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Spanish Kings and Queens

Page updated 12th February 2024

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ISABEL (1451 - 1504) and FERNANDO (1452 - 1516)

Fernando el Catolico painted by Juan Antonio MoralesIsabel la Catolica painted by Juan Antonio MoralesFernando was the son of King Juan II of Aragon. He became King of Sicily in 1468 and a year later, in 1469, he married Isabel, heiress to the Crown of Castile, thereby laying the foundations for a united Spanish Kingdom.

Isabel and Fernando had five children. Isabel of Asturias was born in 1470 and died in 1498. She first married Alfonso of Portugal and then Manuel I of Portugal; she died in childbirth. Juan, Prince of Asturias, was born in 1478. He married Margaret of Austria but died 6 months later in 1497 without any heirs. Juana ("La Loca") was born in 1479 and married Felipe, Archduke of Austria. She became queen on her brother's death. Maria of Aragon was born in 1482 and married Manuel I of Portugal after her sister's death. Catherine Aragon was born in 1485. She first married King Arthur VI of England and then King Henry VIII of England, who divorced her when she was unable to provide him with an heir to the throne.

Isabel became Queen of Castile in 1474 and Fernando was made co-ruler of the united kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Their fight was against non-Catholics, namely the Moors, and in 1478 the inquisition began to root out and punish non-believers. In 1492, they finally captured Granada, the last Moorish stronghold in Spain. The picture below painted by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, shows Boabdil handing over the keys of the city to the Catholic Monarchs.

paseo de los tristes granadaFollowing Columbus's discovery of the Americas in 1492, a vast colonial empire was established. In 1503, Fernando became King of Naples. When Isabel died in 1504, her will stated that Juana, her second daughter, should become queen, since her son, Juan, and her eldest daughter, Isabel, had already died. The painting on the left was painted by Eduardo Rosales and shows Isabel dictating her will to the scribe at the desk. Fernando is sitting in the chair on the left, with their daughter Juana behind him.

JUANA (1479 - 1555) and FELIPE (1478 -1506)

Juana la Loca, painted by Francisco  Pradilla OrtizAfter Isabel's death in 1504, their daughter Juana, who suffered from schizophrenia, together with her husband Felipe, Archduke of Austria, ascended to the throne. The couple had been living in Brussels but they then moved to Burgos, a town in the north of Spain, in the spring of 1506.

Felipe el Hermoso, painted by Francisco Pradilla OrtizFelipe was known as Felipe el Hermoso (Felipe the Good-looking) and was renowned for his infidelities. As he had more and more love affairs, Juana's mental stability worsened. Legend has it that Juana, who was insanely jealous, once attacked one or her own ladies-in-waiting who she believed was the object of Felipe's attentions with a knife, and ordered that her hair be cut off. Since then, only ugly women were allowed to serve in the palace.

Felipe died after a short illness, and doubts still remain as to whether he was in fact poisoned by his father-in-law. Juana's madness got progressively worse after her husband's death, and she lost her mind (hence her name of Juana la Loca - Juana the Mad). Consequently, her father ruled as regent until his death in 1516.

Juana believed that her husband would come to life again and had him put in two coffins: a lead one inside a wooden one. In December, she decided to take him to the cathedral in Granada to be buried alongside her mother Isabel. The funeral procession set of from Flanders accompanied by a group of musicians, and some courtiers and ladies-in-waiting. They walked at night, because she believed that "an honest woman should flee from the light of day when she has lost her husband, who was the sun", and every so often, the coffin would be opened so that Juana could kiss Felipe's face. Along the way the procession would stop at monasteries so that funeral services could be held for her dead husband. Unfortunately, once they made they made the mistake of stopping at a convent and Juana, horrified at the idea of women setting eyes on her dead husband, ordered that they leave immediately.

The picture below was painted by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz (1848-1921) and shows one of the breaks the funeral procession took along the way:

They never did reach Granada as Juana was declared officially mad and locked up in the small town of Tordesillas, remaining here until her death in 1555.

CARLOS I (1680 - 1558)

carlos v granadaAfter Fernando's death, Carlos became King in 1516 and was to become one of the most powerful rulers in the world. In 1520, he was crowned Carlos V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, an empire on which "the sun never set". When his father Felipe died in 1506, he became Duke of Burgundy and ruler of the Netherlands, and on the death of his grandfather Fernando, he became King of the Two Sicilies and of Spain. He was a tolerant ruler and having brought peace to the German lands and becoming a European leader after a power struggle with France, he decided to retire and split his empire between his brother Fernando and his son Felipe. In 1556, his son became King of Spain and Carlos retired to a Spanish monastery in Yuste where he died in 1558.