Isabella of Castile - O. O. Howard

Schemes of King Henry

"What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?

Thrice is he armed that has his quarrel just;

And he but naked, though locked in steel,

Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."


The Schemes of King Henry and Villena—The Village of Lozova—The Conference (October, 1470) Between Henry's Court and the French Ambassadors—Juana Declared Legitimate—Isabella's Right of Succession Openly Recalled—Juana Affianced to the Duke of Guienne Louis' Brother—How the Nobles Abandoned Isabella on Account of the French Alliance—Emeute at Valladolid—Isabella's Friend Vivero Punished by the King—Her First Child Born at Duenos—Aragon's Border War—Ferdinand Carries Succor to His Father in Perpignon—Isabella's Removal to Aranda—Beatriz's Secret Visit to Her—Her Sudden Arrival at Segovia —Henry's Pleasant Reception — Ferdinand's Return—King Henry's Sickness and Attempt to Imprison the Consorts—How They Escaped.

It will be remembered that the date of Isabella's marriage at Valladolid was October 19th, 1469. Henry and Villena not far away spent a year in scheming and negotiating, with the hope of somehow undoing what had already been settled, with what results will soon appear. There is a small village just across the mountain eastward from Segovia, where at this period the court of Castile often sojourned. The name of the noted valley with its village is Lozoya. The king, Henry, and some of his court in October, 1470, went thither to meet distinguished plenipotentiaries sent from France by the French king, Louis XI. At this conference the conspiring nobles showed their designs. A public declaration was drawn up and promulgated—to wit, that Isabella had married against her promise made in the Treaty of Toros de Guisando; that, therefore, by this act she forfeited her rights to the Castilian succession; and that the story concerning Juana's illegitimacy was untrue, Henry and his queen now swearing, contrary to former admissions, that she was legitimate. Then finally this Princess Juana, at the time but nine years old, became formally affianced to the Duke of Guienne, the brother of King Louis XI. This duke, it must be recalled, was one of the rejected suitors of Isabella of Castile.

Many of the most prominent Spanish nobles, who, after their own urgent solicitation, had put Isabella at the head of their party and sworn allegiance to her as the rightful successor to the crown, now shamefully abandoned her cause, and took formal oath to support the child Juana. They at this time supposed that all the strength of France would be behind this new arrangement, and so their time-serving hearts did not scruple to inaugurate a new and cunningly contrived perfidy. But conspirators bent upon wrong-doing seldom count sufficiently upon reactions. Isabella was popular in Castile from her childhood, and more so after her union with Ferdinand, then the favorite young prince. In the northern and southern provinces of Castile, as we have seen, powerful interests had already declared in her favor. Henry's recent effort to secure a French alliance through the illegitimate daughter worked more strongly against him in all those sections and to some degree in other provinces. Isabella now began to have sufficient supplies and strong military support. As so much of the princess's great future depended upon the manner in which, while she remained at Duenos, she conducted her intercourse with different noble houses, we may profitably dwell for a short time upon some of the details. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia, who, with his powerful relationship, now took open ground for Isabella, carried with him all the aristocracy of Andalusia. Then there was still steadfast the Archbishop of Toledo. While much annoyed at Ferdinand's late apparent want of respect for his position, and perhaps more so at Isabella, who, although, as he thought, she owed all her elevation and present advantage to him, had seemingly cooled toward him, yet this powerful prelate remained substantially on her side. There was something due to his committal and something to his taste. The bishop disliked fickleness, and did like Isabella's little court better than the other. When that court was yet in miniature and half starving, there was indeed something about it pleasantly simple, healthy, something unusually refreshing, an atmosphere wonderfully clear in contrast with the gross dissoluteness of Henry's household. The influence of it was, in fact, immense, at least among the honest people, as soon as its nature little by little became known. So it came to pass before long that, though the Pachecos, the Velascos, the Zunigos, and other noble families at and after the conference of Lozoya took the side of Juana, the house of Mendoza returned to Isabella. Pedro Gonzales de Mendoza, Cardinal of Spain, began a hopeful correspondence with Ferdinand at Duenos; and afterward the young prince, who was never idle, won to himself the head of the house, the Duke of Infantado, by a timely service that he rendered him. Upon the different branches of that house the consorts could even now count with moral certainty. And all the while Cabrera, the husband of Isabella's bosom friend, Beatriz de Bobadilla, and Governor of Segovia, being the custodian of Henry's royal treasure, which was kept in that impregnable stronghold, was drawn to Isabella by two powerful motives: the one the natural friendship represented by his wife's relationship, and the other his feelings of antipathy to and jealousy of Villena, the Grand Master of Santiago, for there was jealousy mixed in this cup which promoted the differences of these two. Villena oftener had the ear of the king. Disguised as a peasant woman, Cabrera's wife left Segovia and came to Aranda de Duero, to which place Isabella some time before had moved her court from Duenos. Beatriz assured her friend that she could place full confidence in Cabrera, her husband, and further, that she and her husband were endeavoring to bring her, Isabella, and the king together in Segovia, and that when everything should be ready Isabella could go there without fear or hesitation.

