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What were the successes and failures of Ferdinand and Isabella during their reigns?

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What were the successes and failures of Ferdinand and Isabella during their reigns? Historians have long admired the achievements of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella, Queen of Castile (1474-1504) and Ferdinand, King of Aragon (1479-1516) and recent biographers of Isabella notably Peggy Liss (1992) have been equally fulsome in the praises. Contemporary writers had a near unanimous verdict on Isabella: she brought peace, stability and greatness to a war-torn country. Firstly, Castilian chroniclers claimed that Isabella's predecessor Henry IV was incompetent, impotent and unfit to rule. Such allegations however are largely untrue. It suited dissatisfied nobles and Isabella's chroniclers to damn him and exaggerate the poor condition of Castile at her accession in order to inflate her successes. In fact, for much of his reign he administered his country effectively, reviving the hermandades (cavalry militia), employing more corregidores (royal governors) and doing his best to uphold justice. Trouble, however, flared up between 1465 and 1468 when he foolishly tried to play off rival noble factions. ...read more.


Well might he declare in 1514: 'For over 700 years the Crown of Spain has not been as great or as resplendent as it is now, both in the west and the east, and all, after God by my work and labour.' Finally, Isabella was not so successful in solving her most serious political problems: insubordinate nobles and a disputed succession. In her will written shortly before her death, she recognised her failings and expressed grave concern for the future. She believed that the Castilian nobility had not been politically suppressed and she was right. In 1470 she had recovered much property lost in the recent civil wars but in so doing, she struck a deal with the nobility. She allowed many of her supporters to keep former Crown lands, she confirmed existing grants of nobility and their right to collect financial annuities and she exempted them from paying direct taxation. In effect, these measures guaranteed their economic and social supremacy and went a long way towards securing their political independence. The condition of the Crown's finances also suffered. ...read more.


Ferdinand, however, had to give up his honorific title of King of Castile. Though these instructions made sense to Isabella, they led to confusion and civil war when factions gathered round Joanna, Philip and Ferdinand and the crisis only ended when Philip died and Ferdinand intervened with an army. He accepted that Charles would succeed to both Castile and Aragon but since the prince was a minor, arguments soon broke out over who should head the administration. All these tensions re-surfaced at the death of Ferdinand in 1516. I have suggested the reign of Henry IV was not an unmitigated failure that Ferdinand played a vital part in laying the foundations of Castile's 'golden age' and that Isabella bequeathed serious political and dynastic problems not dissimilar to those that she had inherited. The political achievements of the Catholic Monarchs in general, and Isabella in particular, have been exaggerated by court propagandists and by historians - propagandists by a desire to look at the past nostalgically and historians by a readiness to accept such accounts all too uncritically. ...read more.

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