Isabella of Castile - O. O. Howard

Much of this story of the life of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain is dedicated to military conflicts and civil wars that consumed much of the time and resources of the Spanish monarchs. As soon as Isabel came to the throne, the prince of Portugal challenged her claim, nobles tried to assert their independence, and the Moors threatened to revolt. Only through great perseverance and courage was Isabella able to quell rebellion and bring all of Spain under a single crown.

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[Title] from Isabella of Castile by O. O. Howard
Isabella of Castile


[Title Page] from Isabella of Castile by O. O. Howard
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About two years ago I was in Cuba. When officially calling upon the captain-general, we were speaking of the part Queen Isabella bore in the discovery of America. I remarked that we Americans recognize the fact that she was the patroness who rendered Columbus's voyage a reality. "Yes," he answered, "but why is it that in all America there is not a monument raised to her memory?"

Having returned to New York, I resolved to do what I could to awaken an interest in the life of one to whom we as a people owe so much. If I had not the means or the influence sufficient to raise a monument, I could at least make a faithful study of her life, and write a sketch of it from the view-point of to-day. This Columbian period I have deemed most favorable for the effort. As soon as the task was undertaken, I felt at once that I must have more personal knowledge of the places where this remarkable woman lived and wrought; so that, taking a brief leave of absence, I went to Spain and visited Madrigal, the place of her birth and baptism; Arevalo, the place where she was at school; Medina del Campo, where she often sojourned and where she died; Granada, the place of her greatest triumph, and many other cities where she held her brilliant, itinerant court.

There was also another object which occurred to me more germane to my military calling—it was that Isabella lived through three wars, and that in the main the history of the campaigns and battles of those wars is the history of her active life. The study of that period is indeed a military study, and one full of good lessons to him who would be prepared for war or to him who would avoid wars.

If one could put into attractive biographic form his military researches, he might give to military students a pleasanter task than the dry studies of tactics and strategy. I have sought to do this. The results of my search in cities, galleries, and books I have embodied in this little volume, which I hope my friends will read and find their interest quickened to some degree in a remarkable historic character.

According to my judgment, Isabella, admitting the faults which the keenest critics have ascribed to her, is worthy of a high niche in the gallery of honor for her virtues and her achievements, and of a special remembrance among us for the generous and fearless support she gave to Columbus in the hours of his greatest need.

Let the bright and rich New World not forget to give glory to whom glory is due. Queen Isabella of Castile rightly claims a goodly portion of glory.

While we are wreathing the brow of the great Genoese with those unfading laurels that peoples of the twelfth generation are bringing to him and those connected with him, let not his patroness be kept in the background.


Major-General United States Army.


Attitude of Isabella Toward Columbus

(Extract from Don Emilio Castelar)

"Up and onward! toward the East,

Green oases thou shalt find,

Streams that rise from higher sources,

Than the pools thou leav'st behind.

"Life has import more inspiring

Than the fancies of thy youth;

It has hopes as high as Heaven;

It has labor, it has truth;

"It has wrongs that may be righted,

Noble deeds that may be done,

Its great battles are unfought,

Its great triumphs are unwon."


Columbus went about so ill clad that he was named "The Stranger with the Thread-bare Cloak." In this straitened condition he presented himself before the royal pair. In Ferdinand political sagacity predominated; in Isabella, the moral nature. The pious king believed, notwithstanding his piety, in the efficacy of works, and professed the dogma of aiding to execute the Divine will, which he generally found favorable to his undertakings; Isabella, with her enthusiasm, trusted in her hopes and in prayer. The queen was all spontaneity, the king all reflection. She trod the paths of good in order to attain to good; but he scrupled little to resort to dissimulation, deceit, and, in case of necessity, to crime. Valiant and warlike, Ferdinand joined the strength of the lion to instincts of the fox. Perchance in all history there has not been his equal in energy and craftiness. He was distrustful above all else; she, above all, was confiding. He was all mind; she all heart. Isabella took pleasure in increasing the number of her vassals, that she might possess dominion over human souls, whereby to swell the ranks of true believers upon earth and of the elect in heaven; Ferdinand took pleasure likewise in the growth of the Church and Christianity; but above such religious gratification he set the satisfaction born of domination and conquest. Daughter of a learned king and of an English mother who died bereft of reason, Isabella had a clear perception of ideas, and lived in a ceaseless state of exaltation. Son of that quarrelsome and wily king, John II. of Aragon, and of a mother of masculine and ambitious nature, Ferdinand inherited on the paternal side a mixture of political and warlike temperaments, and on the maternal that incredible ambition which led him to add to his royal house and to his native country by conquest and by marriage.

The two founded the Inquisition: Ferdinand for political reasons, Isabella for religious ends. Both were conquerors; Isabella gained Granada for Castile, and Ferdinand Navarre for his Aragon. The conquest of Granada reads like some book of chivalry; the conquest of Navarre, like a chapter of Machiavelli. By the one achievement Isabella expelled the Moors, and by the other Ferdinand drove the French from our peninsula.

As a natural consequence of their different temperaments, Isabella and Ferdinand each dealt with Columbus as their individual natures prompted; the queen ever enthusiastic, the king, as usual, cautious, guarded, crafty, and reserved. He computed the cost of the enterprise and the returns it might yield; she thought only of spreading the dominions of her idolized Castile, and winning souls to Christianity. Besides all this the sea had its temptations for the Queen of Castile, for all her enterprises and conquests tended oceanward, just as her great rivers, the Tagus, the Duero, the Guadalquivir, and the Mino flowed toward the main. With Ferdinand it was quite the other way; his conquests trended, like the Ebro, the Llobregat, and the Turia, toward the waters of the Mediterranean. The Canaries were the island domain of Isabella; the insular possessions of Ferdinand stretched from the Balearic Islands to Sicily. Ferdinand dreamed only of Italy; Isabella of Africa. Hence the one looked toward the past, the other toward the future. But both were great with measureless greatness; for they assumed the stature of a great idea, and obeyed, by ways and deeds as much in contrast as their characters, the quickening impulsive of the creative era in which they lived. The unity of the State, of the territory, of the laws was imposed upon them by the age, and to the attainment of such unity were all their efforts consecrated; so that, besides winning for themselves renown, they did good service to their nation and their time.

The sovereigns heard Columbus after their respective natures, Isabella with enthusiasm and Ferdinand with reserve.