Maria of Castile – A failed marriage but a successful political partnership




maria castile
By Alonso de Cartagena - CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Maria of Castile governed Aragon from 1420-1423 and 1432-1458. She was Queen of Aragon and Naples. She was once the Princess of Asturias in Castile. She married King Alfonso V of Aragon. While their marriage was unhappy, they managed to form a political partnership. While her husband ruled in Naples, Queen Maria was the unofficial ruler of Aragon. She had her own court and council that was separate from her husband. During her years as the unofficial ruler of Aragon, Queen Maria was an advocate of peace.[1]

Maria of Castile was born on 14 November 1401. She was the oldest child of King Henry III of Castile and Queen Catherine of Lancaster.[2] Until her father had a son, Maria was made the Princess of Asturias (a title for the heir presumptive) on 6 January 1402.[3] When her brother, Prince John, was born on 6 March 1405, Maria was no longer the Princess of Asturias.[4] On 25 December 1406, King Henry III of Castile died, and her infant brother, John became King of Castile. Maria was four years old and became again heiress apparent of Castile until her brother produced an heir.[5] Her mother, Queen Catherine, became regent. Queen Catherine and Princess Maria developed a close mother-daughter relationship. Later, Princess Maria would learn from her mother how to rule.[6] They often corresponded with each other after Princess Maria married Prince Alfonso of Aragon.[7]

When Maria was seven years old, she became betrothed to Prince Alfonso of Aragon (the future Alfonso V). It was agreed that Princess Maria’s brother, Prince John, would marry Prince Alfonso’s sister, Princess Maria of Aragon.[8] In return, Princess Maria had to marry Alfonso of Aragon.[9] On 12 June 1415, Princess Maria married Prince Alfonso of Aragon, and she was given a large dowry. In fact, she is known in Spanish history for being the Castilian princess with the largest dowry.[10] Prince Alfonso was also rewarded by becoming a prince of Castile.[11]

On 1 April 1416, King Ferdinand I of Aragon died and Alfonso became King Alfonso V of Aragon. He did not have a coronation because he believed it was not necessary to prove his legitimacy as King since his father was King.[12] Thus, Queen Maria and King Alfonso V of Aragon were never crowned.[13] During Alfonso’s early years as King, Queen Maria was often overshadowed by her mother-in-law, Eleanor of Albuquerque.[14] Queen Eleanor was King Alfonso V of Aragon’s most trusted advisor and always assisted him in politics. Only when it was necessary did Queen Maria make public appearances.[15] Thus, Queen Maria had no political influence.

Queen Maria’s marriage to King Alfonso V of Aragon was initially happy. However, Queen Maria began to have health problems and was frequently ill.[16] She had smallpox which scarred her and made her look unattractive to her husband.[17] She also had epilepsy which she would suffer from for the rest of her life.[18] Because of her bad health, the couple could not consummate their marriage until Queen Maria finally began to menstruate at the age of sixteen.[19] Still, she could not produce a child with King Alfonso V of Aragon.[20]  Queen Maria’s childlessness began to deteriorate their marital happiness.[21] King Alfonso V of Aragon began to have extramarital affairs.[22]

In 1421, Queen Joanna II of Naples named King Alfonso V of Aragon as her heir. King Alfonso V left to secure his claim to the throne of Naples. Before he left, he needed someone to rule the kingdom in his stead.[23] His mother’s health was in a poor state.[24] He did not trust his brothers because they often warred with Castile.[25] He needed someone who was faithful to him and could be a peacemaker between Aragon and Castile. He found that no one was more suitable than his wife.[26] King Alfonso V of Aragon made Queen Maria lieutenant-governor. This meant that she was the unofficial ruler of Aragon. Queen Maria could make many decisions.[27] She answered to no one except her husband.[28] By becoming lieutenant-governor, Queen Maria had her own court and council.[29] She often appointed Aragonese noblemen to positions within her court, which increased her popularity.[30] Queen Maria would serve as lieutenant-governor from 1420-1423.

In 1423, King Alfonso V of Aragon returned from Naples. When Queen Maria learned that her husband had an illegitimate son named Ferdinand with his lover named Giraldona Carolino, she was furious.[31] In order to get revenge on her husband for his betrayal, Queen Maria told her husband that his precious mother was dead.[32] However, Queen Eleanor was still alive.[33] When King Alfonso V of Aragon found out about his wife’s lie, he was so angry that he never forgave her.[34] Their marriage was irreconcilable.[35] King Alfonso V of Aragon stayed with her for nine years merely for appearance’s sake.[36]

In 1432, King Alfonso V of Aragon left to conquer Naples again. This time he would never return to Aragon.[37] King Alfonso V wanted to make his brother, John of Navarre, his lieutenant-governor.[38] However, his court wanted his wife to be lieutenant-governor.[39] King Alfonso V of Aragon listened to his court and made Queen Maria the lieutenant-governor of Aragon.[40] She would be lieutenant-governor from 1432-1454.

