Romance of Spanish History - John S. C. Abbott
Gentleness and Cruelty of the Moors.—The Moorish Ladies.—Anecdote.—Granada a Fief of Castile.—A Queen besieged.—Independence of the Nobles.—Anecdote of the King and the Nobles.—The Kingdom of Aragon.—Its Civil Dissensions.—Strange Scene in the Palace.—The Deposition of Henry IV. of Castile.—War between Henry and Alfonso.—Griefs of Isabella.—Her Matrimonial Engagements.—Declared Heir to the Castilian Throne.
In the character of the Moors of Spain there was a remarkable blending of softness and of ferocity. They often developed many of the most gentle virtues, and the most chivalric sense of honor, in connection with crimes the most cruel and barbaric. When Gibraltar was taken by the Christians, and all its inhabitants were driven into exile, an aged Moor, with his white beard floating upon his breast, approached Ferdinand, and said,
"King of Castile, what injury have I done to thee or to thine? Thy great-grandfather drove me from my native city of Seville, and I sought an asylum at Xeres. Thy grandfather expelled me from that place, and I took refuge in Tarifa. Thy father drove me from that retreat, and I came to Gibraltar, hoping there to find a peaceful grave. But thou hast pursued me even here. Tell me, now, if there be any spot upon this globe where I can die unmolested by the Christians?"
"Cross the sea," sternly replied the Castilian king; and the unhappy exile was driven over the straits into Africa.
Among the Moors of Spain there were poets, painters, sculptors, architects, philosophers, and physicians of much eminence. Most of their literary works perished at the final conquest of their country. The fanatic Cardinal Ximenes ordered every copy of the Koran to be burned. The ignorant soldiery mistook, for that work, every thing which was written in Arabic, and committed a vast multitude of manuscripts to the flames. The libraries of these Moors, who were passionate lovers of story-telling, abounded in novels and romances. Lords and ladies met night after night beneath the gilded domes of the Alhambra, and groups of the populace were assembled in the huts of the peasants, to listen to legends of passionate love and chivalric daring. Popular enthusiasm was peculiarly aroused by the charms of music and song. The Moorish lover who warbled the most plaintive ditties beneath the balconied window of his mistress, took especial pride in chipping off the head of his enemy by a single blow of his sabre, and in dangling those gory trophies at his saddle-bow, and impaling them before his gate as the memorials of his achievements.
It is the universal declaration that the Moorish ladies were distinguished for their beauty. A Moorish historian, who wrote at Granada early in the fourteenth century, thus describes his countrywomen:
"Their beauty is remarkable. But the loveliness which strikes the beholder at the first sight afterwards receives its principal charm from the grace and gentleness of their manners. In stature they are above the middle height, and of delicate and slender proportions. Their long black hair descends to the earth. Their teeth are embellished with the whiteness of alabaster, and their vermilion lips perpetually smile with a bewitching air. The constant use which they make of the most exquisite perfumes gives a freshness and brilliancy to their complexions, possessed by no other Mohammedan women. Their walking, their dancing, their every movement is distinguished by a graceful softness, an ease, a lightness which surpasses all their other charms. Their conversation is lively and sensible, and their fine intellects are constantly displayed in brilliant wit or judicious sentiments."
The devastations of war at this time were dreadful, almost beyond conception. The spirit of utter destruction animated both Christians and Moors. In both armies there was a special corps, called cutters down, whose duty was to destroy effectually the possessions and the property of the foe. Every house was demolished. All fruit-trees and vines were destroyed, and every field of corn and every garden trampled to ruin. Those who were not slain in battle or massacred in cold blood were usually sold into slavery.
In the year 1450 there were two rival Moorish kings struggling for the supremacy in Granada, and the little kingdom was distracted with the sorest internal dissensions. At the same time the King of Castile was making the most destructive irruptions upon the frontiers. At that time the Christian kings of Spain, by combining, could, with perfect ease, have driven the Moors out of the peninsula. But the kings of Castile, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre were even more hostile to each other than they were to the Moors.
