Isabella of Aragon – A lost legacy (Part two)

Isabella as portrayed in Isabel (2012) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Read part one here.

Tragedy struck on 13 July 1491 when Afonso was crushed underneath his stumbling horse. Isabella and her mother-in-law Eleanor rushed to be by his side, but Afonso never regained consciousness. He died three hours after the accident. Isabella was so grief-stricken that she cut off her hair and wore a veil that covered her face. She dressed in mourning clothes that she refused to change for forty days to chasten her body. She stopped eating almost completely and became frighteningly thin. This caused her to become quite ill, and she began to spend her days in a dark room with a single candle, reading only religious texts. She attended mass on a daily basis, receiving communion over and over again, and she began to believe she had displeased God in some way. Eventually, she became convinced that Afonso had died because Portugal had allowed “heresy to fester.”1

Her parents-in-law became concerned with her wellbeing and had her bed moved into their room, so they could keep an eye on her. Queen Isabella wrote to her daughter, full of concern and the contents of those letters were later described, “There is no one who, unless they had a heart of stone, could hear it without shedding many tears.”2 Queen Isabella asked her daughter to return home, and she came back devoutly religious and continued to starve herself. She also claimed that she would never marry again. For now, Queen Isabella allowed her daughter to become her companion but letting her remain unmarried was probably never in the cards.

In 1495, Prince Afonso’s father died, and he was succeeded by his cousin Manuel, the very same man who had accompanied Isabella to Portugal for her wedding. Manuel had grown attached to Isabella during their time together and wanted to marry her. However, Queen Isabella offered her younger daughter Maria instead. Manuel refused, saying it would Isabella, or he would look further. Isabella’s parents asked her to finally renounce her mourning and to marry Manuel. However, Isabella insisted that she would never again “know another man.”3 The issue temporarily rested while the family focussed their attention on John and Joanna’s marriages.

In August 1496, Joanna left Castile to be married to Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and the wedding took place on 20 October 1496. A few months after their wedding, Philip’s sister Margaret was sent to Castile to marry John. Their wedding took place on 3 April 1497 and Margaret was an instant hit at court. John adored his new wife to the concern of his doctors that he was exhausting himself in the bedchamber. Meanwhile, Queen Isabella continued to negotiate with Manuel for him to accept Maria, but he still refused, wishing only for Isabella. Eventually, Isabella agreed to the match, though she asked for as little festivities as possible. She also requested that Manuel would expel all the Castilian conversos (those who had fled from Castile to Portugal due to the Inquisition) and he agreed, and he also agreed to expel Jews and Muslims. As her second wedding approached, it became clear that John was very ill. Manuel kept the news from her so that she would not delay the wedding and they were married on 30 September 1497.

John accepted his fate readily, asking only that his parents take care of Margaret, who was pregnant. He died on 4 October 1497 – still only 19 years old. Upon receiving the news, Queen Isabella said, “God gave him to me, and He has taken him away.”4 The pregnant Margaret also fell ill, and Queen Isabella rushed to nurse her back to health. Nevertheless, the child she was carrying was born prematurely and died. This now left Isabella as the heir to the throne.

By the time Manuel and Isabella returned to Castile to be sworn in as heirs to Castile, she was pregnant. This was a relief for the Aragonese, who would have preferred a man to inherit. If Isabella had a son, he would inherit everything. While at Zaragoza to discuss this matter, Isabella went into labour and gave birth to a son on 23 August 1498. However, she was still very malnourished from all the fasting she had done, and she died within an hour of giving birth. A historian at court wrote to the Archbishop of Braga, “The mother [Queen Isabella] was large, while the daughter [Isabella] was so consumed by her thinness that she did not have the strength to resist the birth… Scarcely had the child emerged from her uterus than the mother’s spirit was extinguished… Despite this, let’s fix it so that this tragic tale ends with a (more) musical refrain. There is compensation for so much misfortune, an important lightener to such a deep pain: she gave birth to a son.”5

Isabella dying in childbirth as portrayed in Isabel (2012) (Screenshot/Fair Use)

Isabella asked to be buried dressed as a nun and to be interred at the Convent of Santa Isabel in Toledo. Queen Isabella held her daughter in her arms as she died.6 Isabella had reportedly foreseen her death in childbirth and “she made sure that the final communion was well prepared and continually made priests come to her so that she could confess. And if, by mistake, she made some error she would plead, weeping on her knees, to be given absolution.”7

Her son was named Miguel de la Paz, and he was granted Aragonese succession rights on top of the rights he had in Castile and Portugal. He was a sickly child and Manuel left him in the care of Queen Isabella while he returned to Portugal. On 19 July 1500, Queen Isabella held her young grandson as he too died. Isabella’s legacy had been extinguished.

  1. Isabella: The warrior queen by Kirsten Downey p.315
  2. Isabella: The warrior queen by Kirsten Downey p.315
  3. Isabella: The warrior queen by Kirsten Downey p.316
  4. Isabella: The warrior queen by Kirsten Downey p.329
  5. Isabella of Castile by Giles Tremlett p.405
  6. Isabella: The warrior queen by Kirsten Downey p.331
  7. Isabella of Castile by Giles Tremlett p.405

About Moniek Bloks 2743 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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