Before, however, we develop this most important part of Isabella's history, let us return to Duenos and see how it is that, during an absence of her husband in Aragon, she is found at Aranda de Duero. That first year of married life, spent mostly at Duenos, is sufficiently interesting to warrant a few items of its history. At one time, after the couple left Valladolid, strange troubles arose, which gave King Henry occasion to endeavor to strengthen his authority. The populace, after some exciting cause, had given itself up afresh to that favorite mediaeval amusement which, ever since, in many countries has had a periodic existence—viz., a persecution of the Jews. It became so bitter at this time that it brought on a collision of arms. Isabella and her husband, trusting to the affection of the citizens, which had been already exhibited, hastened from Duenos to use their position and influence to quell the disturbance, but they themselves barely escaped open resistance. Henry, upon the desperate cries of the Jews for help, sent Count Benavente to succor them. He rewarded this gentleman by giving him the houses and estates of Juan de Vinero. The marriage of Isabella at Vinero's castle and his devotion to her had displeased the king; hence this high-handed confiscation. After the excitement of this small emeute at Valladolid the consorts returned to Duenos, and soon after Isabella, on October 2nd, 1470, gave birth to her first child, a daughter, whom they named Isabel. Before many days Ferdinand was obliged to leave his wife and child at the command of his father.

Some province of John of Aragon, near the French border, had been placed under France as a sort of collateral guarantee that Aragon would fulfill its treaty promises. France, having weakened the garrisons along that border for distant use, the people suddenly rose to throw off the French yoke. John of Aragon sided with the insurrectionists, and very speedily all the pledged territory, except a few castles, was regained by him. Into one of these at Perpignon, against every remonstrance, acting for its defence, the brave old king had gone. The French king, having seen the turn affairs were taking, had sent forward troops in abundance under the Duke of Savoy, one of his best generals. While these forces were approaching Perpignon the friends of King John were greatly alarmed for his safety, as well as for the result of his bold resistance to the French. There was a loud call for his son, Ferdinand, which reached him at Duenos. As soon as he brought the news of his father's perilous situation to Isabella, she agreed with him that both filial affection and patriotic duty bade him start at once for the field of strife. It was at this time that the Archbishop of Toledo, generously overlooking Ferdinand's past slights of manner or seeming want of respect to his injunctions, came forward and tendered to him a cavalry command armed and equipped for the war.

The young prince had now his first great trial, the first separation from his queenly wife; but we judge that in the thrill to his young blood of perilous enterprise it was harder for her than for him. However blanched by her fears for his safety, however tried in view of the uncertain issues at home in these disjointed times, this noble young woman buckled on his sword without a murmur, bade him an affectionate adieu in a last embrace, while she asked Heaven to watch over him and give him a speedy and triumphant return. How, after his departure, she passed into her secret chamber to grow weaker and paler and give way to abundant tears, till God had strengthened her heart and steeled her loyal soul to bear more heroically the burden of separation and long waiting, was known only to herself and Heaven. By such parting griefs and secret triumphs women with great hearts are often schooled, and through suffering arrive at the higher planes of character. This preparation, separation, and prolonged absence were among the beginnings of Isabella's character-making experiences. What Ferdinand accomplished in this sudden march may be told briefly. He gathered reinforcements from Aragon, till his army numbered nearly ten thousand. He then pushed on with marvellous speed, till he had gained the summit of the Pyrenees. He cleared the eastern mountain slopes at a time when there was such a blinding storm that nobody on the other side had dreamed of the approach of troops. As he drew near, the enemy abandoned the siege of Perpignon, and fled. Prescott sums up the results in one of his graphic sentences: "John (the father) marched out, with colors flying and music playing, at the head of his little hand, to greet his deliverers; and after an affecting interview in the presence of the two armies, the father and son returned in triumph into Perpignon."

It requires no stretch of the imagination to follow the escorted messengers of rank who recrossed the Pyrenees, and rode with joyous speed over the intervening mountains, hills, and dales to bear the first glad news of Ferdinand's safety, enterprise, and success to his expectant princess. These good tidings were sweet indeed, and the bearers doubtless had reason to remember her happy recognition of their arduous service.