The following anecdote beautifully illustrates the chivalry and magnanimity at times displayed, both by Christians and Moors, in these days of violence and blood. We give the story as narrated in Marie's Condé.
On the eve of an expedition, Narvaez, the Christian governor of Antequera, detached some horsemen to reconnoitre the country. The men, perceiving no enemy, were going back to Antequera, when, on turning a hill, they suddenly fell in with a Moorish horseman, and made him a prisoner. He was a young man about twenty-three years of age, of prepossessing appearance, richly habited, wearing a sword and buckler of exquisite workmanship, and mounted on a fine horse. He evidently belonged to some distinguished family of the country. He was brought before Narvaez, who asked him who he was, and whither he was going. He replied, in considerable emotion, that he was the son of the Alcalde of Ronda, but on endeavoring to continue his relation, his tears fell in such abundance that he could not utter another word.
"Thou surprisest me," said Narvaez. "Thy father I know to be an intrepid warrior, but thou weepest like a woman. Dost thou not know that this is one of the ordinary chances of war?"
"I do not lament the loss of my liberty," replied the Moor, "but a misfortune a thousand times heavier."
Being pressed to explain the cause of his agitation, he said,
"I have long loved the daughter of a neighboring alcalde, and that love is returned. This very night was to see her mine. She is now waiting for me, and I am taken a captive by your soldiers, and I can not describe my despair."
"Thou art a noble cavalier," replied the chivalric Christian. "If thou wilt promise to return, I will allow thee to go and see thy mistress."
Full of gratitude, the Moor accepted the condition and departed. Before daylight he reached her dwelling. On learning the cause of his evident dejection, she said,
Before this fatal moment thou hast always shown affection towards me; and now thou givest me new proofs of it. Thou fearest that if I follow thee I shall lose my liberty, and thou wishest me to remain; but dost thou think me less generous than thyself? My fate must be united with thine. Whether free or enslaved, thou shalt always find me at thy side. In this casket are jewels, sufficient either to pay thy ransom or to support us both in slavery."
The two lovers immediately departed, and towards evening arrived at Antequera. They were nobly received by Narvaez, who passed the highest praise on the fidelity of the cavalier and the affecting devotedness of the maiden. He not only dismissed them both, but loaded them with presents, and sent an escort to conduct them safely to Ronda. The news spread throughout the kingdom of Granada, and became the subject of many romances, in which the chivalry of Narvaez was sung by his enemies—a pleasing reward for his beneficence.
In the year 1460, Henry IV., King of Castile, had captured so many Moorish fortresses, and was advancing so resistlessly in his career of conquest that Aben Ismael, then king of Granada, implored peace, and humiliated himself by submitting to hold his kingdom as a fief of Castile, and to pay an annual tribute of twelve thousand pistoles in gold. But Hassan, after his accession to the Moorish throne, in the year 1469, taking advantage of the civil war then raging in Castile, renounced the vows of fealty, and mercilessly ravaged the Castilian frontiers. The chronicles of these interminable and bloody forays are interspersed with narratives of deeds of courtesy which soothe the mind weary of the contemplation of horrors.
The empress-queen of Alfonso VII. was besieged in the castle of Azeca. She reproached the Moorish knights for their want of chivalry in assailing a fortress defended only by a woman. The cavaliers acknowledged the justice of the reproach, and requested that the queen would but show herself upon the battlements of her castle. She did so; when the Moslem chivalry, bowing before her in the most respectful manner, immediately ordered the siege to be raised, and departed.
MOORISH HOMAGE TO THE CHRISTIAN QUEEN.
In times of peace the Moors and the Christians visited each other's courts freely, in the interchange of the most cordial courtesies. The Castilian king, Alfonso XI., sent two captive Moorish princes back to their father, not only exacting no ransom, but loading them with costly presents. When this Castilian sovereign died, after a career of almost constant conquest over the Moslems, the King of Granada and his court put on mourning.
"He was a noble prince," said they, "and one that knew how to honor his enemies as well as his friends."
