The Year of Isabella I of Castile – Ferdinand returns home to newly proclaimed Queen Isabella

isabel ferdinand
The scene as depicted in Isabel (2012) (Screenshot/fair use)

On 2 January 1475, Isabella’s husband Ferdinand returned home after eight months on a military campaign. Much had changed since they had last seen each other – most notably, Isabella had succeeded her half-brother, King Henry IV, as Queen upon his death on 11 December 1474.

She had ordered that the cities “raise flags for me, recognising me as your Queen and natural mistress and also to the high and mighty prince, King Ferdinand… as my legitimate husband.” The message clearly stated that she was the Queen and he was her consort, and Ferdinand was not amused.1 Nevertheless, her husband wasn’t her only problem. Her niece, Joanna, also claimed the crown and a civil war was bound to happen. Joanna was just 12 years old and in the hands of Diego López Pacheco. In May 1475, Joanna would marry her uncle, King Afonso V of Portugal, who pushed her claim.

Isabella had taken refuge at the Alcázar of Segovia upon learning of her half-brother’s death. He had proclaimed her as his heiress before overthrowing the agreement, and she received the support of Andres de Cabrera and Segovia’s council. On 13 December 1474, Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Castile and León. Ferdinand only learned that Henry was dead on 14 December when a message told him, “Today I kiss the hand one hundred and one times, because it is now that of my king and master.”2 Ferdinand was annoyed that the news had not come from a letter from Isabella herself. This letter did not come until three days later.

Isabella did not have just Joanna to fear as her rival. Ferdinand himself could make a claim should he be so inclined, as he too was a descendant of King John I of Castile. He and his wife were second cousins, as they both descended from King John I. Ferdinand spoke of Isabella receiving “bad advice from her counsellors who, from the very first days of their marriage, had been plotting so that the Queen should enjoy first place in the government of the kingdom.”3 He believed that “Upon his death don Enrique (Henry)… was succeeded in the kingdoms of Castile and Leon by the prince of Aragon, don Ferdinand, according to his hereditary rights as husband of the queen, doña Isabella.”4 When Ferdinand and his entourage learned that the royal sword had been held in front of Isabella as she processed to Segovia, they were even more upset. This sword symbolised Castile’s ancient sovereignty and the right to mete out violent justice and had never been carried in front of a woman before.5 The issue of them co-ruling was not a new one, but during the early years of their marriage, it had gotten snowed under by other matters. Now, it reared its ugly head at the moment of truth.

Ferdinand began travelling slowly towards his wife at Segovia. As he finally reached her, she threw him a grand reception. He arrived wearing a long black cloak, which was ceremoniously removed to reveal a gold embroidered outfit lined with the fur of pine martens. After several ceremonies, he met Isabella in the outer courtyard of the Alcazar. After being proclaimed king, the couple slipped away, and courtiers on both sides were left to work it all out. Two arbiters were appointed, and a new document was drawn up and signed within two weeks. It wasn’t too different from the one they had signed upon their wedding, but more concessions were made to Ferdinand.

For example, Ferdinand’s name was to go first on their joint documents, while her shield had precedence. Both would be able to administer justice, apart or jointly. Isabella had pointed out that if Ferdinand insisted that only men could rule, he was putting their daughter’s rights (she was their only child at this point) at risk. And above all, it was decided that they would never, even if they were apart, override each other’s decisions. A unique partnership was now formed.6

  1. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.98
  2. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.100
  3. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s first great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.101
  4. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s first Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.101
  5. Isabella of Castile, The First Renaissance Queen by Nancy Rubin p.5 and Isabella of Castile: Europe’s first Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.102
  6. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Giles Tremlett p.105-106

About Moniek Bloks 2749 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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