Ferdinand II of Aragon

Ferdinand II (Aragonese: Ferrando; Catalan: Ferran; Basque: Errando; Italian: Ferdinando; Latin: Ferdinandus; Spanish: Fernando; 10 March 1452 – 23 January 1516), also called Ferdinand the Catholic (Spanish: el Católico), was King of Aragon and Sardinia from 1479, King of Sicily from 1468, King of Naples (as Ferdinand III) from 1504 and King of Navarre (as Ferdinand I) from 1512 until his death in 1516. He was also the nominal Duke of the ancient Duchies of Athens and Neopatria. He was King of Castile and León (as Ferdinand V) from 1475 to 1504, alongside his wife Queen Isabella I. From 1506 to 1516, he was the Regent of the Crown of Castile, making him the effective ruler of Castile. From 1511 to 1516, he styled himself as Imperator totius Africa (Emperor of All Africa) after having conquered Tlemcen and making the Zayyanid Sultan, Abu Abdallah V, his vassal.[1] He was also the Grandmaster of the Spanish Military Orders of Santiago (1499-1516), Calatrava (1487-1516), Alcantara (1492-1516) and Montesa (1499-1516), after he permanently annexed them into the Spanish Crown. He reigned jointly with Isabella over a dynastically unified Spain; together they are known as the Catholic Monarchs. Ferdinand is considered the de facto first King of Spain, and was described as such during his reign (Latin: Rex Hispaniarum; Spanish: Rey de España).

Ferdinand the Catholic
Rex Catholicissimus
Rex Hierosolymitanus
Portrait by Michel Sittow
King of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Sardinia and Count of Barcelona
Reign20 January 1479 – 23 January 1516
PredecessorJohn II
SuccessorCharles I and Joanna I
King of Sicily
Reign27 June 1468 – 23 January 1516
PredecessorJohn II
SuccessorCharles I and Joanna I
King of Naples
Reign31 March 1504 – 23 January 1516
PredecessorLouis XII
SuccessorCharles I and Joanna I
King of Navarre
Reign24 August 1512 – 23 January 1516
PredecessorJohn III and Catherine
SuccessorCharles I and Joanna I
King of Castile and León
Reign15 January 1475 – 26 November 1504
PredecessorHenry IV
SuccessorPhilip I and Joanna I
Co-regentIsabella I
Regent of the Crown of Castile
Reign25 September 1506 – 23 January 1516
PredecessorFrancisco Jiménez de Cisneros
SuccessorFrancisco Jiménez de Cisneros
Born10 March 1452
Sos del Rey Católico, Aragon
Died23 January 1516 (aged 63)
Madrigalejo, Extremadura
Burial10 November 1521
    (m. 1469; died 1504)
      (m. 1505)
      FatherJohn II of Aragon and Navarre
      MotherJoanna Enríquez
      ReligionRoman Catholicism
      Styles of
      King Ferdinand II
      Reference styleHis Catholic Majesty
      Spoken styleYour Catholic Majesty

      The Crown of Aragon that Ferdinand inherited in 1479 included the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Sardinia, and Sicily, as well as the principality of Catalonia. His marriage to Queen Isabella I of Castile is regarded as the "cornerstone in the foundation of the Spanish monarchy".[2] Ferdinand played a major role in the European colonization of the Americas, from drawing up the Capitulations of Santa Fe (anticipating a rogue Columbus) to having his personal accountant, Luis de Santangel, undertake more than half the cost (2 million maravedis of the 3 million total) of sponsoring Christopher Columbus' first voyage in 1492 (ensuring the Crown was virtually risk-free in this great gamble) to prudently negotiating the terms with John II of Portugal for the Treaty of Tordesillas. That same year, the couple defeated Granada, the last Muslim state in Western Europe, thus completing the centuries-long Reconquista.

      Ferdinand was King of the Crown of Castile until Isabella's death in 1504, when their daughter Joanna became Queen. That year, after a war with France, Ferdinand conquered the Kingdom of Naples. In 1506, he became Regent of Castile (as Rey Señor de Castilla) on behalf of his mentally unstable daughter Joanna. In 1505, as part of a treaty with France, Ferdinand married Germaine of Foix, niece of King Louis XII of France and sister of Gaston of Foix (the Thunderbolt of Italy). Ferdinand and Germaine's only child, John, died shortly after his birth. In 1512, Ferdinand conquered the Kingdom of Navarre, ruling all the territories comprising modern-day Spain until his death in 1516. He was succeeded by his eldest surviving child, Joanna and his grandson Charles. Ferdinand's great-grandson Philip II of Spain, while staring at a portrait of him, is recorded to have said "We owe everything to him".[3] Modern historian Sir John H. Elliott concluded "in so far as it [the establishment of the Spanish Empire] can be attributed to any particular set of policies and actions, they were those of King Ferdinand and Cardinal Cisneros."[4]

      Early life

      Ferdinand was born on 10 March 1452, in the town of Sos del Rey Católico, Aragon, as the son of John, Duke of Montblanc, and Joanna Enríquez, 5th Lady of Casarrubios del Monte.[5] He was a nephew of King Alfonso V of Aragon, and the largest foreign landholders of feudal Castile, the infantes Henry, Duke of Villena, and Peter, Count of Albuquerque. Ferdinand grew in the shade of his headstrong mother, whom her much older husband loved and indulged. From the very beginning, she seemed to have brought up her son to ascend to the throne of Aragon. It began by her putting off his baptism for nearly a year until King Alfonso named his brother John as regent, thus making it possible to hold Ferdinand's baptism in the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in the capitol city of Zaragoza with all the pomp afforded to an Aragonese Infante. The child was named after his paternal grandfather, Ferdinand I, the first Trastamara king of Aragon. King Ferdinand I was the foremost Iberian hero of the wars against the Moors in recent memory.[6][7] In 1458, Ferdinand's uncle died with no legitimate children and his father became King John II of Aragon.[8]

      Ferdinand's father hailed him as a child prodigy. It is said that by the time Ferdinand was eight years old, he managed to beat his parents, his mentor Joan Margarit i Pau, and other members of the court every single time they played chess or checkers.[9] As a child, he excelled at many of the physical activities required of a royal prince. In the words of Hernando del Pulgar: "[Ferdinand] was a very good equestrian, jouster and lance thrower, and did all the things that a Prince ought to with such ease and with such skill, that no one his age, in all his kingdoms, did it better."[9] From a very young age, he seemed to have developed a great sense of humility and respect toward people of "low birth" (especially his constant servants).[10]

      Ferdinand's armour

      A Prince of the Sword

      Ferdinand was born during a period of turbulence, with King John II and his son, Charles, Prince of Viana (Ferdinand's elder half-brother) embroiled in open conflict.[11] Ferdinand was by no means meant to inherit the Crown of Aragon. That privilege was reserved for Charles but John II was not having it. Within the Crown of Aragon, John had the support of Aragon, Sardinia, Sicily, Majorca and the Remences of Catalonia while Charles had the support of Catalonia and Navarre. Valencia chose to remain neutral while Louis XI of France and Henry IV of Castile allied with John and Charles respectively.[12] After Charles' unexpected death on 23 September 1461, Ferdinand was made John's undisputed heir.[13]

      In February 1462, war broke out in Catalonia with the commencement of the First War of the Remences led by Francesc de Verntallat.[14] The peasants revolted against the Consell del Principat with the hope of receiving royal support. On 11 March, Queen Joanna sensing danger, departed Barcelona for Girona, with the 10-year old Prince Ferdinand in tow. They hoped to receive protection from the French garrison stationed in Girona. In May, the deputy leader of the Consell, Francesc Pallarès, along with two other former leaders, were executed by the Generalitat for colluding with the Queen. This meant civil war, once more.[15]

      An army of the Consell was formed and placed under the command of Hug Roger III, Count of Pallars Sobira. After besieging and capturing Hostalric on 23 May, Roger marched on Girona, where he was received warmly on 6 June while the Queen and the Prince took refuge in the citadel, Força Vella, all throughout June. Gaston IV, Count of Foix, leading a French army, took Girona on 23 July and rescued the Queen and Prince.

