16 People in History Who Schemed and Plotted Their Way to the Top

Beltran de la Cueva. Mariano Carbo/Wikipedia.

12. Beltran de la Cueva Caused a Royal Family Feud

Queen Isabella, the famous Spanish queen who, with her husband, Ferdinand, funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World, may not have had a claim to the throne without the dubious dealings of Beltran de la Cueva. Her half-brother, Enrique IV (referred to in English as King Henry) had a daughter, Juana, who should have been next in line for the throne. However, when Enrique died, Isabella insisted that Juana not be the legitimate son of Enrique but was actually the love child of her mother’s lover, Beltran de la Cueva. The result was the War of Succession, a bloody civil war that lasted for four years.

As a boy, Beltran de la Cueva was brought to the court by the king, who wanted to show his gratitude to the boy’s father. De la Cueva used his influence to deceive and manipulate the king, and also to win the heart of the king’s wife. His affair with her led to the war that claimed many, many lives. However, Juana never claimed that de la Cueva was her birth father, even though her dubious parentage cost her the throne. For the rest of her life, she signed her letters as, “I, the Queen.”