we forget how truly dangerous it was to be in the positions and quickly the public could turn on you.
Luckily Izzy heard of the rebellion and rode into town breaking it up before little Isabella could be harmed. The his was a good thing in history as it proved Izzy was an effective leader and people would listen if she was there but personally, I don't think Isabella saw it that way. There's no diary she kept so we don't have her own words on this but if I were in her position I would harbor some serious resentment about being left behind and put into that horrible situation.
The war officially ended in 1479 with the Treaty of Alcacovas. This resulted in Juana and Alphonso dissolving their marriage, Juana entering a nunnery, Portugal releasing any claim to the throne of Castile, Izzy releasing any claim to Portugal, and a relative peace. But there would be life changing news for Isabella.
Meeting her Future Husband
The treaty also stated that Isabella would marry Alphonso's grandson, also named Alphonso. She would be moved to live in Portugal and be raised by the Infanta Beatriz, Duchess of Viseu her future husband's maternal grandmother and her mother's aunt. (always with the incest.)
Alphonso and Isabella moved in to be raised together. Obviously, there wouldn't be anything romantic at the time she was ten and he was only 5. Isabella learned to speak Portugese, learned dances, customs, and all sorts of things that would benefit her as the future queen. Her and Alfonso got along well and she was treated kindly but don't get it twisted, she was a hostage to ensure that her parents kept their side of the treaty.
After three years, Isabella was allowed to move back home to Castile. Her parents were well into their reign by now and were starting their campaign to take Granada from the muslim people. Izzy was so starch in her catholic beliefs that it was thought the souls of the muslim and jewish population were at risk. She committed atrocious actions to both groups and she brought all of her children along with her. By this point Izzy had another daughter who she named Juana and was pregnant with twins but only one would survive and be named Maria. This was an incredibly tight-knit family and Isabella would have spent a lot of time with her sisters and received a better education than almost any women ever at that point. They were quickly becoming one of the most wealthy countries in Europe (because they were stealing and defrauding unbelievable amounts of money from jewish people). So Isabella was a very rich little girl.
Izzy took her whole family on crusades with her, in fact to have her last child Catalina (who would later become Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII) she stoped the entire caravan then kept going right after. All of her daughters would be married off as great rulers and Izzy wanted them to understand the dark side of that and how war would affect them.
There's not a lot specifically about Isabella during this time but we do know they got pretty close to the action because at one point she and her sisters were trapped in a tent that caught fire and had to be rescued.
A Married Woman
In 1490, when she was 19 she married the 14 year old Alphonso by proxy in Segovia. Today this age difference would be a criminal offense but relative to what was happening back then it really wasn't bad. For me, the bigger question is why they even have a proxy marriage. Their countries are really close by each other and Isabella would travel to Portugal only a few months later so I don't totally understand why they did that. If anyone reading this knows please leave a comment below.
She was greeted by her husband's uncle Manuel (remember that name) when she entered Portugal. She met her mother in law and was introduced to court so where they ratified the marriage.
Isabella was in instant hit in the Portuguese court. She was charming, spoke the language, understood the customs, she was extremely well educated, she was charming, and she had an enormous dowry. The perfect princess. But, her real defining characteristic just like her mother and her grandmother she felt things in a big way and she fell fast and hard for her new husband. Sadly, nothing good seems to last and less than a year into the marriage Afonso was dead.
While the royal family was taking a summer trip Afonso's dad and he went out to relax when Afonso had a horse riding accident and was killed. Upon hearing the news, Isabella and his mother rode as fast as they could to get to him but there was nothing to be done.
The entire country fell into deep mourning at the loss of the next king but Isabella was devastated. She felt things deeply and she felt this grief all the way to her core. She cut off her hair and refused to bath or change her clothes for 40 days. She fasted, refusing all food for so long she became weak and the people of Portugal thought she may die. Even then, she only allowed herself broth to live on. She went to mass twice a day and became obsessed with why god would would punish her and Portugal with this loss.
Her in laws, the king and queen, eventually were so worried about her that they moved her into their room to keep an eye on her in a kind of suicide watch. Keeping in mind that they are already mourning their child.
Eventually Izzy insisted that Isabella be sent home and she took time away from her siege of Granada to comfort her daughter. Isabella fell even deeper into her religious fever vowing that she would never marry again and she would become a nun. (this did not happen) Years passed and Isabella stayed with her parents, her grief didn't subside, and she kept fasting to the point of illness.
In 1495 her father in law died and was succeeded by Manuel (remember that name?) as king. Immediately he asked for Isabella's hand and she adamantly refused saying again she would never marry anyone again. Izzy offered her younger daughter Maria but Manuel refused saying he fell for Isabella when he met her that first day she came back to Portugal. (creepy) This became a battle of wills with either side not willing to bend. Eventually, with Izzy pushing, Isabella agreed to marry him under one terrible condition. Remember how she kept asking why this had happened? She convinced herself it was because Portugal didn't kick out the Jewish population like her parents had.
Isabella travelled back to Portugal in 1497 and married Manuel under the condition that he expel the jewish population from the country. He readily agreed, decreaing that all jewish citizens must convert. If they did not they were sent away from the country and were not allowed to take children under the age of 14 with them. opting instead to have them raised by christian families.
Izzy came with her to help with the wedding but another tragedy was looming. While preparing for the wedding news came that prince Juan was seriously ill. This wedding was matter of diplomacy, leaders from all over Europe were coming, it couldn't be postponed. Izzy stayed and Ferdinand went to e with his son. He sent a letter back saying that the news was exaggerated and Juan would be fine. The wedding went on as planned with a sigh of relief.
Problem is, Ferdinand was lying as a kindness to his wife who couldn't be with her only son as he took his last breath. If I were Izzy I'd have a few choice words for Ferdinand but with isn't about her.
The death of Juan meant that Isabella was now the queen of Portugal and heir to Castile and Aragon. The people of Portugal and Castile both loved her and were ready to accept her but Aragon was another story. They did not want a woman ruler, especially when they thought that Ferdinand could possibly have another child.
Aragon didn't have to worry for long. In 1498 Isabella went into labour. It was long and hard. Her years of starving herself really started to catch up with her as her body just didn't have the strength to go through delivery. She gave birth to a baby boy who was named Miguel.
Miguel was a very important baby. He would grow to inherit all of the Iberian Peninsula Calming the worries of Aragon. Just one hour after giving birth Isabella died. Miguel was sent to be raised by Izzy who had just lost two of her children within two years.
The final blow to Isabella's life was that little Miguel never grew into his inheritance. He died in Izzy's arms in Granada at just short of 2 years old.