      By this time, King John II and King Louis XI had signed the Treaty of Sauveterre (3 May) and the Treaty of Bayonne (9 May) in which Louis pledged 4,200 French Knights to John's cause in return for 200,000 escut as payment. And until the payment was made, Louis received Roussillon and Cerdagne as collateral, along with the right to garrison Perpignan and Cotlliure.[16] With this, the Consell named John II "an enemy of Catalonia" and offered the Principality to three different foreigners; Henry IV of Castile, Peter of Coimbra and René of Anjou.[12][17]

      When the General Cortés was convened, at Zaragoza on 6 February 1468, Queen Joanna, afflicted with late-stage breast cancer, was too sick to preside over. So, the now sixteen year old Ferdinand did so instead. He handled the sessions as if he was a well-seasoned veteran politician in his 60s. The Queen could not have been more proud of her son, but just two weeks later her serene highness died, which to say devastated Ferdinand would be an understatement. Diego de Valera insists that a wonderful odor arose from her corpse, implying she was a Saint. King John II was then battling the French in the north, and it was Ferdinand who saw to his mother's funeral arrangements. Then, in Valencia, where the regional Cortés was indifferent to the ongoing war, Ferdinand addressed the city's nobility with tears streaming down his face. He first paid his due reverence to his deceased mother and said: "Lords, you are well aware of the hardships my lady mother underwent to keep Catalonia within the House of Aragon. I see my lord father old and myself very young. Therefore I place myself in your warm and capable hands and ask you to please embrace and guide me as if I were your own son."[7][18][6]

      The speech received an ecstatic response with some Nobles swearing oaths of fealty then and there. With this, Valencia; the most prosperous kingdom within the Crown of Aragon at the time, joined the war on the side of the royalists and the war waged on until John II and Prince Ferdinand entered Barcelona in 1471 and the Consell signed the Capitulation of Pedralbes. Here, Ferdinand displayed his magnanimity by convincing his father to issue a general pardon to all their former opponents (except Hugh Roger III).[19][20]

      In between 1463 and 1469, Ferdinand had managed to bag multiple victories against all manner of foes (the French led by the Duke of Lorraine, the Castilians led by John of Beaumont, the Portuguese led by the Constable of Portugal and the Catalans led by the Count of Pallars Sobira).[21] Some of his notable victories were at Vildamat, Berga, Alt Emporda, Els Prats del Rei, Bellegarde, Collioure, and Salses. He also led the liberation of Navarre from the French, when he, along with his father, entered Perpignan on 1 February 1473 amidst jubilation.[13]

      By the time he was just 17, he was a proven battlefield commander and a shrewd diplomat (earning praise from Louis XI of France himself).[19][20] In 1473, he was made a Knight of the Golden Fleece by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. He was the last recipient of that honor from a member of the founding house: the House of Valois-Burgundy, before the death of Charles at the Battle of Nancy in 1477 ended its male-line permanently.[22]

      Appearance and personality

      Ferdinand the Catholic

      The prince had marvelously beautiful eyes, which were large, almond-shaped, and laughing; thin eyebrows, very sharp nose, of such size and form that were demanded for a good-looking face; mouth and lips slightly large; and since youth is, by its nature, very prone to laugh, in this prince, the joy of the heart was written on his face, and thus as it always happens, mouth is then of more open features. His whole face was white, cheeks were red-colored, the beard at the time, given the tender youth, was small and very well set, in such place where it fitted best; he had brown straight and flowing hair, cut in keeping with the fashion of the times; his neck was well formed, fitting the stature of his body, which was medium, neither tall, nor small, but of such size, where smart and refined clothes fitted well; his legs were very handsome and well-chiseled; his entire appearance, face, and body were of a gallant, on whom the royal or modest garments looked better than on any other man of his court, to such extent, that he was seen as both an elegant man and king. He was a great rider of the bridle and the jennet, great lance thrower as well as other things in everything he did, he had very good skill and grace.

      Zuan Badoer[23]

      A young man of twenty-two years, nine months and twenty-three days of age, of medium and well-composed stature; his face is serious, white and handsome; he has brown hair, light eyes with lively gravity; his nose and mouth are small; his cheeks and lips are red-colored, his neck and back are well formed; he has clear and calm voice, walks and rides a horse very energetically.

      Diego de Colmenares[24]

      This King was a man of middle stature, of well-proportioned members and well-composed features of his face, of laughing eyes, straight and dark hair; he was a well-built man. When he spoke he did not do it either too quickly or too slowly. He was of good understanding, very moderate in both eating and drinking, and in the way, he moved because neither rage nor pleasure altered him greatly. He was a keen hunter of birds, a man of good effort and very hard-working and resilient on wars. Through his natural condition, he was inclined to administer justice, and he was also pious, he took pity on those miserable people who he saw were in distress. He had so singular a grace that everyone who talked to him, came to love him, and wanted to serve him because he was of very friendly communication. He likewise paid attention to the advice, especially that coming from the Queen, his wife, because he knew her great competence and discretion. Since childhood, he was raised at wars, where he went through many labors and dangers. And because all his income was spent on wars he had, he was in constant need. We can not say that he was generous. He was a man of truth, although the great need in which wars put him made him sometimes deviate. He liked to play all the games; such as checkers, chess and ball games; and when he was a young man, he spent on it more time than he ought to. Although he loved the Queen, his wife greatly, he gave himself to other women. He likewise was a man who took time to change things at times, but more because of petitions and inopportuneness of others that because of his own interest and will. He was a man who treated everyone very well, particularly his constant servants.

      Hernando del Pulgar[9]

      The King is a man of medium stature, his countenance is between serious and smiling, he is of great intelligence, healthy complexion, and 44 or 45 years old. After having his kingdoms calmed and the governance of the land put on a good way, he occupies himself a great deal with religious needs, restoring ruined temples and building new ones. He likes to hunt, for it’s a beneficial exercise for the body and preserves health for a long time.

      Jeronimo Munzer[25]

      King Ferdinand was of medium stature, all his members were well proportioned. He was fair with very gracious luster, with a happy and glowing aspect; his hair was straight and of nearly light chestnut color; his eyebrows were of the same color as the hair, and separated one from another; his eyes were light and nearly smiling; the nose was small and well-formed, fitting other features of the face; his cheeks were like red roses; his mouth was small and good-looking; he had red-colored lips, which resembled coral; his teeth were white and small; his beard was venerable and of much authority, the nape was neither fat, nor thin, neither long, nor short; he had high-pitched voice; his way of speaking was poised and gracious; of great intelligence and wit, and of good judgement; of kind and liberal spirit; very prudent in advice; affable in his habits, without any grief, he walked and moved like a great lord and true King. He was very serious in his acts and speeches; his appearance was of marvelous dignity. Marvelously, he was never seen angry or sad. He was very temperate in eating and drinking. Because neither he ate many times, nor drank more than twice during the meal. He never ate (even if he was on the road) without attending the mass first, and always a prelate or priest blessed his table, and he thanked God after the meals. He was very neat in all the things. He used modest clothes, at times; particularly on solemn occasions and during great festivities, he wore a necklace or golden chain, decorated with pearls and other precious stones. He enjoyed horse riding because since childhood he was a good rider of the bridle and the jennet. He exercised in jousting and games of cañas, in which he surpassed many other strong Caballeros, who were experienced in this discipline of chivalry. He was a great thrower and well trained in military art. He was of enormous endurance at work, both at war and business. He favored justice and demanded a very tight account from those who exercised it. He showed clemency and humanity around those who were distraught and miserable. He was also very gracious and affable with women and his children. He greatly loved and honored wise and virtuous men, and willingly paid attention to their advice, and he loved the Caballeros no less, particularly those of his household. When he was a youngster he dedicated himself to games such as ball game and chess, and he also played cards towards the end of his days. He also had an inclination to hunting, in which he found great delight; but he preferred hunting birds to other animals.

      Lucio Marineo Siculo[26]

      Many lords spiritual and temporal, also many knights, attend upon the King. He rises before 6, and by 8 hath heard two masses, after which he goes to dinner, where every man may see him. Is a good feeder, and drinks two great draughts of wine and water; never sits more than half an hour at table, and none sit with him. After he hath dined all the lords and others go to their own lodgings to dine.

      James Braybroke, Francis Marsin and John Stile[27]

      His actions, words, habits, as well as opinion that exists today, prove that he is a prudent and very private man, who speaks of important matters only when it is necessary; also one can not be more patient than he is, he lives in great order, spending his time on all difficult and most relevant matters of the kingdom, and everything goes through his hands, to a great extent he is the one who resolves all the matters and gives orders. He is thought to be a fan of profit, which reduces expenses when it can be done. He is skillful with weapons, and he had proved it before he became king, and afterward; he appears to be very religious, speaking of God with great respect, and relating everything to Him, he shows great religiosity in the godly solemnities and ceremonies, which is certainly common for the entire nation. He is not a man of letters but he is kind, and it is easy to obtain audience with him, and his answers are selfless and very careful, and only a few leave displeased, at least upon his words, but it’s said many times he does not keep his promises, because he believes that when situations that occur make him change the goals, therefore he does not consider keeping his promises; it seems to me that he knows how to camouflage himself more than other people, but I don’t know if it is true or imputed defect, for as we can notice, the fame acquired by some prudent men always is accompanied by suspicion; in a word, he is a very esteemed king, with great and many talents; he is accused of not being liberal enough, and of not keeping his word, but in all other matters his kindness and prudence shine; he is not a big-head and ill-conceived words that would be improper for prudent and fair man never come from his mouth.

