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On the death of Alfonso in 1468 of Portugal;

Isabella of Castile was born on 22nd April, 1451, in Madrigal de las Altas Torres, in central Castile. Her father died when she was three, and her mother, aged only 22, retired from Court with her children to the small town of Arevalo, where she became increasingly mentally ill. When Isabella was eleven, her brother Henry summoned her to Court to be godmother to Princess Joanna, who was widely rumoured to be the product of his wife’s adultery with a prominent courtier. Henry’s weak rule sparked a number of rebellions: by 1466, these used Isabella’s brother Alfonso as a figurehead and Isabella was torn between his claims and those of Henry, whom she regarded as the rightful king. She was also forced to sidestep Henry’s efforts to marry her off to a series of unwanted bridegrooms: she was saved from one of these, a drunken, middle-aged lecher named Pedro Giron, by his sudden death on the way to the wedding.

On the death of Alfonso in 1468, Isabella initially considered making a bid for the throne but then wisely came to a compromise with Henry rather than seeking to immediately become Queen. She was aware that as an unmarried teenaged girl, the support which she could attract would be limited. Henry recognised her as his heiress and she promised in turn not to marry without his permission. But neither side trusted the other, and Isabella knew that she needed to find a husband quickly to bolster her claims.

At seventeen, Isabella was a tall, pretty girl with the blue eyes and red-blonde hair of her Plantagenet ancestors. Unsuprisingly, she had many suitors, the most serious of which were King Alfonso of Portugal; Charles, Duke of Berri, brother of the King of France; Richard Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III); and her second cousin Ferdinand of Aragon. Unusually for a fifteenth-century woman, Isabella got to choose. The favourable reports of the good looks, courage and intelligence of Ferdinand convinced her to choose him, although she was also aware that although he was only sixteen, he already had a terrible reputation as a womaniser (he would have at least two illegitimate children by the age of seventeen). As he was also, after his father, the nearest male heir to the throne of Castile, it mean that they could join their claims together.

In order to escape arrest by her brother’s agents, who had learned of her proposed marriage, Isabella was forced to flee to Valladolid. She and Ferdinand married there on 19th October 1469.

The lives of Ferdinand and Isabella after their marriage are continued below