Isabella of Castile - O. O. Howard

Domestic Troubles

"When joy no longer soothes or cheers,

And ev'n the hope that threw

A moment's sparkle o'er our tears

Is dimmed and vanished too;

"Oh, who would bear life's stormy doom,

Did not thy wing of love

Come, brightly wafting through the gloom

Our peace branch from above?"


Columbus and Isabel


Decline of Health (1496)—The Queen's Sombre Review of Her Family—Her Daughter Isabel's Return in Sorrow—Her Espousal to King Emanual of Portugal—Catalina Affianced to Arthur, Prince of Wales—Don Juan, the Only Son, Married to Marguerita of Austria—A Review of the Ceremonies—Donna Juana, the Third Daughter, Went to Flanders, and Was Married to Philip, an Austrian Prince—Emanuel's Marriage to Isabel at Alcantara—Isabella was There—The Sudden Sickness and Death of Don Juan Stops the Festivities—Philip and Juana Claim the Succession—Isabella Sides with Emanuel and Isabel —The Queen's Impatience at Aragon's Opposition—Birth of Miguel and Death of Mother Isabel—Miguel the Heir—his Death—Juana Obtained the Succession—Don Carlos, afterward Emperor Charles V., Born to Juana at Ghent—He Became the Heir to Isabella—King Emanuel of Portugal Married the Fourth Daughter, Maria—The Queen's Grief Over Philip's Misconduct and Juana's Singular Insanity.

In 1496 the long strain of her labor and anxiety, in public, in private, in war, and in peace, in the councils of her court and in the family circle, began sensibly to affect Isabella's extraordinary constitution.

During the latter years of her mother's life—that mother, whom she had always devotedly loved, and who had before at intervals showed symptoms of mental aberration, became decidedly insane. This increased the queen's cares and solicitude. After her death a reaction came upon Isabella herself. While her health declined, her thoughts concerning her own children seem to have taken a sombre turn. She had one son and four daughters. The eldest child, Isabel, who in 1490 had married Alonso, the son of the King of Portugal, and lost him during the wedding tour, had in deep sorrow returned to pour out her griefs upon the bosom of her loving mother. Emanuel, the brother of Alonso, coming to the throne, had repeatedly solicited the hand of the stricken widow. At last, beginning to realize his genuine love for her, a love dating back to their early acquaintance at Elvora, she decided to accept him, and their marriage was to take place quietly, at her wish, in the presence of her father and mother, in 1497, at Alcantara. As this daughter was now as happy as one who so deeply deplored the loss of her first spouse could well be, the queen was not over-anxious concerning her future.

The betrothal of the second daughter, Catalina, came soon after her grandmother's death (October 1st, 1496. She .was affianced to Arthur, Prince of Wales. At the time of the ceremony—as Catalina was but eleven and her husband not many months her senior—the marriage, at best a political bond, was not to be consummated till some years later.

One can well imagine that no ambition for her child could prevent the queen from having many misgivings over such a heartless arrangement, so soon to become worse when, after the death of Arthur, in 1502, she should become the wife of his faithless, unloving brother, Henry VIII.

A prophetic soul, should the future's veil lift but a little, might indeed be darkened in face of such cloudy visions. Don Juan, the only son, whom during childhood we have met at the court of the sovereigns, and later in campaign with his father, where he was knighted, had married Marguerita, the daughter of the German emperor, Maximilian. Don Juan was certainly a prince of great promise, not only for his own qualifications, which were of no mean order, but because, owing to the consolidation of States and kingdoms and the accessions of the New World, all brought under the sceptre of our sovereigns, he or his offspring would hold sway over the largest kingdom of any European monarch. What could be better now than this union of the powers of Austria and Spain? This marriage, so desirable, had been celebrated with a becoming ceremony. Ferdinand and Don Juan, called the Prince of the Asturias, during a frightful storm had waited for the royal fiancée  at Santander, on the Bay of Biscay. The Admiral of Spain, in spite of the terrific gale, had brought her hither and landed her in safety. She then had been grandly escorted to Burgos, where the good queen affectionately welcomed her to Castile. The marriage at the cathedral had followed. The famous Bishop of Toledo, successor to him who claimed to have raised Isabella from the distaff, performed the rites. Grand masters, city deputations, commune delegates, and a host of noblemen were approving witnesses. Then had come the feastings, the joustings, and other amusements of various sorts, arranged in the large, open square of the city. At the close, bride and groom had taken their way to Salamanca, to be welcomed to Aragon.

