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




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

Read part one here.

Henry was told that the best way to squash the rebellion was to marry Isabella off to Pedro Girón, one of the rebels. Pedro came with a good offer, which Henry agreed to, and Henry urged him to come as soon as possible. Isabella was horrified by the match, and she sank to her knees and prayed to God to release her from this match. Pedro fell ill on his way to her, and he died just ten days later. Isabella was delighted by this outcome, although Henry was crestfallen as this meant that the civil war would drag on. The battle at Olmedo in August 1467 was a narrow but inconclusive victory for Henry. Just one month later, as Queen Joan fled, Alfonso rode into Segovia almost without a fight.

Isabella was conflicted but ultimately did not go with the Queen. She later wrote, “I stayed in my palace, against the Queen’s will, in order to leave her dishonest custody that was bad for my honour and dangerous for my life.”1 She was later happily reunited with Alfonso. However, she also informed him and the other rebels that she would only come if she wasn’t going to be forced into a marriage and she wanted to return to her mother. Queen Joan chose this moment to live her own life as well, and she began a relationship with Pedro de Castilla, the nephew of the Archbishop of Seville. They went on to have two sons, which did her husband’s reputation no good at all, although he continued to send her gifts.

Isabella and Alfonso celebrated his 14th birthday with their mother in Arévalo. They were eventually forced to leave there after an outbreak of the plague. However, en route, Alfonso became ill, and it soon became clear that he was dying. Isabella now took control and wrote, “And you all know that in the moment that the Lord decides to take his life, succession of the kingdom and royal lands of Castile, and Leon will, as his legitimate heiress and successor, pass to me.”2 Alfonso died the following day.

Henry did not want to miss an opportunity to make peace, and the two opposing parties agreed to meet. Isabella and Henry greeted each other cordially and eventually came to an agreement. Among other things, she was to be named the hereditary princess, while Henry was to be her king, lord and foster father. Isabella agreed to work on bringing the remaining rebels back into the fold. Any marriage plans had to come from Henry, while Isabella had the right of veto. The agreement also stated that Henry was informed that he had never been legally married to Joan. This meant that Joanna’s paternity wasn’t put into question, but rather, as she was illegitimate, she could not be the next Queen. Henry’s supporters were baffled by the agreement, but for now, peace was brokered.

Isabella had probably already begun plotting for the marriage candidate of her choice, Ferdinand of Aragon, who was then known as the King of Sicily. Meanwhile, Henry again attempted to bring the King of Portugal into the mix. On 7 March 1469, a secret marriage agreement between Isabella and Ferdinand was signed. Henry brought forth another candidate, the French Prince Charles, Duke of Berry. She reportedly declined in such a manner that the ambassador became angry.3

Her marriage to Ferdinand did not come as a complete surprise. A month before the wedding, she had written to Henry claiming that she, Henry and the nobles had agreed to study four candidates: Ferdinand, the King of Portugal, the Duke of Berry and the future King Richard III of England. She claimed that after her own consultations with the nobles, they had approved of Ferdinand, while she angrily rebuked Henry for pushing the Portuguese match. On 12 October 1469, she wrote that Ferdinand was in Castile and that he came in peace. Two days later, the two met for the very first time. Henry did not bother to reply, it would be too late to protest anyway.

On 19 October, they were married with a supposed papal bull in hand needed to cover the forbidden degree of consanguinity, as they were second cousins. An agreement about Isabella and her future as Queen of Castile was also read out. She later bluffed about the fake papal bull, “My conscience is fully clean, as can be shown by the authentic bulls and documents, whenever and wherever necessary.”4 The following year, the agreement making Isabella the heiress was overthrown by Henry.

Meanwhile, Isabella gave birth to her first child on 2 October 1470. It was a daughter who was also named Isabella. She now waited and quietly worked to bring the nobles back to her side. Henry saw his supporters leave one by one and was desperately trying to find a suitable husband for Joanna.

At the end of 1473, Henry and Isabella met several times in Segovia. Isabella told him she wished to succeed him, but he would not confirm this. Nevertheless, he also agreed to meet Ferdinand, and the three had dinner together. Henry fell ill shortly after, and the couple pleaded for his recognition during his illness. Fortunately, Henry recovered. However, he would not live another year, and he died on 11 December 1474.

One observer reported, “She [Isabella] was upset and saddened, and with good reason because she not only esteemed him as her brother but also considered him like a father.”5

A war of succession would now begin.

  1. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.39
  2. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.40
  3. Enrique IV and the crisis of fifteenth-century Castile, 1425-1480 by William D. Phillips p.113
  4. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.63
  5. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen by Gilet Tremlett p.95






About Moniek Bloks 2765 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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