Ferdinand and Isabella were one of the most famous power couples in European history. They had an incredibly modern relationship in many ways, with Isabella on an equal par with her husband. They enjoyed a profound love and mutual respect in their relationship, tirelessly working together to achieve their aims.
In Ferdinand and Isabella’s estimation, their crowning achievement wasn’t expanding their empire to include the New World, or uniting the various dominions that would become modern Spain. They believed their greatest accomplishment was driving out all Muslims from their country.
Ferdinand, the son of King John I of Aragon, married Isabella, the daughter of King John II of Castile, on the morning of October 18, 1469. At this time many areas of the Iberian peninsula had been ruled by Muslims for over 700 years. Spurred on by their fanatical religious beliefs, Ferdinand and Isabella were determined to unite their land under exclusively Christian leadership and waged a long, bloody campaign to oust the Moors. In January 1492, they finally achieved their goal and conquered the last Muslim stronghold.
It was during Ferdinand and Isabella’s watch that the dreaded Inquisition commenced. It became the accepted method for testing the orthodoxy of Jews or Muslims who’d converted to Christianity rather than face banishment from their homeland — or worse. The Inquisition was to have a profound effect on Spain and its people for many centuries to come. (The only positive result was one of the funniest Monty Python sketches of all time.)
Queen Isabella had a keen interest in expanding Spain’s commercial interests wherever possible, even overseas. It was Ferdinand and Isabella who agreed to sponsor a sea captain named Christopher Columbus on an expedition across the Atlantic. This wasn’t the first time Isabella had been involved with such an expedition(Spain had claimed the three largest Canary Islands 15 years earlier with the Queen’s backing.)
The Spanish age of discovery was in full swing when Columbus came back to Spain in 1493 after exploring several Caribbean islands. Between 1500 and 1502, the Crown authorized 12 new expeditions to the area, which included Columbus’ fourth and final voyage.
Back home in Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella shored up their defenses against France,(their primary enemy) by signing treaties with England, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and the Habsburgs. They married two of their four children into the Hapsburg family, who ruled much of Europe, a wise dynastic move that would play a part in Spain’s great rise during the coming decades. Their daughter, Catherine of Aragon, would become the first of the six wives of the future King Henry VIII.
Isabella and Ferdinand ruled much of what is now modern-day Spain for thirty years. Their marriage united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile and expanded their holdings to continents that until recently were completely unknown (to Europeans anyway.) Although they did not accomplish the complete unification of Spain, by the time they died, their country was well on its way to becoming the most powerful in Europe.