The same naval squadron which had brought the Princess Marguerita to Spain had carried to Flanders Donna Juana, the third child of Isabella. Her marriage with Philip, the Austrian prince, had been negotiated by grand deputies. It stipulated that Don Juan should marry the princess of Austria, and Philip, the Infanta Juana. And this alliance proved a strong bond between the two countries for generations.

It was late in August, 1496, when this fleet, to be freighted with empires, departed from Spain. Isabella had gone with her child to the northern harbor. The weather was already bad, and the queen would like to have had Juana go by land, but just then unpleasant relations with France prevented; so with many fears she bade her a loving farewell and saw her embark. Many ships of the fleet were driven to unknown havens, and some were wrecked, but at last happy tidings came back. Her daughter had reached Flanders in safety, and the great marriage had taken place.

Thus far, what could be added to complete the wishes, always ambitious for her children, which had pressed the mind and heart of this queen mother? Yet, in some way, inexplicable except from increasing bodily infirmities, Isabella's horizon began to darken; and, indeed, sorrows in abundance were already germinating.

In September, 1497, Emanuel's constancy to the noble widow of his unfortunate brother was rewarded. After the preliminaries were settled, Isabella and the king accompanied the young people as far as Alcantara. There the marriage was celebrated. The wedding party had been there but three days, and were still in the midst of the quiet though joyful festival deemed appropriate to the occasion, when the alarming report came to the sovereigns that the heir of the throne, their son, the prince, was dangerously ill at Salamanca. Ferdinand, leaving the queen under the greatest stress of anxiety, hastened to the bedside of the prince. But thirteen days of life remained to him after the attack. He died in his father's arms October 4th, 1497. Great as was the grief of Isabella, upon the solicitation of Emanuel she kept her sorrow so restrained as to preserve a bright face in the presence of the bride. They could not, however, long hold back the news from her; and her grief became extreme, for this brother and sister had greatly loved each other.

Probably the very necessity to console another alleviated the heart of the stricken queen. She displayed not only strong fortitude, but exemplary Christian submission and resignation. She reiterated the significant, divinely inspired words of the patriarch, which have relieved so many breaking hearts: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed he the name of the Lord."

For this prince there was a great mourning for forty days. Private houses as well as all the public buildings were draped in black. Already, though so young, the Prince of the Asturias had awakened for himself a sincere regard, and the people were looking forward with high hopes to his succession to the throne; but Providence did not so order.

The family history continued in sorrow. Every new phase of it afflicted the heart of Queen Isabella.

Marguerita, the charming princess, full of wit and intelligence, the widow of Don Juan, so heavily afflicted while she was yet a bride, in the spring of 1498 had a child born to her, but without life. This fact was another source of perplexity as well as grief to the queen, for controversy touching the succession and party strife began immediately to make their appearance.

Philip, the Archduke of Austria, and Juana, his wife, as soon as the death of the Prince of the Asturias became known, assumed the title of Princes of Castile—a title which, according to Castilian custom, belonged to the heir of the first born. In fact, they claimed the succession, and publicly asserted it. Isabella addressed them personally and officially, and commanded them to surrender this claim.