      Unless Ferdinand throws off his appetites he must soon go the way of all flesh. He is 63, besides his asthma, it is now winter, and the country is very cold, yet he talks like a young man of going to the mountainous country of Leon, because he hears that bears are to be found there. If he does not part with one rib, he will lose all. Charon will carry in his boat both him and Louis if they are not careful.

      Ferdinand always appeared happy in front of the ambassadors, and no part of him was displeased, and he was loved as if he were Emperor Vespasian himself.

      Alvaro Fernandez de Cordova[29]

      Marriage and Accession

      The wedding ceremony of Ferdinand and Isabella

      King of Castile

      As heir apparent to the Crown of Aragon, Ferdinand was the subject of many royal matches. A notable one being a marriage proposal made by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy for his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. He eventually married Isabella, the half-sister and heir presumptive of Henry IV of Castile, on 19 October 1469 in Valladolid, Kingdom of Castile and Leon.[30] Since the marriage was done against Henry's wishes, Isabella's status as his heir presumptive was revoked and she was disinherited in favour of Henry's daughter; Princess Joanna. Although Isabella never gave up her claim to the title; Princess of Asturias, from 1469 to 1475, they had to rely on Ferdinand's regal title; King of Sicily.[31]

      Before the marriage, Ferdinand was asked to sign the humiliating Capitulations of Cervera on 5 March 1469. Most people, like Alfonso de Palencia, Pedro de Peralta, Archbishop Margarit and even Castilians like Archbishop Carrillo, Gutierre de Cardenas and Juan Pacheco, wondered why a royal prince would even contemplate signing such a document. But Ferdinand, as a shrewd politician, was playing the long game.[32][20]

      On 12 December 1474, Henry died in Madrid. When news reached Segovia, where Isabella was residing, she immediately convened the Courts of Castile the following day, disinherited her niece Joanna and proclaimed herself Queen of Castile with Ferdinand as her "legitimate husband". Ferdinand was not present for all this because, at the time, he was campaigning against the French occupying Roussillon. When he got word, he was incandescent with fury. He immediately rode for Segovia, where he was given a royal entry on 2 January 1475.[33]

      Immediately, a new agreement of understanding was drafted with Archbishop Carillo representing the interests of Ferdinand and Cardinal Mendoza representing the interests of Isabella. The Concord of Segovia, completed on 5 January, was not an agreement between husband and wife but one between two rival political parties.[34] In it, Ferdinand renounced all claims to the throne of Castile as closest male heir of the House of Trastamara. Isabella was recognized as sole owner of the Kingdom with it passing to her descendants at the time of her death. All official documents, the coin, the seal and the proclamations will be headed by the names of both with Ferdinand taking precedence over Isabella. Both their arms were merged into one with Isabella's Eagle of Saint John and Ferdinand's motto "Tanto Monta" ("it amounts to the same [cutting as untying]") added in. It was decided that the arms of the House of Trastamara; the arms of Castile y Leon, would take precedence over the arms of Aragon y Sicily in their new joint heraldry. Ferdinand was recognized jure uxoris King of Castile as Ferdinand V of Castile, with near equal powers to those of Isabella.[34][35] Identical equal powers (with the added benefit of being made the supreme authority on the joint Crown's foreign, military and social policies) were ceded by Isabella to Ferdinand on 28 April 1475, at the outbreak of the Castilian War of Succession.[36][37] This document, nullifying the separation of monarchical powers established in the Concord of Segovia, signified the commencement of a reign of true equals.[38][39][40][20]

      Ferdinand the Catholic swearing the fueros as the Lord of Biscay at Guernica in 1476.
      Ferdinand the Catholic, flanked by Cardinal Mendoza and the Duke of Alba, at the Battle of Toro (1476).

      War with Portugal and King of Spain

      Shortly after Ferdinand and Isabella were invested as the Monarchs of Castile, Queen Joanna's husband; King Afonso V of Portugal, declared Isabella a usurper and took up his wife's cause. According to him, she was the legitimate heir of Henry IV, and as her husband, he, the legitimate jure uxoris King of Castile (as Alfonso XII). Isabella had no option but to reciprocate by claiming the throne of Portugal (as the daughter of Isabella of Portugal) and declaring war on Afonso.[41]

      On one side was the Crown of Aragon and the pro-Isabella faction of Castile. On the other, the Kingdom of Portugal and the pro-Joanna faction of Castile. The 3 most powerful Houses of Northern Castile (the House of Enriquez, the House of Mendoza and the House of Alvarez de Toledo) formed the pro-Isabella faction because of their familial ties to Ferdinand. The lesser Hidalgos (who made up 2/3 of Castile's nobility) led by the House of Pacheco-Giron, the House of Zuniga and the Archbishop of Toledo (the supreme ecclesiastical authority of Castile) formed the pro-Joanna faction.[42] France supported Afonso and Joanna (because of a wider war raging in Roussillon, Cerdagne and the Italian Peninsula with Aragon) and Burgundy supported Ferdinand and Isabella (for the same reason France supports Portugal). The Kingdom of Navarre was going through a civil war, so it, along with the Taifa of Granada and the Kingdom of Galicia, chose to remain neutral.[43]

      Ferdinand, as Captain-General, led the Castilian-Aragonese army while Afonso and the "Perfect Prince" led the Castilian-Portuguese army. Under the leadership of Ferdinand, the pro-Isabella Castilians won some decisive battles in Trujillo, Burgos, Cantalapiedra, Castronuño, Sieteiglesias, Cubillas, Villalonso, Portillo, Villaba and Zamora.[44][45] On 1 March 1476, Ferdinand (along with Cardinal Mendoza and the Duke of Alba) secured a major victory at the Battle of Toro, which essentially crushed all hopes of a Portuguese victory on land. After signing a Treaty with Afonso V on 23 September 1475, Louis XI of France sent a wave of French armies under Alain I of Albret, all throughout March–June 1476, to push into Castile via Hondarribia.[46] Ferdinand not only crushed this French invasion but also managed to gain a foothold in the Kingdom of Navarre by conquering Viana and Puente La Reina. He then acted as arbitrator between the warring factions of Navarre while gaining the right to station 1,000 men-at-arms in Pamplona. This victory shielded Aragon and Castile from any future French offensives.[46] Although Ferdinand was winning on land, at sea, the Portuguese, along with Norman pirates led by Guillaume Coullon, were gaining the upper hand (especially after the Battle of Guinea and the Battle of Elmina).[47][48] On 9 October 1478, Ferdinand pressured Louis XI to sign the Treaties of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Guadalupe, in which France recognized Ferdinand and Isabella as the legal Monarchs of Castile in return for Ferdinand breaking all ties with Maximilian I, Duke of Burgundy.[49]

      Emboldened by the victory at Elmina, Afonso V decided to undertake a last-ditch invasion of Castile. In February 1479, a Castilian-Portuguese army commanded by Garcia de Meneses, Bishop of Evora, penetrated into Extremadura. The objective was to occupy and reinforce the strongholds of Mérida and Medellin, controlled by Beatriz Pacheco, Countess of Medellin and supporter of Joanna. Ferdinand immediately dispatched Alonso de Cardenas, Master of the Order of Santiago, with a Castilian-Aragonese army, to face this threat. On 24 February, near the hill of Albuera, the two forces jostled for dominance. Despite Cardenas having been outnumbered 2:1, he completely routed the invasion force and Ferdinand quickly put Mérida and Medellin under siege.[50] In June 1479, Ferdinand launched an offensive against the rebel Archbishop of Toledo, who was forced to surrender. This signified the end of hostilities towards Ferdinand and Isabella within Castile. The pro-Joanna faction disintegrated, with its leaders; the Marquis of Villena, the Marquis of Cadiz and the Count of Ureña, submitting themselves to the Queen's mercy.[51] All that remained was Portugal itself and with Pope Sixtus VI revoking his papal dispensation for the marriage between Afonso and his niece, Joanna, the legitimacy of Afonso V as King of Castile fell by its foundations.

