The Catholic Kings: Isabella and Ferdinand.

It is very likely that the Catholic Kings are the most well-known monarchs in Spain by Spanish speakers and, also, all over the world.

Who were the Catholic Kings? The King, Ferdinand the II of Aragon; the Queen, Isabel the I of Castile. They were Kings of Castile and Aragon during the second half of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. They are known for having unified the Spanish territory and numerous military victories.

But what are their origins?

To find out, we need to go back in time. In 711, the Muslims completely conquer the Iberian Peninsula, except for a small kingdom in the north, Asturias. That’s why the people in Asturias say, ‘We were never conquer by the Muslims! We are the pure-blood Spanish!’.

This great Muslim kingdom, known as Al-Ándalus, started to divide due to the differences that existed between the Muslims themselves.

It is thanks to that, that Christians began to recover land and already, around the 10th century, Spain was divided into:

Four Muslim kingdoms in the South:

  • Cádiz
  • Sevilla
  • Córdoba
  • Granada

Four Christian kingdoms in the north:

  • Castilla
  • Navarra
  • Aragón
  • León


Throughout the centuries, clashes between Muslims and Christians took place; and even among the Christians themselves. Since everyone wanted to dominate the entire peninsular territory. The problem fell back into the mountain chain Despeñaperros, which physically divided the southern territory, where Andalusia is currently located, so the Muslims resisted strongly the attack of Christians.

In 1248, King Ferdinand III of Castile, ancestor of Isabella I of Castile, better known as Isabella the Catholic, decided to carry out his military attack by sea, since it was impossible to do it by land.

As the Phoenician Melkart did in 2500 BC, Ferdinand III of Castile used the Guadalquivir River to finally conquer the Muslims in Cadiz, Seville and Cordoba.

What happened with Granada? This one is surrounded by Sierra Nevada, in the valley of a river and on top of a hill. That’s why it was impossible for Ferdinand the III to conquer it with the little military support he had. So, he was content with other three conquered territories.

Thanks to this conquest, the Kingdom of Castile became one of the most powerful.

Even so, conflicts continued to occur between the Christian kingdoms. This brings us to 1451, which is when one of our protagonists was born: Isabel I de Castilla, daughter of Juan II de Castilla.

At the age of 3, she was already engaged to Ferdinand II of Aragon, born in 1452, and son of Juan II de Aragon. This marriage would finally unite the two most powerful kingdoms and, therefore, unite the Christians.

However, after the death of his father, her half-brother from her father’s side, Henry IV became the king. He had other political ambitions. That’s why Isabel became committed to:

  • Ferdinand II de Aragón (future husband)
  • Carlos de Trastamara and Évreux, Prince of Vienna
  • Alfonso V of Portugal, 20 years older than her (rejected by Isabel)
  • Pedro Girón, Master of Calatrava (dies before meeting his fiancée)
  • Alfonso V of Portugal (second commitment, Isabel refused again since it would remove her from the power)
  • Charles de Valois, Duke of Berry, brother of Louis XI of France (Isabel refused too)

After going back and forth, Isabel and Juan II of Aragon, negotiated in secret her marriage with Ferdinand II of Aragon. Finally, the marriage was carried out in 1469, after needing the dispensation of the Pope, because both were cousins.

The marriage brought more than a headache to the young couple, causing the War of Castilian Succession.

The War of Spanish Succession was the war that took place between 1475 and 1479 in which the succession of the Crown of Castile was disputed between the daughter of the late King Henry IV of Castile, called Juana la Beltraneja or Juana de Trastámara, and the stepsister of the monarch, Isabel.

This became an international conflict since Isabel was married to Ferdinand, heir to the Crown of Aragon, while Juana had married King Alfonso V of Portugal. For its own sake, France also intervened in the confrontation. France supported Portugal to prevent Aragon, its rival in Italy, from joining Castile.

The war ended in 1479 with the signing of the Treaty of Alcáçovas, by which Isabel and Ferdinand were recognized as kings of Castile, Juana lost all right to the throne and Portugal obtained the hegemony in the Atlantic, except for the Canary Islands.

You could think that peace finally came, but it was not like that. The Portuguese had dominated the route to the Indies through Africa, the only way known until that time. For this reason, the Catholic Kings suffered the taxes and attacks of the Portuguese to their ships every time they sent expeditions to the Indies.

It is at this moment, in which Christopher Columbus played a fundamental role to finally elevate the kings Isabel and Ferdinand.

Christopher Columbus thought he could find a new route across the Atlantic. As this one was controlled by the Portuguese, he offers them his idea. However, Christopher was rejected instantly. Therefore, he decided to propose his project to the kings of Castile and Aragon in 1486.

He was also rejected by Ferdinand, the Catholic king, confused by the strange idea of ​​the navigator. However, Isabel, being aware of their situation, she saw the idea from another perspective.

The problem was that the monarchs had several issues at hand:

  • Conquest of the Canary Islands
  • Conquest of Navarre
  • Conquest Granada

When in 1492, they managed to conquer the last Muslim territory, Christopher met again the kings, being aware that, probably, the Catholic Kings would be full of joy and more open to his idea.


Rendición de Granada, por Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz.

It was not the case of King Ferdinand, but, Isabel, aware of the need for another route to the Indies, according to some historians, decided to finance his expedition by selling his own jewels, belonging to the Kingdom of Castile before her marriage to Ferdinand.

What Isabel did not know, is that this navigator with crazy ideas, would not find a new route to the Indies, but something even better: The Discovery of America in 1492.

Thanks to it, the Spanish territory extended remarkably, it turned Spain in the centre of the world and, to the Catholic Kings, in the monarchs, if not the most loved the most respected ones in the history of the Spanish royal family.

The reign of the Catholic Kings brought with them the golden age of Spain. But also, the beginning of one of the darkest times: The Holy Inquisition (1478-1834).

We'll talk about the Inquisition another time. So, if you are interested in knowing more, stay tuned to our blog!