Week 23

Isabella I (22 April 1451 – 26 November 1504) was Queen of Castile and León. She and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon brought stability to both kingdoms that became the basis for the unification of Spain. Later the two laid the foundations for the political unification of Spain under their grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. After a struggle to claim her right to the throne, she reorganized the governmental system, brought the crime rate to the lowest it had been in years, and pulled the kingdom out of the enormous debt her brother had left behind. Her reforms and those she made with her husband had an influence that extended well beyond the borders of their united kingdoms. Isabella and Ferdinand are known for completing the Reconquista, ordering conversion or exile of their Muslim and Jewish subjects and financing Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage that led to the opening of the "New World". Isabella was born in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, Ávila to John II of Castile and Isabella of Portugal on April 22, 1451. She was the granddaughter of Henry III of Castile and Catherine of Lancaster. At the time of her birth, her older half brother Enrique (Henry) was in line for the throne before her. Enrique, referred to as the English version of his name Henry, was twenty-six years old at that time and married, but he was childless. Her younger brother Alfonso was born two years later on 17 November 1453 and displaced her in the line of succession. When her father, John II of Castile, died in 1454, Henry became King Henry IV. Isabella and Alfonso were left in Henry's care. Her brother Alfonso, mother, and she then moved to Arévalo. These were times of turmoil for Isabella. Isabella lived with her brother and her mother in a castle in poor conditions where they also suffered from shortage of money. Although her father arranged in his will for his children to be financially well taken care of, her half-brother Henry did not comply with their father's wishes, either from a desire to keep his half-siblings restricted or ineptitude. Even though the living conditions were lackluster, under the careful eye of her mother, Isabella was instructed in lessons of practical piety and in the deep reverence for religion. (Wikipedia)


Chapter 5, "Birth of the Spanish World"

Mark Williams,

The Story of Spain: The Dramatic History of Europe's Most Fascinating Country,

Golden Era Books,

ISBN 0970696930

This book is a popular history of Spain and the Spanish Empire from prehistoric times to the present day. It provides description and analysis of political, social, economic and cultural events over the centuries, which together shaped the history of this distinctive country. The book offers 60 illustrations and maps, including 16 pages of color photographs, as well as lists of historic places to visit at the end of each chapter. There is a dynastic chart, suggested readings, and index.


"The dramatic historical pageant of Spain . . . engages the reader from first page to last." —Midwest Book Review, January 2000

"Written in a style that clearly allows the reader to grasp the intricacies of Spain's historical elements." —Spain 21 Magazine, Spring 2001

"A vivid account of the country's origins and development as a nation." —David Baird, Lookout Magazine

"By far the best introduction for students in English to Spain's history and culture." —Paul Smith, Professor Emeritus, Department of Spanish, UCLA

"For a readable and thorough but not over-long account of Spanish history, The Story of Spain is hard to beat." —Lonely Planet Guide to Spain, 2002 edition

"The title of this work prepares us for what it is—a history of Spain." —Ruth Bennett, CUNY, Hispania Magazine


This is the best biography of Isabella in English.

Kirstin Downey,

Isabella: The Warrior Queen,

Nan A. Talese,

ISBN 0385534116

"[An] immensely provocative figure... [who] successfully maneuvered in an almost exclusively male world of politics." —Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

"In a fascinating portrait, Downey sketches a monarch both adored and demonized, and makes the case that Isabella laid the foundation for the first global superpower." —BBC.com

"A strong, fascinating woman, Isabella helped to usher in the modern age, and this rich, clearly written biography is a worthy chronicle of her impressive yet controversial life." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

J. H. Elliott,

Imperial Spain: 1469-1716,

Penguin Books; 2nd edition,

ISBN 0141007036

Institute Library Call Number: 946.20 Ell IMP pb

The most comprehensive, balanced, and accessible account of the dramatic rise and fall of imperial Spain.