As lieutenant-governor for the second time, Queen Maria proved to be a strong ruler and was an advocate for peace.[41] In 1435, King Alfonso V of Aragon was captured in the battle of Ponza, and Queen Maria raised funds to secure his release. Her most significant contribution was securing peace with Castile between her sister-in-law, Queen Maria of Aragon.[42] The two Queens met at Valladolid to sign a peace treaty between their two countries.[43] However, Queen Maria often struggled between handling the conflicts between the nobles and the peasants.[44] She also often disagreed with her husband’s policies on how to handle the conflicts between the two classes.[45]

On 2 June 1442, Maria became Queen of Naples when Alfonso V of Aragon became King of Naples. However, she never visited Naples. Because Queen Maria often disagreed with her husband’s policies, she resigned from lieutenant-governor in August of 1453.[46] Her resignation was unprecedented.[47] Never before had a queen who was lieutenant-governor resigned from power.[48] This resignation showed her frustration with her husband because she no longer wanted to work with him on a political level.[49] Even though she resigned, she still kept the title of lieutenant-governor.[50] On 20 July 1454, her brother, King John II of Castile, died. Queen Maria moved back to Castile to negotiate peace between Aragon and her nephew, King Henry IV of Castile.[51] She stayed in the royal court of Valencia for the rest of her life.[52]

On 27 June 1458, King Alfonso V of Aragon died in Naples. He made no mention of Queen Maria in his will.[53] Queen Maria greatly mourned his death.[54] King Alfonso V of Aragon’s brother, John of Navarre, succeeded him as the next King. On 4 September 1458, Queen Maria died in Valencia.[55] In her will, she left a collection of over seventy books to her closest attendant, Yolanda de Monplau.[56] On 7 September 1458, Queen Maria was buried in the Monastery of Saint Trinity in Valencia.[57] Thus, Maria of Castile was one of the most powerful women in medieval Spain. While her marriage with King Alfonso V of Aragon was unhappy on a personal level, they managed to form a successful political partnership.

Sources:

Earenfight, T. (2010). The King’s other Body: María of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jansen, S. (2002). The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe. NY: Palgrave Macmillan US.


[1] Jansen, 2002

[2] Jansen, 2002

[3] Earenfight, 2010

[4] Earenfight, 2010

[5] Earenfight, 2010

[6] Earenfight, 2010

[7] Earenfight, 2010

[8] Jansen, 2002

[9] Jansen, 2002

[10] Earenfight, 2010

[11] Earenfight, 2010

[12] Earenfight, 2010

[13] Earenfight, 2010

[14] Earenfight, 2010

[15] Earenfight, 2010

[16] Earenfight, 2010

[17] Earenfight, 2010

[18] Earenfight, 2010

[19] Earenfight, 2010

[20] Earenfight, 2010

[21] Earenfight, 2010

[22] Earenfight, 2010

[23] Earenfight, 2010

[24] Earenfight, 2010

[25] Earenfight, 2010

[26] Earenfight, 2010

[27] Earenfight, 2010

[28] Earenfight, 2010

[29] Earenfight, 2010

[30] Earenfight, 2010

[31] Earenfight, 2010

[32] Earenfight, 2010

[33] Earenfight, 2010

[34] Earenfight, 2010

[35] Earenfight, 2010

[36] Earenfight, 2010

[37] Jansen, 2002

[38] Earenfight, 2010

[39] Earenfight, 2010

[40] Earenfight, 2010

[41] Jansen, 2002

[42] Jansen, 2002

[43] Jansen, 2002

[44] Earenfight, 2010

[45] Earenfight, 2010

[46] Earenfight, 2010

[47] Earenfight, 2010

[48] Earenfight, 2010

[49] Earenfight, 2010

[50] Earenfight, 2010

[51] Earenfight, 2010

[52] Earenfight, 2010

[53] Earenfight, 2010

[54] Earenfight, 2010

[55] Earenfight, 2010

[56] Earenfight, 2010

[57] Earenfight, 2010






About Lauralee Jacks 183 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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