The Year of Isabella I of Castile – Isabella & King Henry IV (Part one)




Isabella, Alfonso and Henry as depicted in Isabel (2012)
Isabella, Alfonso and Henry as depicted in Isabel (2012)(Screenshot/Fair Use)

The future King Henry IV of Castile was born on 5 January 1425 as the third child but only son of King John II of Castile and his first wife, Maria of Aragon.

At the time of his birth, his eldest sister, Catherine, had already died in infancy. Another elder sister, Eleanor, would die in the year of his birth. A shortlived younger sister named Maria was born in 1428. After his mother’s death in 1445, Henry’s father, King John, remarried to the much younger Isabella of Portugal. She gave him two more children, Isabella, the future Queen Isabella I (born 1451) and Alfonso (born 1453).

On 21 April 1425, Henry was installed as Prince of Asturias, a title previously held by his elder sisters in turn. Unfortunately, very little is known about Henry’s early years. Bishop Lope Barrientos acted as his principal tutor, and he was in the care of his ayo, Pedro Fernández de Córdoba, Lord of Baeno. When the latter died in 1435, he was replaced by Alvaro de Luna, who de facto put Juan de Cerenzuela, Ruy Diaz de Menzoa and Pedro Manuel in charge. Juan Pacheco was also introduced into the prince’s entourage.

Henry was just 11 years old when his father began negotiations for his marriage to Blanche of Navarre (later known as Queen Blanche II of Navarre). The wedding took place four years later, on 15 September 1440. At the time, there was trouble brewing between father and son, and one chronicler wrote, “Juan Pacheco turned him from the opinion and obedience of the lord king his father, and he himself managed the reconciliation. And he did this since he wanted to gain from the King some large gifts and grants, and with this technique, he gained and advanced so much, that in the space of six years, making an about-face each year, he arrived to be marquis… of Villena, and lord of other great towns and places…”1 From around this time, until the death of King John, there were four blocs: the King with Alvaro de Luna, Henry and Juan Pacheco, the greater Castillian nobles and the Infantes of Aragon. Henry’s mother, Maria, also often opposed the King and sometimes sided with Henry; other times, she sided with the Infantes. All had their own purpose, but this is perhaps too much for now. After King John married Isabella of Aragon in 1447, he turned against Alvaro de Luna. Alvaro was eventually overthrown and beheaded in 1453.

That same year, Henry managed to secure a divorce from his wife, Blanche. They had been married for 13 years, but the marriage had reportedly remained unconsummated. Henry implied that Blanche had somehow rendered him impotent, although this was limited to relations involving his wife. Despite his best efforts to blame it on Blanche, this also caused rumours about his own virility, which continued to plague him for many years to come.2 Blanche endured a medical examination to prove her continued virginity. The divorce became final on 13 November 1453 after an appeal to the Pope. Blanche was sent home in disgrace, where she eventually succeeded as Queen in her own right, although she was being held captive by then.

On 20 July 1454, Kinh John II died, and he was succeeded by Henry. His two half-siblings, Isabella and Alfonso, were still very young and could offer no support. He had no children or wife, so it was perhaps no surprise that he had a series of favourites, such as Beltrán de la Cueva. In 1455, Henry remarried Joan of Portugal, although it appeared that it wasn’t consummated immediately. Joan eventually gave birth to a daughter named Joanna in 1462 and a stillborn son not much later.3 Henry certainly never doubted the paternity of his children, but the following rumours gave little Joanna the nickname “la Beltraneja”, implying that her father was in fact her father’s favourite, Beltrán de la Cueva. The accusations of his sexual incompetence were very convenient for his opponents.

When Joan fell pregnant for the first time, Henry’s half-siblings, then ten and seven years old, were ordered to come to court. Isabella later wrote, “Alfonso and I, who were just children at the time, were inhumanely and forcibly torn from our mother’s arms and taken into Queen Joan’s power.”4 She became part of the Queen’s household and saw very little of her brother Henry. When Joanna was born, Isabella acted as godmother to her newborn niece. Just three months later, Isabella and Alfonso were among those who swore an oath to recognise Joanna as Castile’s heiress. Nevertheless, the rumours about her paternity were already making their way to Rome, and a rebellion was forming.

The symbol of the rebellion would be Isabella’s younger brother, Alfonso. Isabella and Alfonso were still at court with Henry and his family. Isabella had already become Henry’s chess piece, and he needed the support of Portugal. In 1464, Isabella had been brought to the Portuguese border to meet with the King of Portugal, Afonso V, who was also the brother of Queen Joan. He was reportedly so impressed that he wanted to marry her straight away. This did not happen. The rebelling nobles claimed that Isabella and Alfonso were being held captive, and they attempted to kidnap them. A group of grandees wrote, “We are sure that certain people, with wicked intent, have taken control of the illustrious prince Alfonso, and at the same time, of the illustrious princess Isabella. And not only that, we are also sure that these people have agreed to and planned to kill said prince and marry off the princess.”5

They also first wrote openly about the doubts of Joanna’s paternity. They wrote, “Both your royal highness and he [Beltrán] know that she is not your daughter and cannot be your lawful successor.”6 Henry was reluctant to fight, and the bishop of Cuenca told him, “Otherwise you will go down in history as the most useless king there has ever been in Spain.”7 Nevertheless, Henry agreed to declare Alfonso as his heir, and he was handed over while Isabella hoped to return to her mother. Then he went back on his word and demanded Alfonso be returned to him. This didn’t happen, and Isabella was stuck in Queen Joan’s household as the nobles proclaimed the young Alfonso as King in 1465.

Read part two here.

  1. Enrique IV and the crisis of fifteenth-century Castile, 1425-1480 by William D. Phillips p.36
  2. The Queens Regnant of Navarre by Elena Woodacre p.111
  3. Enrique IV and the crisis of fifteenth-century Castile, 1425-1480 by William D. Phillips p.92
  4. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.25
  5. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.36
  6. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s first Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.37
  7. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.37






About Moniek Bloks 2740 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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