Isabella I of Castile
Isabella I, sometimes called the Catholic Queen, is one of the most memorable figures of the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period. Isabella married Ferdinand of Aragon and together the couple united Spain and formed a powerful kingdom, encompassing both Castile and Aragon in 1479. Unlike many royal couples, these two ruled as equals; Isabella’s voice mattered as much as King Ferdinand’s. Thus, Isabella bears equal, or in some instances, perhaps more responsibility for the atrocities committed during their reign.
In 1478, Isabella and Ferdinand requested Pope Sixtus IV establish the Spanish Inquisition, and the Inquisition began in 1480. The goal of the Inquisition was simple; they wanted to remove any questionable elements of faith from the Spain, or to eliminate anyone who was not a devout Catholic. Jews practicing in secret and those who had recently converted to Christianity, called conversos, were at particularly high risk. Some 13,000 conversos were put on trial during the Inquisition. While the exact number of those killed, typically by burning at the stake, is unknown, it’s likely that around 2,000 people, nearly all of Jewish origin, were killed over a 12-year period. In 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand expelled the Jews from Spain, forcing them on a long and arduous trek to find sanctuary elsewhere.
During the same period, Isabella was actively at war to reclaim Muslim territories in Spain, including the city of Granada. The majority of the troops were provided by Isabella and the territory of Castile. After the war, the Muslim population was forced to flee, to convert or to become slaves. During this war, Castilian forces widely destroyed crops and pillaged the surrounding lands, relying heavily on both artillery and siege warfare.
Finally, Isabella supported the exploratory mission of Christopher Columbus, and benefited greatly from the substantial wealth imported from the New World. This wealth was, of course, mined on the backs of the native peoples of the Americas, on their enslavement, and in many cases, on their murders. Isabella herself hoped to convert the people of the Americas to Christianity and wished them to be well-treated.
For the Catholic people of Spain, Isabella was, in many ways, a good ruler. She created an artistic and intellectual court, expanded the land of Spain and united the country; however, she did all of this at a very high cost to other portions of her people, including and particularly the Jews of Spain, the Muslims of Spain, and the peoples of the Americas.