Child's History of Spain - John Bonner

Castile and Aragon

A.D. 1284-1469

King Sancho reigned over Castile for eleven years, and followed by Ferdinand the Fourth, Alfonso the Eleventh, and Peter the Cruel who became king in 1330. Of these three monarchs there is nothing to be said, except that the last named, Peter was a monster of cruelty.

He loved killing people for the mere pleasure of killing, and the closer of kin they were to him the more he enjoyed putting them to death. If he had lived longer he would have destroyed his whole family.

He married a sweet French girl, Blanche of Bourbon, but after the wedding he would not live with her, or even see her. His favorite was a black-hearted Spaniard, named Maria de Padilla. The queen had given him as a wedding-present a golden belt adorned with precious stones. Maria found a Jew who was said to be a magician; he contrived in some way to get the girdle off the king's waist and to put in its place a serpent. When the king saw it he was filled with horror; and Maria telling him that this was some of the queen's sorcery intended to injure him, he thrust poor Blanche into prison.

To hold her the more safely he sent her to Toledo. But the people of that city, were turbulent, as you remember and always did their own thinking, took the poor prisoner's side, turned out in arms, with the king's brother Fadrique at their head, and declared that no harm should come to Blanche. Cunning Peter answered them that he had never meant any harm to his dear Blanche; he only wanted to clasp her in his arms once more. Whereupon the people, not suspecting that the king would tell a lie, let him into the place, and showed him where Blanche was. He no sooner got her in his power than he shut her up in a strong dungeon, where he put her to death.

Then he turned on his brother Fadrique, who had taken Blanche's part. Him he invited to a tournament at Seville. When Fadrique came, the king appeared before him in the courtyard of the castle and ordered a man-at-arms to cut him down. When you go to Seville you will be shown the stains of his blood on the stones of the yard. After he was dead Peter had his head cut off and laid before the fair Maria de Padilla.

Shortly afterwards another brother, Henry, rebelled against Peter and took the field against him at the head of an army. But Peter got Edward the Black Prince of England to help him, and won a victory over the rebels at Navarrete, on April 3rd, 1367. After the battle Peter began to murder his prisoners, which shocked the Black Prince, and caused him to remonstrate. Peter answered, simply:

"What's the good of your helping me, then? If I let them go they will join Henry, and all the work will have to be done over again."

This disgusted the Black Prince so much that he gathered his men and marched off home.

Then the war broke out again, and now that the terrible Englishman was gone, victory generally sided with Henry. The war ended, however, by a curious piece of treachery, which may give you some idea of the laws of honor which prevailed in that day.

Henry was in the tent of his ally, the gallant French general, Bertrand Du Guesclin, of whom you have read in the History of France, and who was looked upon as a type of chivalry. A message was sent to Peter, inviting him into the tent, which he accepted unsuspiciously. At first Henry did not recognize him, though he was his brother, they had been parted so long; but an attendant cried:

"There is your enemy!"

Henry shouted:

"Where is the Jew who calls himself King of Castile?"

"Here I stand," answered Peter, "the lawful king and heir of King Alfonso; 'tis thou that art a false pretender."

With that they grappled with each other, while the knights, including Du Guesclin, stood looking on. Henry stabbed Peter with his poniard in the face, but could not pierce his body, which was protected by a coat of mail. Peter was the stronger and threw his brother on a bench; but one of Henry's men, seizing Peter by the leg, threw him over on his back, and Henry stabbed him to death.

"Thus with mortal gasp and quiver,

While the blood in bubbles welled,

Fled the fiercest soul that ever

In a Christian bosom dwelled."

After Peter, there was another series of kings of Castile—two Henrys and two Johns—about whom there is nothing recorded that you would care to hear, unless it be an expression of the last John, who said he "wished he had been born in the hut of an obscure workman rather than on the throne of Castile." This John was father to the Isabella who became the wife of Ferdinand of Aragon, and Queen, not of Castile, but of Spain.

Of Aragon, I have told you little. There was, however, a long list of kings who reigned from the times when Cordova first became the Moorish capital until the times of Ferdinand. Most of them left no trace; there were a few who perhaps deserve to be remembered. One of these was Jayme the First, a poet, warrior, and statesman; a great, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, fair-haired scion of the Goths, who won thirty pitched battles, founded two thousand churches, and died in 1276. Then there was his son, Peter the Third, a wise monarch, who added Catalonia and Valencia securely to Aragon, and gave to his people such a charter of liberty as at that time existed nowhere else in the world, not even in England. The motto of Aragon was: "Laws first, kings afterwards!" For nothing was an Aragonese so quick to draw the sword as for any breach of law committed by his sovereign. When a king was crowned, a noble addressed him:

"We, each of whom is as good as you, and who altogether are more powerful, make you our king, so long as you shall respect our charter, and no longer."

I am afraid that in securing their own rights against the king the nobles of Aragon did not pay as much attention as they might have done to the rights of their vassals against themselves; as the English barons at Runnymede did not include in their bill of rights any guarantees for poor men against oppression by King John or by themselves.

There was a king named Peter the Ceremonious, who was cold as a stone and pitiless as a tiger; be reigned fifty years, and did much to strengthen his kingdom by his calculating policy. And his son, John the Careless, who reigned from 1387 to 1395, made Aragon famous by keeping the most splendid court of Europe. It was under him that Barcelona and Valencia became rivals of Genoa and Venice for the commerce of the world. Their ships were to be seen in every ocean, and their storehouses were filled with rich goods from every part of the world. All the great islands of the Western Mediterranean belonged at this time to Aragon.

In the middle of the fifteenth century both Aragon and Castile were about to be plunged into civil wars over the crown. Both states had grown so rich that their thrones were prizes worth capturing, and it was evident to wise men that the only security for peace would be the union of the two kingdoms in one hand, strong enough to put down rebellion and to repel foreign attack. These wise men saw a chance of realizing their hopes when, on April 22nd, 1451, the heir to the throne of Castile proved to be a girl—Isabella; and on March 15th following an heir to the throne of Aragon was born, in the person of Ferdinand, who was afterwards known as Ferdinand the Catholic. Far-seeing people discerned that these two ought to marry.

They met when Isabella was eighteen and Ferdinand seventeen, fell in love at first sight, and the marriage contract was signed forthwith. Ferdinand was a good-looking boy, who could ride well, talk fluently, and say pleasant things to every one; his eyes were bright, his complexion fair. Isabella was blue-eyed, with chestnut hair; she was almost a beauty; her figure was perfect; her manner was gracious, and was marked by a modesty which is not always observed in queens. When the marriage was arranged Isabella went to live at Valladolid, on the Douro. Stories reached Ferdinand's ear that she ran some risk of being kidnapped by one of the many royal suitors who aspired to her hand; so without notice to any one he slipped away, with only six attendants, and rode breakneck to Valladolid, travelling under a feigned name. When he told his fears to his lady love, she fell on his breast, declaring she would not leave him again; and accordingly, on October 19th, 1469, in the palace of Don Juan de Vivero, and in the presence of a party of invited guests, the two children were married. It was not till five years later that the wedding celebration took place at Segovia, and that a herald, after blowing his trumpet, lustily proclaimed:

"Hear all ye people of Castile and Aragon, the King Don Ferdinand, and his wife, Dona Isabella, are proprietors-sovereign of these kingdoms!"

It is now time that I should tell you something about the Moors, who fill so large a place in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.