Castile was so called from the numerous baronial castles which crowned almost every eminence of a magnificent realm embracing nearly fifty thousand square miles, being about as large as the State of Georgia. The reigning king was but slightly raised above these imperious nobles in rank, and often inferior to many of them in wealth and princely state. The estates of the Lord of Biscay embraced eighty towns and castles. Alvaro de Luna, by the blast of his bugles, could summon twenty thousand vassals beneath his banners. Many of these Castilian nobles were in the receipt of an annual income equal to five hundred thousand dollars of our money. Gold and silver plate of the most elaborate enchasings were spread upon their banqueting-tables. All these haughty nobles claimed the revolutionary right of seceding from the central government whenever so disposed; and thus the king, even upon the eve of battle, was liable to see any of his lords marching from the field with their vassals.
These nobles maintained their independence of the king, and their supremacy over their serfs, only by their valor and heroism. Their lives were mainly passed in the saddle and on fields of blood. Scorning indulgence in effeminate luxury, even the boys of noble lineage followed their fathers into the hottest of the battle. The son of Ponce de Leon, when but thirteen years of age, rode by the side of his father in the fiercest frays which the Christians waged against the Moors. The only son of Alfonso VI., but thirteen years old, was slain when manfully fighting in the ranks at the battle of Ucles, beneath the banners of his father.
These nobles took the liberty of expressing their opinions very freely to the king whenever he displeased them. In the year 1258 the lords sent a communication to the King of Castile remonstrating against the extravagance of his personal expenses and the number of courtiers he maintained, and bluntly calling upon him to "bring his appetite within a more reasonable compass." When there chanced to be a weak king, he was trampled upon by his nobles; but occasionally an energetic sovereign would arise who, with a hand mailed in steel, would box his insubordinate lords into submission.
The higher ecclesiastics also had acquired enormous wealth, and rioted in licentiousness and luxury unsurpassed by that of the baronial lords. The martial noble, who had squandered his life in violence and sin, purchased peace of conscience on a dying bed by immense largesses to the Church. In every battle which was waged against the Moors, the favor of Heaven was implored, with promises of large portions of the spoil which might be taken. The ravages of war left many of the daughters of the noblest families in a state of friendlessness, and they sought refuge in the nunneries. These nunneries became thus very important establishments, and they were very richly endowed.
The monastery of Burgos contained one hundred and fifty ladies of the noblest families of Castile. The abbess was considered next in rank to the queen, and exercised jurisdiction over fourteen capital cities and fifty smaller towns, drawing from them immense revenue. The Archbishop of Toledo was deemed, next to the Pope, the highest ecclesiastic in Christendom. His income amounted to nearly a million of our money annually. Beneath his martial banner of the cross he could muster a greater number of vassals than any other noble in the realm; and no steel-clad baron could plunge into the heady fight with a more earnest good-will than this professed disciple of the meek and lowly Jesus.
The power of the king was greatly limited by a privy council, called the Cortes, composed of the principal nobility, both lay and clerical, of his realm. No important enterprise could be undertaken without their consent. There was a constant conflict, more or less open and avowed, ever raging between these nobles and the king. In the following story we get a glimpse into the palace and the castle, and obtain a vivid picture of the habits of life in that day.
One night Henry III. of Castile returned to his castle from hunting, fatigued, cold, and hungry. There was no money in the king's purse, and nothing in the castle to eat, excepting the game which the king brought home. The steward ventured to contrast the indigent condition of the sovereign with the voluptuousness in which his nobles were revelling, and informed the monarch that a party of the nobles were feasting that very evening with the Archbishop of Toledo.
Henry resolved to view the banquet with his own eyes, and obtained an introduction, in disguise, into the archiepiscopal palace, where he beheld a scene of splendor, luxury, and voluptuousness such as even royal eyes had seldom beheld. The next day he summoned these courtiers into the audience-chamber of his palace, and took his seat upon the throne with a drawn sabre in his hand. Turning sternly to the nobles, and alluding to the scene of the preceding evening, he said,
"You are the real sovereigns of Castile, enjoying all the rights and revenues of royalty, while I, stripped of my patrimony, have scarcely wherewithal to procure the necessaries of life."
