The 1469 marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella—respective heirs of Aragon and Castile—had ensured the union of the two kingdoms.
But trouble began when Isabella’s half-brother, King Henry IV of Castile, died in 1474. Rebels challenged the legitimacy of Isabella’s claim to the throne, even though Henry had named Isabella his successor. The rebels supported Henry’s daughter Joan, and the result was the War of the Castilian Succession from 1475 to 1479. What a way to start a reign.
In the midst of this conflict, a particular rebellion popped up in August of 1476 in the city of Segovia. The stakes were amplified by the fact that Ferdinand and Isabella’s infant daughter was in the city at the time. Never one to waste a moment, and accompanied only by a few friends, Isabella rode out to the city to negotiate with the rebels. She succeeded in putting an end to the unrest.
It would hardly be her only victory—under her hand and that of her husband, their united kingdom would flourish as never before.
To name just a few of Isabella’s accomplishments in Castile: she decreased the high crime rate, established a police force, did tremendous work to restore the Crown’s ailing finances, and was a great patroness of education and the arts.
The King and Queen finished the work of the Reconquista—the taking-back of Spain from the Muslim invaders who had conquered it—when they regained the Kingdom of Granada. Fearless as always, Isabella was continually involved in this war, organizing supplies and medical equipment, mustering troops, and visiting camps.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus famously appeared before Queen Isabella to request support for his proposed expedition to the New World. Isabella agreed to sponsor the voyage and later sponsored other Spanish expeditions.
The Queen also harbored a deep concern for the welfare of the natives of the New World, forbidding their enslavement and insisting that their rights and property be respected as subjects of the Crown. She even enumerated these wishes in her will.
Isabella’s accomplishments are far too numerous to recount here. But her greatest attributes were her faith, devotion, and piety, which guided her life and rule. Her reputation for sanctity even earned her the title of Servant of God in 1974.
Long live the Queen—may she join the ranks of canonized Catholic monarchs soon!