But she, too, had a good report to send back by them more slowly returning after their much-needed rest; for Isabella had not been idle. Both duty and feeling constrained her to activity. To hearts loving abundant work assuages the pain of separation. After Ferdinand's departure Isabella led her little court from Duenos to Aranda de Duero. We surmise that this move was made because this city was some fifty miles nearer her husband; because it was under the direct protection of Enriquez, the Admiral of Castile, and his friends, for, as we have before seen, he joined in his own person the interests of Castile and Aragon; and further, because just then the loyalty of the surrounding country and the abundance of supplies added no little strength to her motives of action.

Beatriz Bobadilla found her way to this Aranda de Duero, and Isabella gave to her message an attentive ear; but she could hardly trust herself to journey southward to Segovia while Villena was still there. Her brother w a s too changeable to risk a promise from him.

But Beatriz urged that Cabrera controlled the king's money, and so, whether the latter realized it or not, he measurably controlled the king himself. Isabella again wisely called the old Archbishop of Toledo into her council. "Go by all means," he said; "I will be your escort." They quickly made the journey, and Isabella was warmly received and entertained at the house of her devoted friend. Henry was just then in one of his changeable moods. Possibly he was tiring of Villena. The French king, cooling in his friendship, had recently made peace with Ferdinand's father. The Duke of Guienne, from France, was seeking another alliance than that of Beltraneja; and prominent Castilian houses one after another were turning away and proving untrue to the plans and schemes that Villena so adroitly had led him to adopt. So that Cabrera did not reckon without his host when he invited the sister and brother to a meeting. The wily Villena for the time was taken completely by surprise. When notified, Isabella was already at the house of Cabrera. He did not know what all this meant; and suspecting treachery among his allies, he fled to Ayllon, a small village near Segovia. The king was hunting near Segovia when he heard of her approach. He came at once to meet his sister, and appeared full of amiable intentions; he even held the bridle of her palfrey while she was riding through the city. We are assured that Isabella did not long delay now to make a new petition to Henry in person—namely, to overlook the past, and to give his much-desired benediction to her marriage. Henry at least appeared to be her friend, so much so that she remained some time at Segovia, while Ferdinand, making all possible speed, returned to Castile and joined her in that city. Henry welcomed the much-praised young hero without stint. What comfort! At last there was to be a wholesome peace throughout Castile and Aragon, and the future to Isabella and her returned soldier-prince looked never before so bright. The two courts intermingled and multiplied their pleasant entertainments, and though there were no documents drawn or new pledges given, everything seemed to be settled by a tacit understanding.

Of course at this time the Marquis of Villena, now become the Grand Master of Santiago, finding the drift of affairs, and especially that there was no counterplot against him, came back to Segovia, and with his royal master, showing as gracious a front as possible, enjoyed the love-feasts which were so abundant. The guests were well supplied, and Henry kept among them.. He commended the keeper of his treasure for his royal hospitality, but—woe betide the misfortune! —soon after eating he was taken suddenly ill. Who has not been so served after such a feast? Suspicions of poisoning were carefully circulated, so that the ailing king should hear them. He was for a time really alarmed, and listening anew to the schemes of those in the interest of the grand master, the late marquis, he resolved to seize and imprison the sister who had so recently ventured within his power. From this fell issue of her visit the constancy of Cabrera, Beatriz, and other friends, coupled with her own unremitting vigilance, protected her, so that this wretched brother's new enterprise, carefully and treacherously planned for him, came to naught.

The detail of these proceedings is something as follows: The grand master, hurrying away, sent confidential letters to the king as soon as his sickness seemed to have a serious turn, entreating him during a night fixed upon to seize upon Segovia by force of arms and take both Isabella and Ferdinand prisoners, for he now had them in his net! In this commendable work the grand conspirator promised Henry aid, strong and adequate; but such a plan could not be kept secret even long enough for a safe and thorough execution. Isabella and her friends, as was intimated, were too wary for so dreadful a consummation. As soon as she heard of what was impending she insisted on Ferdinand's instant departure to Tarragona, for he was and would be needed outside of Segovia. He obeyed her wish, while she confined herself to her comparatively safe retreat in the Alcazar, really a bona fide citadel in the possession of her friends, determined to probe all this royal and master manoeuvring, and to wait within this grand Alcazar for results, whether to be auspicious or otherwise. Herein, at any rate, were the rich treasures of the royal household, which she and her devoted friends, the Cabreras, might somehow guard against a time of need. That event, which then seemed little more than a dream, was not very long in coming.