Then, at a signal, his guards entered, accompanied by the public executioner with the instruments of death. The nobles were terrified, for it would have been in perfect accordance with the character of the times that every head should have fallen. They dropped upon their knees imploring forgiveness, and promising to restore to the crown those sources of revenue which they had wrested from it. The king detained them as hostages until many fortresses and cities were placed in his hands, and then they were set at liberty. Though this story wears the garb of romance, it is found in many of the most authentic of the Castilian annals, and is certainly in perfect harmony with the spirit of that age.
North-east of Castile, extending from her frontiers to the summits of the Pyrenees, was the kingdom of Aragon, a beautiful realm, containing about thirty-five thousand square miles. Aragon then embraced Catalonia and Valencia, and possessed a sea-coast on the Mediterranean of nearly three hundred miles. The nobles of Aragon were equally haughty and fierce, and even more barbaric than those of Castile. They also claimed the right, upon any pretext which they judged sufficient, of renouncing their allegiance to the sovereign, and, by secession, of throwing themselves back upon their reserved rights of independence. The Aragonese devoted special attention to the navy, successfully competing with the fleets of Pisa; and they even achieved the conquest of the Balearic Isles, of Sardinia, and of Sicily, annexing them to their proud realm. At one time this navy penetrated even the Levant, and acquired vast renown by the subjection of Athens to the Aragonese kingdom.
The King of Aragon distributed among his great barons the provinces which, one after another, he had wrested from the Moors, reserving a certain portion, sometimes one-fifth, for the royal domains. Upon capturing a city, it was divided into districts, each of which was assigned to some noble in fief, the king receiving in homage a certain portion of the revenue. The kingdom was almost incessantly convulsed, when not engaged in foreign wars, by struggles among these barons for the supremacy, each lord regarding himself rather as the rival than the subject of his sovereign.
The reign of John I. of Castile was one incessant tempest of war. He was continually struggling in the most desperate conflicts, either with the Moors, or his neighbors the Portuguese, or his own rebellious nobles. His son, Henry III., surnamed the Infirm, succeeded him when but eleven years of age. Six prelates, six barons, and six deputies from the cities constituted the Council of Regency during the minority of the prince. The haughty Archbishop of Toledo, a prominent member of this council, endeavored to engross in his own person all its authority. The dissensions which arose filled the kingdom with confusion; and when, in the year 1393, the young monarch attained his majority, the ship of state, as with a feeble hand he took the helm, was rolling and plunging amidst the billows of a storm-swept sea. He died the first day of the year 1407, leaving his battered crown to an infant son, John II., then but two years of age. The royal babe was, with great pomp, crowned in the Cathedral of Segovia, the queen-mother, aided by Fernando, brother of the deceased king, being entrusted with the regency.
Soon after this Fernando was declared to be the legitimate heir to the throne of Aragon, upon the death of Martin, the king, in the year 1410. John II. in due time was entrusted with the sceptre of Castile, and after an inglorious reign, in which he secured the reputation of being the weakest and most despicable prince who ever sat upon a throne, he died in 1454, leaving, besides two sons, an infant, Isabella, who afterwards became so renowned, not only in the annals of Spain, but in those of the world. John on his death-bed, reviewing the sorrows of a reign of forty-eight years, expressed regret that he had not been born the son of a mechanic instead of King of Castile. Henry IV., the eldest son, succeeded to the throne. The following scene which occurred in the palace at Madrid throws light upon his character, his domestic state, and the manners of that age.
On one occasion the king proclaimed a bull-fight in the plaza before the palace of Madrid, in honor of one of his beautiful mistresses, Dona Guiomar. The indignant queen not only refused to witness the spectacle, so insulting to her wifely dignity, but forbade any of the ladies of the palace from appearing at the windows, ordering them all to retire to the apartments in the rear. The haughty favorite, relying upon the protection of her royal paramour, appeared, in magnificent attire, upon one of the balconies of the palace, and enjoyed the feats of the day.