      The document that put an end to the war, the Treaty of Alcáçovas-Toldeo, was drafted on 4 September 1479. It was ratified by Afonso V of Portugal in Alcáçovas on 8 September 1479 and by Ferdinand and Isabella in Toledo on 6 March 1480. In it, Afonso renounced all claims to the throne of Castile and Isabella did the same to the throne of Portugal. The treaty wasn't harsh on any party apart from Queen Joanna herself, who was required to renounce all regal claims associated with Henry IV and retire to a nunnery for the rest of her life.

      On 20 February 1479, Ferdinand's father, King John II of Aragon, died and that same year Ferdinand succeeded him as King. Now, he was King of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily and Count of Barcelona. And on 14 April 1481, in the Cortes of Calatayud, he granted his wife Isabella, the same powers that he had received on 28 April 1475, designating her as co-regent, governor and administrator of the kingdoms of the Crown of Aragon.[52] This signified the symbolic union of the Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon into one: the Crown of Spain. In the words of a letter drafted by the Town Council of Barcelona to the Town Council of Seville: "Now...we are brothers."[53]


      Emulating what the ancient Kings of Aragon did with their newly acquired Muslim communities, especially in Valencia,[54][4] Ferdinand imposed the extremely liberal Treaty of Granada (1491) on Granada on its capitulation. The treaty proved extremely favourable to the Muslims, who got to retain their faith, customs, and attire. The new Archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera, was an ardent supporter of the treaty and much like the king, he wanted to win hearts and minds, resulting in a slow but resolute process of conversion. This all changed when the Archbishop of Toledo, Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, settled in Granada in 1499. He carried out a policy of heavy-handed forced conversion, in gross violation of the initial treaty.[3][4] This resulted in the Rebellion of the Alpujarras (1499–1501) which saw swaths of Muslim communities up in arms. Ferdinand crushed the rebellion with brutal efficiency and in that same year, along with Isabella I, issued an edict of conversion.[4] All Muslims residing in the Crown of Castile were to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. Most did convert, nominally, while the remaining few emigrated to North Africa. Muslims in the Crown of Aragon were safe under Ferdinand,[54] but they too suffered the same fate under his grandson in 1526.[4][55]

      Wedding portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella

      The later part of Ferdinand's life was largely taken up with disputes with successive kings of France over control of Italy, the Italian Wars. In 1494, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy and expelled Alfonso II of Naples, Ferdinand's first cousin once removed and step nephew, from the throne of Naples. Ferdinand allied with various Italian princes and with Emperor Maximilian I to expel the French by 1496 and install Alfonso's son, Ferdinand II, on the Neapolitan throne. In 1501, following Ferdinand II's death and the accession of his uncle Frederick, Ferdinand signed an agreement with Charles VIII's successor, Louis XII, who had just successfully asserted his claims to the Duchy of Milan, to partition Naples between them, with Campania and the Abruzzi, including Naples itself, going to the French and Ferdinand taking Apulia and Calabria. The agreement soon fell apart and, over the next several years, Ferdinand's great general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba fought to take Naples from the French, finally succeeding by 1504.

      The King of France complains that I have twice deceived him. He lies, the fool; I have deceived him ten times and more.

      Ferdinand the Catholic[56]

      Some time before 1502 Andreas Palaiologos, the last surviving male heir of Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, bestowed his titles and rights to the Byzantine throne to Ferdinand in his last will. This move was primarily influenced by Ferdinand's successful military campaigns against the Ottoman Empire in Otranto and Cephalonia.[57] But Ferdinand never used the titles during his lifetime, feeling that they would obligate him to launch an expensive crusade.

      The 1504-1506 Castilian Interregnum

      Isabella dictating her last will while Ferdinand sits beside her

      On 12 October 1504, Ferdinand's wife and queen proprietor of Castile; Isabella I, had her last will drafted and notarized, in which she named their daughter Joanna as "the true queen, natural lady and universal successor". On 23 November that same year, she signed a codicil in which she declared that if Joanna was not physically present in the Kingdom or "being in them, she does not want to or cannot attend the governorship" it was to pass over to Ferdinand and no other; he in turn was to set up a regency headed by him for their grandson, Prince Charles, until he reached the legal age of 20. With this, Isabella set up a contingency plan in case Joanna's diagnosis was accurate and also sidelined her son-in-law, Archduke Philip, who was already bitter about Isabella outright rejecting his request of being afforded the same title as her husband: de jure uxoris King of Castile. The will made it crystal clear that Philip was simply Prince-consort of Castile with no position in the line of succession or any hand in Castile's government.[58] This was all on paper, while the real situation was anything but this clear-cut. Three days after signing the codicil, Isabella died. Since Joanna was in Flanders, this started the first regency of Ferdinand.

      Regardless of what the will stipulated, Ferdinand's position in Castile was precarious. Despite having become King of Castile even before he became King of Aragon, and having channeled a good portion of his prime (35 years in total) for matters pertaining to Castile (the skirmishes with Henry IV, the War of the Castilian Succession, the pacification of Galicia, the Granada War, Columbus' expeditions etc...), he was still legally a foreigner. And after Isabella's death, his legal role in Castile was limited to temporarily presiding over the government until Joanna's arrival. Since Ferdinand had spearheaded the centrist policies that saw many of the Castilian nobility deprived of their feudal lands, rights, and privileges,[59][7][60] from their perspective this was the ideal time for payback. And it was in their best interest to swiftly replace this seasoned monarch with a novice while they had the law on their side. Coincidentally, these were all the same nobles that joined the anti-Isabelline faction during the War of the Castilian Succession. They, led by Diego Lopez de Pacheco, Marquess of Villena, Pedro Fernandez de Cordoba y Pacheco, Marquess of Priego, Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, Duke of Medina Sidonia, and Juan Téllez-Girón, Count of Ureña demanded Ferdinand immediately vacate Castile. This was when the Marquess of Villena uttered the most infamous words: "¡Viejo Catalanote, vuélvete a tu tierra!" (Old Catalan, go back to your country!).[61][62]

      Ferdinand only had a handful of nobles, albeit powerful, on his side. They included: Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, Íñigo López de Mendoza, Count of Tendilla, Fadrique Enríquez, Admiral of Castile, Bernardino Fernández de Velasco, Constable of Castile and Diego Fernández de Córdoba y Mendoza, Count of Cabra.[63] With their backing, he sought to empower the regency clause stipulated in Isabella's will by having Joanna declared "incapable of governing the realm" in front of the Castilian Cortés convened at Toro. This didn't go as planned but a curious opportunity presented itself that proved greatly beneficial to Ferdinand's political aspirations: it seems Joanna's mental state had worsened while in Flanders, thus preventing Philip from immediately sailing over to Castile and establishing himself via his wife because up until then, Joanna's mental health issues were merely rumor. But if the Castilian nobles were to witness first hand her true state, everything could go wrong for Philip.[64] On top of all this, Philip was forced to attend to the plight of Guelders, which was then occupied by Charles of Egmont. But all through this, Philip always had one staunch ally; his father, the Emperor Maximilian. But for whatever reason, Philip opted to also ally himself with Maximilian's enemy, Louis XII of France (possibly to encourage him to threaten Ferdinand in the Pyrenees front) early that year by signing the Treaty of Blois (1504 on 24 September, in which Philip recognized Louis' claims to the Duchy of Milan. The treaty also included a marriage between Philip's son Charles, and Louis' daughter Claude.[65] This infuriated Maximilian and also forced Ferdinand to make an alliance of his own.

      On 12 October, Ferdinand and Louis signed the Treaty of Blois (1505), which was an alliance strengthened by marriage. This treaty basically overwrote the previous treaty with Philip, and it stipulated that Ferdinand would marry Louis' niece, Germaine of Foix, and restore the seized assets and titles of the Angevin party of Naples, and in return, Louis would transfer his disputed claims to Southern Italy and the throne of Jerusalem to her while also ensuring any military action taken by the Archduke or the Emperor against either Ferdinand or Louis would have to overcome a joint French-Aragonese force.