Her daughter Isabel was the elder. Soon after she and King Emanuel, her husband, were invited by the queen to join her at Toledo, where the court was again sojourning. They arrived April 26th, 1498. Ferdinand and Isabella being present, the Cortes, then assembled, formally recognized and proclaimed Emanuel and Isabel, his wife, as Princes of Castile, The nobles of Castile and Leon gave to them willing and hearty homage; and they returned in joy and hope to Portugal. But just as this matter seemed to be settled, the queen, almost too ill to bear the strain, heard of a strong opposition from Aragon. A cousin of Ferdinand set up his claim, because he was the first male in the line of promotion. Several declarations of law in Aragon had excluded females. The consequence was that the sovereigns made an immediate and speedy journey to Saragossa and assembled the Cortes, and asked that body to recognize the King and Queen of Portugal. There was much feeling, much discussion, and much delay. It was at this time that Isabella became impatient, and forgot her usual respect for the nobles and delegates of the realm. This is the indignant language imputed to her: "Would it not be more honorable, and easier, too, to make simply a conquest and tame this nation (Aragon) by force of arms than to tolerate the arrogance of the Cortes and the insolence of the people?"

On August 23d, 1498, while this strife continued, a son was born to the King and Queen of Portugal. Yet, seemingly to crush the queen still more in her ardent affections, her cherished child, Isabel, had died in giving this son to the world.

Her body was reverently brought to her mourning parents at Saragossa, and laid away there in the great convent of St. Elizabeth. The babe, Miguel, was at once recognized by that obstinate Cortes as a Prince of Aragon and heir to the crown. It seems that a woman could transmit a kingly right that she herself did not possess.

Miguel was a weakly child, and in the spring of 1500, just before he was a year and a half old, he sickened and died.

The archduke and Juana were now foremost in the royal family; for besides the fact that Juana was the eldest of Isabella's children, she had already, a few days before the decease of little Miguel, given birth, at Ghent, to a son, whom the parents named Don Carlos. This hopeful event took place February 24th, 1500. This grandchild of Isabella was destined to become more distinguished than any man then living—to govern his kingdom and do his work and enter into history under the name of Emperor Charles V.

Maria, the fourth daughter of our queen, after considerable disappointing experience in the lists of marriage diplomacy, being much sought for by an Italian king and a prince, at last had a marriage in keeping with her heart's choice. King Emanuel, her brother-in-law, was the fortunate man. The Pope, with some show of reluctance, at last granted the release from the rule of consanguinity, and the happy pair were betrothed in August, 1500. On account of the recent deaths there was no public pageant or court festival. Maria, properly escorted, arrived in Portugal October loth, and the marriage was solemnized ten days later at Castillo del Sal.

One author sums up Emanuel's and Maria's history in this pleasant sentence: "This was a happy alliance." Though the fruits of Juana's marriage proved to be great, yet one could never properly use the word happy in connection with her long life.

Isabella did not live long enough to suffer with her daughter Catalina, who, after her child-marriage, lost her young husband, and was then wedded to the new Prince of Wales, himself but twelve years of age at the time of his betrothal, who in after years, as Henry VIII. of England, gave to her a life of loneliness, wretchedness, and final repudiation.

But if bitter experience is good for the soul, as many people believe, Isabella, weary, worn with health failing, and age creeping on, had enough of such trial through the conduct of her son-in-law, Philip, the archduke, and not less through the singular malady of her sorrow-burdened daughter, Juana, who at times exhibited marked mental derangement. Not long after Catalina's departure from the court of Castile, on January 29th, 1501, Philip and his wife arrived at the Spanish border. A distinguished party of noblemen, dispatched by the queen, met them and conducted them by slow journeys from city to city. As the heirs to the throne, they were feted and everywhere grandly received. It was not until May 7th that they met the sovereign parents coming from Andalusia at Toledo. The court and nobles around gave them a warm welcome.

The ensuing 22nd of the same month the Cortes assembled at Toledo, and extended to the young prince and princess their recognition as the heirs of succession, and they took the prescribed oath. By the following October the Cortes of Aragon at Saragossa, after an effective preceding visit of King Ferdinand, upon their arrival did the same as the Cortes of Toledo. It was said that Isabella's daughter Juana was the first princess ever permitted to be sworn in Aragon. This was a happy, distinctive event; but the queen mother was too ill and too weak to make the journey.

