Unifying force of Spain and defender of the Catholic faith
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Brief Bio: Isabella of Castile, Spanish, 1451-1504
Also known as Isabella the Catholic, Isabella was the queen of Castile and Leon from 1474 to 1504. During her reign she cleared the kingdoms of enormous debt, introduced a number of governmental reforms, brought the crime rate to the lowest in years and was responsible for the unification of Spain.
1. She was the first woman on a US dollar coin
In 1893, just over 400 years after Columbus’s fateful voyage, a coin was issued in the United States with Isabella’s image on it. That same year she also became the first woman featured on a commemorative US postage stamp, when she was shown alongside Columbus on the eight-cent stamp.
2. Columbus wouldn’t have found America without her
It was with Isabella’s backing that Christopher Columbus was able to afford his voyage that led to the discovery of the New World, which brought wealth and new lands to Spain. When Native Americans were brought back as slaves Isabella demanded they be set free.
3. She created the Spanish Inquisition
Isabella and her husband Ferdinand II established the notorious Spanish Inquisition to ensure that Jews and Muslims who had recently converted to Christianity were keeping to their new faith. She also commanded that all Jews and Muslims in Spain who refused to convert to Christianity be immediately exiled.
4. Henry VIII was her son in law
Of her seven children, two were stillborn. Five lived to see adulthood, one of whom was Joanna, nicknamed ‘Joanna the mad’ for her mental instability. However, her daughter Catherine of Aragon went on to become the first wife of Henry VIII, making Isabella the grandmother of Queen Mary I of England.
5. She had a marriage prenuptial
When Isabella of Castile married Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 they joined their two kingdoms together, although they maintained elements of independence. Before their union a prenuptial was signed saying they would share power under the saying ‘tanto monta, monta tanto’ – ‘equal opposites in balance.’
Originally published in All About History 19