Women’s influence in Spain had a profound influence on political decision-making during the rise of the Spanish nation and the New World.
Queen Isabella I was born on April 22, 1451 and she is often referred to as “La Católica” (the Catholic) a “title” given to her by then Spanish Pope, Alexander VI. She was the daughter of John II, King of Castile and his second wife, Isabella of Portugal. Isabella father died when she was young and her older brother became King Henry IV.
Isabella was declared Queen of Castile after King Henry IV died, and during this period, her husband Ferdinand became King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Isabella showed her greatest leadership abilities when she decided that Ferdinand and she would equally rule the two Kingdoms while married. She created the motto “Tanto monta, monta tanto – Isabel como Fernando” (As much as the one is worth so much is the other – Isabella as Ferdinand).
Isabella and Ferdinand were rulers that set out to achieve some goals. The first goal was to lessen the power of the nobles, the second, was to re-organize the courts and the administration of justice. As a result of them both being both devoutly Catholic, they felt that they had to rid Spain of anyone who was not Catholic. Or at least get them to convert! And, for such reason they got Pope Sixtus IV to establish the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, and the Inquisition officially lasted until 1808. Citizens risked torture and death if they did not renounce their own religion and become Catholic. Even converting was not good enough for the Chief Inquisitor, Torquemada. He convinced, Isabella and Ferdinand that the Jewish people posed a threat to their Kingdoms, even those that had previously converted. On March 31, 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand ordered that by July 1, 1942 all people of the Jewish faith had to leave Spain or be put to death. Some of these people remained secretly in Spain.
“The Spanish Inquisition was an ecclesiastical tribunal started in 1478 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the medieval inquisition, which was under papal control.
Unfortunately, this was not a good period for Spain, and it was particularly bad during the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand. For anyone who was not a Catholic was suspected of being against the church. The inquisition was aimed at the Jews and Muslims, who like Christians and Catholics are still fighting today numerous centuries later over “Papal Supremacy.”
Some Jews and Muslims settled in Portugal, Africa, and some decided to join with a sea captain who was looking for sailors to help him find a new western route to India. The name of the seafaring captain was Christopher Columbus. On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail with three ships the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria and 87 men from around the Mediterranean.
Columbus reached America on October 12, 1492. “He did not find a new route to India, but found for Spain a land rich with gold, silver and spices.” He was convinced that he had found a new route to Asia and the East Indies — hence the quest for the Spanish to search for more gold in the New World.
Columbus had actually been asking for money to support his trip for several years. Being of Italian decent Columbus first asked for money from the rulers of the cities of Genoa and Venice. He then asked the King of Portugal. He tried Isabella and Ferdinand but they had been turning his request down because they still had one more goal or problem they needed to resolve.
A portion of Spain was still under control of the Arabs (Moors), which was the area of Granada. By January 1, 1492, Granada was under Spanish control. In contrast to the way that they had treated their Jewish citizens, they treated the Moors (Muslims) quite well.
In the Treaty of Granada they allowed them to freely practice their religion and even be exempt from taxation for a number of years. Once the problem of Granada was solved they began to listen to Columbus and his plans to find a new route to India, and a route not by sailing east around Africa, rather west across uncharted waters. They also decided that it would not cost much money to pay for the trip and the rewards might be quite extravagant. The person who was in charge of the Royal Treasury said the cost of the trip (3 ships and crew) would be about what is cost them to entertain a visiting noble for one week.
During the late 1400’s and early 1500’s Spain began its rise into greatness, and this was the beginning of the “Golden Age” of Spain and the “Age of New World of Discovery.” Queen Isabella was able to see the potential of Columbus, and the New World.
Columbus returned to Spain in 1493 bringing with him natives. Queen Isabella became the protector of the Native Americans. She established laws against the abuse of the Native American people by colonists and adventurers. None of this would have been achieved without the leadership of Queen Isabella. She saw the New World he described. Her laws and the fair way she treated her citizens (with the exception of her horrible treatment of the Jewish citizens) enabled Spain to be at peace internally. Her strong army and maritime navy made Spain a world power against Great Britain and a great trading power.
Isabella and Ferdinand had 5 children, four girls and 1 boy. The children were Isabella, John, Joan, Maria and Catherine. Isabella made sure that the girls were well educated. But, her son died in 1497, her daughter, Isabella became Queen of Portugal, but she died in 1498, while giving birth. Her grandson, Miguel died when he was three, and Catherine married King Henry VIII of England, but he divorced her when she was unable to produce a male heir, and Joan, who was to inherit the throne, became mentally insane.
Although she co-ruled with her husband, it was actually her that was the better ruler. Her husband did bring to their marriage the Kingdom of Aragon which enabled them to unite Spain. Spain and the New World needed a ruler such as Isabella who had the leadership skills to guide and make Spain a great country.
Isabella died on November 26, 1504 in Medina del Campo, and in her will she asked that her successors protect and treat the people of the Americas the same as they would the Spanish people. Her husband continued to rule for 12 more years until he died in Madrigalejo on January 23, 1516. He was succeeded to the throne by his grandson, who was the son of his daughter Joan. This person was to become Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Spain was always loyal to those in the Mediterranean who assisted her rule and explored the New World including, to name a few, Africa, Portugal, and Italy. Without Queen Isabella, we would not be here in Spanish Florida about to celebrate 450 years of American History in the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in America.
Derek Boyd Hankerson
St. Augustine, FL
Derek Boyd Hankerson is the Managing Partner of Freedom Road, LLC. Derek is former vice president of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee and was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. Derek has been a leader in numerous community projects in support of Fort Mose, multicultural education and heritage tourism. Historic City News is pleased to be able to publish Derek’s periodic guest columns which are both informative and entertaining. Derek and his wife live in St. Augustine.