Medieval Spain's Royal Couple: Ferdinand and Isabella

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Part 1: Setting the Stage

Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile were joint rulers of their Spanish kingdoms during the Middle Ages. They were two of the most well-known of all Spanish rulers.

Isabella was born on April 22, 1451, in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Ávila. Her father was King John II of Castile, and her mother was also named Isabella.

Ferdinand was born on March 10, 1452, in Sos del Rey Católico, in the Kingdom of Aragon. His father was King Juan II, and his mother was Juana Eníquez.

Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella

The beginning of the union of Aragon and Castile was the marriage of Ferdinand to Isabella, whose half-brother was Henry IV of Castile. Ferdinand and Isabella were married on Oct. 19, 1469, in Valladolid, in the Kingdom of Castile and León. They both promised to share power should either or both of them inherit a throne. When Henry IV died in 1474, Isabella became Queen of Castile and Ferdinand became the nominal king. The Aragon throne became available in 1479 when that kingdom's ruler, Juan II, died, and Ferdinand took over. At the same time, Isabella became the nominal queen. Thus did Aragon and Castile form a personal union and Ferdinand and Isabella rule over both kingdoms together.

Isabella of Castile

Isabella's father had attempted to arrange marriages to other actual or prospective monarchs, including Afonso V of Portugal and King Edward IV of England, but Isabella held out and gained permission to choose her spouse. She chose Ferdinand. But the Portuguese king did not go quietly, marching into Castile at the head of an army to press his case. The battle for succession to the throne of Castile took the better part of a year, but the victory of the forces of Ferdinand and Isabella at the 1476 Battle of Toro ensured their rule, although it was another three years, including a number of victories by both sides, before a final peace came.

Ferdinand and Isabella had seven children, of which five survived into adulthood. Their oldest child, Isabella, married Prince Afonso of Portugal and then King Manuel I of Portugal. Their only surviving son, John, married Margaret of Habsburg.

Their third daughter, Joanna, married Philip I, whose father was the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Joanna's son was Charles, who became King Charles I of Spain and King Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. Her grandson was King Philip II of Spain.

Their fourth daughter was Maria, who married King Manuel I of Portugal and then King Henry I of Portugal. Her son became King John III of Portugal.

Their youngest child, Catalina, was born in December 1485, in Madrid. She became known as Catherine of Aragon. When she was 15, in 1501, Catherine married Prince Arthur of England, as a means of forming an alliance with that country. Arthur was the oldest son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Arthur died a few months after they were married, and Catherine for a time served as Spain's Ambassador to England; in this, she was the first woman to serve as an European ambassador.

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