      This devastated Philip, who in just one day, had lost both his allies (Maximilian and Louis) and possibly the Crown of Aragon (because any male children born to Ferdinand and Germaine would bypass Joanna). This wasn't all beneficial to Ferdinand either. His second marriage, to a French princess no less, cost him the approval of Castile's majority population, who unlike the nobility, had lauded Ferdinand as their King. The people saw it as a blatant betrayal of Isabella. Ferdinand basically handed his political opponents material to further discredit him. But in the end, it was Philip who was mauled. So he entered into fresh negotiations with Ferdinand.[66]

      On 24 November 1505, a concord was signed between Ferdinand and Philip (represented by Filiberto de Veyre) at Salamanca. In it, Ferdinand recognized Joanna's and by extension, Philip's, right to rule in Castile. While the couple would be invested as jure uxoris King and Queen proprietor of Castile, Ferdinand would run the realm's everyday affairs as "Governor". The royal income would be split in half between the couple and Ferdinand. Isabella's half of the Indies would pass over to the couple while Ferdinand retained his half as per the papal bull Inter caetera, and royal appointments were to be agreed upon by both parties.[67][68] This treaty didn't last long and finally, on 8 January 1506, Philip and Joanna set sail from Flanders towards Castile.

      Ferdinand receiving the traditional kissing of the hand by the Juntas Generales after having been sworn in as Lord of Biscay under the Guernica

      The nobles that sided with Ferdinand tried to convince him to confront Philip on the battlefield. Those that sided with Philip (especially the Duke of Medina Sidonia) also pushed for war. The couple initially planned to land in Seville to meet up with the Duke of Medina Sidonia and march into northern Castile at the head of an army. But Juan Manuel, Lord of Belmonte (who would soon become the de facto Prime Minister of Castile under Philip) discouraged Philip from taking any such rash action.[67] After a brief shipwreck in England, where Philip was forced to make concessions to Henry VII in return for his freedom, he initially planned to land in Biscay, which strongly rebuffed him, saying "the land is loyal to the one sanctioned under the tree; the Lord of Biscay".[7][69] So he opted for Corunna instead. He landed there at the head of an army of German mercenaries on 26 April 1506. The Castilian nobility was quick to flock to him. A curious event was Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, switching sides from Ferdinand to Philip. Nobody knew at the time this was orchestrated by Ferdinand himself.

      Ferdinand faces Philip's entourage alone and unarmed

      Both parties agreed to settle their disputes in a peaceful manner with the Archbishop serving as mediator. On 20 June 1506, the two men met for the first time since 1504 at Remesal, where Ferdinand promised to give up all "claims and aspirations" to the Castilian throne. On 27 and 28 June, the Treaty of Villafáfila was ratified in Benavente and Villafáfila respectively. In it, Ferdinand politically ceded to Philip, who was recognized as "King and Governor of Castile" and also "Lord of the Indies" although the rents and legal ownership of the Indies were split equally between Ferdinand and Philip. Most importantly, they agreed to keep Joanna away from running the Kingdom and if any tried to change this, both men would prevent it. With this, Philip's position in Castile was solid and Ferdinand departed Castile for the Crown of Aragon.[70] Philip was invested by the Cortés of Valladolid as Philip I of Castile, and the nobles that sided with Ferdinand were forced to take oaths of fealty. But the Grand Tendilla vehemently refused, claiming that Mendozas couldn't and wouldn't serve "a pretender".[67][71][72]

      After Ferdinand departed Castile, and Philip established himself there by making huge concessions to the nobility that supported him, it seemed as if the makeup of the Iberian peninsula had turned into what it was prior to 1475. Castile and Aragon were again, two separate realms, ruled by two separate monarchs who were hostile towards each other. Although Philip's reign was short (just shy of three months), a lot happened in that short period that threatened to eradicate everything Ferdinand and Isabella had worked for for 29 years.

      The conflict started with Ferdinand publicly renouncing every concession he had made in the Treaty of Villafáfila as soon as he was back in Aragon. He said that he was "coerced" into making them and contrary to what the treaty says, his daughter Joanna was the one and only Monarch of Castile, and he would staunchly defend his daughter's god-given rights if any were to impede on them. This was the signal for the nobles who had sided with Ferdinand early on to start rebelling from inside Philip's government. The Admiral of Castile (a cousin of Ferdinand) and the Constable of Castile pressured Philip to let Joanna accompany him at every public event and co-sign every one of his decrees since she was the legal "reina propietaria". Thus Philip's grasp on Castile wasn't as secure as he thought. But he wasn't going to take this lying down.[67][73]

      Philip started with refusing to extradite Cesare Borgia, who was imprisoned at the time in the Castle of La Mota, to Aragon despite him being an Aragonese POW. He then barred merchants from the Crown of Aragon from dealing with the Casa de Contratación in Seville or from sponsoring direct expeditionary fleets into the Indies. This was basically a trade blockade. Ferdinand replied in kind by sponsoring privateer raids from Biscay targeting Flemish merchant vessels. He also expelled Castilians from the Kingdom of Naples. A notable one was the Grand Captain (although Ferdinand and him remained life-long friends and Ferdinand bestowed on him with the most number of ducal titles held by any one man in all of Spain). Philip was being pressured on all sides but things were not over yet.[72][67]

      A grain shortage hit Castile in 1506, coincidentally corresponding with the time Philip was invested as King. A deficiency in harvest was there since 1501 but this was the culmination of poor harvests and hoarding. In 1486, as part of his overall agrarian reforms, Ferdinand imposed a ceiling price of 124 maravedis per fanega on wheat.[74] This was revoked by Philip in 1506 as part of the aforementioned concessions made to the nobility. Little did he know the nobles had started to buy what little wheat was left and hoard it to artificially inflate the prices. This spiraled into a famine and the entire country was restless. But Philip wouldn't be alive to see that.[74]

      On 16 September 1506, Philip had fallen dangerously ill after drinking a glass of cold water following a game of ball. It is recorded he did get better and went about his affairs comparatively well until he suddenly fell dead on 25 September while residing at the Casa del Cordón in Burgos. A rumor spread that the owner of the aforementioned residence, the Constable of Castile (who also happened to be Ferdinand's son-in-law), had poisoned the King at the behest of Ferdinand. An autopsy was carried out that put these rumors to rest.[75] Immediately following Philip's death, Joanna became beyond delirious, even prohibiting Philip's remains from being interred. After his last rites, a regency council was created presided over by the Archbishop of Toledo. He in turn sent word to Ferdinand to return and take over the regency as was stipulated in Isabella's will. Ferdinand refused until the request was co-signed by the Cortés of Castile, which it was. This started the second regency of Ferdinand.

      La Empresa de África

      When the Cortés of Castile sent word for Ferdinand to take over the regency, he was in Naples undertaking much needed reform in the new Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and its accompanying island-states (like Malta). As such, he endorsed Joanna to rule the best she could until he came over. The situation in Castile was not looking good. Apart from the aforementioned famine, the nobles having been emboldened by Philip's concessions, had set out to carve out semi-autonomous states of their own at the expense of the central government. Ferdinand sent over one of his most trusted military commanders; Pedro Navarro, Count of Oliveto to assess the situation and take necessary countermeasures. By 1507, after having limited the nobles to Seville, Navarro was to kickstart the long anticipated "La Empresa de África" campaign with the end goal being the Spanish standard flying over the Holy Land.

      In 1508, Ferdinand set his eyes on the newly established Kingdom of Bardis, which had gained its independence from the Kingdom of Fez in January that year with the help of the Venetians. Bardis was a corsair state that was accused of raiding the coastline of Granada and this was the casus belli Ferdinand intended to use. On 23 July 1508, a fleet led by Count Navarro conquered Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera. The Wattasid Sultan besought the neighbouring Muslim kings to intervene on his behalf but none did. But there was one that was furious at this blatant attempt at conquest; Ferdinand's son-in-law Manuel, King of Portugal, because this was rightfully the Portuguese area of influence as was established in the Treaty of Tordesillas. Ironically, the Wattasid Sultan managed to bring the Spaniards and the Portuguese together when he tried to bite more than he could chew by besieging Asilah in 1508, which was at the time, part of the Portuguese Maritime Empire. Navarro was quick to send reinforcements from Vélez de la Gomera to break the siege.

      This unofficial alliance was made official by both Ferdinand and Manuel in 1509 by signing the Treaty of Sintra. The treaty established that, on the one hand, Portugal desist from any idea of conquest of the rock of Vélez de la Gomera and the rest of the territories that extended to the east, which would correspond to Spain because it was in the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Fez, thus leaving Melilla (already in Spanish hands since 1497) and Cazaza protected against any Portuguese claims. On the other hand, Spain recognized Portuguese sovereignty over the North African territories between Vélez and Cape Bojador (on the Atlantic coast). Additionally, it was agreed that whoever violated the terms of the treaty should pay a fine of 100,000 gold doubloons. This treaty was never violated or amended even with the 1529 Treaty of Zaragoza. This was basically the green light for the Spanish conquest of North Africa.