The queen, half crazed with jealousy and rage, took her stand at the foot of the staircase, and, as the minion descended, fell upon her like a tigress, with tooth and nail. The astounded mistress was knocked down and rolled over and over, and dragged along the floor by the hair of her head. Her shrieks summoned the king. He seized his consort by the arm, and hurled her from him with such violence that she fell insensible, and in that state was carried to her apartment. The king, to avoid the repetition of such scenes, erected a very splendid villa for his guilty favorite at some distance from Madrid.
The nobles conspired against Henry IV, and marshaled their vassals to drive him from the throne, and to place the crown upon the brow of his brother Alfonso. The insurgent barons met in great strength upon the plains of Avila, about one hundred miles north-west of Madrid, and, with barbaric pomp, proceeded to the ceremonial of the deposition of their king. On the plain which spreads out before the walls of the city the baronial army was encamped, and the gleam of tents and banners and polished armor, the prancing of cavalry and the mazes of military evolutions filled the eye, while strains of martial music from multitudinous bands pealed through the air. The whole city of Avila crowded out upon the plain to witness the imposing ceremony. A vast, elevated platform was erected, in the centre of which there arose a throne, upon which was seated an effigy of Henry IV. robed in imperial purple, with a crown upon his head and a sceptre in his hand.
A herald mounted the platform, and, with a loud voice, declared the king no longer worthy to reign, charging him with incompetency, and with many atrocious public and private vices, and declaring that the welfare of the realm imperiously demanded his deposition. The Archbishop of Toledo, the most turbulent man of that turbulent age, then advanced and wrested the crown from the royal brow; the Marquis of Villena wrenched the sceptre from his sand; a third baron seized the sword; a fourth tore off the royal robes; a fifth and a sixth grasped other emblems of royalty; and then all together, with curses and insults, kicked the despoiled effigy to the ground, where it was torn to pieces.
Alfonso, but eleven years of age, was then brought upon the stage, and, placed on a shield, was raised upon the shoulders of the nobles. He was received with the flourish of trumpets, the beating of drums, and the acclaim of all the surrounding thousands, shouting, "Long live Alfonso, our King of Castile."
But Henry, though thus easily deposed in effigy, still grasped the sceptre, and was at the head of a powerful army. The two brothers, with their accompanying troops, soon met near Olmedo, and a fierce, sanguinary, but indecisive battle ensued, in which each party claimed the victory. The Pope espoused the cause of Henry, and threatened Alfonso and his associate rebels with the terrors of ex-communication. But the menaces of the distant Vatican only excited the ridicule of these rough warriors. The Pope's legate was hooted from the camp, and in terror of personal violence he mounted his mule and precipitately fled. While affairs were in this state, Alfonso was suddenly taken sick and died. The rebels then proposed to place his sister Isabella upon the throne. But this young princess, possessing sagacity above her years, declined the perilous honor. Still, notwithstanding this declinature, many of her pretended partisans proclaimed her as queen, at Seville and other parts of Andalusia. Her refusal to encourage these measures secured the good-will of her brother, and he declared his intention of pronouncing her his heir to the crown.
John, King of Aragon, had a son, Ferdinand, who at ten years of age was, with imposing ceremonies, proclaimed heir to his father's throne. The queen-mother, an ambitious and imperious woman, then took her child to Catalonia to receive the homage of that province. But the turbulent Catalonian nobles were at that time exasperated against the king, and gave such unmistakable indications of hostile measures that the queen, with her son and a few adherents, fled from Barcelona and took refuge in the fortress of Gerona, about fifty miles from the Catalonian capital.
Roger, Count of Pallas, with a strong military band, pursued her. The queen, with her party, retreated to a tower attached to the principal church in the fortified town, which tower, as was the custom in those warlike days, was built according to the rules of military art, and was capable of maintaining a formidable resistance. The besiegers erected, opposite, an antagonistic tower, upon which they planted their rude artillery, which was then coming into use, and other engines of war. For many days an unintermitted discharge of bullets and other destructive missiles was kept up against the little garrison. The defense was so desperate that the besiegers dug a subterranean passage, endeavoring thus to secure an entrance beneath the tower, but they were repulsed with great slaughter.