Juana soon returned. But the comfort of the queen was much disturbed by the unhappiness of her daughter. Her heart seemed to turn against the queen, and Philip's eccentric course gave her no joy and little help. He was fickle in purpose and headstrong, and often indulged himself in paroxysms of temper. The queen felt that no confidence could ever be placed in him. He was disrespectful to her, and showed such a marked dislike for his unhappy wife that Isabella dreaded the consequences of her own decease—an event which she had already begun to anticipate. She thought that Philip, after her departure, would give her husband no end of trouble.

Neither Marguerita nor Philip liked the Spaniards' dignified ways. And the people about the queen reciprocated their dislikes. She greatly desired his permanent residence in Spain, and this particularly with a view to lessening his roughness, reconciling the people to his ways, and smoothing away the hindrances to his prospective rule. He would not stay. He loved France and French ways better than Spain's. His wife begged him to remain; but for her wishes he had no regard. He showed her no affection nor respect. He would go first to the French court and thence to his own proper Flemish dominions, where he declared he could at least have ease and freedom.

In December, 1502, less than two years after his arrival in Spain, against the strong entreaties of his wife and the clear-sighted counsel of the sovereigns, he departed. Poor, broken-hearted Juana, then not in condition to accompany him, against her heart wish, was left with her mother. After his going the deserted wife would not be consoled. The alienation from everybody around her, including her fond mother, indicated a condition of mind bordering on insanity. Her love for Philip was phenomenal. His coldness, indifference, and final desertion only increased her sentiment of devotion. "Mute and motionless, her eyes fixed on the ground, regardless of everything around her, having no thought of her future subjects, and careless of her children's welfare, she spent her weary days, mentally numbering those that would elapse before she should be united to the object of her doting fondness."

Such is the picture an old author gives of this young princess, who, unable to get a glimpse of coming things, was already the mother of one who was to be the foremost man of his age. All hope within her seemed dead.

On March 10th, 1503, Juana's second son was born. They named him Ferdinand. Even this child gave her no apparent joy. "Let me go to Flanders!" was her repeated cry. In November of that year Philip sent his assent. Juana, in spite of her mother's cogent fears and the inclemency of the season, could not be persuaded to stay. In fact, opposition so greatly increased her malady that fears of completely destroying her intellect were rife. Once, while living at the Castle de la Mota, in Medina del Campo, the queen was called back from Segovia, whither she had gone for a temporary visit, at the news that Juana had actually undertaken to depart, and alone. Without any preparation, with a confused notion of joining her husband, the half-demented woman started on foot. Her attendants were quick enough to shut in her face the outer gates. Angry at this interference, Juana would not return, but persisted in staying at the outside gate of the castle till morning; and she would not even allow any one to wrap her in sufficient clothing to resist the extreme winter cold. The Bishop of Burgos, who in some way had charge of Juana's affairs, fearing to use too much force, and feeling the danger of yielding altogether to her obstinacy, sent a messenger to the queen.

The admiral and the archbishop, who were with the queen, hastened on to see what they could do to quiet Juana and cause her return to the castle, while Isabella followed, riding back as rapidly as her own extreme weakness would warrant. The distinguished friends had succeeded in getting the afflicted daughter to sleep in a wretched out-room that had been used as a kitchen; but at dawn of the following day she broke away and ran again to the gate, and there remained immovable till her mother's arrival.

Isabella with no little difficulty had her restrained and conducted to her proper rooms. It was by this time so evident to the queen that but one idea possessed Juana's thought that she decided to yield to her wish, and so consented to the journey to Flanders. Under the mother's reiterated promise, the departure was carefully prepared for, though put off till the end of March, 1504. But the effect of the extreme anxiety, watchfulness, and fatigue was too severe a trial for Isabella herself. Juana's forlorn condition became a constant worry to Isabella and gave the finishing touch to her sorrow.