      An Aragonese armada under the command of Admiral Ramón de Cardona (rumoured to have been a bastard son of Ferdinand), carrying a joint Castilian-Aragonese army under the command of Diego Fernández de Córdoba y Arellano, Marquis of Comares, all under the spiritual guidance of Cardinal Cisneros had already conquered Mers El Kébir, which was then a part of the Kingdom of Tlemcen, on 13 September 1505. This was to serve as a launchpad into the Kingdom of Tlemcen. All was ready for the Spanish conquest of Oran (1509).

      On 16 May 1509, a large fleet carrying a total of 16,000 fighting men, that cost Ferdinand a whopping 40 million maravedis, set sail from Cartagena to Mers El Kébir. From there, the Spanish under the command of Pedro Navarro, launched an amphibious assault on the city of Oran which was quickly followed by an all-out ground assault on the 18th. The city fell within a day and on the 20th, Cardinal Cisneros entered the city amidst jubilation. This was followed by a string of victories at Béjaïa, Algiers, Tunis, Tlemcen, and Tripoli. By 1510, Ferdinand was master of a network of presidios along a 2,500-mile stretch of Maghribi coastline, from Cape Bojador on the Atlantic to Tripoli on the Mediterranean. The Italian humanist; Peter Matyr wrote:

      "From now on, nothing will be difficult for the Spaniards; they will undertake nothing in vain. They have sown panic throughout Africa."[76]

      On 8 September 1510, Emery d’Amboise, Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights Hospitaller, based at Rhodes, wrote to Ferdinand congratulating him on his recent victories in the African cities of Bougie and Tripoli. The Knights of Saint John had ordered solemn processions to mark the conquest of Tripoli, he related, and he expressed confidence that the Spanish would soon reach Mamluk Egypt, where Amboise's military order would join forces with them to “liberate” the Holy Land. He wrote:

      "May it please God that all Christians, following Your Majesty’s example, take up arms against the infidels who have afflicted the Christian nation for so long. And in their lands may we raise the banner of the cross and recover the Holy Land. May God Almighty carry out Your Majesty’s wishes and allow you to proceed with and complete the conquest of Africa as far as Egypt, where we hope to join forces with Your Highness’s army and serve God in this worthy endeavor."[77]

      Much like the Grandmaster, some Spaniards (most notably Cardinal Cisneros) did hold evangelizing aspirations in Africa and worked towards that end.[78] And Ferdinand was happy to represent his African conquest as a crusade, as a war undertaken for the faith and one that led inevitably toward a Christian recovery of the Holy Land. This, of course, allowed him to make use of the funds that were raised through the cruzada levy. For at least fifteen years, this continued to be the light in which Ferdinand's African enterprise was cast. In March 1510 Pope Julius II issued the solemn papal bull "Sacrosanctae Romane", in which he praised Ferdinand's efforts “to bring an end, through blood and fire, to the perfidious sect of Islam.” Julius went on to express optimism that the African expedition that Ferdinand was planning for that summer would lead, eventually, to the ultimate “destruction of all vestiges of the impious superstition [Islam]".[79]

      Pope Julius's words do not indicate whether he envisioned the conversion of African Muslims and the salvation of their souls or merely their death or subjugation as the geographical boundaries of Christendom were extended. For all the lip service Ferdinand paid to the ideals of crusade and (possibly) evangelization, in practice on the ground the King proved flexible and pragmatic, ever willing to work out an ad hoc system to preserve his conquered territories, even if that entailed abdicating the evangelical responsibilities imposed by a papal bull. Two months following Julius's Sacrosanctae Romane, Ferdinand wrote to Pedro Navarro, giving the commander instructions on how to negotiate terms with Muley Abdallah, the emir of recently conquered Bougie. What Ferdinand proposed was a condominium of sorts: he suggested that he would populate the African cities along the coast with Christians, but that the defeated emir would be allowed to control as much of the hinterland as he desired, maintaining control over his subjects, as well as all “rents, goods, and jurisdiction” (rentas, bienes, jurisdicción), while the coast should belong to Ferdinand and his successors. Along the coast, Ferdinand would enjoy complete jurisdiction over both the Christian and Muslim populations.[80][81] Ferdinand would now be "Imperator totius Africa". In recognition of his vassalage, the Muslim ruler would pay an annual tribute to Ferdinand. The arrangement allowed for the possibility of Ferdinand's acquiring new Muslim subjects. While Spanish men of the cloth may have held evangelizing aspirations in Africa, such a mission does not appear to have been a priority for Ferdinand. If one were to look for Iberian analogues to this arrangement, it might be useful to think of Muley Abdallah as a ta’ifa king entering into a relationship of vassalage with Ferdinand.

      Seven months later, in December of the same year, Ferdinand wrote to Navarro again, this time giving him instructions to execute an attack on Tunis the following summer (1511). Ferdinand expressed hope that Navarro's expedition might conquer a large swath of land stretching into the interior. In the event that that should occur, wrote the king, he would "receive the Muslims of the interior as mudéjar subjects".[82] This represented a significant departure from the injunctions to evangelize that were present in Sacrosanctae Romane and the earlier "Ineffabilis et summi". It seems that, by late 1510, Ferdinand had opted for a more traditionally medieval Iberian custom of allowing ongoing Islamic practice, by a mudéjar population now subject to a Christian ruler. As Tlemcen was incorporated into the Crown of Aragon, Ferdinand's policy vis-à-vis Muslim subjects was really no different from his policy within the Crown of Aragon proper. That region of eastern Iberia would have a Muslim population up until his grandson; Charles I, applied the edict mandating conversion or exile in 1526.[83][84] Even as it accorded with his policy in Aragon, Ferdinand's approach in Africa stands in sharp contrast to the policies being simultaneously implemented in Granada.

      In 1511, Pedro Navarro was restationed to Italy with the Holy League declaring war on France. With that came the end of "La Empresa de África". The campaign was a massive success and although this process of Mediterranean expansion is less well known today than the contemporaneous incursions into the Americas, in the early sixteenth century it occupied a position of utmost importance in royal policy and, not unlike its American counterpart, Spain's Mediterranean expansion required legal buttressing in order to fend off European competitors and this would later serve as the blueprint for the Scramble for Africa.

      Succession and legacy


      Probably Ferdinand's greatest blunder was the double marriage he jumped into with the Austrian Habsburgs on 20 January 1495, where his heir apparent, Infante John, was set to marry Emperor Maximilian's daughter, Archduchess Margaret. Maximilian's heir apparent, Archduke Philip, was to marry Ferdinand's daughter, Infanta Joanna (who was third-in-line to the throne at the time). In the short term, this proved greatly beneficial to both monarchs in the sense that it shook France, their immediate enemy, to its core. Any sense of danger to Ferdinand dissipated when in 1497 Infante John and Princess Margaret announced they were expecting a child, which tightly secured the Trastamara line.

      On 4 October 1497, while on his way to his daughter's wedding in Portugal, Ferdinand received a message that his son lay dangerously ill in Salamanca. He immediately rode to John with haste and reached his bedside moments before he died. That same day, John, Prince of Asturias and Girona, died in the arms of his father. On 8 December that same year, Princess Margaret gave birth to a stillborn daughter which effectively ended the joint-Trastamara line. Almost a year later, the next heir-apparent, Isabella of Aragon, Queen-consort of Portugal, died on 23 August 1498 in Zaragoza while giving birth to a son, Infante Miguel da Paz. Hope was rekindled in the sense that under him, the entirety of Iberia (Castile, Aragon and Portugal) could be united. This proved fleeting because on 19 July 1500, he too died in Granada, effectively paving the way for Joanna and her husband Philip to ascend to the throne of Spain.

      Ferdinand was adamant on keeping the Habsburgs away from the throne. And Joanna's rumored mental health issues weren't helping. He tried to convince Isabella to bypass Joanna in the Castilian line of succession in favor of their fourth child, Maria, and her husband, Manuel, King of Portugal. He promised to do the same for the Aragonese line of succession (women weren't allowed to ascend to the Aragonese throne without amending the existing articles of succession beforehand). But Isabella was adamant about sticking to tradition and the existing articles of primogeniture. The only other option Ferdinand had left was to split the Crown of Aragon from the union, disinherit Joanna (and by extension, Philip), and name a competing heir. This was something he found himself incapable of doing to his wife (at least, while she was alive).

      So, in 1502, Joanna and Philip were sworn in as the Princes of Asturias and Girona before the Cortés of Castile and Aragon respectively. From this point forth, the couple's grip on Castile was solid while in Aragon, right after their swearing-in ceremony, Alonso of Aragon, Archbishop of Zaragoza and Valencia loudly proclaimed that this was purely ceremonial since the articles of succession were yet to be amended and Ferdinand was still capable of siring male offspring. Regardless, now that Joanna was heir-apparent to the throne of Spain, her rumored mental health issues rose from being mere court gossip to the center of Europe's political stage.

