Isabella I.the Catholie, queen of Castile and Leon, born in Madrigal, Old Castile, April 23,1451, died Nov. 26,1504. She was the daughter of John II. of Castile by his second wife, Isabella of Portugal, and was therefore descended through both parents from the famous John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. She was little more than three years old when her father died, leaving his crown to Henry, the offspring of his first marriage with Maria of Aragon. Until her 12th year Isabella lived with her mother in retirement in the small town of Arevalo. On the birth of the princess Juana, Henry removed his sister to court, the better to prevent the formation of a party for securing the succession to her instead of Juana. Remote as seemed her chances of a crown, with her elder brother on the throne, an heir to his body, and another brother living, Isabella was yet thought a fit match for the first princes of Europe. "Her hand was first solicited," says Prescott, "for that very Ferdinand who was destined to be her future husband, though not till after the intervention of many inauspicious circumstances." She was next, at the age of 11, betrothed to his brother Carlos, aged 40. This unequal union was prevented by the death of Carlos by poison, and in 1464 Henry promised her hand to Alfonso of Portugal. Isabella opposed this summary disposition of her person, saying that "the infantas of Castile could not be given in marriage without the consent of the nobles of the realm." An insurrection, headed by the marquis of Villena and his uncle, the archbishop of Toledo, had been stirred up partly by the belief of many nobles that the princess Juana (often known as la Beltraneja), to whom the king had caused the oath of fealty to be taken, was the offspring of an amour between the queen and the royal favorite Beltran de la Cueva. The confederates proclaimed the transfer of the sceptre from Henry to his brother Alfonso, and collected an army to support their cause.
Henry sought to detach the chief conspirators by marrying Isabella to the brother of the marquis of Villena, the profligate Don Pedro Giron, grand master of the order of Calatrava. The princess vowed to plunge a dagger into Don Pedro's heart rather than submit to such dishonor, but the grand master died suddenly on his journey to the nuptials. Two years later (1468) Alfonso died, and the insurgents offered the crown to Isabella. She refused it, but expressed her willingness to succeed her brother; and an accommodation was soon effected with Henry, by the terms of which the queen was to be divorced, and Isabella was recognized as heir to Castile and Leon, with the right to choose her own husband, subject to the king's approval. Isabella's claim to the succession was soon afterward solemnly ratified by the cortes. Henry paid little regard to the terms of this agreement, and made another effort to force her to marry the king of Portugal. Policy and affection inclined her to the suit of Ferdinand, prince of Aragon, and, incensed at her brother's threats of imprisonment, she resolved to take matters into her own hands, and returned the Ara- ' gonese envoy a favorable answer.
Ferdinand signed the marriage contract at Cervera, Jan. 7, 1469, guaranteeing to his consort all the essential rights of sovereignty in Castile and Leon. Henry at once despatched a force to seize his sister's person, but Isabella escaped to Valladolid, and sent word to Ferdinand to hasten the marriage. The young prince, unable to procure an escort, as his father was then at war with the insurgent Catalans and utterly bankrupt, travelled in the disguise of a servant with six companions to Osma, escaping the troops of Henry posted to cut off his progress, and thence journeyed in more fitting state to Valladolid, where the marriage ceremony took place, Oct. 19, 1469. Henry now declared Isabella to have forfeited all the advantages guaranteed by the previous treaty, and proclaimed Juana his lawful successor. The kingdom became divided by two hostile factions, Henry receiving the countenance of France, but Isabella gradually winning the affections and allegiance of the Castilians by her virtues and sagacity.
At length, on Dec. 11, 1474, the king died, and two days later Isabella was proclaimed queen at Segovia. Most of the nobles swore allegiance, but the party of Juana was still powerful, and it was not until after a war with Alfonso of Portugal, who had been affianced to Juana, that the queen's authority was fully recognized. From this time her career was brilliant. She applied herself to reform the laws and internal administration of the realm, to encourage literature and the arts, and to modify the stern and crafty measures of her husband. Though the life and soul of the war against the Moors, in which she personally took part, even wearing armor, which is still preserved at Madrid, she was opposed to the cruelty which was then the established policy toward that people; and if she decreed the expulsion of the Jews from Castile, and gave a reluctant consent to the introduction of the inquisition, it was from a conviction that the safety of the Catholic faith demanded this sacrifice of her private feelings. The encouragement of Christopher Columbus is the deed by which she is best known to posterity; the squadron with which he discovered America was equipped at her expense.
She opposed the reduction of the Indians to slavery, and when a cargo of these captives was sent by Columbus to Spain, she ordered them to be transported back to their own country. With the aid of Cardinal Ximenes she reformed the religious orders, establishing thereby as firm a discipline in the church as she had already introduced into the state. Neither wealth nor station ever shielded criminals from her displeasure, and the sword of justice fell with equal certainty upon the nobility, the clergy, and the common offender. The masculine intellect, the feminine charms, and the rare virtues of Isabella have been a favorite theme for historians of all subsequent times, and the affection in which all her subjects held her person is still cherished throughout Spain for her memory. The sudden deaths of Don Carlos, Don Pedro Giron, and her brother Alfonso, so opportunely for her interests, left no stain of suspicion upon her. For Ferdinand she always entertained the warmest affection, which was not always faithfully returned. Her genuine piety colored every action of her life. In person she was equally beautiful as in character. She had a clear complexion, light blue eyes, and auburn hair.
She had five children: Isabella, married to Emanuel of Portugal; Juan, a virtuous prince, who died in 1497, aged 20; Juana, who married Philip, archduke of Austria, and was the mother of the emperor Charles V.; Maria, who espoused Emanuel after the death of her sister; and Catharine, the wife of Henry VIII. of England. (See Ferdinand V.)