The queen, during these stormy hours, displayed all the qualities of a heroine. With intrepidity unsurpassed by any of her soldiers, she shared all their perils; visiting in person every port of danger, and encouraging the defenders by her valor and words of cheer. While she was thus heroically holding her foes at bay, the king marched with his troops to her relief. The sudden approach of these horsemen with archers and artillery compelled the insurgents to raise the siege and flee with such precipitancy as to leave many of their cannon in the hands of the king.
The Catalans were so exasperated that they resolved to secede from the monarchy and to establish a republic. They issued a proclamation, renouncing allegiance to King John and his son Ferdinand, declaring that it was their right to depose the sovereign for any infringement of the liberties of the nation, and that the welfare of the people should always be paramount to the personal interests' of the prince. The secessionists then offered the crown of their republic to Henry IV. of Castile, but he refused the offer. It was then presented to Don Pedro of Portugal, who accepted the gift, which he could only maintain by the sword. The King of Aragon with great vigor pushed the insurgents, capturing, in bloody assaults, one after another of the fortresses of Southern Catalonia. The Portuguese prince, in harassment and exhaustion, suddenly fell ill of a fever and died.
Still the Catalans were so resolute that they would allow no one to express an opinion in opposition to this dismemberment of the Aragonese kingdom. Two of the most illustrious nobles who had ventured to suggest compromise were dragged to the scaffold. The crown was then presented to John, Duke of Calabria and Lorraine, a knight of such renown that adventurers from all parts of Europe flocked to his standard. With eight thousand men beneath his flaunting banners he descended through the defiles of Roussillon into the plains of Catalonia.
The prospects of the poor old King of Aragon were indeed melancholy. His treasury was empty; his health was very infirm; from the exposure of a winter's campaign a disease had seized his eyes, which had rendered him totally and hopelessly blind; he was assailed in Catalonia by foes outnumbering any forces he could raise; and the most threatening rebellions were breaking out in other parts of his realms.
In this dark hour his heroic wife came to his aid, with that marvellous energy which woman often shows when man yields in despair. With her son, Ferdinand, riding at her side, she placed herself at the head of such forces as she could collect, and fell upon the Duke of Lorraine with such impetuosity as to drive him in confusion from Gerona. In this fierce encounter the youthful Ferdinand came near being taken captive. He was only rescued by the devotion of his officers, many of whom sacrificed their lives to secure his safety.
Still the chivalric Duke John, magnificent in his bearing and in the trappings of his steed, excited universal enthusiasm, and especially the admiration of the ladies. Wherever he appeared the people thronged around him with the most ardent acclamations, and the ladies loaded him with their jewelry to defray the expenses of the war. To add to the griefs of the broken-hearted king, the queen, Joan Henriquez, exhausted by the toils of the tented field, sickened and died. But in the evolutions of those romances of fact, which so often exceed the imaginings of fiction, a Jewish physician appeared; who induced the king to submit to the operation of couching his eyes, which proved perfectly successful. The spirits of the octogenarian king were so cheered by the restoration of his sight that he resumed the administration of affairs with almost the vigor of his early years. And teen again fortune, as it is termed, proverbially so capricious, struck down the Duke of Lorraine, and the hopes of the Catalonians sank into the grave, in which their heroic leader, plumed and robed in martial array, with his polished sabre by his side, was entombed.
The king now invested Barcelona. Humanely anxious to save the city from the horrors of being taken by storm, he instituted a rigorous blockade. The garrison attempted a sally, but were repulsed with a loss of four thousand men. Farther resistance was unavailing. The Barcelonians surrendered, and Catalonia returned to its allegiance after ten years of war and woe.
While these scenes were transpiring Isabella was living, in comparative quietude, at Madrid, in the court of her brother, Henry IV. of Castile. The king was fond of magnificence, and was boundlessly extravagant in his tastes and his expenditures. A body-guard of three thousand six hundred lancers, gorgeously equipped, surrounded his palace. The sons of the most illustrious nobles were the officers of this splendid corps. The constant object of his ambition was to expel the Moors from Spain, and to extend his sway over the beautiful realm of Granada. He proclaimed a crusade against them, and, assembling his chivalry from the remote provinces, assailed Granada in incessant incursions of devastation and misery. These forays, however, accomplished nothing decisive. Fields were trampled, orchards cut down, villages burned, men butchered, and captives dragged into slavery. Henry was no soldier. He loved merely the pomp and the pageantry of war.