      These rumors did have teeth as is seen in Isabella's own last will and testament. On 26 November 1504, Isabella died, but not before recognizing Joanna as her Universal Heir and Reina Propietaria (Queen Proprietor) in Castile as Joanna I of Castile and by extension, Philip as King-consort. But in this same will, she included a phrase where if Joanna "proved incapable of ruling" or she outright didn't want to rule, Ferdinand was to assume the regency until their grandson Charles reached the age of 20. Ferdinand tried to empower the regency clause, but apart from the noble houses of Alvarez Toledo led by the Duke of Alba, Mendoza led by the Grand Tendilla, Enríquez led by the Admiral of Castile, Frias led by the Constable of Castile, none of the other Hidalgos (who made up 2/3 of Castile's nobility) supported Ferdinand.[85] In fact they, led by the Marquess of Priego (the Grand Captain's nephew) and the Marquess of Villena, were vehemently opposed to Ferdinand staying on Castilian soil much less preside over a regency.

      Philip briefly contemplated the option of armed conflict against Ferdinand by landing in Andalusia and sweeping up from the south. But he was talked out of it by the Lord of Belmonte, saying that depriving Ferdinand of any options and pushing him into a corner would leave him only one viable path, a path that led straight through Philip himself.[7] So, the couple opted to land in Corunna on 28 April 1506 accompanied by an army of German mercenaries. The anti-Ferdinand faction was quick to flock to Philip. Ferdinand had one of two options: 1) start a civil war and risk a possible French-Austrian offensive or 2) retire peacefully. He chose option 2 and after meeting Philip and his "entourage" at Remesal, he signed the Treaty of Villafáfila on 27 June 1506 and retired to Aragon where he went about restructuring and reforming the newly conquered Kingdom of Naples. On 12 July 1506, the Cortés of Valladolid legitimized Philip as the new de jure King of Castile as Philip I of Castile. But he reigned for less than 3 months before succumbing to typhoid fever while in Burgos on 25 September 1506. By this point, Joanna was beyond delirious and a regency council was created, presided over by the Archbishop of Toledo. But now the Hidalgos, emboldened by Philip, seized portions of the country and challenged the central government's authority. On top of this, a famine hit as a result of devastated crop yields. The Cortés of Castile begged Ferdinand to take over the regency but he didn't come back until 1509, wherein which he led an army against the Marquess' of Priego and Villena and was given a triumph in Valladolid. That same year, in the face of his daughter's growing mental health issues, he confined her to the Palace of Tordesillas. To ease her transition, he allowed her daughter, Infanta Catherine, to accompany her during her confinement. Ferdinand is recorded to have said: "Sending my daughter into Tordesillas proved more draining than facing French cannons on the battlefield."[86]

      From 1506 to 1516, Ferdinand, on top of ruling the Crown of Aragon and the Indies, also ruled as Regent of the Crown of Castile. Still adamant about keeping the Habsburgs out of his own realms if possible, he fathered a son; John, Prince of Girona, who was born to his second wife; Queen Germaine of Foix, on 3 May 1509. The child didn't survive for more than a few hours and it was back to square one. Ferdinand then briefly contemplated making his namesake, Spanish-born grandson; Infante Ferdinand, with whom he even shared a birthday, his heir in direct opposition to Charles but was talked out of it by the Archbishop of Toledo. On 23 January 1516, he died in Madrigalejo, and his last will and testament was unveiled; in which he had named Charles and Joanna, as his heir-apparents. Joanna's appointment as co-monarch was strictly nominal (as she would not be released from her confinement until the day she died) while the 16-year old Charles was who the actual burden of governance fell on. Ferdinand even dictated Charles be considered of legal age despite him being a minor with the express purpose of him taking over immediately because by this point, Spain couldn't afford an empty throne. This Charles didn't do (at the behest of his primary councilor; William de Croÿ), which cost Spain dearly because while Spain lay idle, its enemies (namely, Selim the Lion) didn't.

      A fresco of Ferdinand the Catholic by Raphael, titled "christiani imperii propagator", displayed inside the Apostolic Palace.


      Ferdinand's most notable accomplishments would be the discovery of the Americas and the completion of the Spanish Reconquista. The idea of restoring Don Rodrigo's kingdom was a goal instilled on him by his childhood tutor Margarit i Pau. Ferdinand could be classified as an immensely pragmatic, liberal soul (from freeing the Catalan Remences of their "6 evil customs" and granting them emphyteusis[87] to actively shielding the Mudejars of Valencia from reprisals during the Granada War[88] to legalizing interracial marriages throughout the Spanish realms[89]). He was devout as a personal follower of Christ but he never let religion dictate his secular policies. He had no problem exploiting religious institutions for the betterment of his realm. For this, he's seen as less devout than his zealous wife.[90][91]

      Under his reign, there were upwards of 6 higher educational institutions built throughout Spain. But the University of Valencia, established in 1502, is arguably the greatest indicator of Ferdinand's vision as to what a proper education constitutes. A contemporary description of the students of the University of Valencia:

      Even the youngest scholars are accustomed never to keep silence; they are always asserting vigorously whatever comes uppermost to their minds, lest they should seem to be giving up the dispute. Nor does one disputation, or even two a day prove sufficient, as for instance at dinner. They wrangle at breakfast; they wrangle after breakfast; they wrangle before supper and they wrangle after supper. At home they dispute, out of doors they dispute. They wrangle over their food, in the bath, in the sweating room, in the church, in the town, in the country, in public, in private. At all times they are wrangling.[92]

      In the words of Machiavelli; he rose from being a disputed king of a divided crown to the foremost monarch of Christendom (second to not even the Holy Roman Emperor). And along with him rose Spain; from being a patchwork of kingdoms sitting at the edge of the continent to the top powerplayer of continental Europe and by extension, the World.[93]

      One of Ferdinand's most infamous traits was his reluctance to keep his word. He earned many critics due to this but he was always open about this particular trait of his. His reasoning was that he, nor anyone, should be obligated to stay within self-imposed, fixed parameters in the face of a total dissolution of them. He famously said:

      Only God's infallibility is resolute. Everything else is subject to change. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a browbeater or a simpleton; neither of which I want to be.[94]

      Ferdinand the Catholic's royal arms in the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See.

      Ferdinand recognized the importance of progress (or the lack thereof in Christian Iberia) and he appropriated innovative inventions from the hub of progress; the Italian Peninsula, and gave them his own little twist. An example would be the concept of residential ambassadors and permanent embassies. The Italian city-states possessed them in a micro scale, limited to communicating within the peninsula. In between 1480 and 1490, Ferdinand launched this in a macro scale, with resident Spanish ambassadors in all the prominent courts: Rome, Venice, London, Brussels, Cairo and the migratory Imperial court. The Spanish ambassador to England would also serve as the unofficial Spanish ambassador to Scotland. The Spanish foreign service under Ferdinand was so efficient that foreign monarchs were inclined to use Spanish diplomats (like Dr. Puebla and Bishop Ayala) as their own representatives to other nations.[95]

      Ferdinand the Catholic on his throne, flanked by two shields with the emblem of the Royal Seal of Aragon. Frontispiece of a 1495 edition of Catalan constitutions.[96]

      Ferdinand was a master of Pactism. He, quite accurately, could be called the Father of Pactism in Spain. In the fashion of the Roman Emperor Augustus, he ruled his many realms with an iron-grip but he never made the inhabitants feel like they were dealing with an autocrat. In Catalonia for instance, he was initially rebuffed as his father's viceroy to the principality just before the outbreak of the Catalan civil war. After winning the war, Ferdinand didn't insist upon holding his victory over the principality's head as most would. He immediately embarked upon trying to find the root of the conflict, which was threefold: 1) The Catalans were still bitter about the Compromise of Capse. 2) The Catalans were under the impression that the House of Trastamara didn't give much regard to their ancient fueros. 3) The Catalans blamed the Trastamaras for them losing their 12th-14th century splendor and prestige. Ferdinand couldn't change his lineage but he could change the perception of it. He undertook a number of drastic reforms that culminated with Barcelona regaining its lost position as the prime spot of the western mediterranean. He enlisted the help of the Mamluk Sultan Quitbay by having him sign off on an exclusive Cairo-Barcelona trade route in 1484 that proved extremely lucrative. Now that prosperity was restored, Ferdinand set about enforcing the rule of law by first drafting the Constitució de l'Observança, which called for compliance, even by the King, to the laws of the land. Ferdinand famously said: "It would be of little value to make laws and constitutions if they were not observed." Then he established the Real Audiencia de Cataluña as the highest civil court of the land in 1492. With these, any notion of absolutism had dissipated and the Principality fully backed Ferdinand in all his endeavors. It is not like these reforms did not have its critics. Ferdinand was almost killed on the steps of the Plaça del Rei on 18, October 1492.

      Ferdinand's legacy, in a nutshell, would be the physical manifestation of the idea that was "Spain". By 1513, the territory that encompasses modern-day Spain had been completely acquired and it was larger than at any point in history; stretching from the Pacific coast of Central America to Tripoli in the Mediterranean. If custodianship is a valid metric, one could argue Ferdinand's Spain had a realistic foothold in the Levant; with Mamluk Sultan Al-Ghuri bestowing custodianship of all Christians living in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Beirut to Ferdinand in 1504.[97] In his own words:

      For more than 700 years the Crown of Spain has not been so great nor so resplendent as it is now, both in the West and in the East, and all, after God, because of my work and labor.[98]

      Possible Jewish ancestry

      This notion was pushed into the mainstream by Pope Julius II, who behind Ferdinand's back, addressed him as "the Marrano King". Ferdinand's inner circle that was predominantly made up of conversos certainly didn't help mitigate the accusations. But it is known that Julius was pretty prejudicial towards all Iberians and he often used such sobriquet to describe them in general. Another notable person he addressed as such would be his predecessor; Pope Alexander VI. In Ferdinand's case, however, there was some truth to it. Everything seems to point to the fact that he did indeed possess Jewish ancestry, albeit remote, from his mother's side.[99]

      Ferdinand's mother; Queen Joanna Enríquez, was a Trastámara as well, although unlike her husband, she belonged to a junior cadet branch of the dynasty: the House of Enríquez. This famous and powerful Castilian clan was founded by her grandfather; Alfonso Enríquez, Admiral of Castile. He was one of the bastard sons of Frederick of Castile, who was in turn the twin brother of King Henry II of Castile (both were two of many bastard children of Alfonso XI of Castile and his mistress Eleanor de Guzmán).

      The supporters of Peter I of Castile (Frederick's half-brother) claimed Alfonso was the fruit of an adulterous relationship between Frederick and Peter's wife; Queen Blanche of Bourbon in an attempt to justify Peter's cruelty towards her. But even though scholars have not reached a consensus as far as the identity of Alonso's mother is concerned, it seems he was indeed the son of a converso woman. There is an anecdote about how Alfonso's Jewish roots proved an obstacle in obtaining the hand of a Castilian noblewoman; Juana de Mendoza. Galíndez de Carvajal in his additions to 'Generaciones y semblanzas' by Fernán Pérez del Pulgar, relates the famous instance of which Alfonso slapped his future bride after she declined his proposal in public, saying: "Never! Never! Doña Juana de Mendoza will never marry the son of a Jewish woman!"[99]

      There is another piece of evidence pertaining to Alfonso's descent from conversos. An anonymous author in a plea to Lope de Barrientos, Bishop of Cuenca, protesting against looting and slaughter of Jews that happened in Toledo in 1449, describes the lineages related to Jews and conversos: "Going further up, it is not necessary to recount the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the noble gentleman and of great authority, the admiral Don Alonso Henriquez, who on one side descends from Don Alfonso [Alfonso XI of Castile] and Don Henrique el Viejo [Henry II of Castile], and on the other side, comes from this [Jewish] lineage."[99]

      The Portuguese chronicler Fernao Lopes was one of the first ones to put forward a theory generally accepted by modern historians: that the Admiral was the son of a Jewish woman called 'Paloma'. Doña Paloma was apparently a converso born in Guadalcanal, who also happened to be a concubine of Frederick of Castile. Other scholars such as Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga contest her place of birth as having been Llerena. According to Dr. Mario Sabán, Paloma's full name was Yonati "Paloma" Bat Gedaliah and she was the daughter of Shelomo Ha Zaken Ben David.[99]

      There is also a recorded instance where while Ferdinand was engaged in Falconry, his falcon started pursuing a heron and flew out of sight before giving up to start chasing after a dove. Ferdinand, having lost track, inquired one of his accompanying nobles; Martín de Rojas, as to the whereabouts of his falcon, to which he responded "Señor, there it goes after our grandmother" ("dove" in Spanish is "paloma"). It was generally regarded that most of the then Castilian nobility were descendants of Paloma. "There is almost no gentleman who is not descended from Doña Paloma" happened to be a common ballad at the time. Another most notable house attached to Doña Paloma was the Ducal House of Alba. Frederick Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba (a cousin of King Ferdinand and grandfather of the famous Iron Duke), was also thought to have had Jewish ancestry.[99]


      With his first wife, Isabella I of Castile (whom he married on 19 October 1469), King Ferdinand had seven children:

      1. Isabel of Aragon (1470–1498), Princess of Asturias and Girona (1497–1498). She married first Afonso, Prince of Portugal, then after his death married his uncle Prince Manuel, the future King Manuel I of Portugal. She died giving birth to her son, Miguel da Paz, Crown Prince of Portugal and Spain who, in turn, died in infancy.
      2. A son, miscarried on 31 May 1475 in Cebreros.
      3. Juan of Aragon (1478–1497), Prince of Asturias (1478–1497) and Girona (1479–1497). He married Margaret of Habsburg. He died of tuberculosis and his posthumous child with Margaret was stillborn.
      4. Juana of Aragon (1479–1555), Princess of Asturias (1500–1504) and Girona (1500–1516) and Queen of Castile (1504–1555) and Aragon (1516–1555). She married Archduke Philip and was the mother of King Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V). Due to her mental instability, she was confined to the Palace of Tordesillas indefinitely by her father and son.
      5. Maria of Aragon (1482–1517). She married King Manuel I of Portugal, the widower of her elder sister Isabella, and was the mother of King John III of Portugal and of the Cardinal-King Henry I of Portugal.
      6. The stillborn twin of Maria (sex disputed). Born on 1 July 1482.
      7. Catalina of Aragon (1485–1536). She married first Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of King Henry VII of England. After Prince Arthur's death, she married his brother Henry, Duke of York, who also became Prince of Wales and then King Henry VIII. By marriage, she was Queen of England, and was the mother of Queen Mary I of England.

      With his second wife, Germaine of Foix (whom he married on 19 October 1505), King Ferdinand had one son:

      1. Juan of Aragon, Prince of Girona, who died hours after being born on 3 May 1509.

      He also left several illegitimate children, two of them were born before his marriage to Isabella:

      With Aldonza Ruiz de Iborre y Alemany, a Catalan noblewoman from Cervera, he had:

      • Alonso of Aragón (1469–1520). Archbishop of Zaragoza and Valencia.

      With Joana Nicolaua, a Valencian noblewoman from Xàtiva, he had:

      • Juana of Aragón (1469 – 1510). Countess of Castilnuovo and by marriage to Bernardino Fernández de Velasco, 1st Duke of Frías, Countess of Haro and Duchess of Frias.

      With Luisa de Estrada, an Asturian noblewoman from Llanes, he had:

      • Alonso de Estrada (1470-1530). Duke of Aragón, Treasurer and Governor of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

      With Toda de Larrea, a Basque noblewoman from Álava, he had:

      With Juana Pereira, a Portuguese noblewoman from Alcântara, he had:

      With Nazari Aixa bint Muhammad, daughter of the last Nasrid Sultan, Muhammad XII of Granada, he had:




      Depiction in film and television


      Year Film Director(s) Actor
      1951Hare We GoRobert McKimsonMel Blanc
      1976La espada negraFrancisco Rovira BeletaJuan Ribó
      1985Christopher ColumbusAlberto LattuadaNicol Williamson
      1992Christopher Columbus: The DiscoveryJohn GlenTom Selleck
      19921492: Conquest of ParadiseRidley ScottFernando García Rimada
      1992Carry On ColumbusGerald ThomasLeslie Phillips
      2001Juana la LocaVicente ArandaHéctor Colomé
      2016Assassin's CreedJustin KurzelThomas Camilleri

      TV series

      Year Series Channel
      1980Shaheen(Based on Naseem Hijazi Novel)PTV
      1991Réquiem por GranadaTVE
      2004Memoria de EspañaTVE
      2011Muhteşem YüzyılShow TV
      2012Isabel, mi reinaTVE
      2014Borgia (TV series)Canal+

      See also


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