The wife of Henry IV. was a very gay, vivacious, beautiful but wicked woman, the sister of Alfonso V., King of Portugal. With her retinue of maidens of brilliant charms, she caused the palace ever to resound with wassail, and was as voluptuous in her tastes and as indulgent in her gallantries as the dissolute king himself. The handsomest cavaliers in the kingdom were ever hovering around her. The corruption of the court could hardly have been surpassed by that of Babylon when the denunciatory hand-writing of God appeared upon the wall of Belshazzar's palace. The religious houses were involved in the general corruption, while bishops and archbishops vied with nobles and princes in unbounded license of sensuality.
The queen, in the year 1462, gave birth to a daughter, Joanna. The king called for an oath of fealty to her, as presumptive heir to the crown. The nobles refused to take this oath, boldly declaring that Joanna was riot the child of the king. Isabella was at this time about fourteen years of age, and perhaps as unhappy a maiden as could then be found in Spain. She had been trained in her earliest years, by her widowed and pious mother, in the little town of Arevala, far from the corruptions of the court, where she had been faithfully instructed in the purest principles of morality and religion. The strong probability that the crown of Castile would descend to her, brought many royal suitors to the court where she now resided to solicit her hand. She had sufficient intelligence to perceive that her person was to be sacrificed for political combinations, and in anxiety and sadness she secluded herself from the bacchanal festivities of the palace.
Very resentfully she remonstrated with her brother against his selfish policy, which would wreck her happiness by forcing her into a marriage merely to promote his own interests. She was first promised to Carlos, eldest son of the King of Aragon, and brother of Ferdinand, whom she subsequently married. But Carlos was near fifty years of age, and she but fourteen. Raving once seen him, she declared that neither threats nor entreaties should induce her to so unsuitable a match. The death of Carlos fortunately released her from this trouble. She was then promised to a rich, powerful, debauched old noble, the grand-master of Calatrava, a man whose character was stained with the most revolting vices. The anguish of Isabella, upon contemplating this doom, was so great that she retired to her chamber, and for a day and a night did nothing but weep, refusing all nourishment.
Her prayers were so piteous that God would come to her relief and save her from the dishonor, by either taking away her life or that of her enemy, that one of her attendant ladies, Beatrice of Bobadilla, a high-spirited woman, provided herself with a dagger, and vowed before God that if the grand-master of Calatrava should dare to appear and claim Isabella for his bride, she would plunge that dagger into his heart. The gay ladies of the court were amazed and amused by the scruples of Isabella. It mattered but little to them who the husband might be, provided only that he were rich and powerful, since they could indulge in gallantries with more agreeable lovers to their heart's content.
The grand-master made the most sumptuous preparations for his wedding, and, with a gorgeous retinue of friends and vassals, set out from his palace at Almagro for Madrid, to receive his bride. At the close of the first day's journey he reached the little village of Villambia, where he passed the night. Here he was suddenly and violently seized with an attack of quinsy, which, after a sickness of four days, terminated his life. It is not to be supposed that Isabella shed any tears over his grave, and still not the slightest shadow of suspicion rests upon her as having been in any way accessory to his death.
Isabella for a time withdrew to a convent at Avila, where she pertinaciously refused the entreaties of many of the nobles to allow herself to be proclaimed Queen of Castile, in opposition to her brother Henry. At length the nobles, who had been waging war against the king, came to a compromise with him, in which it was agreed that the king's dissolute wife should be divorced and sent back to Portugal; that Isabella should be immediately recognized as heir to the united crowns of Castile and Leon, with suitable revenue to maintain the dignity of her rank, and that while she should not marry any one without the consent of her brother, she should not be forced into any nuptial alliance in opposition to her own wishes.